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Review of Ebox T8 V Amlogic S912 TV Box with SATA Bay – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

January 19th, 2017 1 comment

Last summer I reviewed Ebox T8-4, an Android TV box based on Amlogic S905 processor sold by entertainmentbox.com and geared towards the UK market. Although it had some of the typical issues with HDMI audio pass-through, I found the box easy to setup, and potentially interesting for UK viewers since popular IPTV apps were pre-installed. It also came with a SATA bay but for some reasons I never managed to have either a 1TV HDD or 128 GB SSD recognized by the system. Nevertheless, the box is now used full time by another person who seems to be quite happy about it, especially since it comes with an air mouse and a gamepad, and good support. The company has now sent me their updated model, Ebox T8 V, with very similar features but instead equipped with Amlogic S912 octa-core processor. Before checking the firmware, I’ll have a look at the hardware in the first part of the review.

Ebox T8-V Specifications

Apart from the SATA bay and VFD display, the specifications are pretty standard for an Amlogic S912 TV box:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash, SD slot up to 32GB, and internal 2.5″ SATA bay
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 and RCA composite ports
  • Audio Output – HDMI, RCA stereo audio ports, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac. N.B.: no Bluetooth listed in specs, but they sell a Bluetooth gamepad so it might be supported.
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port) + 1x micro USB port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, VFD display
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The box runs Android 6.0 operating system with SPMC.

Ebox T8-V Unboxing

Beside “T8 V SMART TV BOX” package I also got an air mouse (the same as last year), a EU to UK plug adapter, and something packaged with cardboard and tape.

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Let’s open that first… That’s a 1TB WD Blue hard drive, which means I should probably already be setup, and I would not need to use a separate computer to partition and format it a way supported by the box.


The air mouse remote is the same as last year (S77 Pro), and includes a standard IR side with IR learning function, mouse functionality…

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…as well as a QWERTY keyboard side. The battery compartment is located on the right side of the keyboard and takes two AAA batteries.

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The first thing I noticed when opening the main package was a piece of paper (top right below) reading:

Because the T8 V is operating on Android 6.0, you will need to adjust the settings a bit. Let’s go into Settings, then click on Video, go to the bottom and change Settings Level to Expert. Now go to the Acceleration Tab, then over to Allow Hardware Acceleration – Amcodec, and turn it off. You need to do this, because with the introduction of the new Android 6.0, Amcodec is no longer being supported, which can cause issues with the Ebox Media Center.

This could probably be useful for other Amlogic S905X, S905D, and S912 TV boxes too. I’m not sure why it is not disabled by default in the firmware however.

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The rest of the package includes an IR remote taking two AAA batteries which you are unlikely to use at all if you have purchased the air mouse, a 5V/3A power supply, an HDMI cable, a HDMI cable, and of course the device itself.

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The front panel has a power button, as well as plastic cover hiding the IR receiver and VFD display. Two USB ports, the SD card slot, and a recovery button can be found on one of the sides, with the other ports on the rear panels including a USB OTG port (full size), a micro USB port market USB HDD, an optical S/PDIF audio output, 3 RCA connector for video, left and right audio, a HDMI 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and the power jack. The gap under the box should allow for some cooling of the hard drive. If you want to connect the hard drive, you’ll need open the cover on the bottom of the case. There’s also a sticker with a MAC address starting with 00:11:6E and looking up to Peplink International Ltd.

Installing the hard drive is very easy and does not require any tool. Two clips hold the back cover to the case, and then you just need to insert the HDD in the bay, and push it to plug it into the SATA connector. Put the cover back, and you’re done.

Ebox T8 V Teardown

The first step to open the device is to loosen the four screws on the bottom of the case. This will allow you to remove the plastic cover on the front panel, and then push and slide the device to take it out of its outer shell.

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The board is called U PLUS V1.1, and features a heatsink covering Amlogic SoC. Foresee NCEMBSF9-16G eMMC flash is used for storage (16 GB), while two NANYA NT5CB256M16DP-EK chips are used for memory on the top of the board.

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Gigabit Ethernet is made possible thanks to Realtek RTL8211F Gigabit transceiver and HS2401 magnetics, and WiFi connectivity relies on an uncommon module, but I could not read the exact model. Since Amlogic S912 does not integrate a SATA controller, the board designer used GL830 USB 2.0 to SATA bridge. TM1628 chip takes care of the VFD display, and GL850G USB 2.0 hub adds a few extra USB interface required by the board.

That’s all for today. If you are interested, the box is for sale directly on Entertainmentbox.com for 104.99 GBP ($129.5) with the standard remote, and up to 217.97 GBP (~$269) with full options including a 1TB HDD, Rii i12 Keyboard, and an Ipega gamepad. The package I received should cost 185.97 GBP (~$229). Prices include VAT.

Getting Started with Onion Omega2+ LEDE WiFi IoT Board and Expansion Dock

January 16th, 2017 30 comments

Onion Omega2 LEDE (OpenWrt fork) WiFi board is powered by Mediatek MT7688 MIPS SoC, targets IoT projects, and sells for as low as $5. There are actually two versions: Omega2 with 64MB RAM, 16MB flash, and Omega2+ with 128MB RAM, 32MB flash and a micro SD slot. Onion sent me the latter for review, together with an expansion dock that allows powering up the board though USB , and adds a USB host port, an RGB LED, buttons, and access to GPIO via a female header. In this quick start guide, I’ll start by taking some unboxing pictures, and then report my experience following the documentation to configure the board, blink the RGB LED, and control a LED on a breadboard using a GPIO from the header.

Onion Omega2+ Unboxing

I received the two boards in their respective package, and which are both stored in anti-static bags.

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Let’s check Onion Omega2+ board first. The top includes a chip antenna and an u.FL connector for an external antenna, as well as the main components covered by a shield with some info like FCC ID, and the MAC address with the last four digits (hexits?) in bold since they are used to access the board. The bottom of the board are two rows of headers, and a micro SD card slot. There’s also a footprint for another header or connector, but I could not find out the details.

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Next up is the dock. We have a 2x 15-pin female header with clear marking for the pins that include power signals, GPIOs, I2C, UART, and USB.

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The button on the top is for power, the one at 45 angle is the reset button, and we also have a micro USB port for power, a USB port for storage, an RGB LED, and the header for Onion Omega2 board.

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Plugging Omega2 into the dock is very easy, and the only thing you have to check is that it is inserted correctly.

Onion-Omega2-vs-LinkIt-Smart-7688Onion Omega2+ is not my first Mediatek MT7688 board, as I’ve reviewed LinkIt Smart 7688 too, and took side-by-side picture of both boards for comparison. Omega2+ is smaller, but LinkIt Smart board already include a micro USB port for power.

Initial Setup for Onion Omega2 and Expansion Dock

I normally test the documentation as much as I test the board, and after a web search, I ended up on that Getting Started page. However, it was for Onion Omega, the first version of the board introduced in 2015, and while the instructions are similar, they are not quite the same. Finally, I found the actual Omega2 Wiki, and could successful complete the setup with some efforts.

I’ll be using a computer running Ubuntu 16.04 to access the board, but it also works with Windows with Bonjour Service, and Mac OS X.

The Zeroconf services is needed to play with the board unless you access the board directly with its IP, but it’s normally already installed in Linux distriutions, so we are good to go. First we need to connect a micro USB to USB cable to a power source like the USB port of your computer, and turn on the board with the power switch.

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At first both the RGB LED on the dock and Omega2+ LED will turn on for a short time, after which the RGB LED will turn off, and Omega2 LED will blink for a few seconds, and once the LED stops blinking and remains solid the boot is done.

Omega-Onion2-Access-Point

You should then see an new “Omega-XXXX” access point in your WiFi networks, where XXXX is the last digits of your MAC address shown on bold on the board. We now need to connect to the access point using password: 12345678

Omega2 Web Configuration

One it’s done, open a web browser and go ti http://192.168.3.1 or http://omega-XXXX.local/ to access Omega2 Setup Wizard.

Omega-Onion2-Setup-Wizard

Click Start to login with the default credentials (username: root ; password:onioneer), and the next page will let you connect the board to your WiFi router.Omega-Onion2-WiFi-Configuration

Selection you ESSID, input you WiFi password. and clikc on “Configure WiFi“. Omega-Onion2-Cloud

The wizard offers you to register your board to the cloud, but this is completely optional, and you could simply select Skip Step to go to the next step (firmware update). But I tried to registered the device to the cloud for this review.Onion-Cloud-RegistrationYou’ll need to provide your name, an email address and a password to register an account first.Onion-Omega2-Cloud-NameYou’ll then be asked for a device name and a description to confirm the registration.Onion-Cloud-Connection-failedSadly this step failed and I got the window above. Clicking on the red cross button did nothing. If I login to the cloud service, I can see the board listed, but detected as offline. I’m not the only one to have this issue, and Onion developers are looking into it.

Onion-Omega2+-Firmware-Update-ConsoleSo instead I went to the next step to upgrade the firmware and install Console web-based virtual desktop.Onion-Omega2-Firmware-Download-StuckThis also failed as the progress bar did not move at all, and I waited for around 20 minutes. I could also see my router’s DHCP server gave an IP address to the board, so it should have been able to connect to the Internet.

Omega2 Command Line Configuration

So I used to backup configuration method, using the command line as explained in the documentation. You just need to SSH the board as root with the same password as in the web configuration (onioneer):

Note Ω-ware firmware version is 0.1.5 b130.

wifisetup allows you to scan the network, and connect the board to your router:

Good. Firmware update failed in the web setup wizard, but we can retry it with oupgrade command line:

The firmware could be downloaded, and it looked like the system rebooted as I lost access to SSH terminal. The LED was still on for a while after it happened, then the LED went off (forever), at least longer than the 15 seconds listed in the documentation, and in that case they explain you need to power cycle the board. I used the power switch on the expansion dock to do so.

The board LED blinked for a pretty long time (maybe 2 minutes), but eventually it stopped and remained solid, and I could login to the board:

The firmware was updated to version 0.1.7 b139, so all good even though the whole setup did not go 100% smoothly. In case something goes really wrong and you can’t access the board at all, you could try to do a Factory Restore by pressing and holding the reset button for 10 seconds then releasing it.

Omega2 LEDE System Info

Since we’re done with the configuration, let’s quickly check some system info:

So we have a relatively recent kernel (Linux 4.4), 24.4MB space available to the user, 125664 KB total memory, and a MIPS 24KEc processor…

Controlling Omega2’s Dock RGB LED (via PWM)

We can start playing with the GPIO on the board starting with the RGB LED on the dock  that should be connected to pin 15, 16 and 17. The documentation explains expled sample can be used for this and we can see the R, G, B hexadecimal values. I want to show red color only, and I set blue and green to zero:

Oops, segfault. Let’s try something else like a pinkish color:

It runs, but the RGB LED remains off. It’s not an hardware problem since the RGB LED turns on at boot time. expled is actually a bash script that can be found in /usr/bin/expled and calls “fast-gpio“program which access GPIOs directly without using sysfs. Maybe it’s another firmware issue.

Controlling Omega2 GPIOs – LED example

In order to play with the expansion header, I connected a 5V LED to a breadboard together with two resistors and a transistor (for 3.3 to 5V conversion), and connected it to pin 1 on the header.

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We’ve already seen fast-gpio tools in expled script, but I used another GPIO tools for the LED, namely gpioctl that relies on sysfs.

We first need to set the GPIO pin as an output pin using the dirout command (dirin would set it as an input):

We can now turn the LED on by setting GPIO 1 to HIGH with dirout-high option:

The get command above will check the value of the pin. The LED did turn on as it should, and we can turn it off with dirout-low option:

Success.

If you want to use multiplexed pin with I2C, SPI, UART, PWM, I2S… you’ll need to check out omega2-ctrl program. I have not tried it for this guide to keep it short.

Onion Omega2 and BreadBoards

Many similar small IoT board are designed to fit on a breadboard, but Onion Omega2 board’s header pins are using 2 mm pitch, not 2.5 mm pitch, so they can’t be used with a breadboard directly. Instead, you’d have run wires from the board to the breadboard or purchase a BreadBoard Dock as pictured below.

If you do not have a dock, or breadboard expansion board, you can still power the Omega2 module/board using a 3.3V power source for example with a regulator such as LD1117, or something like YwRobot MB102 breadboard power supply.

If you are interested in getting a board, you may have to wait as while Omega Expansion Dock sells for $14.99 on Onion store, Omega2 boards are not listed yet. For reference, Omega2 board went for $5, and Omega2+ board for $9 on Kickstarter. [Update: While the Kickstarter campaign is now finished, you can still get on Indiegogo for the same price, and that includes shipping].

Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi

January 12th, 2017 8 comments

Most Android TV box comes with DDR3 or DDR3L memory, but Mecool BB2 Pro comes instead with 3GB DDR4 memory that’s supposed to offer 50% increased memory bandwidth. That’s why I was interested in reviewing the box. I’ve already checked out BB2 Pro hardware in the first part of the review, so the second part will focus on the firmware, video playback in Kodi 17, and benchmarks to find out if there’s any improvement over other Amlogic S912 using DDR3 memory. It’s not the first DDR4 box I’ve tested however, as Eweat R9 Plus powered by Realtek RTD1295 processor also included DDR4 memory, but based on my tests, there’s was no noticeable differences with Zidoo X9S based on the same processor, but with DDR3 memory. But this time, we’ll see if it is any different with Amlogic platforms.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I connect a USB 3.0 hard drive to one of the USB 2.0 port, and a USB hub to the other port with two RF dongle for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard. I completed the setup with HDMI and Ethernet cables, and finally the power supply.

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The system will boot automatically when you connect the power, no need to press the power button, and the boot will typically take around 25 seconds. Please note the boot animation logo could with some music, so the boot is not silent, which may be annoying if you want to use the box while others are sleeping, and turned on the TV before the box.

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The launcher will look similar to regularly readers as it’s exactly the same as the one found in K1 Plus, another TV box also made by Videostrong. The notification bar is enabled by default, but not the status bar which can be enabled in the settings. This option should really be present in all boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-appsThe list of preinstalled apps include the Play Store, Kodi, Netflix and others. You’ll also notice Kodi Updater, an app to update the likely-custom version of Kodi used in the box.

bb2-pro-kodi-updaterMy version was Kodi 17.0-Beta3 and was the latest available at the time.

The settings are also basically the same as in K1 Plus, and other Amlogic S905/S905X/S912 TV boxes. I had no troubles using WiFi and Ethernet, and set my resolution to 4k2k-60Hz supported by LG 42UB820T Ultra HD TV. Some less common settings include RGB mode (maybe to fix some pink screen issues), and Status bar (on/off), and there are settings for HDR and HDMI self-adaptation (auto framerate switching).

The internal storage has a single unified partition with 762MB used. The total capacity is reported to be 16.00GB but that’s obviously a hard-coded value, possibly to avoid customers complaining there’s not 16GB storage in their 16GB TV box box.

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The box could also mount NTFS and exFAT file systems in the USB hard drive. A FAT32 micro SD was also supported.

The “About MediaBox” section report the model number is BB2 Pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update appears to have been implement through “Update” app, but it would detect no new firmware, so I could not test it.
bb2-pro-about-mediabox Google Play Store worked just fine, except for Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband. Albeit it should be easy to fix, this is an issue common to almost all Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I also install the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

I had no troubles using the infrared remote control up to 10 meters, and the IR learning function worked too. However, I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since it’s more convenient in Android. I’d recommend an air mouse with keyboard and IR learning function (to be able to turn on the device) for the best user experience.

A short press on the power button of the remote control will trigger standby mode, while a long press will pop-up a window to confirm you confirm to power off the define. I could also restart the box from the power button from the remote and the unit.

Power consumption measured in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 1.3 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

Idle power consumption is the same as M12N TV box, but power off power consumption is a bit on the high side possibly partially because of the red LED that is quite bright.

This time I only measured the temperature on the top of the case, as the bottom is bright and my IR thermometer reported wrong values for the bottom. The top of the case temperature was 39°C max after Antutu 6.x, and 44°C max after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes. I also checked the soc-thermal value in CPU-Z after the games and it was 78°C, against around 55 °C in idle mode. Riptide GP2 played fine, but not perfectly smooth, like on other Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance was constant. I did not notice any obvious improvement over S912 TV boxes using DDR3 memory.

Mecool BB2 Pro feels like using other Amlogic S912 TV boxes with a stable firmware, and good performance overall, but again I could not really noticed any performance boost from DDR4 memory.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

BB2 Pro runs Kodi 17 Beta 3, or at least a custom version of it with TVaddons.org add-ons installed. I played most videos samples from a SAMBA share through Gigabit Ethernet.

4K video playback was OK, but for whatever reason I could not play any VP9 videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since the VPU does not support 4K H.264 over 30 fps)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) –Won’t play, stays in UI.

I also tried the 3 VP9 videos above with MoviePlayer with all I got was a black screen. That’s too bad, as I wanted to see if DDR4 memoryu would improve “Curvature of Earth” playback that is not 100% smooth on all other devices I’ve tested. Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi, and MoviePlayer, so you won’t get perfect playback for 24 fps videos, unless you set the frame rate manually.

Audio support is not quite perfect, just like in other Amlogic S912 TV boxes I’ve tested. PCM output (stereo downsampling) works with Kodi, but not MX Player/MoviePlayer apps, and HDMI pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver is a disaster in Kodi, and somewhat works with MoviePlayer.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but video not smooth Dolby D 5.1 – OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK Dolby D 5.1 – OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio Dolby D+ 7.1 – OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 5.1 – OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 7.1 – OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

BB2 Pro got 851 in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, a little less than in other Amlogic S912 based TV boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-antutu-video-testerThe three videos with “partial support” are exactly the same as on other devices.
antutu-video-tester-partially-supportDRM Info app reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported by the device.

bb2-pro-drm-info

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Network (WiFi + Ethernet) Performance

In order to test WiFi performance, I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage – and vice versa – using ES File Explorer, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps). The results are not that good, although download speed is quite faster than upload speed.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge!

Sadly those poor WiFi numbers are quite typical of Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Note that download speed for 802.11ac was 5.05 MB/s on average, so not so bad, but upload speed @ ~1.5 Mb/s brought the average down significantly.

For some strange reasons Gigabit Ethernet suffered from the same issue, as transferring a 885MB file took 50 seconds to download (17.7 MB/s), but  2 minutes 18 seconds to upload back to my local server (6.41 MB/s). I’ve never seen that problem on other devices. My SAMBA server is connected via Gigabit Ethernet and uses a SATA drive (not USB) capable of 100 MB/s writes.

Trying a full-duplex transfer with iperf confirmed the issue:

Asymmetric performance happens more often with iperf since transfers occur in both direction at the same time. Nevertheless there seems to be some minor issues with Ethernet.

Storage performance

We’ve already seen the system could handle NTFS, exFAT and FAT32 file systems for external storage, so I tested the performance of both NTFS and exFAT partition on my hard drive as well as the internal memory using A1 SD bench app.

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Note that both internal memory and exFAT partition had “cache reads”, which means reading operation was at least partially done from RAM. We can discard read results for both, especially since 65.71 MB/s is totally impossible over USB 2.0. What we can see however if that exFAT write speed is quite poor, but again that’s common to almost all TV boxes I’ve review. USB 2.0 NTFS partition read performance is about the best you can get through USB 2.0, and write performance is OK. The eMMC flash write speed is quite good @ 48.57 MB/s, so read speed is likely to be good too, but lower than the 104.58 MB/s reported by the app due the “cached read”.

Gaming

As I looked for benefit from DDR4 memory in this review, I was hoping that maybe games would benefit one way or other. Riptide GP2 with maximum graphics settings seemed to perform just like other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, that is… playable, but not extra smooth like on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced for example. Performance was constant over the 15 minutes I played the game, so I did not notice any overheating and throttling issues.

Mecool BB2 Pro Benchmarks

So far I have to say I could not notice any user experience benefit from using DDR4 memory, but maybe benchmarks could give a different picture. Let’s check CPU-Z first.

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The device is BB2 PRO (q20x) with 8x Cortex A53 cores @ up to 1.51 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU as expected. Other settings are as expected, and we can see the real internal storage capacity available to the user: 11.87 GB. That’s perfectly normal once we take into account the space taken with the bootloader and Android operating system.

Then I ran Antutu 6.x and compared the results to M12N TV box benchmark results.

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BB2 Pro got 363 points extra, but we can consider both devices had about the same performance. RAM test should be interesting and BB2 Pro was about 12% faster. So maybe there’s some benefit, but very minor based on those Antutu results.
mecool-bb2-pro-vellamo
Vellam score is about the same story with BB2 Pro getting 1,488, 1,020 and 2,811 points for respectively multicore, metal, and browser tests, against 1,103 (test failed to complete), 1,052 and 2,758 points on M12N. If we discard the multicore that failed to complete on M12N, results are basically the same.

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The last benchmark of this review, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, shows a little improvement as BB2 Pro got 6,000 points against 5,732 points for M12N. But it’s hard to tell if it is because of the DDR4 RAM, or some improvements of the GPU drivers. If we look into details of the score, most of the improvement is with the Physics score & test (9263 point / 29.4 fps vs 8163 / 25.9 fps).

Conclusion

I have not been able to find a single use case showing a clear benefit from using DDR4 memory instead of DDR3 memory. Apart from that Mecool BB2 Pro works reasonably well, it feels fast enough and the firmware is stable. However, it also comes with most of the same caveats found in other Amlogic S912 TV box, including mediocre WiFi performance, lack of HDMI audio pass-through support in Kodi (except Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS HD 7.1 not working in the local player (MoviePlayer), automatic framerate switching not working at all, and for some reasons I could not play any VP9 in the device.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • Acceptable 4K H.265 and H.264 video playback in Kodi 17and MoviePlayer apps
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in MoviePlayer
  • Good internal storage performance leading to fast boot time (<25 seconds), and overall good system performance
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters and IR learning function
  • OTA firmware update support (could not confirm whether it is working since no new firmware has been released yet)
  • Option to disable/enable status bar in settings

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, except for Dolby Digital 5.1
  • HDMI DTS-HD MA/HR 7.1 not supported in MoviePlayer (uses DTS 5.1 instead)
  • BB2 Pro firmware won’t play VP9 videos; tested with Kodi and MoviePlayer apps
  • Mediocre WiFi performance, especially for uploads. Ethernet is also somewhat slow for uploads (no problems for downloads).
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through)
  • Power off power consumption on the high side (1 watt)
  • Boot logo includes some music (not too high volume, but it can be an issue if you start the box at night, and forgot to mute or lower the volume)
  • Google Play can’t install apps with Bluetooth LE requirement

I’d like to thank VideoStrong for providing a sample for review. Distributors and resellers may contact the company via the product page to purchase in quantities. Mecool BB2 Pro can also be purchased for $66.66 and up on Banggood, GearBest, and eBay, or  about the same as YokaTV KB2 with 3GB DDR3 instead of 3GB DDR4, but 32GB storage instead of just 16 GB, with the rest of the specifications being equal.

RetrOrangePi 3.0 Retro Gaming & Media Center Firmware Released for Orange Pi H3 Boards and Beelink X2 TV Box

December 28th, 2016 9 comments

RetrOrangePi is a Linux distribution based on armbian transforming Allwinner H3 boards – mostly Orange Pi boards, but also Banana Pi M2+ and NanoPi boards – into entertainment centers to play retro games, and watch/listen media files (videos/music) using Kodi. If you don’t have a development board, or would prefer a complete solution with casing and power supply, Beelink X2 TV box is also supported. The developers had been recently working on rectifying some GPL issues, and they have released RetrOrangePi 3.0 images right before Christmas.

retrorangepi

RetrOrangePi 3.0 changelog and key features:

  • Full Armbian 5.23 Jessie Desktop version with kernel 3.4.113 (backdoors fixed)
  • Slim version 1st release (less than 2 GB) coming soon
  • OpenELEC (Kodi Jarvis 16.1) with CEC support by Jernej Škrabec
  • RetroPie-Setup version 4.1
  • New Kodi Krypton beta6 version
  • New emulationstation-ROPI branch forked from jacobfk20 with gridview, on screen keyboard with easy wifi config and storage check with additional features added by ROPi team: display settings, OpenELEC / Desktop launcher and background music switcher integrated into main menu.
  • New Plug n’ Play feature – USB roms autoload (reads from /media/usb0) (buggy)
  • New dummy roms feature (most common platform shown)
  • New splash video on 1st boot by Rafael Spirax
  • New default splashscreen (from Libretro)
  • New custom ES splashscreen by Francois Lebel @MagicFranky
  • OpenELEC ROPI addon already installed
  • Retroarch with XMB menu driver (Lakka)
  • Better looking video with bilinear filtering (smoothness) or scanlines by default
  • Most retroarch cores updated (FBA, PCSX etc)
  • New and improved content:
    • AdvanceMAME (newer romset, more compatibility, better performance in some games: Elevator Action Returns, Street Fighter the Movie, Star Wars Arcade, Judge Dredd, Sega Sonic The Hedgehog etc)
    • Amiga (FS-UAE emulator, fullscreen now, diskette sound, launcher)
    • Atari 5200
    • Atari 8bit (models 400 800 XL XE)
    • Coco / Tandy
    • Colecovision (ColEm emu Custom Coleco BlueMSX core)
    • Creativision
    • Daphne (Philips Cdi emulator)
    • Dosbox (GLES version)
    • Dreamcast (fixed reicast-joyconfig)
    • Duke Nukem port (fixed tint color)
    • Game and Watch (fixed shortcuts)
    • Intellivision
    • OpenMSX (with .dsk support) PPSSPP (new version 1.3 from odroid repo)
    • TI99/4A (Texas Instruments)
    • Wolfenstein3D port

There are two ways to download the images:

  • BitTorrent – 16.0 GB download with images for all boards
  • Main server (http) – 1.6 GB compressed firmware image for your board.

If you download from the main server, you’ll get a warning saying you can’t sell hardware pre-installed with the image:

RetrOrange Pi is a non profit project.
It consists of a basic Retropie setup with most Libretro cores on top of an Armbian Jessie Desktop version pre-installed.
It includes an OpenELEC fork as well.
Much of the software included in the image have non-commercial licences. Because of this,
selling a pre-installed RetrOrange image is not legal, neither is including it with your commercial product.
As it relies on other people’s work with our own features, we won’t be offering any help in customizations to avoid rebranding or reselling.

It will be interesting to see what happens with RetroEngine Sigma project on Indiegogo that is very likely based on RetrOrangePi image for Orange Pi Lite board.

Anyway, since BitTorrent download was very slow, I downloaded RetrOrangePi-3.0.Orangepione.img.tar.gz from the main server for my $3.69 Orange Pi One board (there was a promo in September), extracted it, and flashed it to a 32GB card (8GB is enough) in Linux:

Replace sdX by your own SD card device in the 3rd command above. You can also do this in Windows with Win32DiskImager. Once it is done, insert the micro SD card in your board or TV box, prepare a gamepad, and connect all relevant cables.

orange-pi-orange-gaming

If you have connected the serial console (completely optional), or want to access the system through ssh, you can login with pi/pi or root/orangepi credentials:

Most people will just follow the instructions on the TV. We’ll get through a bunch of animation and logos during the boot.Note: Please ignore the vertical lines on the photos, as there’s just an issue with my TV.

retrorangepi-3-0-logo
The first time the system will resize the SD card to make use of the full SD card capacity, and generate SSH keys.
retrorangepi-installationOne more “Loading…” logo…

retrorangepi-loading

If you have connected a gamepad (highly recommended), you’ll be ask to configure the keys. Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad was automatically detected, and I could easily set all keys up.

retrorangepi-gamepad-configurationOnce all is well and done, you’ll get to the main menu to select emulator or Kodi.

retrorangepi-user-interfaceMost emulators do not come with ROMs due to license issues, so you’d have to find the ROMs yourself, and install them via a USB drive, or copy them directly into the board over the network, for example with scp. If you want to try to play some games straightaway, you can do so by going to the PORTS sections with 13 games available including Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, CannonBall, Duke Nukem 3D, Super Mario War, etc…
retrorangepi-ports-pre-installed-games
I tested shortly tested Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, as well as launched Kodi 17 (Beta 6) in the demo video below.

vThings WiFi CO2 Monitor Quick Start Guide

December 28th, 2016 5 comments

I’ve already checked out vThings CO2 Monitor hardware and we’ve seen it’s based on ESPrino ESP8266 board, and my model includes CM1106 CO2 sensor and BMP180 temperature and pressure sensor. I’ve now installed it in my kitchen, about 3 to 4 meters from the gas stove, and getting data to ThingSpeak.

vair-monitor-co2-sensor

The door and window of my kitchen are open all day, and the wall have ventilation holes. That’s important for CM1106 sensor since it auto calibrates every 3 days in clear air. If you plan to use such sensor in a closed environment, you should buy Vthings with CM1102 CO2 sensor that costs more, but does not require calibration.

Since all WiFi systems I’ve just so far starting AP mode for configuration, I first looked for an access point, but… nothing… Then I decided to read the documentation (might be useful at times), and the monitor is actually configured via a Chrome (desktop only) add-on through USB. There are three types of devices made by vair-monitor, and I first used  vThings Configuration Utility add-on, but eventually found out I had to use vThings – Dual Beam Configuration Utility.

vthings-chrome-apps

vThings Configuration vs Things – Dual Beam Configuration Utility

I used Ubuntu (Linux), but if you are using a Windows or Mac computer, you’ll need to install drivers first. Once you’ve connected the monitor through USB and started “vThings- Device Configuration Tool” the following windows should be shown.

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The fist thing to do is to connect the monitor to your WiFi router by entering its SSID and password, and click on Set WiFi.

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It should connect to your router, and the first time updated the firmware automatically. Wait a couple of minutes for it to complete, and you can go to the next step to configure one or more of the following Public, Private or Generic services:

Public Private Generic
BeeBottle DomoticGa HTTP
Blynk.cc DomoticZ MQTT
dweet.io FHEM RF 433/315
EmonCMS Homeseer
ThingSpeak HomeAssistant
UbiDots JeeDom
OpenHAB
Pimatic

I decided to go with ThingSpeak since I got familiar with it while writing Sonoff POW tutorial.

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Click to Enlarge

Select the data provided by the sensors inside your vthings Co2 monitor, in my case CO2 levels, temperature, and pressure, and nothing else, or connection will fail, as I found out when I used 4 default fields including humidity, and ThingSpeak was not updated at all. You’ll also need ThingSpeak API write key, that you can get my create a channel on ThingSpeak.com as shown below.

thingspeak-co2-monitor-thingspeak-channel-configuration

Once the channels is create on ThingSpeak website, and you’ve added the API write key in vThings Device Configuration Tool, you could go to Generic Services->HTTP and notice an HTTP request has been created, so if you have installed ThingSpeak locally, you could change api.thingspeak.com to your own IP address.

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By default the data will be updated every 120 seconds, but you can change that in Settings->Update Interval. Once configuration is done, you can unplug it from your PC, and connected to the location you want to monitor. vThings Device Configuration Tool requires a USB connection to find the device, it can not find it over WiFi, so if you want to change configuration, you’ll need to connect it back to your computer. There’s a function to (auto)start a webserver in vESPrino, but it did not seem to work for me.

After a few hours or minutes depending on your update internal you should get some nice charts on ThingSpeak with CO2 levels, temperature and pressure, or other data based on the sensors you’ve selected while purchasing the hardware.

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The channel is public if you are interested/curious in seeing the data. ThingSpeak will show 60 samples (2 hours in my case) by default, but let’s see what happened over the last 12 hours with CO2 levels.

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The CO2 levels started at about 500 to 600 ppm while I did the configuration in my office (windows closed), and dropped to around 404 ppm once I installed in the kitchen. That value correspond roughly to the current CO2 ppm value in the atmosphere (in Hawaii). Three times around 18h00 people warmed food and CO2 jumped to around 500 ppm. During the night, CO2 levels slowly increased to 480 ppm, likely because of the plants cycle (producing oxygen during the day, and carbon dioxide during the night). This morning CO2 levels spiked at around 900 ppm when cooking right after 6am and 8am.

That’s all fun, but is there a real benefit to measuring CO2 levels in your house? In the kitchen I could probably trigger an alert over 1,500 ppm in which case it may mean something is burning, but smoke detectors are much cheaper and better suited to the task. Vladimir Savchenko, vThings developer, found a study claiming that high CO2 levels may decrease creative thinking and lead to bad sleep, so he used vThings CO2 monitor in his bedroom and discovered CO2 levels reached close to 4,000 ppm, and that just open the door or window would greatly reduce the concentration of the gas.

sleepwithcloseddoortext-co2-levelsvThings CO2 monitor does not only monitor CO2 levels as we’ve seen above, as temperature, humidity, and/or pressure sensor can be included in the case, as well as a PM2.5 & PM10 laser dust sensor.

vThings CO2 Monitor v3 is sold for 60 Euros with CM1106 CO2 sensor, and more if you use a better CO2 sensor, or add extra environmental sensors. 135 Euros would get you a top of line monitor with a laser dust sensor, CDM7160 CO2 sensor, temperature and humidity sensor, and RF connectivity.

Eweat R9 Plus TV Box Review Part 2 – Android, OpenWrt, and HDMI Recording

December 24th, 2016 5 comments

Eweat R9 Plus is a device powered by Realtek RTD1295 SoC combining main functions: Android 6.0 TV box, OpenWrt NAS/router, and HDMI recorder thanks to its HDMI input port. It competes directly with Zidoo X9S which has the same features, except while Zidoo X9S has no internal SATA bay and your 2.5″ hard drive just hang outside the box, Eweat R9 Plus comes with an internal 3.5″ SATA bay that makes it much neater on your furniture… We’ve already seen that in the first part for review “Eweat R9 Plus unboxing and teardown“, and I was impressed by the hardware, but the software is even more important, and that’s what I’m going to check out in the second and final part of this review.

First Boot, First Impressions and Setup.

I’ve first inserted a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive in the device, and then I connected an extra USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, two USB dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots, as well as U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV box to the HDMI input.

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Connect the power, press the mechanical power switch on the back, and the device will boot, typically in about 40 seconds, to the main launcher. There’s no setup wizard like in Zidoo X9S, so you’d have to change configuration separately.

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The top left corner includes status icons for USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and WiFi, and the top right corner shows the current date and time. The first time the time and date were not correctly update, and I did not get any IP address from my router… That’s because I connected the Ethernet cable to the WAN port, but once I connected it to the LAN port, everything worked fine. It’s just WAN and LAN markings are not quite correct…. Let’s go back to the launcher with 7 large icons, the “R9 Plus” icon is linked to Chrome browser (so we have two Chrome links), apps to the list of apps, EWMC links to Kodi 16.1, and 4K to the local file browser/media player. We also have 3 shortcuts on the botton that can be customized to your needs. Sadly, there’s no status nor notifications bars which can be a pain in some use cases. The small blue “rocket” on the of EWMC icon, is actually the mouse cursor (red in reality, but the screenshot app turns that blue).

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The system comes with a bunch of apps including Netflix, HDMIRecorder, and QuickSupport, and I could install my own without any issues using Google Play and Amazon Underground.

eweat-r9-plus-displayThe front panel display on the unit is a little more useful than most, as it will show the current time of the day when not playing videos or music, and instead display the current video time with 4K video player, but not Kodi, while playing media files.

If you are interested to find out more about the settings, I invite you to check the Settings section of Zidoo X9S review, as Eweat R9 Plus has basically the same settings, except only “Auto 1080p24” option is available in the Display section, Deep Color Mode (AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF) is gone, and the Playback section is missing together with “Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz”, “Force SD audio”, “Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)”.

I could set the resolution (“TV System”) to 3840x2160P @ 60Hz without any issues, but I’ve noticed the video output will sometimes fall back to 720p or 1080p after a power cycle. I could not find any option to adjust overscan either, so I had some black zone on all edges of my TV. Those are issues, but the latter at least should be easy to fix via firmware upgrades.

Once I found that LAN is actually WAN, and WAN is LAN, I had no troubles at all with Ethernet and WiFi, and OpenWrt options are also exactly the same as on Zidoo X9S.

You only get 9.31GB of the 16GB in Android because some part is reserved to OpenWrt, but it still more than the 8.91GB I had on X9S. In theory it should be plenty enough, but after a day or two of use, my internal storage was completely full, despite not installing that many apps.

android-storage-fullEventually I found that since my 1TV hard drive had millions of files, Android’s “Media Storage” activity had created two very large databases. Disabling Media Storage fixed the issue, and after clearing the data from “Media Storage” I had close to 8GB free. Alternatively you can add an empty .nomedia files in the directory you do not want to system to scan, for example the root of the harddrive if you don’t want it to scan anything.

Going into the About device section, we can see “R9Plus” model runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17.

about-device-r9plusThe firmware is rooted, and OTA firmware update is done with SystemUpdate app, and I could upgrade from R9PLUS_V1.1_20161130 version to R9PLUS_V1.02_20161217 version which I used in most of the review. I had to disconnect the USB drive, or the update will fail. You can leave the SATA drive inside the box during firmware upgrades.

eweat-r9-plus-firmware-updateThe update went well, and did not mess with my settings, apps, and media files.

The included IR remote worked fine up to 10 meters, but I’d really wish higher end devices such as R9 Plus would ship with an air mouse by default. I had to jungle between the IR remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse quite often depending on the app I used. Realtek apps such as HDMIRecorder, 4K media player, and File Manger may work better with the infrared remote control.

Eweat R9 Plus firmware is stable and responsive, but there are a few small bugs here and there that should be fixed, like the lack of screen scale option, video output resolution set by the user is not always used after a reboot, there’s no status nor notification bars, etc… I’d also wish such higher-end systems would come with an air mouse with keyboard by default to be able to fully control the TV box with a single remote.

Power Consumption and Temperature

Power control support is basic with only on or off, no standby or reboot, but the power consumption numbers are OK, albeit a little higher than Zidoo X9S, maybe because of the 3.5″ SATA drive instead of 2.5″ SATA drive:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 9.2 Watts
  • Power off + SATA & USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + SATA & USB HDD –  11.2 to 12 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD + miniDLNA in the background – 18 to 19 Watts

If you has a drive with many files, miniDLNA – enabled in OpenWrt settings as DMS (Digital Media Server) – will take a lot of CPU and I/O resources, so if you don’t need it, make sure to disable it. Idle power consumption numbers are with DMS disabled.

While there’s no standby mode, we’ve seen with Zidoo X9S that standby mode is not that useful as networking and drives are all turned off. It’s just must faster to boot than from power off mode. Most cheap Android TV boxes cannot handle more than one USB hard drive, but Eweat R9 Plus had no troubles with a SATA hard drive and a USB 3.0 drive. It might be possible to add yet another USB 3.0 drive, as the power supply has a 30 Watts capacity.

It’s no surprise that with a large metal case, the device stays relatively cool at all times. The maximum temperatures measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device were 35 and 37 °C respectively after Antutu benchmark, and 40 and 50 °C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1 and 4K App, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

R9 Plus comes with Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) and 4K app to browse and play media files with the internal player. So I’ve started by testing 4K videos with both. Bear in mind that while Realtek RTD1295 supports 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 60 fps @ 4K, H.264 is limited to 24 Hz, which will be a problem with you shot 4K H.264 30 fps videos with a camera or your smartphone, and 4K VP9 @ 60 fps is supposed to be supported, and with DDR4 memory I had hope some progress may be made here, but unfortunately the limit is really 30 fps, which could be an issue with some (downloaded) YouTube videos. Out of Specs videos are prefixed with OoO.

Kodi 16.1 4K App
OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) Not smooth Not smooth, although better than Kodi
sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) Not smooth OK
Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) OK OK
phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) OK OK
BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) Not perfectly smooth OK
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 Not smooth at all Not smooth
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 Not smooth at all, and artifacts Not smooth, audio delays
Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) 1st try: Still image (first frame) + audio
2nd try: OK
OK
Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) OK OK
Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) 1st try:plays a few frame, then freezes, audio still playing
2nd try: OK
OK
OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) 1fps, audio cuts Can’t play
OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) Not smooth Slow motion
tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) Unwatchable, and many audio cuts Not smooth audio cuts
The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) Not smooth at all, some audio cuts Not smooth, no audio

For some reasons Kodi 16.1 will fail to start playing some videos the first time, but play them the second time. Just like on Zidoo X9S – but worse – Kodi 16.1 implementation is not as good as the internal player, so for best user experience you’d have to use the 4K player. Automatic refresh rate switching works with 4K app, with 23.975/24Hz, 25 Hz, 29.97 Hz and 59.94 Hz with the latest firmware. It does not work at all with Kodi.

For so the audio tests, I’ve stopped using Kodi, and only used 4K app with PCM 2.0 downmixing and audio pass-through via HDMI.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK (DD 5.1), but wrong aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK (DD 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK (DTS-HD MSTR)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK (DTS-HD HR)
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS-HD MSTR

So HDMI audio pass-through is working very well, and I did not experience some of the audio cuts I had on Zidoo X9S with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Those may have been fixed since Zidoo X9S review however.

Below are a few screenshots from 4K video app starting with the list of storage devices/partitions…

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… the menu available once you’ve selected a storage device…

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.. and subtitle options while playing a video.

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I’ve also quickly tested Blu-ray ISOs (Sintel and Amat videos) and both could play. Finally, I play a 2-hour 1080p video to make sure the system can play a full movie, which I does.

Antutu Video Tester score (820 points) is a little lower than on Zidoo X9S (888).

eweat-r9-plus-antutu-video-testerBut the videos that failed are exactly the same:

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-resultsDRM info crashed each time, just like on X9S, so there’s problably no DRM support at all.

HDMIRecorder App

Eweat R9 Plus HDMIRecorder, as its name implies, allows you to record video from an HDMI input source. It can record up to 1080p @ 30 fps using H.264 codec in TS or MP4 container format, with a bitrate up to 10Mbit/s.

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It will also record audio, and you can select the output with the “Path” field. It will create a new “hdmi” directory to store the recorded videos.

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Once recording has started, it will work in the background (see recording info in the top right corner below) and you can browse the web, watch other videos, and so on during recording.

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I could then connect to the device via SAMBA, and play with the recorded video with both Totem player ad VLC in my Ubuntu 16.04 computer.

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That part works fine, and looks similar to Zidoo HDMI In app, however it lacks some goodies like PiP support and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S. So if so those functions are important to you, Zidoo X9S clearly has an edge of Eweat device here.

OpenWrt and NAS functions

If you want to learn more about settings up OpenWrt on Eweat R9 Plus, I’ll redirect you to OpenWrt and NAS functions section of Zidoo X9S review as all features are identical.

You can control OpenWrt manin function in Android settings…

eweat-r9-plus-openwrt

… and fine tune OpenWrt settings through LuCi web interface.

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I tested SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent. Performance on Eweat R9 Plus was very good with FTP transfer at ~105 MB/s, and 40 MB/s for SAMBA file copy to the internal SATA, very similar to Zidoo X9S with respectively about 90 MB/s and 50 MB/s.

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Eweat R9 Plus FTP Transfer – Click to Enlarge

eweat-r9-plus-samba-transfer

Eweat R9 Plus SAMBA Transfer

Contrary to my experience with Zidoo X9S, BitTorrent worked just fine and the transfer quickly saturated my 20 Mbps Internet connection.

eweat-r9-plus-bittorrentBear in mind that firmware evolves overtime and it’s quite possible Zidoo has already fixed the issue.

This time I also tested OpenWrt opkg system manager to see if it would work. After connecting to the device through ssh, I tried to update the packages and it failed miserably:

So if you want to install packages, you’d probably have to build them yourself, or copy and install opkg packages built for ARM architecture manually.

WiFi Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet works perfectly above with transfers at 105 MB/s through FTP basically saturing the Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, so I’ll only focus on WiFi in the network performance section. Eweat R9 Plus has excellent WiFi performance with both 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps), roughly matching Zidoo X9S equally good performance.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

All you need to know is that Eweat R9 Plus is one of the top devices for WiFi  for all devices I’ve tested over the year.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, however once I started transferring files from my phone to the device, I either got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped”, and when lucky, the transfer was initiated with Eweat R9 Plus showing an overlay message reading “”Incoming file from another device, please confirm…”. That’s all good but since there’s no notification bar, and no pop-up window, I had no idea where to confirm the transfer, and it eventually time out. I could not test Bluetooth Low Energy, because all my device are either broken or lost.

Bluetooth is not completely useless however, as I could get Sixaxis to work with my PS3 BT gamepad clone, and I paired X1T Bluetooth earbuds successfully, and listen to a YouTube video.

Storage

Eweat R9 Plus could mount NTFS, EXT-4, and NTFS partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate expansion harddrive with only BTRFS failing to be recognized. A FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode, as well as my SATA drive formatted with NTFS.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 OK OK
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write for the SATA interface, a decent performance for all supported file systems through USB 3.0:

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  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 37.93 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 37.67 MB/s – Write: 39.43 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 37.04 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 140.78 MB/s – Write: 86.30 MB/s

Eweat R9 Plus looks faster than Zidoo X9S using SATA + NTFS, but bear in mind that the hard drive used was different, so it may explain the difference. However, Zidoo was quite better for USB 3.0 using EXT-4 and NTFS, but quite poor for exFAT, which R9 Plus appears to support well.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I also measured internal storage performance, but unfortunately A1SD bench reported “Cached Read”, so the read speed is not valid. The write speed of about 55 MB/s is however, and this is quite good. The actual read speed in the chart below should be lower than 140+ MB/s, but usually read speed is faster than write speed, so performance should still be good.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and Beach Buggy Racing (with max quality) using a gamepad, and both games played perfectly well. Then I switched to Riptide GP2, again with maximum resolution settings. It’s started begin playable – but not quite 60fps – just like on Amlogic S905/S912 TV boxes, and Zidoo X9S, but then I noticed the image would freeze from time to time, and after a race was completed,  it may have a 10 seconds black screen before going to the main menu. So I checked the CPU usage in OpenWrt (SSH terminal), and notice miniDLNA with a high CPU usage. So I disabled DMS in Android’s OpenWrt settings, miniDLNA stopped running, and I could play the game for 15 minutes more without issues, nor performance degradation over time.

Eweat R9 Plus Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z.. R9PLUS (rtk_kylin32) model with a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU, so no surprise here.

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The device reached 36,076 points in Antutu 6.2 against 34,976 points for Zidoo X9S Antutu score.
eweat-r10-plus-antutu

There are a few potential explanations for the small difference: 1. R9 Plus firmware is more recent, 2. it’s winter here (~ 22 °C), and 3. R9 Plus has DDR4 ram instead of DDR3 RAM. However the strange thing is that R9 Plus RAM score is 3,046 points, but Zidoo X9S got 3,960 points which does not make any sense.

eweat-r9-plus-vellamo
Vellamo 3.x scores are pretty similar with R9 Plus getting 1,430, 881 and 2,539 points for respectively multicore, metal, and Chrome Browser benchmarks, against 1,457, 831 and 2,638 points for Zidoo X9S. So it looks like DDR4 memory does not help for any benchmarks, including 3Dmark’s Ice Storm Extreme.

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4,359 points for Eweat R9 Plus against 4,574 for X9S.

Conclusion

Eweat R9 Plus is a solid device, and I really like the internal 3.5″ SATA bay, internal and external storage, as well as networking performance is really outstanding too. However I would have wished the firmware to have fewer bugs, and just like for Zidoo X9S, Realtek RTD1295 SoC has some limited 4K capabilities when it comes with H.264 and VP9. Getting the optimal performance may require some tweaks like disabling some server services.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • 4K app plays 4K H.265 videos very well with automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio
  • Excellent Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Excellent internal and SATA storage performance, and good USB 3.0 performance
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are well supported
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording up to 1080p30 (4K input is also supported but record at 1080p30 max)
  • OpenWrt NAS functions such as SAMBA, FTP, and BitTorrent running at the same time as Android, as well as router functions thanks to its two Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio licenses are included, so audio will work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Good hardware design with internal 3.5″ SATA bay

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations:
    • 4K H.264 up to 24 fps which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones
    • 4K VP9 up to 30 fps, as 60 fps is not well supported. This will be an issue for some 4K videos downloaded from YouTube
  • Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) is not really working that well with many 4K videos not playing smoothly (even those within specs) and automatic frame rate not working. So 4K app is recommended
  • No DRM support (DRM info app will crash)
  • HDMI input works, but does not include features like picture-in-picture and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S
  • You’ll probably have to use both the include IR remote control AND a air mouse or other input device to fully use the device. A air mouse specifically designed for the box would be a plus.
  • Scale screen option missing in firmware, so I had black edges on my TV the whole time (should be easy to fix with firmware update)
  • No option for status and notifications bars
  • Bluetooth file transfer is unreliable (crash) and there’s no way to confirm file transfer (related to notification bar above)
  • Tweaks may be needed (e.g. disable Media Storage and DMS) for optimal performance if you have a hard drive with many files.
  • The system will not always remember the video output set by the user (e.g. 4K 60 Hz set, but falls back to 1080p or 720p).

Eweat also lacks a community forum like Zidoo, but as long as they keep firmware updates rolling, it may or may not matter to you. Overall, Eweat R9 Plus is also a good device combining 4K TV box, OpenWrt NAS, and HDMI recording functions. Whether that’s right for you depends on your requirements and budget.

The manufacturer sent me the review sample directly. Distributors can inquire the company to purchase in quantities, but if you just need one or a few you can purchase it on Aliexpress for $175.99 plus shipping (about $200) on Aliexpress.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sonoff SC WiFi Environmental Monitor mini Review

December 21st, 2016 6 comments

Yesterday I received two environmental monitors with Sonoff SC and vThings CO2 Monitor, and while I’ve plugged both, I have not had time to look into vThings documentation, but since I’m already using eWelink app for Sonoff TH16 wireless switch, setting up Sonoff SC just took me a few minutes, so I’ll report my experience with the device in this review.
sonoff-sc-usb-power-modemI powered Sonoff SC using the USB port of my modem router, and the green LED on the back of the device started to blink every 2 or 3 seconds. Then I started eWelink app in my Android phone and taped on the “+” icon to add a new device following the instructions here which are basically the same for all Sonoff devices.

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Then you need to press the “Audio” button for about 5 seconds until the green LED blinks faster, at which point you can click Next, configure connection with your WiFi router, and complete registration by giving it a name, such as “Air Quality Monitor”.

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Now Sonoff SC will show with your other Sonoff devices in eWelink app and show the air quality level, temperature, humidity and noise level. You can click on the > button to get to the prettier representation of the data as shown on the right screenshot above. The data was matching reality as the temperature was about 20 C at the time, and since it was still early morning, humidity was high.

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I started to talk a bit loud, and Noise level changed from quiet to Normal. However when I turn on a headlight in to the top of the device, the light intensity was still at dusky… I took at screenshot a little later in the morning and the temperature had risen to 24°C, while humidity lowered to 53% normal, matching reality although probably not perfectly accurate due to the sensors used (e.g. DHT11).

Beside reporting data to the app, Sonoff SC can also be used as a smart hub to control other Sonoff devices. You can create “Scenes” by tapping on “…” icon in “All Devices” window, and add a condition (trigger device) using sensors from Sonoff SC or other Sonoff devices shown as “Air Quality Monitor” and “Water Pump” in the screenshot below.

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However, while I could setup a trigger device (Sonoff SC) using the temperature data, I was not able to add an “Execute Device” despite having a Sonoff TH16 wireless switch registered with eWelink app and set in manual mode (e.g. not using external sensors to trigger it on or off).  I have a temperature and humidity sensor attached to Sonoff TH16, so maybe that’s why.. It might be only categorized as a “trigger device” and not an “execute device” despite also coming with a relay. I’ve contacted the company to see if there’s a solution.

Sonoff SC is sold for $19.99 + shipping directly on ITEAD Studio.

ESP8266 based Wireless Air Quality & Environmental Monitors Teardown – Sonoff SC and vThings CO2 Monitor

December 20th, 2016 3 comments

The mailman delivered two parcels today, and interestingly enough they have a similar functionality measuring air quality and environmental data such as temperature. The first package was ITEAD Studio Sonoff SC environmental sensor with ESP8266, an Atmel MCU, DHT11 temperature & humidity sensor, a dust detector, a light sensor, and a microphone, while the second was v-Air Monitor vThings CO2 monitor v3 also based on ESP8266 with a CO2 sensor and other optional sensors. I’ll test both with their stock firmware later on, but today I’ll have a look at the hardware design.

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v-Air Monitor vThings CO2 monitor specifications

While I’ve already written about Sonoff SC, it’s the first time I cover v.Air Monitor products, so let’s start with the specifications of vThings CO2 Monitor v3:

  • SoC – Espressif ESP8266 WiSoC
  • Connectivity
    • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
    • Optional RF315 / 433 MHz RF module
  • Sensors
    • CO2 Sensor (one of them)
      • CM1106 NDIR sensor with 3-day auto-calibration period and < ±(50ppm+5% reading) accuracy (default)
      • CM1102 calibration-free sensor with best accuracy: < ±(40 ppm+2% of reading)
      • CDM7160 calibration-free sensor with < 10ma power consumption and better accuracy < ±(50 ppm+3% of reading)
    • Other optional sensorsDust (PM 2.5 and PM 10), temperature, humidity, pressure

The project is open source and open hardware based on vESPrino board, and you can easily program the board through micro USB, and custom the firmware that already supports HTTP and MQTT, OTA firmware updates, Apple Homekit (WIP), and Chrome app configuration (WIP). You’ll find source code and resources on Vladimir Savchenko’s github account.

Sonoff SC Teardown

Now that we have gone through both devices specifications, let’s check out Sonoff SC hardware.

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The device ships with a USB cable equipped with power switch, and both Sonoff SC and the cable are stored in their respective anti-static bag.

sonoff-sc-micro-sd-slot-audio-button-power
The back of the device comes with a micro SD slot to store data, an “Audio” button actually used for pairing with the mobile app, and a micro USB port for power.

open-sonoff-scThe device is very easy to open as you just need to loosen four screws.

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Removing the bottom cover gives you access to the main board with serial header for both ESP8266 and Atmel ATMega328 MCU. I understand that ESP8266 runs the AT commands firmware, and everything is mostly handled by the Atmel/Microchip MCU with the Arduino firmware available from the Wiki. The ESP8266 also has a SDA pin, that’s normally for I2C, but I don’t see any SCL pin, so it might just be used for one GPIO.. That side of the board also have the microphone used to detect noise levels.

If beside changing firmware, you also want to hack the hardware, for example changing sensors, you’ll need to remove the two “silver” screws to take out the complete system out of the case.

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One side features Sharp GP2Y1010AU0F dust sensor connected to 5V, GND, and “VIN” (A1 pin) and “VO” (A5 pin), while the other shows DHT11 temperature and humidity sensor and the light sensor glued to the backside. I also asked the company to include the more accurate DHT22 sensor, as I plan to replace DHT11 with it later, and soldering is not even necessary.

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The two black  screws holding the sensors’ holder were a bit loose, and I first thought it was due to a lack of quality assurance at the factory, but then I tried to reassemble it, and it would just not fit because of the “Audio” button… Then I realized the screws were actually loose by design in order to allow assembly of the system.

vThings CO2 Monitor Teardown

vThings “vAir Monitor” box has a sticker on top showing the option selected, and mine had CO2-CM1106, temperature and pressure selected. We can check this by loosening the three screws holding the two top covers of the 3D printed case.vair-monitor-casevESPrino ESP8266 board is screwed to the case, and connected to the CO2 monitor and the temperature & pressure sensor via 2.54mm jumper cables. The latter has its own compartment in order to avoid being influence by the other components. If you order a device without temperature sensor, you’ll get a smaller case without the extra compartment.

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One we take everything out, we’ll see vESPrino board with an ESP8266 module, and vESPrino Cookie board connected to off-the-shelf CM1106 CO2 sensor, and BMP180 temperature and humidity sensor.

vthings-c02-monitor-bottom The bottom of the case gives access to vESPrino button that has no use for now. It’s even more easier to program than Sonoff SC since you don’t even to open the case to load your own custom firmware with programming done directly through the micro USB port.

Sonoff SC is sold on ITEAD Studio for $19.99 + shipping, while vThings CO2 Monitor v3 is sold for 60 Euros with CM1106 CO2 sensor, and more if you use a better CO2 sensor, or add extra environmental sensors with the price going up to 135 Euros with a dust sensor, CDM7160 CO2 sensor, temperature and humidity sensor, and RF connectivity. Bear in mind that both products have different kind of sensors, which explains the price difference.