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Review of M8 Android Kitkat TV Box Powered by Amlogic S802 SoC

April 17th, 2014 10 comments

A few days ago, I wrote an Unboxing and Specs post about the M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9 processor. The review took a little as I was waiting for a new firmware. I’ve now upgraded this S802 Box, and been able to complete a review. As usual , I’ll start by giving my first impressions, have a look at the user interface and settings, test different king of video files, evaluate Wi-Fi performance, and try to cover most hardware features including Bluetooth, external storage, USB webcam, and so on. The overall user’s experience, is very similar to Tronsmart Vega S89, but there are some notable differences I’ll go through during the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Shenzhen Tomato sent me a sample unit which they call TM8 (Tomato M8?), but I’ll just refer to the device as M8 in the review. The device comes with a simple IR remote comes, but did not include two AAA batteries. I only use the remote shortly, as I prefer using an RF remote with Android, and I used Mele F10 air mouse during testing which includes a QWERTY keyboard, and a gyroscope to easily move the mouse pointer. Beside the IR remote, the sample I received only included a 5V/2A power supply, so i also had to take a spare HDMI cable. Retail versions of the box may included an HDMI cable however. Before connecting the power, I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cables, and the Mele F10 USB RF dongle. There’s no power button on the device, so as soon as you connect the power, a blue LED lits up, and the device boots to the same Windows 8 / Metro-style user’s interface as Tronsmart Vega S89.

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

At the top of the screen there are status icons (Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Storage), the weather (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), as well as the time and date. There are also six main menus, the same a Vega S89, but with different apps: Online Video (One Chinese app), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, The firmware in M8 as quite a few Chinese apps, which were not present or removed from Vega S89 firmware. There are also shortcuts on the bottom of the screen with 4K player, Music, Chinese IPTV app, and APK installer by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish, and I’ve done this with XBMC and Play Store as you can see from the screenshot. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

The network settings allow you to select Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the display settings has exactly the same options as Vega S89: autodetect resolution, UHD / 4K output support, hide or show the status bar, adjust the display size, and screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as it’s more more convenient to use that way, and the bar automatically hides when you play videos. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (RemoteIME.apk, adjust CEC controls, set your location (only Chinese cities are available), set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2) and kernel version (3.10.10). There’s also an OTA System Update menu, which does not work. You can access the standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below. If you have already watched Vega S89 UI walk-through video, you may have well skip this one as it’s the same, except from the pre-installed apps which are a little different.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. But If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE.  There’s also an AV output, which is automatically used, if HDMI is not detected. It works fine including stereo audio output. Once you are using AV output, you can go to the setup menu to select between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and select the input on your TV. A reboot is not necessary.

M8_About_MediaboxThere’s 5.75 GB space reserved for the user out of the 8GB NAND flash, and right after firmware upgrade, there’s over 5GB free space on the single partition available. The firmware was rooted. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the model number is  “K200″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… Sixaxis Controller failed to install returning an error in Google Play. It’s the same behavior as Vega S89, and I’ve been told all paid apps won’t install. I’ve also installed the Amazon Play Store, to use one of the free app of the day I previsouly downloaded on another device (Riptide 2).

As mentioned previously there’s no power button on the device, and all you can do is to used the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode. A real power off will require you to disconnect the power.    I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running a 3D game. The top was 55 °C, the bottom 43 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C. This is exactly the opposite of Tronsmart Vega S89 where the top is “cool”, but the bottom is hot.

As expected performance is good, and the system is extremely responsive, but the firmware is not that stable, as I experienced several hangs up / freezes, requiring a power cycle. This happened during benchmarks, gaming and while taking screenshots. In two instance, the device apparently turned itself off automatically (Blue LED off), maybe due to overheating. I also had some text input issues from times to times (double characters) using Mele F10, and it also happened with Vega S89 but I forgot to mention it.

Video Playback

XBMC 13.0-beta 1 is pre-installed on the device, so I’ve used XBMC for video testing. I only used MX Players in case of errors, and to double check Dolby / DTS audio.. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on Ubuntu 13.10 using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some videos with H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Nothing happens.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p is – OK. (1080p failed in Vega S89)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only then crash,
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK. No audio/video sync issues as in Vega S89.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below, using PCM in XBMC, and I got the same results as with Vega S89:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

MX Player, however, won’t output any audio when playing these files using the H/W decoder.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video.

I’ve tested several 4K Videos in MX Player (XBMC does not work – audio only):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (60 Mbps) – OK
  • Sintel.2010.4K.mkv – Frequent pauses (buffering?) during playback after enabling S/W decode for AC3 5.1 audio. No audio output using the H/W audio decoder.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion video playback in MX Player…

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play, except one FLV which only had audio output. I did not experience the audio/video sync issues I found in Vega S89 in any of the videos.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

Using ES File Explorer, I’ve transferred a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. I’ve tried testing the transfer at different times to avoid the issues I had with Vega S89. But the results were more or less consistent. Wit5h this device there’s a clear difference in performance between transfers between SAMBA to the flash, and vice versa. Transferring the file between flash and SAMBA took between 3:16 and 4:54, but in the reverse direction it took between 5:51 and 7:47.  The transfer times averaged a poor 5:02 (0.92 MB/s), which makes M8 the laggard among devices I’ve tried.

M8_Wi-Fi_PerformanceI’ve tried to play some of the 1080p videos from Linaro samples, and none of them could play without pauses due to buffering.

I’ll add the usual disclaimer about Wi-Fi: “Please bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be greatly different from the ones I’ve gotten here.”

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, and you can enabled it only from the standard Android settings, as there’s no option in the Metro style settings. M8 won’t find any devices (I have a Linux PC with a Bluetooth dongle and an Android phone). How I can pair my phone (ThL W200) to M8. Unfortunately it does not seem to work that well, as I failed to transfer any files, as there’s no notifications after sending a picture from either direction. My Ubuntu PC can detect M8, but fails to pair.

I’ve skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Check (free app), as M8 can’t install paid apps, and in this case, Sixaxis Controller.

External Storage

I could use both an SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully, and played some MP3 and videos.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could also start a video call in Google Hangouts, something that did not work with Vega S89.

Gaming

I’ve tested  games: Angry Birds Star Wars, Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide 2. The first two are simple games that play fine on all recent dual core or quad core hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. Riptide 2 could run very well too. With the Mali-450MP6 GPU there should not be any problems running the vast majority of Android games with high graphics details.

Since we can’t install paid app, I could not test Sixaxis controller. I found it’s usually difficult to play games on Android TV devices, but I’ve seen SomeCoolTechs video review of the Vega S89 using G910 bluetooth gamepad that works with many games without much hassle, which I may have to check out. You could also use with your smartphone as a controller using Droidmote.

M8 / TM8 Benchmarks

CPU-Z gives bascially the same information for M8 as for Vega S89. The CPU is reported as a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz with an ARM Mali-450 GPU, and the board is also the same: k200. However, the firmware won’t be fully compatible as Vega S89 Elite (8 GB flash) uses AP6220 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz), and Vega S89 (16 GB) and M8 (8GB) uses AP6330 (2.4/5GHz).

M8_CPU_Z

The rest is also exactly the same including pixel resolution (1920 x 1008), “dp” resolution (1280 x 672) 1578 MB RAM (available to Android), and 5.75 GB flash for the user.

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

M8 gets 24,133 in Antutu from, the play store, against 22,603 for Vega S89 Elite. In Vega S89, Antutu detailed results showed “4x cores @ 1104 MHz”, but in M8 it shows correctly “4x cores @ 1992 MHz”. Firmware is newer in the M8, so this may one reason. Some people have reported reaching 30,000 points in Antutu, with allegedly the same firmware, so I wonder if it’s because of some thermal management, as my room is relatively warm at 28 degree C. Just as with Vega S89, the GPU benchmarks have been run in portrait mode (607×1080), instead of full screen mode, which means other apps are likely to have issues too. I’d like to point out M8 failed to completely run Antutu once or twice, so it may be possible they’ve extracted some more performance as the expense of stability.

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

With 6536 points, M8 gets a significantly better score than Vega S89 Elite (5363) in Quadrant.

Vellamo failed to run completely in M8.

Conclusion

M8 / TM8 has very performance, unfortunately the firmware is not always stable, and there still quite a few issues that needs to be fix.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Smooth and fast firmware.
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC 13 pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet performance (60 Mbps video playback OK)
    • Good video formats/codecs support
    • USB webcam works with Skype and Google Hangouts
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Stability problems. Not catastrophic, but the device may still hang a few times. Could it be temperature related?
    • Bluetooth not working.
    • Poor Wi-Fi performance.
    • Can’t install paid apps via Google Play.
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to put the device into Standby.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped). Probably not fixable (not supported by hardware, and GPGPU not supported by Mali-450)
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (Can’t be fixed, SoC related)

As with Vega S89, the firmware needs some work. The main problems are the stability of the firmware, and Wi-Fi performance is very poor. Bluetooth does not appear to be working properly either, at least with my phone. Compared to Vega S89, M8 however provides a better video playback experience without any audio/video sync issues, and the USB webcam could be used with both Skype and Google Hangouts. There’s the same need to jungle between XBMC, and MX Player depending on the video codecs or container formats used.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomata for providing a sample, and if you’re planning to buy M8 in quantity you could consider purchasing via the company Alibaba website. Individuals can purchase the box through Aliexpress or GeekBuying for about $100.

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Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Board Unboxing and Quick Start Guide

April 16th, 2014 No comments

Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained is an evaluation board running Linux powered by SAMA5D36 ARM Cortex A5 micro-processor with 256 MB DDR2, 256 MB flash, two Ethernet ports, 3 USB connectors, and more. This embedded board targets industrial automation, networks, robotics, control panels and wearable applications. The only video output is an LCD connector so it is reserved for headless or flat panel based applications. You can check full specs on my Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained announcement post. The company kindly sent me a sample, so that I can share my experience with the board. I’ll first post some unboxing pictures, show how to get started with the pre-installed image, and build my own Linux image.

The board can be purchased for $79 from Atmel e-Store, as well as several distributors (P/N: ATSAMA5D3-XPLD).

Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Unboxing

I’ve been sent the board via DHL in the following package, which gives  a short desscription of the board, and what it is used for. There’s also a QR core, but it just returns the board name of some production numbers and dates, no links.

Atmel_SAMA5D3_Xplained_PackageIn the package you’ve got the board, a micro USB to USB cable for power and programming, and a small card entitled “Overview and Compliance Information” which gives a list of key features, a link to get started http://www.atmel.com/sama5d3xplained, which I’ll use later, and some EU compliance informations regarding RoHS2 and EMC. The board is compliant with both CE and FCC standards.

Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Package Content (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s check the board in details.

Top of Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Board (Click to Enlarge)

Top of Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Board (Click to Enlarge)

On the top of the board, we’ll find the 2 USB host connectors, and 2 Ethernet connectors (GMAC and EMAC) on the right, the micro USB port, as well as pads to solder an external power supply and a micro SD slot on the left, reset, wake up and user buttons, as well as JTAG, LCD, and debug (serial) connectors at the bottom, and around the MPU and memories, the Arduino UNO R3 compatible headers with the names of the different pins. Bear in mind these only support 3.3V, not 5V.

Bottom of Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained (Click to Enlarge)

On the back we’ll find the SD card slot, and again, the markings for the Arduino compatible connectors.

I’ve also shot an unboxing video for those interested.

Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained Quick Start Guide

From the link provided on the “Overview card”, you can download SAMA5D3 MPU datasheet,  the board brief, design and manufacturing files, and user’s guide, as well as a Getting Started Guide, which I’ll try out in this post.

The board comes pre-loaded with a Linux distribution (poky) built with the Yocto Project comprised of bootloaders (AT91Bootstrap and U-boot), the Linux kernel, and a custom lightweight rootfs. To get started simply connect the micro USB to USB cable to your computer to boot the system, you should see a blue LED lit up and blink. There’s no display, but there are three ways to access the board from Linux or Windows computers:

  • Using the USB connection your PC.  In Linux, run dmesg to check the latest kernel messages:
    [92045.134415] usb 1-1.4.4: new high-speed USB device number 23 using ehci-pci
    [92045.227589] usb 1-1.4.4: New USB device found, idVendor=0525, idProduct=a4a7
    [92045.227598] usb 1-1.4.4: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
    [92045.227603] usb 1-1.4.4: Product: Gadget Serial v2.4
    [92045.227607] usb 1-1.4.4: Manufacturer: Linux 3.10.0-yocto-standard with atmel_usba_udc
    [92045.334096] cdc_acm 1-1.4.4:2.0: This device cannot do calls on its own. It is not a modem.
    [92045.334265] cdc_acm 1-1.4.4:2.0: ttyACM0: USB ACM device

    In my case the interface is /dev/ttyACM0. Run you favorite terminal emulator program, such as minicom, picocom, screen, PuTTY, etc… I’ve used minicom, and configured it to access /dev/TTYACM0 using 115200 8/N/1 configuration. Instructions for Windows can be found in the company’s Getting Started Guide.

  • Via a USB to Serial board connected via J23 header’s Tx, Rx and GND pins. I’ve also done this in minicom with /dev/ttyUSB0 and the same 115200 8/N/1 configuration.
  • Via SSH. The demo image in the board is running sshd, so provided you’ve connected one or two of the Ethernet ports on a LAN with a DHCP server, you should be able to connect with the IP of the board. In Linux: ssh root@ip_address

You can login with the board using the root account without password. The USB and SSH methods are the most convenience since you don’t need to connect extra hardware, but you won’t be able to access the bootloader that way, debugging the Linux kernel, if needed, will be difficult, and each time, the board is rebooted, the connection will be lost. So for development, you should really get a serial to USB debug board.

Here’s the complete boot log for reference:

AT91Bootstrap 3.6.1-00078-g5415d4e (Tue Feb  4 15:36:46 CET 2014)

NAND: ONFI flash detected
NAND: Manufacturer ID: 0x2c Chip ID: 0×32
NAND: Disable On-Die ECC
NAND: Initialize PMECC params, cap: 0×4, sector: 0×200
NAND: Image: Copy 0×80000 bytes from 0×40000 to 0x26f00000
NAND: Done to load image

U-Boot 2013.07 (Feb 04 2014 – 15:36:32)

CPU: SAMA5D36
Crystal frequency:       12 MHz
CPU clock        :      528 MHz
Master clock     :      132 MHz
DRAM:  256 MiB
NAND:  256 MiB
MMC:   mci: 0, mci: 1
*** Warning – bad CRC, using default environment

In:    serial
Out:   serial
Err:   serial
Net:   gmac0
Warning: failed to set MAC address
, macb0
Warning: failed to set MAC address

Hit any key to stop autoboot:  0

NAND read: device 0 offset 0×180000, size 0×80000
524288 bytes read: OK

NAND read: device 0 offset 0×200000, size 0×600000
6291456 bytes read: OK
Kernel image @ 0×22000000 [ 0x000000 - 0x33be28 ]
## Flattened Device Tree blob at 21000000
Booting using the fdt blob at 0×21000000
Loading Device Tree to 2bb12000, end 2bb1a046 … OK

Starting kernel …

Uncompressing Linux… done, booting the kernel.
Booting Linux on physical CPU 0×0
Initializing cgroup subsys cpuset
Initializing cgroup subsys cpu
Initializing cgroup subsys cpuacct
Linux version 3.10.0-yocto-standard (nferre@tenerife) (gcc version 4.8.1 (GCC) 4
CPU: ARMv7 Processor [410fc051] revision 1 (ARMv7), cr=50c5387d
CPU: PIPT / VIPT nonaliasing data cache, VIPT aliasing instruction cache
Machine: Atmel SAMA5 (Device Tree), model: SAMA5D3 Xplained
bootconsole [earlycon0] enabled
Memory policy: ECC disabled, Data cache writeback
AT91: Detected soc type: sama5d3
AT91: Detected soc subtype: sama5d36
AT91: sram at 0×300000 of 0×20000 mapped at 0xfef58000
CPU: All CPU(s) started in SVC mode.
Clocks: CPU 528 MHz, master 132 MHz, main 12.000 MHz
Built 1 zonelists in Zone order, mobility grouping on.  Total pages: 65024
Kernel command line: console=ttyS0,115200 earlyprintk mtdparts=atmel_nand:256k(s
PID hash table entries: 1024 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
Dentry cache hash table entries: 32768 (order: 5, 131072 bytes)
Inode-cache hash table entries: 16384 (order: 4, 65536 bytes)
allocated 524288 bytes of page_cgroup
please try ‘cgroup_disable=memory’ option if you don’t want memory cgroups
Memory: 256MB = 256MB total
Memory: 252736k/252736k available, 9408k reserved, 0K highmem
Virtual kernel memory layout:
vector  : 0xffff0000 – 0xffff1000   (   4 kB)
fixmap  : 0xfff00000 – 0xfffe0000   ( 896 kB)
vmalloc : 0xd0800000 – 0xff000000   ( 744 MB)
lowmem  : 0xc0000000 – 0xd0000000   ( 256 MB)
modules : 0xbf800000 – 0xc0000000   (   8 MB)
.text : 0xc0008000 – 0xc05b4fc8   (5812 kB)
.init : 0xc05b5000 – 0xc05d2d60   ( 120 kB)
.data : 0xc05d4000 – 0xc063a9f8   ( 411 kB)
.bss : 0xc063a9f8 – 0xc0663820   ( 164 kB)
NR_IRQS:16 nr_irqs:16 16
sched_clock: 32 bits at 100 Hz, resolution 10000000ns, wraps every 4294967286ms
Console: colour dummy device 80×30
Calibrating delay loop… 351.43 BogoMIPS (lpj=1757184)
pid_max: default: 32768 minimum: 301
Mount-cache hash table entries: 512
Initializing cgroup subsys memory
Initializing cgroup subsys devices
Initializing cgroup subsys freezer
Initializing cgroup subsys blkio
CPU: Testing write buffer coherency: ok
Setting up static identity map for 0xc0350648 – 0xc0350694
devtmpfs: initialized
pinctrl core: initialized pinctrl subsystem
NET: Registered protocol family 16
DMA: preallocated 256 KiB pool for atomic coherent allocations
AT91: Power Management
gpio-at91 fffff200.gpio: at address fefff200
gpio-at91 fffff400.gpio: at address fefff400
gpio-at91 fffff600.gpio: at address fefff600
gpio-at91 fffff800.gpio: at address fefff800
gpio-at91 fffffa00.gpio: at address fefffa00
pinctrl-at91 pinctrl.2: initialized AT91 pinctrl driver
bio: create slab <bio-0> at 0
at_hdmac ffffe600.dma-controller: Atmel AHB DMA Controller ( cpy slave ), 8 chas
at_hdmac ffffe800.dma-controller: Atmel AHB DMA Controller ( cpy slave ), 8 chas
SCSI subsystem initialized
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbfs
usbcore: registered new interface driver hub
usbcore: registered new device driver usb
of_dma_request_slave_channel: dma-names property missing or empty
at91_i2c f0014000.i2c: can’t get a DMA channel for tx
at91_i2c f0014000.i2c: can’t use DMA
at91_i2c f0014000.i2c: AT91 i2c bus driver.
at91_i2c f0018000.i2c: using dma0chan0 (tx) and dma0chan1 (rx) for DMA transfers
at91_i2c f0018000.i2c: AT91 i2c bus driver.
at91_i2c f801c000.i2c: can’t get a DMA channel for tx
at91_i2c f801c000.i2c: can’t use DMA
at91_i2c f801c000.i2c: AT91 i2c bus driver.
media: Linux media interface: v0.10
Linux video capture interface: v2.00
Advanced Linux Sound Architecture Driver Initialized.
Bluetooth: Core ver 2.16
NET: Registered protocol family 31
Bluetooth: HCI device and connection manager initialized
Bluetooth: HCI socket layer initialized
Bluetooth: L2CAP socket layer initialized
Bluetooth: SCO socket layer initialized
cfg80211: Calling CRDA to update world regulatory domain
Switching to clocksource tcb_clksrc
NET: Registered protocol family 2
TCP established hash table entries: 2048 (order: 2, 16384 bytes)
TCP bind hash table entries: 2048 (order: 1, 8192 bytes)
TCP: Hash tables configured (established 2048 bind 2048)
TCP: reno registered
UDP hash table entries: 256 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
UDP-Lite hash table entries: 256 (order: 0, 4096 bytes)
NET: Registered protocol family 1
RPC: Registered named UNIX socket transport module.
RPC: Registered udp transport module.
RPC: Registered tcp transport module.
RPC: Registered tcp NFSv4.1 backchannel transport module.
jffs2: version 2.2. (NAND) �© 2001-2006 Red Hat, Inc.
msgmni has been set to 493
io scheduler noop registered (default)
f001c000.serial: ttyS1 at MMIO 0xf001c000 (irq = 23) is a ATMEL_SERIAL
f0020000.serial: ttyS2 at MMIO 0xf0020000 (irq = 24) is a ATMEL_SERIAL
f0024000.serial: ttyS5 at MMIO 0xf0024000 (irq = 25) is a ATMEL_SERIAL
ffffee00.serial: ttyS0 at MMIO 0xffffee00 (irq = 39) is a ATMEL_SERIAL
console [ttyS0] enabled, bootconsole disabled
console [ttyS0] enabled, bootconsole disabled
brd: module loaded
loop: module loaded
atmel_nand_nfc 70000000.nfc: NFC is probed.
atmel_nand: Use On Flash BBT
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Using dma0chan2 for DMA transfers.
ONFI param page 0 valid
ONFI flash detected
NAND device: Manufacturer ID: 0x2c, Chip ID: 0xda (Micron MT29F2G08ABAEAWP), 254
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: ONFI params, minimum required ECC: 4 bits in 512 bytes
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Initialize PMECC params, cap: 4, sector: 512
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Using NFC Sram read and write
Bad block table found at page 131008, version 0×01
Bad block table found at page 130944, version 0×01
nand_read_bbt: bad block at 0x000000c80000
nand_read_bbt: bad block at 0x000000ca0000
8 cmdlinepart partitions found on MTD device atmel_nand
Creating 8 MTD partitions on “atmel_nand”:
0×000000000000-0×000000040000 : “bootstrap”
0×000000040000-0x0000000c0000 : “uboot”
0x0000000c0000-0×000000100000 : “env”
0×000000100000-0×000000140000 : “evn_redundent”
0×000000140000-0×000000180000 : “spare”
0×000000180000-0×000000200000 : “dtb”
0×000000200000-0×000000800000 : “kernel”
0×000000800000-0×000010000000 : “rootfs”
atmel_spi f0004000.spi: version: 0×213
atmel_spi f0004000.spi: Using dma0chan3 (tx) and dma0chan4 (rx) for DMA transfes
atmel_spi f0004000.spi: Atmel SPI Controller at 0xf0004000 (irq 18)
atmel_spi f0004000.spi: master is unqueued, this is deprecated
atmel_spi f8008000.spi: version: 0×213
atmel_spi f8008000.spi: Using dma1chan0 (tx) and dma1chan1 (rx) for DMA transfes
atmel_spi f8008000.spi: Atmel SPI Controller at 0xf8008000 (irq 28)
atmel_spi f8008000.spi: master is unqueued, this is deprecated
CAN device driver interface
at91_can f000c000.can: device registered (reg_base=d08ea000, irq=19)
at91_can f8010000.can: device registered (reg_base=d08ec000, irq=29)
macb f0028000.ethernet (unregistered net_device): invalid hw address, using ranm
libphy: MACB_mii_bus: probed
macb f0028000.ethernet eth0: Cadence GEM at 0xf0028000 irq 26 (4e:68:35:cc:0c:8)
macb f0028000.ethernet eth0: attached PHY driver [Micrel KSZ9031 Gigabit PHY] ()
macb f802c000.ethernet (unregistered net_device): invalid hw address, using ranm
libphy: MACB_mii_bus: probed
macb f802c000.ethernet eth1: Cadence MACB at 0xf802c000 irq 33 (ca:99:58:69:7f:)
macb f802c000.ethernet eth1: attached PHY driver [Micrel KSZ8081 or KSZ8091] (m)
ehci_hcd: USB 2.0 ‘Enhanced’ Host Controller (EHCI) Driver
ehci-atmel: EHCI Atmel driver
atmel-ehci 700000.ehci: EHCI Host Controller
atmel-ehci 700000.ehci: new USB bus registered, assigned bus number 1
atmel-ehci 700000.ehci: irq 47, io mem 0×00700000
atmel-ehci 700000.ehci: USB 2.0 started, EHCI 1.00
usb usb1: New USB device found, idVendor=1d6b, idProduct=0002
usb usb1: New USB device strings: Mfr=3, Product=2, SerialNumber=1
usb usb1: Product: EHCI Host Controller
usb usb1: Manufacturer: Linux 3.10.0-yocto-standard ehci_hcd
usb usb1: SerialNumber: 700000.ehci
hub 1-0:1.0: USB hub found
hub 1-0:1.0: 3 ports detected
ohci_hcd: USB 1.1 ‘Open’ Host Controller (OHCI) Driver
at91_ohci 600000.ohci: AT91 OHCI
at91_ohci 600000.ohci: new USB bus registered, assigned bus number 2
at91_ohci 600000.ohci: irq 47, io mem 0×00600000
usb usb2: New USB device found, idVendor=1d6b, idProduct=0001
usb usb2: New USB device strings: Mfr=3, Product=2, SerialNumber=1
usb usb2: Product: AT91 OHCI
usb usb2: Manufacturer: Linux 3.10.0-yocto-standard ohci_hcd
usb usb2: SerialNumber: at91
hub 2-0:1.0: USB hub found
hub 2-0:1.0: 3 ports detected
usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
at91_rtc fffffeb0.rtc: rtc core: registered fffffeb0.rtc as rtc0
at91_rtc fffffeb0.rtc: AT91 Real Time Clock driver.
i2c /dev entries driver
Driver for 1-wire Dallas network protocol.
cpuidle: using governor ladder
leds-gpio leds.4: pins are not configured from the driver
atmel_aes f8038000.aes: version: 0×135
atmel_aes f8038000.aes: Atmel AES – Using dma1chan2, dma1chan3 for DMA transfers
atmel_tdes f803c000.tdes: version: 0×701
atmel_tdes f803c000.tdes: using dma1chan4, dma1chan5 for DMA transfers
atmel_tdes f803c000.tdes: Atmel DES/TDES
atmel_sha f8034000.sha: version: 0×410
atmel_sha f8034000.sha: using dma1chan6 for DMA transfers
atmel_sha f8034000.sha: Atmel SHA1/SHA256/SHA224/SHA384/SHA512
hidraw: raw HID events driver (C) Jiri Kosina
iio iio:device0: Resolution used: 12 bits
iio iio:device0: ADC Touch screen is disabled.
TCP: cubic registered
NET: Registered protocol family 10
sit: IPv6 over IPv4 tunneling driver
NET: Registered protocol family 17
can: controller area network core (rev 20120528 abi 9)
NET: Registered protocol family 29
can: raw protocol (rev 20120528)
can: broadcast manager protocol (rev 20120528 t)
can: netlink gateway (rev 20130117) max_hops=1
VFP support v0.3: implementor 41 architecture 2 part 30 variant 5 rev 1
ThumbEE CPU extension supported.
Registering SWP/SWPB emulation handler
UBI: attaching mtd7 to ubi0
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Bit flip in data area, byte_pos: 1552, bit_pos: 7, 0xf
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Bit flip in data area, byte_pos: 315, bit_pos: 0, 0xff
UBI: scanning is finished
UBI: attached mtd7 (name “rootfs”, size 248 MiB) to ubi0
UBI: PEB size: 131072 bytes (128 KiB), LEB size: 126976 bytes
UBI: min./max. I/O unit sizes: 2048/2048, sub-page size 2048
UBI: VID header offset: 2048 (aligned 2048), data offset: 4096
UBI: good PEBs: 1978, bad PEBs: 6, corrupted PEBs: 0
UBI: user volume: 1, internal volumes: 1, max. volumes count: 128
UBI: max/mean erase counter: 2/0, WL threshold: 4096, image sequence number: 321
UBI: available PEBs: 0, total reserved PEBs: 1978, PEBs reserved for bad PEB ha4
UBI: background thread “ubi_bgt0d” started, PID 681
input: gpio_keys.3 as /devices/gpio_keys.3/input/input0
at91_rtc fffffeb0.rtc: setting system clock to 2014-02-05 09:22:13 UTC (1391592)
atmel_mci f0000000.mmc: version: 0×505
atmel_mci f0000000.mmc: using dma0chan5 for DMA transfers
atmel_mci f0000000.mmc: Atmel MCI controller at 0xf0000000 irq 17, 1 slots
atmel_mci f8000000.mmc: version: 0×505
atmel_mci f8000000.mmc: using dma1chan7 for DMA transfers
atmel_mci f8000000.mmc: Atmel MCI controller at 0xf8000000 irq 27, 1 slots
ALSA device list:
No soundcards found.
UBIFS: mounted UBI device 0, volume 0, name “rootfs”, R/O mode
UBIFS: LEB size: 126976 bytes (124 KiB), min./max. I/O unit sizes: 2048 bytes/2s
UBIFS: FS size: 244936704 bytes (233 MiB, 1929 LEBs), journal size 9023488 byte)
UBIFS: reserved for root: 0 bytes (0 KiB)
UBIFS: media format: w4/r0 (latest is w4/r0), UUID 5CA0915B-7DF9-4652-92C0-71B9l
VFS: Mounted root (ubifs filesystem) readonly on device 0:12.
devtmpfs: mounted
Freeing unused kernel memory: 116K (c05b5000 – c05d2000)
atmel_nand 60000000.nand: Bit flip in data area, byte_pos: 1933, bit_pos: 5, 0xb
INIT: version 2.88 booting
Starting udev
udevd[717]: starting version 182
UBI error: ubi_open_volume: cannot open device 0, volume 0, error -16
atmel_usba_udc 500000.gadget: MMIO registers at 0xf8030000 mapped at d09a8000
atmel_usba_udc 500000.gadget: FIFO at 0×00500000 mapped at d2400000
g_serial gadget: Gadget Serial v2.4
g_serial gadget: g_serial ready
UBIFS: background thread “ubifs_bgt0_0″ started, PID 782
Starting Bootlog daemon: bootlogd.
g_serial gadget: high-speed config #2: CDC ACM config
Configuring network interfaces… IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_UP): eth0: link is not y
udhcpc (v1.21.1) started
Sending discover…
macb f0028000.ethernet eth0: link up (100/Full)
IPv6: ADDRCONF(NETDEV_CHANGE): eth0: link becomes ready
Sending discover…
Sending select for 192.168.0.108…
Lease of 192.168.0.108 obtained, lease time 7200
/etc/udhcpc.d/50default: Adding DNS 192.168.0.1
done.
Starting rpcbind daemon…done.
net.ipv4.conf.default.rp_filter = 1
net.ipv4.conf.all.rp_filter = 1
Starting atd: OK
INIT: Entering runlevel: 5
Starting system message bus: dbus.
Starting OpenBSD Secure Shell server: sshd
done.
creating NFS state directory: done
NFS daemon support not enabled in kernel
Starting system log daemon…0
Starting kernel log daemon…0
Starting Telephony daemon
Starting Lighttpd Web Server: lighttpd.
Starting crond: OK
Stopping Bootlog daemon: bootlogd.

Poky (Yocto Project Reference Distro) 1.5.1 sama5d3_xplained /dev/ttyS0

sama5d3_xplained login: root
root@sama5d3_xplained:~#

For some reasons the Gigabit Ethernet port failed to get a link from my 10/100M switch. I had no problem with the 10/100M Ethernet port.

Let’s have a quick look at the kernel version and memory usage:

# uname -a
Linux sama5d3_xplained 3.10.0-yocto-standard #1 Wed Feb 5 10:03:20 CET 2014 armv7l GNU/Linux
# df -h
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
rootfs          216M   80M  136M  37% /
ubi0:rootfs     216M   80M  136M  37% /
devtmpfs        124M     0  124M   0% /dev
tmpfs           124M  112K  124M   1% /run
tmpfs           124M  112K  124M   1% /var/volatile
# free -m
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:           246         21        225          0          0          8
-/+ buffers/cache:         12        234
Swap:            0          0          0

So the board runs Linux 3.10 built with Yocto, has 136M free on the rootfs, and 21MB used out of 246 MB RAM.

Building the demo image for Atmel SAMA5D3 Xplained

Atmel Getting Started document mentions the software components in the NAND Flash have been compiled following instructions found on the Linux4SAM website, but instead I’ve followed the build procedure found in github.

git clone git://git.yoctoproject.org/poky
cd poky
git checkout dora-10.0.1 -b my_branch
git clone git://git.openembedded.org/meta-openembedded
cd meta-openembedded
git checkout 6572316557e742c2dc93848e4d560242bf0c3995 -b my_branch
cd ..
git clone http://github.com/linux4sam/meta-atmel
  • Initialize the build directory
source oe-init-build-env build-atmel
  • Add meta-atmel layers conf/bblayer configuration file (Lines in bold):
BBLAYERS ?= " \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta-yocto \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta-yocto-bsp \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta-atmel \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta-openembedded/meta-oe \
  /home/jaufranc/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/poky/meta-openembedded/meta-networking \
  "
  • Edit conf/local.conf to specify the SAMA5D3 Xplained board, and change the package type to ipk:
[...]
MACHINE ??= "sama5d3_xplained"
[...]
PACKAGE_CLASSES ?= "package_ipk"
  • Build the demo image
bitbake atmel-xplained-demo-image

This step will take a while, and you’ll find the binary images in tmp/deploy/images/sama5d3_xplained/ including the bootloaders, the kernel, modules, device tree files, and rootfs.

  • You can also optionally build the bootloaders separately with:
bitbake at91bootstrap
bitbake u-boot

Flashing the Image

After you’ve built the image you may want to install them. You can also download the pre-built Yocto/Poky demo. I’ll use the files I’ve built, but the scripts from the pre-built demo zip file (linux4sam-poky-sama5d3_xplained-4.3.zip), since I could not find it anywhere else.

First you’ll need to install SAM-BA tool to flash the images. In Ubuntu 64-bit:

sudo apt-get install linux-image-generic linux-headers-generic ia32-libs

Download SAM-BA 2.12 for Linux and SAM-BA 2.12 Patch 6 for Linux using your web browser (registration or form filling required), and install it as follows

unzip sam-ba_2.12.zip
cp patch6.gz sam-ba_cdc_cdc_linux/
cd sam-ba_cdc_cdc_linux/
gzip -d patch6.gz
patch -p1 --binary < patch6
chmod +x sam-ba

Add sam-ba to your PATH, e.g.:

export PATH=$PATH:~/edev/Atmel/SAMA5D3/sam-ba_cdc_cdc_linux/

You’ll then need to add yourself into the dialout group inside /etc/group:

dialout:x:20:myusername

Logout and login.

Now copy demo_linux_nandflash.sh, demo_linux_nandflash.tcl and demo_script_linux_nandflash.tcl scripts from the zip file to tmp/deploy/images/sama5d3_xplained/ directory, and if needed, edit demo_linux_nandflash.tcl to match your newly built filenames:

set bootstrapFile      "sama5d3_xplained-nandflashboot-uboot-3.6.2.bin"
set ubootFile          "u-boot-sama5d3_xplained-v2013.07-at91-r2.bin"
set kernelFile         "zImage-sama5d3_xplained.bin"
set rootfsFile         "atmel-xplained-demo-image-sama5d3_xplained.ubi"

We’ve now ready for the flash procedure itself:

  1. Make sure your board is running connected to your computer via the micro USB port
  2. Remove JP5 (NAND CS, upper left of Atmel MPU) jumper to disable NAND Flash memory access
  3. Press BP2 reset button (bottom left) to boot from on-chip Boot ROM
  4. Close JP5 to enable NAND Flash memory access
  5. Change the name of copy the device tree blob file as follows:
    cp zImage-at91-sama5d3_xplained.dtb at91-sama5d3_xplained.dtb
  6. Run the flash script:
    chmod +x demo_linux_nandflash.sh
    ./demo_linux_nandflash.sh
  7. It will take a little while, and once completed you can login to the baord and verify you’ve got a brand new kernel and rootfs:
    root@sama5d3_xplained:~# uname -a                                               
    Linux sama5d3_xplained 3.10.0-custom #1 Wed Apr 16 09:31:12 ICT 2014 armv7l GNUx
    root@sama5d3_xplained:~# cat /etc/version                                       
    201404160759

You can check the flashing log in logfile.log in case something went wrong. You can find some more info on Linux4Sam SAMA5D3 Xplained page.

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Review of Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite Amlogic S802 TV Box

April 12th, 2014 18 comments

Tronsmart Vega S89 is an Android TV Box based on Amlogic quad core Cortex A9 processor. You can refer to Tronsmart Vega S89 specs for more technical details, and checkout my Tronsmart Vega S89 Unboxing post for pictures of the device and the board. As a reminder there are two models of the device: Tronsmart Vega S89 with 16GB flash and dual band Wi-Fi (AP6330 module), and Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite with 8GB flash and 2.4 WiFi (AP6220 module). I’ve been sent the Elite version, but both version should have similar performance. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the user interface and settings, then I’ll switch to video and audio tests, Wi-Fi performance, and perform some other tests for Bluetooth, gaming, external storage, USB webcam, etc.. trying to cover most of the hardware features available on this device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Vega S89 (Elite) comes with an IR remote, but the two required AAA batteries are not included, so you’ll need to purchase some separately. As we’ll soon see the user interface has been designed to be used easily with an IR remote, but once you start using Android apps, you’ll probably want to use another input device. So I’ve also used the Mele F10 air mouse during testing. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, the HDMI and AV cables, and Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power supply, before pressing the power button which is oddly located at the back of the device. The complete boot took 38 seconds, and loaded the Metro style user’s interface shown below.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

On the top of the screen, we can see the network status, the weather in your locale (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), and the date and time. There are also six main menus: Online Video (YouTube, Netflix, and XBMC), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, My Apps (all installed apps), Music, and Local. The last two are some apps to access/play local files with a not-so-slick interface that you are unlikely to use. There are smaller icons at the bottom, some shortcuts with the Browser, File manager, Gallery, 4K player, Google Play Store and XBMC by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish. You can navigate this user interface with the remote arrow keys. For those of you who are not fond of 720p UIs, I’ve got good news, as both video output and UI are 1080p, and you can click the screenshot above to see it the real size.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

When you first boot the device, there’s no network at all, so you need to go to the Network settings, and select whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and both are working just fine. In the display settings, it will detect the maximum resolution for your TV, 1080p60 in my case, and it’s supposed to support UHD / 4K output, but I don’t own a 4K TV to check this out. Other options allow you to hide or show the status bar, adjust the display position/size, and whether you want to use a screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as I find it’s easier to navigate between apps and home screen with the Mele F10. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (not tested, but you can download RemoteIME.apk on your smartphone or tablet), adjust CEC controls, set your location (unfortunately only Chinese cities are available),  set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2), kernel version (3.10.10) and provides access to OTA System Update, which is not enabled. You can also access standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE. SMPTE stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, but I’m not quite sure what it means in this context. There’s also an AV output, but there’s no option in the menu. If HDMI is not connected, it will simply switch to composite output, which worked as expected, including audio output. You can then choose between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and restart the device.

TVega_S89_About_Mediaboxhe product comes with a 8 GB flash, and there’s well over 5GB free storage on the only partition found in the internal storage which should be plenty enough to install as many apps as you wish. The firmware is not rooted, and developer options are disabled in the firmware. I’ve written an Amlogic S802 root how-to that will root your device and enable dev options. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the device name is  “VEGA S89″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… The only one that failed to show up in the list is Real Racing 3, but this one appears to have disappeared from most Android TV Boxes. Sixaxis Controller also failed to install returning an error in Google Play.

The power button on the device is used to power on and off the device. A short press is needed to start the device, but a long press (about 10 seconds) is required to turn it off. You can use the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode, but not powering off the device. There’s no soft power button, so these two are the only options to turn off the box. You can’t do that with a mouse, unless maybe you install some thrid party apps. I haven’t tried. I’ve also been asked to check power consumption, but I did not have the right connectors with me to use a multimeter or check with Charger Doctor. I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running Antutu benchmark. The top was 40 °C, the bottom 53 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C.

The firmware is extremely stable, I’ve never experienced a crash and the system never hung. With a quad core Cortex A9 processor at 1.99 GHz, it’s also very smooth, and slowdowns are very rare. At one point, my brother entered my room, and I could hear a “wow” when he realized how fast switching between menus was in Angry Birds Star Wars.

Video Playback

XBMC 14 alpha is pre-installed in the device, so I’ve decided to test videos with XBMC, reverting to MX Player to check issues, and double check some features. As always, I’ve played videos from a SAMBA share. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, and I added some Big Buck Bunny videos with H.265/HEVC codec from another source (Elecard):

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Only shows “Click OK when playback has ended”.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p is very choppy. Most probably software decode.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped. The number of frame skips does not seem to be related to the resolution.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Video appears to be fine, but after a while I’ve noticed a massive 4 to 5 seconds audio sync issue
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I still don’t own an audio system with HDMI or S/PDIF input, and if anybody have recommendation for a low cost system or way (around $100), that would allow me to test SPDIF and/or HDMI pass-through in future reviews, please please let me know. Anyway, I’ve still tested the audio codecs below, downsampled to PCM, in XBMC, and most worked perfectly:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

There’s HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in the menu, and I’ve already reported Geekbuying tested HDMI pass-through with success (apparently) with most codecs. However, when I switched to MX Player to play these files, none of them had audio. That probably means DTS, Dolby and AC3 are not supported by the hardware, but XBMC can use software decoding.

I was not confident about this one, but I threw a Blu-ray ISO into the test, Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, and it worked perfectly, it was also possible to switch between the eight chapters of the video. I did not have audio/video sync issues.

Amlogic S802 can support 4K video in theory. I tried with HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4, a 60 Mbps UHD video, and it failed in XBMC (audio only), but could play perfectly with MX Player from a SAMBA share over Ethernet. I also tried some HEVC / 4K videos, but they had the same frame skipped problems as  lower resolution videos.

Finally, I played some random AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos. They could all play, but some AVI still had that massive audio/video sync issues, the audio being late by a few seconds.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

The Wi-Fi test consists in transferring a 278 MB files between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa. I repeat the test three times. The first time I tried the transfer speed was catastrophic, sometimes running at up to 2MB/s, but most of the time hovering around 50KB/s, and in some cases even stalling, with the transfer taking 11 minutes and 30 seconds. I went outside, and came back 2 hours later, to repeat the test, and I was unable to reproduce the problem I had during the first test, so I discarded it, but this may be something to keep in mind. The transfer times averaged a decent 2:35 (1.79 MB/s), which bring Vega S89 in the upper middle of the field, with performance similar to MK908.

Tronsmart_Vega_S89_WiFIPlease bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be completely different than the ones I’ve gotten here.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, There’s no option in the custom setup, but you can enable Bluetooth in the Android setting. Vega S89 can detect my PC, but can’t find my phone (ThL W200). However, my phone could find and pair with Vega S89. The first time I transfered a file it got stuck at 29% and the transfer failed, but the second time was successful.

I’ve also installed Sixaxis Compatibility Checker to check if Sony PS3 Bluetooth Controllers, or clones, can work following these instructions. The drivers appear to be there, and I can pair my gamepad with the device, but the program segfaults when listening for controllers. I was unable to install the paid version “Sixaxis Controller” due to the error “Couldn’t install on USB storage or SD card” in Google Play.

External Storage

I could use both a micro SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could not access the Video in Google Hangouts however.

Gaming

I’ve tested 3 games: Angry Birds Star Wars,  Candy Crush Saga, and Beach Buggy Blitz. The first two are rather easy games on the GPU, and run just fine on most hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. As with other Android TV boxes and sticks, there are caveats because of the input devices, and the first two games can be played with an Air mouse, but not the IR remote, and racing games are very difficult to play because you have to move the cursor from on side of the screen to the other to turn left and right. If Sixaxis controller works you can use a Bluetooth controller to play games, but it failed to install on this device. Another solution might be to use remote apps like such as Droidmote.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (and Amlogic S802) Benchmarks

Before running the benchmark, I’ve gathered some details about this new processor and board with CPU-Z. It’s a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz, although I’ve never seen it at 24 MHz even at idle. Maybe this frequency is used in standby mode only. The GPU is also reported correctly as an ARM Mali-450.

CPU-Z_Amlogic_S802_Vega_S89

CPU-Z – Amlogic S802 in Tronsmart Vega S89 (Click to Enlarge)

The model is referred to as VEGA S89 (k200), with k200 possibly a reference design code from Amlogic. Pixel resolution is reported to be 1920 x 1008, and there’s mention of 1280 x 672 “dp” resolution, but I’m not sure what it means here. The device comes with 2GB RAM, but only 1578 MB is available to Android, the rest probably being used by, or reserved for the GPU, VPU, and some other hardware sub-systems. As mentioned previously there’s 5.75 GB flash available to the user from the 8GB NAND Flash.

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

I’ve installed Antutu from Google Play (Version 4.3.3) and the score I got was 22,603, which will be disappointing if you’ve read GeekBuying blog post showing a score of 30,000. I’ve been told I’m not the only one to get this score with this firmware, and the previous firmware was different. The factory tried with Antutu 4.4.1 and got 28,000 to 30,000. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with Antutu (CPU in test is reported as 4x core @ 1104 MHz, instead of 1992 MHz on GeekBuying blog), or if it is an issue with the firmware itself. In any case, I’m pretty sure it will be fix in future firmware. You’ll also notice the GPU benchmark has not been run in full screen (607×1080), testing in portrait mode in the middle of my TV. It’s still much faster than the Antutu  score with Rockchip RK3188T @ 1.4 GHz in Beelink A9, especially with the 3D graphics test which is over 3 times faster (S802/Mali-450: 6800 @ 607×1080, RK3188T/Mali-400: 1960 @ 1280×672).

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

In Quadrant, Tronsmart Vega S89 is faster than HTC ONE X (Nvidia Tegra 3 @ 1.5 GHz), especially because of much better I/O performance.

The device gets 617 points with Vellamo Metal, and 1602 points in Vellamo HTML5, which is lower than the 859 / 1864 points found in GeekBuying review, so there might indeed be a performance issue with this firmware.

Nenamark2 is rendered at 60.2 fps which is the maximum framerate possible.

Conclusion

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) has good performance, a stable firmware, but there are still quite a few issues that needs to be addressed to make it a better product.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Fast and stable firmware
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet and decent Wi-Fi performance (N.B: Potential stability caveat with regards to Wi-Fi, TBC)
    • USB webcam works with Skype
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to turn the device off (Standby), and get up to press the power button.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • Some video issues: Audio/video sync with some AVI and FLV files, H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped), and
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (minor)
    • Current firmware does not seem to be fully optimized for performance based on Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo benchmark results
    • USB webcam could not be used with Google Hangouts

The firmware clearly still needs some work, but I believe this is a good base, as it is very stable, and most issues can be fixed by updating the firmware. Tronsmart usually tries to fix major issues, and GeekBuying will most probably send samples to some members of Freaktab to make custom ROMs that many are fans of, so in time, firmware is likely to improve. One of the most annoying issue is the audio/video sync issue with some AVI files, so if you have many in your media library, these may not be watchable. The need to try a video in XBMC, and then switch to MX Player if it does not work is also annoying, but hopefully they’ll improve XBMC overtime.

You can purchase Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite for $105 and Tronsmart Vega S89 for $120 from Geekbuying, and Aliexpress. There’s a $6 coupon (YYTKMFIX) for Vega S89 Elite, and a $10 coupon (GSFJMTQF) can be used on GeekBuying until April 18.

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Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Android 4.4 Media Player Unboxing

April 9th, 2014 8 comments

Last review, I wrote an unboxing post about M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9r4 processor with a Mali-450MP6 GPU. I’m still waiting for the firmware to test this device. In the meantime, Geekbuying sent me Tronsmart Vega S89 (Click for full specs), another Android Kitkat TV box powered by S802. There are actually two versions: Tronsmart Vega S89 (16 GB Flash, dual band Wi-Fi), and Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (8GB Flash, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi) which is the model I received. I’ll write an unboxing post today with the device and the board, and test the firmware in the next few days.

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Unboxing

Geekbuying sent me the sample via DHL which I received in the package below.

Tronsmart_Vega_S89There are quite a few accessories included with the board.

Tronsmart Vega  S89 and Accessories

Tronsmart Vega S89 and Accessories

From left to right: IR remote control (2x AAA batteries not included), HDMI cable, 5V/3A power adapter, Vega S89 TV Box, a micro USB to USB cable, an AV cable, and a user’s manual in English describing the ports, and explaining how to use Android. Interestingly, M8 is sold with a 5V/2A, but Vega S89 manufacturer has decided to play it safe with a 5V/3A power supply.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Ports (Click to Enlarge)

Tronsmart Vega S89 Ports (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s have a closer look of this cylindrical box to checkout the ports at the back. We’ve got the power button, two USB host ports, an AV output (composite + stereo audio), the power jack, an RJ45 Ethernet port, HDMI & optical S/PDIF outputs, a micro SD slot, and a micro USB OTG port. The top of the box is very glossy, and the side matte.

You can have a look at the unboxing video if you wish.

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Board and Enclosure

To open the box, you need to remove three stick pads at the bottom, and remove 3 screws. That part is easy.

Top of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Top of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

We’ll see AP6210 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz) and its internal antenna, all the various ports, a 8GB Flash chip, and an emplacement for another flash for the 16 GB version. Just like M8 there’s an heatsink on top of the SoC which this time points upwards in the enclosure. The UART pins can be seen just on the right of “Netxeon S82_V2.0_20140304″ markings on the board.

Bottom of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Completely removing the board from the case was a bit more complicated, but by pushing the connector with a screw driver it eventually popped out. There’s nothing really noticeable on the bottom of the PCB, except there’s another thick metallic plate on the bottom of the enclosure. So all S802 based products seems to produce a lot of heat, and require some serious power dissipation measures, unless designers have been especially careful on the Vega S89 and M8.

Amlogic S802 on Tronsmart Vega S89 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Amlogic S802 on Tronsmart Vega S89 Board (Click to Enlarge)

It’s very easy to remove the heatsink from the CPU and RAM, and confirm it’s indeed S802. As I previously mentioned there should be different versions depending on pass-through (S802: No HDMI pass-through support, S802D: HDMI pass-through for Dolby, but not DTS, S802DD or S802H: HDMI pass-through for Dolby and DTS).  We can only see S802 on the SoC, but GeekBuying tested HDMI pass-through on the Vega S89, and reported Dolby (AC3), DTS, DTS-HD HRA, and  DTS-HD MA could work, but Dolby True-HD failed with their receiver only showing 2.1 audio instead of 5.1. This should mean the SoC above is S802DD/S802H.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (shown in this post) is available from GeekBuying for $105, and Vega S89, replacing AP6210 Wi-Fi module with AP6330 dual band Wi-Fi module, and adding 8 GB Flash, for $120. You can also find it for the same price on various stores on Aliexpress.

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M8 Android TV Box Powered by AMLogic S802 (Unboxing)

April 4th, 2014 29 comments

Shenzhen Tomato Technology has send me a sample of their M8 Android TV Box based on the latest quad core AMLogic S802 processor which is said to run Android 4.4 Kitkat. In this post I’ll go through the specs, and show some pictures of the device, and internals. Later, I’ll write a full review with XBMC 13, which I’ve been told is pre-installed. I’ll also receive Tronsmart Vega S89 next week for unboxing and review.

M8 Specifications

M8 has more or less the same specs as other S802 Android TV boxes:

  • SoC – AMLogic S802 quad core Cortex A9r4 processor @ 2GHz with Mali‐450MP6 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB NAND flash + SD card slot
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band Wi‐Fi (2.4GHz/5GHz), Bluetooth
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4b, AV. HDMI supports 1080p, 4K2K 30fps
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV, and optical S/PDIF
  • Video Codecs and Containers – MPEG1/2/4, H.264, AVC, VC‐1, RM/RMVB, Xvid, DivX3/4/5/6, RealVideo8/9/10…
  • Audio – MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG, AC3, DDP, TrueHD, DTS, DTS HD, FLAC, APE…
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports ,Support U DISK And USB HDD
  • Misc – Power LED (ON:blue; Standby:Red), IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A

The box runs Android 4.4 KitKat.

M8 Unboxing

The company send me the sample via Fedex, which I received in the package below.

SZTomato_M8

A 5V/2A, a remote control and a user’s manual are included with the media player.

M8 STB and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

M8 STB and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Although it’s mentioned in the user’s manual there was no HDMI cable. The two AAA batteries required by the remote were not included either. I’d assume these may be included in retail packages, depending on the seller requirements.

M8 Android TV Box (Click to Enlarge)

M8 Android TV Box (Click to Enlarge)

A close up on the box, shows a small triangular window at the front for the IR receiver, an SD card slot on one side, and most of the connectors at the back: two USB host ports, an HDMI output, Ethernet RJ45 connector, AV output, optical SPDIF (that feels low quality because of the plastic), and a power jack.

You can watch the unboxing video below.

 M8 Board and Enclosure

I’ve already shown pictures of the boards of the M8 and Vega S89, but as I got this sample, I found a few more interesting bits.

M8 Enclocusre, Heatsinks and Board (Click to Enlarge)

M8 Enclocusre, Heatsinks and Board (Click to Enlarge)

It may be because the SoC faced down in this box, but there’s a heatsink on the CPU itself, as well as a metallic plate on the casing itself to keep everything cool. I’m not sure if it’s because of the thermal design of the box, or because S802 produce lots of heat, or both.

M8 Board Top (Click to Enlarge)

Top of M8 Board  (Click to Enlarge)

All the connector are on the top of the board, and this is the same PCB manufacturer on the 12/12/2013 and named M9_V0.91 as shown in my previous post.

M8_Board_bottom

Bottom of M8 Board (Click to Enlarge)

At the back, we’ve got AP6330 module for dual band Wi-Fi, and the serial debug port on the top right of the picture. There’s also a sticker with a MAC address starting with C4:4E:AC

S802 Processor on M8 (Click to Enlarge)

S802 Processor on M8 (Click to Enlarge)

It’s quite easy to remove the heat sink from the SoC, as there’s no need to put thermal paste after putting it, as they use a small “cushion” (what’s the right word?). The marking on the SoC is S802. AndroidPC.es reported there are three type of S802:

  • S802 – No HDMI pass-through support
  • S802D – HDMI pass-through for Dolby, but not DTS
  • S802DD or S802H -  HDMI pass-through for Dolby and DTS

I don’t know if the different names will show differently on the SoC marking, or if it will be more subtle than that.

If you are a reseller, you could get this device from Shenzhen Tomato Technology (Alibaba). Individuals can purchase the box from sites such as Aliexpress or GeekBuying for about $100.

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Review of Mele X1000 Blu-Ray Android TV Box (Telechips TCC8935)

March 27th, 2014 7 comments

Mele X1000 is an Android media player based on Telechips TCC8935 dual core Cortex A9 that is said to support Blu-ray video playback. You can refer to Mele X1000 specs for more technical details, as well as my previous Mele X1000 Unboxing post for pictures of the device, as well as the PCB.  Today I’ll review Mele X1000, by showing off the user interface, and going through the different settings, test video playback including a Blu-ray ISO, wi-fi performance, and report whether all other features such as Bluetooth, USB mass storage, USB webcam, etc… work as expected.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

This media player comes with an infrared remote and corresponding AAA batteries, but during most the tests I’ve actually switched to Mele F10 RF remote (not included) as it’s just more convenient to navigate menus, and I’ve also test an Android Remote app compatible with the device, but more on that later. After connected an Ethernet cable, the HDMI and AV cable, Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power supply, I’ve pressed to power button on the front panel to get started. Boot feels a little slow, and it might take close to one minute to reach the user’s interface shown below.

Multimedia Launcher (Click for Original Size)

Multimedia Launcher (Click for Original Size)

On the top right corner, you’ll get the time, day of the week, and the options to add some system information such as network status with IP address. At the bottom of the screen you’ve got a navigation bar with access to “File”, “Photo”, “Music”, “Movie”, Apps, Settings, and Internet (Android Browser). The first four menu give access to storage devices including SATA hard drive or SSD (not tested), USB flash driver, SD card, and NFS & SAMBA network shares. The app section redirect to the list of Android Apps, which only a few pre-installed, including Google Play. Media applications are IPDTV (not working for me), and XBMC plugins, but XBMC is not installed in this firmware, something I’ve been told would be corrected during mass production. The settings menu gives access to a custom setup menu, and the Android menu.

Movie Menu with Blu-Ray Region Code and Playback Options (Click for Original Size)

Movie Menu with Blu-Ray Region Code and Playback Mode Options (Click for Original Size)

If you do not like the default launcher named “Multimedia Launcher”, you can switch the default Android home screen, or even select a “Pop Up” that will ask you each time. The navigation bar shown above will still be there in the Android Home screen, but you’ll have access to the 5 screens to add apps or widgets, just like in stock Android. I’ve kept the Multimedia Launcher for testing.

I have to admit I’m impressive with the level of options found in the setup menu. There are options about the configure the System. Audio & Video Output, network, movie, music, photo, and access to Android settings. It’s the level of details inside the menu that I found particularly compelling. Since there are so many options, I won’t go through them all in the article, but I’ve shot a video instead.

Some of the goodies include:

  • Language options for system and subtitles
  • Screensaver mode and options
  • Auto power off time
  • HDMI, DVI and Composite output options (640×480 to 1080p60)
  • HDMI, SPDIF, and AV audio output options. Pass-through options with HDMI and SPDIF allows you to select which audio codec (eg . DTS, Dolby) to downsample, and which one to pass-through.
  • YouTube Cache Size configuratin
  • Blu-ray settings (shown in the screenshot above)
  • Power button can be set to suspend or power off the device
  • And many more

I had no problem setting up Wi-Fi and Ethernet, the only thing is that both can’t be enabled at the same time, or Wi-Fi won’t work.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing with the user interface always set to 720p. Component (YPbPr) is not supported, but I tested composite output with success. the only problem is that I’ve been unable to revert to HDMI without doing a factory reset in the menu… A video input button on the IR remote could have been nice.

Mele_X1000_About_DeviceMele X1000 has a 4GB flash, and there’s only one partition on the flash providing 2.29GB of storage, which means it may take a while before apps take all storage. All your medi files woudl have to be in external device with as USB drives, SATA hard drives, and network shares, whch I think is just fine for this type of device. Developer Options are enabled with lots of different options. Looking into the “About device” section shows the device name is  “MeLE″, and it’s running Android 4.2.2 with Kernel 3.1.10

The firmware is not rooted, and I have not tried to find a root method yet. I could install all applications I tried including ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, Racing thunder 2, Sixaxis Controller, YouTube, Facebook etc…, except for one: Netflix, which did not show up in the search results. The apps I tried could run fine, except Quadrant with refused to start the tests.

As explained above, the power button on the front panel and the remote control can be used to put the device in suspend mode, or turn it off depending on the settings. This is possible thanks to an MCU that control power, IR, and the small LCD display, which appears to be more or less useless, as all I have seen is the power icon.

The firmware is relatively stable, but since the processor is only a dual core clocked at up to 1GHz, you may not want to do anything else while installing apps, as there’s a noticeable slowdown. For the rest of the time, it’s pretty smooth. There’s an animation between the main menu, which looks nice at first, but last about 3 seconds and becomes annoying overtime. During my testing, the Multimedia Launcher crashed three times, requiring a reboot.

TizzRemote App

In the Quick Start Guide, there’s mention of AirlinkMedia, an Android app to transform your smartphone or tablet into a remote control. They explain to look for it in Google Play, but there’s nothing there. The company finally then me a link to AirLinkRemote which failed to find my Mele. But previously, I found a QR code in the setup menu directing to TizzRemote, which immediately found my device, and allowed me to access control the files on the devices, and play YouTube videos. This also probably means the firmware and software has been developed by TizzBird, a Korean company specialized in Telechips products.

TizzMote App Screenshots (Click to Enlarge)

TizzMote App Screenshots (Click to Enlarge)

This remote app works pretty well, and you have access to files from your device or your phone. The files from the phone will only play in the phone however, where the files in the Mele will play on your TV. There are also remote and mouse modes, that allow you to use the touchscreen of your phone as a touchpad, and with buttons providing video playback trick modes. When I tried to input text using the soft keyboard on the phone, it would just show the previous letter twice on the TV. For example, test would show up as ttss, so basically unusable. The YouTube app is very similar to ChromeCast or EZCast, as you can search and play YouTube videos streaming directly to your box, but controlled by your phone. The YouTube videos I tried seemed to skip frames however.

Video Playback

As there’s an XBMC logo on the package, and at the bottom of the device itself, I expect to find XBMC, but all I could access was XBMC Plugin app. I’ve been told they will ship boxes to customer with XBMC Frodo V12, and I could just install this version. since XBMC Android is currently a mess, with different version depending on the device, I was not hopeful, and I tried to install the latest Frodo V12.3 apk, it could run and play videos, but it’s obvious it was just using software decode. I’ve asked the actual apk, and still waiting… So the only solution was to use the default user interface. I usually play from a SAMBA share, and configuration went smoothly, as the device automatically found the share, and entered the username and password, and success! Or so I was told because I never managed to see any files from my SAMBA share. I also tried with NFS, but same results. I tried to use ES File Explorer, which could connect to my SAMBA share, but it was clearly not using the internal player (required for Blu-Ray), and only the Android video player.  At this point I was quite frustrated. I was given a device promising XBMC, but without XBMC, and  it could not even be used as a networked media player. End of story, I used an 8GB Class 4 SD card to do video playback testing.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – Failed. “Unsupported video codec”
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Black screen only
  • WebM / VP8 – Skip test. “File” and “Movie” menus can’t find .webm video files.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Failed. “Could not play video”
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK

I don’t own an audio system with HDMI or S/PDIF input, but the box could play all high-end audio codec below (downsampled to PCM) without any issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through should work as well, since there’s an option in the menu, but this has to be tested.

Since the product is being advertised as a Blu-ray Navigation Android TV Box, I could play Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, without issue. I could also change the subtitles. I’m not sure how to test “Blu-ray Navigation”. I’ve asked the company at the beginning of the week, but I still have to receive an answer.

Finally, I played some random AVI, MKV, and MP4 videos without any problems. I also tried some FLV videos but many could not play well, either complaining about “unsupported codec”, or producing noise (audio).

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

I’ve transferred a 278 MB video files between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa. I repeated the test three times, and on average it took a cool 1:48 (2.57 MB/s), which makes Mele X1000′s Wi-Fi performance one of the best in the field, at least with my setup. This time the transfer rate in the direction Flash to SAMBA was faster (1:32) compared to the one from SAMBA to Flash (1:56). The SD card writing speed may have affected the result negatively.

Mele_X1000_WiFi_PerformancePlease bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be completely different than the ones I’ve gotten here.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

There’s no built-in Bluetooth, but Bluetooth menu is enabled in the Android settings, so I connected a USB Bluetotoh dongle, which the device failed to recognize.

External Storage

I’ve used an SD card formatted with FAT32 to play videos that hat part works. I’ve also done the same successfully with a USB flash drive. At one point I used an SD card for the Raspberry Pi, and it could only see the FAT32 partition, so either the device can’t handle more than 2 partitions on a device, or it can’t handle ext-2 file systems.

There’s also an external SATA port, but I don’t have a spare 2.5″ drive to test it.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with both Skype and Google Hangouts. Video is working in both apps, and the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat the recording.

Gaming

I’ve tested 4 games: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Go,  Candy Crush Saga, and Racing Thunder 2. They could all run fine. You can play these with the included remote control,. but with Mele F10, this is playable, except the racing games which are more challenging. You could always Candy Crush Saga with TizzRemote, but this requires some practice (and maybe luck), using two fingers on your screen. However, with this rather low end processor, this is obviously not the best gaming platform.

Mele X1000 (and Telechips TCC8935) Benchmarks

Since this is a complete new processor to me, I’ve started by running CPU-Z to get some data.

Mele_X1000_TCC8935_CPU-ZBeside the CPU details, interesting part of the model name (full_tcc8930st) which could be used to build the kernel, there’s only 741MB RAM available, which mens the GPU and other part of the hardware take about 280 MB, and the manufacturer is said to be DigitalZone Co.Ltd & ChipAlive Co Ltd. instead of MeLE. This could be a mistake, as Mele does have their own factory.

I ran Antutu 4.x, Quadrant and Vellamo to test the system performance. Quadrant failed to start the full benchmark, but other two completed successfully.

Mele_X1000_Antutu

Mele X1000 scores 9,002 in Antutu whichseems reasonable as RK3188 devices with four Cortex A9 @ 1.6 GHz, and a Mali-400MP4 now get aroud 18,000. However, please note that the 2D/3D GPU testsAntutu were performed in portrait mode using only the center of te screen (526×672 resolution) which could have inflated the graphics results. MeLE X1000 is listed just under Samsung Galaxy S2 (Exynos 4210), which about 1,000 less points.

In Vellamo, the media player got 1118 points in the HTML5 test, and 285 in the metal test, placing Mele X1000 at about the same level as the Galaxy Nexus powered by Texas Instruments OMAP4460, another dual core Cortex A9 processor.

There’s nothing unusual about the performance of the device for a dual core processor. This won’t give you an optimal performance for Android, but for what the device specializes in, i.e. video playback, it should be just good enough.

Conclusion

There’s no need to hide than I’m disappointed by the device, not because of performance, but simply because the current firmware has so many shortcomings that it real feels beta. Having said that Mele X1000 feels like a solid device thanks to its metallic casing, SATA support, Blu-ray ISO playback, and excellent Wi-Fi performance.

Let’s summarize the PRO and CONS

  • PROS
    • Metallic enclosure
    • SATA port
    • Outstanding Wi-Fi performance
    • Blu-Ray ISO support
    • High level of details and configuration options in the setup menu
    • Decent Android Remote App
    • USB Webcam support
  • CONS
    • Multimedia launcher somewhat unstable
    • SAMBA and NFS currently not working
    • Some videos can’t play. Potential skipped frame in YouTube
    • External Bluetooth does not work
    • XBMC not pre-installed in this firmware (Mass production unit will come with XBMC)

Mele X1000 is currently sold for $179 including shipping, which is quite expensive considering the firmware status, but if everything works, it may be worth it if you plan to play Blu-Ray videos, and have a surround audio sub system. I can see good potential as a media player, but in the first few months, Mele’s customer may spend some time working out the bug, and will rely on Mele to provide firmware update to fix issues. If you don’t plan to play Blu-Ray ISO or rips, and will spend more time playing around wih other Android apps, you’d be better off with some cheaper and more powerful TV BOX, in terms of CPU and GPU performance, such as the many based on Rockchip RK3188.

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Mele X1000 Blu-ray Navigation Android Box Unboxing

March 25th, 2014 16 comments

Beside Mele Cast S1 Wi-Fi display dongle, Mele also sent me their X1000 Blu-ray Navigation Android Box. This device is interesting as it features a new SoC, namely Telechips TCC8935 dual core Cortex A9, supports Blu-ray navigation, SATA drives, and comes pre-loaded with XBMC. You can read my Mele X1000 post to get the full hardware specifications. Today, I’ll show unboxing pictures and video, as well as photos of the PCB. In a few days, I’ll follow up with a complete detailed review.

Mele X1000 Unboxing Pics and Video

I’ve received the device in a carton box, with a sticker showing the specs, and providing a link to meleshop.com. The product is listed in this site but they don’t actually sell it there. and instead Mele X1000 can be purchased in Aliexpress for $179, including shipping via Singapore Post.

Mele X1000 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Mele X1000 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

In the package, you’ll find the media player, an IR remote control with two AAA batteries, HDMI and AV cables, a rather large 12V/2A power supply, and a Quick Start Guide describing the ports, and mostly showing how to configure and use the device user’s interface and XBMC, after installing it.

Mele X1000 (Click to Enlarge)

Mele X1000 (Click to Enlarge)

The enclosure is pretty large (19x12x4 cm) compared to recent Android TV boxes, but it’s made of aluminum, and not cheap plastic like most devices on the market. There’s a small LCD display on the left of the panel, as well as the power button.

Mele X1000 Side (Click to Enlarge)

Mele X1000 Side (Click to Enlarge)

On the side, we’ve got one USB host port, and an SD card slot.

Mele X1000 Rear Panel (Click to Enlarge)

Mele X1000 Rear Panel (Click to Enlarge)

But most of the ports can be found on the rear panel: a micro USB port, AV out, DC-in, HDMI, optical S/PDIF, Ethernet and another USB port. On the top left, you’ll also find a the Wi-Fi antenna and a SATA connector.  Unless there are some SATA enclosures on the market (not USB to SATA), your hard drive or SSD would just be places on the furniture, and on the top of the box with some isolation. On the bottom of the enclosure, there are some logos with CCC and CE certifications, XBMC, HDMI, Android, 3D, DTS Dolby, and Dolby Digital Plus. I’m confident these last two audio codecs will be supported by the player, as Telechips actually paid for the licenses…

You may watch the unboxing video below.

Mele X1000 Board

As usual I’ve opened the box. With metallic casing, it’s usually pretty simple, as you don’t have those pesky plastic clips. I just had to remove 4 screws on the bottom, and slide the case to access the board.

Mele X1000 without Cover (Click to Enlarge)

Mele X1000 without Cover (Click to Enlarge)

We can already see some interesting features on the board. There’s no 4GB NAND flash, but instead the company used a 4GB SD card. I only see this one with HiaPad Hi802 (GK802) mini PC. They are also using a battery, most probably for the RTC. Again, it’s something I’ve never seen on the other Android media players I’ve tested.

Top of Mele X1000 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Top of Mele X1000 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Then I remove 4 or 5 other screws, disconnected the Wi-Fi antenna, and the SATA cables to completely remove the board from the enclosure. You’ll notice a connector at the top left of the board, that’s actually hidden when the board is fitted into the enclosure. It’s a Standard-B USB 3.0 connector. Telechips supports USB 3.0, so I suppose in theory it would have been possible to use Mele X1000 as an external USB hard drive, but the company told me they won’t solder the connector for mass production. The serial console pins appear to be available at the bottom right corner on the picture. The silkscreen reads “TCC8935-g03-v1.10-0″ and “WLBM821-2530110-90″. I’m not sure what the second stands for, but the first could be useful once sources are leaked or released.

Bottom of Mele X1000 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of Mele X1000 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

There’s not much to see on the back of the board.

That’s all for today, I’ve got some testing to do…

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