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Ugoos AM1 4K TV Box Review

February 9th, 2016 10 comments

Ugoos AM1 is yet another TV box based on Amlogic S905. I’ve already published specifications and uploaded some pictures of the nice looking cyan box and its board, so today I’ll report on my experience after actually playing with the device, where I mostly focused on known problems found on other S905 mini PCs, and some extra features added to Ugoos firmware.

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

I filled all three USB ports with a USB webcam, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse,  Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and a USB keyboard (convenient for screenshots), and connected Ethernet, HDMI and power cables. A boot will usually take around 30 seconds.

Before going through the user interface, I’ll mention that OTA firmware upgrade worked very well, and it was one of the first thing I did before the review. Ugoos firmware version used for review is 0.0.3 as shown in the screenshot below.

Ugoos_AM1_OTA_Firmware_Update

The UPDATE&BACKUP app will download the update, reboot the device, perform the update and you’re done. The first boot you’ll be asked to choose between UgoosLauncher, or Launcher3.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

Launcher3 looks basically like stock Android launcher.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

UgoosLauncher has been designed internally, is more suitable for a TV experience, and is available on all recent Ugoos devices including Ugoos UT4, where the latest firmware includes the launcher. The menu selection on the right includes folder for apps called “Internet”, “IPTV”, “MEDIA”, “OTHER”, “ALL APPS”, “GAMES”, “TOOLS”, and “SETTINGS” as well as an “OPTIONS” section to customize the launcher with the number of rows and columns, color, time time, and wallpaper. I found adjusting the rows and columns did not work so well, as icons are cut a little when selecting 4×4.. Apps are automatically assigned to a folder, for example Antutu could be found in “Tools”, and YouTube or Kodi in “Media”. Sadly there does not seem to be a way to customize which apps you want in a particular folder. [Update: you can move apps between category by long pressing on an app, and the following menu appears to let you open, move, select category or delete an app.

Ugoos_Launcher_Change_CategoryNote that a long press with my air mouse in remote mote (using arrows key + OK) would only launch the application, but if I switch to air mouse mode, and long press an app with the mouse cursor it works.]

I’m also not a fan of listing apps by chronological order, which Ugoos Launcher does, as it makes more difficult to find the app you need, and switching between the main selections is not as fast as I’d like, as I needed to wait for one second, before switching between “ALL APPS” and “GAMES” for example.

As with other Amlogic S905 TV boxes, the user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080. Settings are basically the same as on the other devices too, so I invite you to check MINI MX review for more details about settings option. There’s however one difference: Ugoos settings.

Ugoos_Settings

You can probably expect Ugoos to add more goodies overtime as they push firmware updates out, but for now, there’s just an option to enable root or disable root access, which can be very convenient, since some apps require root, while others will refuse to run on a rooted device. Unrooting will require a reboot of the TV box.

You can have a better look at Ugoos Launcher and Ugoos specific settings in the video below.

The system set my TV to 1080p50 the first time, but I could set this to 2160p 60Hz in the settings. Unfortunately, like with most other S905 devices, AM1 won’t always keep the settings after a reboot.

About_Ugoos_AM1If we visit Android settings’ About MediaBox section, we’ll find the model number is UGOOS-AM1, which runs Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29.

The firmware also comes with a unified storage partition that gives the user 11.87GB out of the 16GB eMMC flash, with 6.57GB at the end of the review after installing apps, and copying some large files to the flash, so there should be plenty of space to fulfill the requirements of most users.

The HDMI CEC issue I have been having with Amlogic S905 and Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver was still there, so I could not enable HDMI-CEC, and all I got was the “This remote device does not support CEC” message.

I had no issues with Google Play Store, except for HPlus Watch app required for Makibes F68 smartwatch, but it’s likely because the app requires telephony support for handling call and SMS notifications. I also side-loaded Amazon Underground in order to install the free version of Riptide GP2. However, as I wanted to use YouTube, I was asked to install an update to Google Play Services, and Google service started to crash very often (like every 10 seconds), making the system usable, so I decided to uninstall the Updates and the system worked fine again, even if that means I could not use apps such as YouTube, or Google Hangouts. So that’s something the company will have to fix in next firmware.

Ugoos_AM1_Google_Play_Stopped

The firmware may have been rushed before Chinese New Year, as another side-effect of the firmware update is that the included IR remote was unusable, with the power key lowering the volume, and most keys having no effect. I guess that’s the “support for new remote layout” part that caused problem. It’s not clear right now whether the company decided to ship a different remote with new models, or simply made a mistake with the firmware.

That also means that the only way to control power is to use the power icon on the status bar. Clicking on the icon will show a menu with Power off, Sleep, Reboot, and Reboot recovery options. All four worked fine, but since the remote is not working with that firmware, or the remote I used was only send to a few reviewers or beta testers, the only way to power on the media player is to disconnect and reconnect the power supply. I’m sure a solution will quickly be found after Chinese New Year holidays.

Temperature was under control at all times with the maximum top and bottom covers’ temperatures being respectively 39°C and 46°C after Antutu 6.0, and 41°C and 53 °C after over 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, without any noticeable performance difference over time.

I also measured power consumption in three modes with or without USB hard drive:

  • Power off – 2.0 Watts
  • Sleep – 1.2 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + HDD – 4.1 Watts
  • Sleep + HDD – 3.3 Watts
  • Idle + HDD – 5.4 Watts

There are two problems here: 1. Power off power consumption is higher than in sleep mode, and 2. the USB port is not properly turned off in power off mode.

I also had an other issue on my device. The USB port close to the SD card slot would not work at all with either my USB hard drive or RF dongles. The firmware should have fixed this as one comment on Ugoos blog explained:

Some users had problems with OTG usb port that turns to a slave mode and doesn’t work with airmouses and pads. Now we add automatic slave/active mode for this USB port.

But it did not, unless I have another issue.

While the firmware is very responsive, and stable, there are currently too many issues to have satisfying experience, including the remote messed-up key mapping, a USB port not working, and issues with the latest version of Google Play services. I’m hopeful all those three critical issues will be fixed in upcoming firmware updates.

Video Playback in in Kodi 16.0

Kodi’s trademark policy is that if you distribute a modified binary, you can’t use Kodi in your application name. The rule is not followed by the vast maority of companies, but for example that’s why MINIX is called their port XBMC for MINIX, and WeTek will change the name of their “Kodi” app to something else. And at first when I went to Google Play in order to install apps, I noticed that Kodi was detected as installed, which would truly have been a first.

Kodi_Google_Play_Installed However the latest version of Kodi in Google Play is Kodi 15.2 released on October 2015, and the company installed a version of Kodi 16.0 Beta 4, modified or not, built on December 13, 2015. So we can’t trust the Google Play store to report the “truth” about this details.
Ugoos_AM1_Kodi_16.0I’ve tested Kodi many times on Amlogic S905 platform, so I’ll shorten the list of tested videos just like in G9C review. I’ve played all videos from a SAMBA share over a Gigabit Ethernet connection unless otherwise stated.

Playing 1080p Linaro media samples and 720p RealMedia samples went relatively smoothly:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK, but I got a black screen until the user interface was activated
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (1080p) – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother (but unrelated to network).
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Could be smoother, but likely because Amlogic S905 cannot handle 100+ Mbps videos very well
HDMI audio pass-through only worked for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, and for some reasons videos were all played zoomed in:
  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Dolby D 5.1, but with some audio cuts; video zoomed in
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1); video zoomed in
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only; video zoomed in
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only with some audio cuts; video zoomed in
  • DTS HD High Resolution – DTS 5.1 only with some audio cuts; no video, as the system stays in Kodi’s file browser.

That part did not work exactly well, and since Ugoos AM1 is not based on Amlogic S905-H, DTS and Dolby down-mixing is not supported outside of Kodi.

4K videos playback was also a mixed experience:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Plays with a micro pause every second or so.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (H.264) – Lots of buffering, and when the video is not smooth when it plays.
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264 @ 119 Mbps) – Massive artifacts, mostly green screen
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in Kodi’s file browser for nearly 20 seconds, and then starts to play fine.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, after a long buffering at the beginning.
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Plays fine until the image is stuck after a while. Typical of older Amlogic S905 SoC revisions found in boxes shipped so far.

I’ve added 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 to my list of file, as 10-bit H.264 is said to be supported by newer platforms such as Rockchip RK3229.

I played a full ~2-hour 1080p movie over SAMBA to test reliability, and it could play smoothly and until the end.

Finally, I also checked whether automatic frame rate switching would work, and it did not even after enabling HDMI self-adaptation in Android settings and setting “Adjusting display refresh rate” to “On start/stop” in Kodi settings.

Ugoos_AM1_DRM_InfoDRM info app indicated that Google Widewine DRM is enabled. The security level is blank, but it’s likely to be Level 3 for SD playback.

You can find links to video samples I use for reviews in my “video samples” post, and comments section.

Network Performance

Ugoos AM1 could transfer a 289 MB from a SAMBA over WiFi to the internal flash @ 3.18 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 4.34 MB/s using an 802.11ac connection.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

802.11n performance was slightly above average, and 802.11ac performance slightly below average, and both appeared to be stable and with satisfactory performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I repeated the same test, using ES File Explorer, and a large file, and on average the system could transfer a file @ 15.39 MB/s in both direction, making it one of the top performer in this test. however, please note that one of the transfers completely stalled, so I had to repeat the test again.

Since transferring a file over Gigabit Ethernet may be highly influenced by the eMMC flash write performance, I normally also run a full duplex iperf test, but AM1’s Ethernet connection just failed whenever I ran test, and very quickly, i.e. within 2 seconds. After the test I could still see a Gigabit Ethernet link on my Gigabit switch, but Android would indicate no Ethernet connection, and the only solution I found was to reboot the device. So it looks like while Ethernet usually performs well, there may also be some reliability issues.

Storage

The NTFS and exFAT partitions on a Seagate USB hard drive, and the FAT32 partition could be mounted. However, the infamous 10MB free space bug found in Amlogic Lollipop SDK dies hard, and I could still not copy large files to those partitions, nor run A1 SD Benchmark.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No (10 MB free space)
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No (10 MB free space)
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

Internal storage has both decent read and write speeds @ respectively 38.05 MB/s and 14.16MB/s according to A1 SD Benchmark, and it surely helps making the firmware run smoothly.

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

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

Bluetooth

I had no issues pairing my phone to the device, and transfer some pictures, that is until I actually checked the pictures, all of which seemed to have been corrupted during the transfer with some lines shifted and color changes.  I’m not sure what may have caused this. I had a Bluetooth smart watch connected to my phone the first time, so I disconnected it first, and re-tried, but the results was just the same, as you can see from the image below.
Ugoos_AM1_Bluetooth_Picture_Problem

The root options in Ugoos settings is really convenient, and I could configure Sixaxis Controller app to use my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone with the device. I also tested Bluetooth Low Energy successfully with F68 smartwatch and its HPlus Watch app, as well as a Bluetoot headeset which I used to watch a music video on YouTube.

Gaming Performance

Since I’ve tested 3D graphics on several Amlogic S905 platforms already, I focused my testing on how good the system would maintain 3D graphics performance, by playing about 15 minutes with Riptide GP2. I set the graphics settings to the maximum, and the game did not crash like on some other Amlogic  mini PCs, and the game was very playable all the time. So that’s one of the positives for Ugoos AM1.

Ugoos AM1 Benchmarks

CPU-Z did not detect anything unusual, and UGOOS-AM1 appears to be a p200_2G platform, just like MINIX NEO U1, which is something you want to keep in mind if you want to try alternative firmwares.

Ugoos_AM1_CPU-Z
I just run Antutu 6.0.1 performance to make sure the result was as expected, and Ugoos AM1 achieved 35,068 points, which remains  comparable to the 36,741 points for Tronsmart Vega S95 Telos, but a bit short of MINIX NEO U1’s 38,032 points, with the latter most probably greatly helped by its ultra fast eMMC flash.

Ugoos_AM1_Antutu_6.0
You can get AM1 results details here.

Conclusion

While Ugoos AM1 has a good hardware base with above average storage, WiFi and Ethernet performance, as well as a responsive firmware, there’s still some work to be done, as the firmware has some rather embarrassing bugs with the remote control not working with the latest firmware, and one of the USB ports does seem to work, and the pre-installed version of Kodi has disappointing video and audio capabilities. The saving grace here is that I expect Ugoos to get on updating the firmware and fixing bugs over time.

PROS

  • Responsive Android 5.1 firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p with support for 24, 25, 30, 50, and 60 Hz refresh rates
  • Pretty good network performance both with WiFi and Ethernet
  • Relatively fast internal storage read and write speed leading to fast boot time, and load time, and virtually no slowdowns
  • Root can easily be enabled/disabled in the settings
  • Performance is high and constant overtime, as tested with Riptide GP2.
  • Ugoos commitment to provide firmware upgrades
  • Widevine DRM support (likely Level 3 only)

CONS

  • The remote control is not working at all with the latest firmware
  • One of the USB port is also not working at all, and this could be a firmware issue TBC.
  • Kodi has various bugs random black screens, some videos playing zoomed in, and some videos that should play well are not. Audio pass-through is also not working in a satisfying manner, limited to DTS and Dolby 5.1 with audio cuts, and complete lack of support for TrueHD and DTS HD
  • The latest Google Play services will always crash, and if the latest version is not installed, Google Apps like YouTube won’t run.
  • Power off power consumption is higher than sleep power consumption, and USB is not turned off in power off mode.
  • 10 MB free space bug on some USB device is still not fixed
  • Potential Ethernet instability under high traffic
  • Images get corrupted during Bluetooth transfer (Unsure of cause yet).

If you’d rather wait for the most critical issues to be fixed before purchasing the device, I’d recommend you to follow Ugoos Blog, where they post news about new firmware updates.

I’d like to thanks Ugoos for sending a review sample. and distributors or sellers wanting to purchase in quantities may contact the company via AM1 product page. Ugoos AM1 is now also available for sale on e-retailers such as Aliexpress for $89.90 with free shipping, GeekBuying for $87.99, ChinaVasion for $74.62 + shipping, or GearBest for $88.74.

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K3 Wintel Keyboard PC Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

February 8th, 2016 No comments

Keyboard computers have made a – rather quiet – comeback with products like PiPo K1 and T20 keyboard PCs running Windows 10 and/or Android 4.4, and Geekbuying has now sent me another model with K3 Wintel keyboard PC powered by Intel Atom Z3735F processor with 2GB RAM and 32GB eMMC flash. I’ll go through the specifications first, before taking pictures of the keyboard, and tearing it down to see how it has been made.

K3 Keyboard computer specifications

The hardware specifications are similar to other Bay Trail mini PCs and sticks except for the added keyboard:

  • SoC – Intel Atom Z3735F “Bay Trail” quad core processor @ 1.33 GHz / 1.83 GHz (Turbo) with Intel HD graphics
  • System Memory – 2 GB LPDDR3L
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC + micro SD card slot
  • Keyboard – 76-key keyboard with touchpanel
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4, and VGA
  • Audio I/F – HDMI, 3.5mm earphone jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host
  • Misc – Power Button, power LED, RTC battery
  • Power Supply – 5V/2.5A
  • Dimensions – 287 x 125 x 26.5 mm
  • Weight – 304 grams

The keyboard is said to run Windows 10 activated, i.e. with a proper license. They also claim that while TV sticks get hot easily, the keyboard PC has much better thermal performance. We’ll see.

K3 Keyboard PC Unboxing

I’ve received the device in a complete bland carton box, so I’ll get the package content immediately.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The QWERTY keyboard PC comes with a 5V/2.5A power supply, and an “Intel Tablet PC” Quick Start Guide.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

All ports and buttons are on the back of the keyboard with the power button, audio jack, HDMI and VGA outputs, two USB 2.0 host ports, Gigabit Ethernet, the power jack, and a micro SD card slot.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The keyboard is slightly at a fixed angle, and this cannot be adjusted higher or lower.
K3_Profile

K3 Keyboard PC Teardown

Most of the time, a teardown starts on the bottom of the device, but with this keyboard computer, there’s nothing to do here.

K3_Keyboard_PC_BottomInstead you need to slide a sharp tool, preferably in plastic, at the top to take the keyboard itself from the case.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

So we can see why the keyboard can claim better  cooling than sticks, as a metal plate is attached on top of the processor, memory and flash, with a thin thermal pas making contact with a large metal sheet holding the keyboard.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

A close up on the board reveals some of the chips used in the design: Realtek ALC5640 audio codec, Davicom DM9621ANP USB 2.0 to Fast Ethernet controller, Genesys Logic GL850G USB hub, Realtek RTL8723BS WiFi module, and Analogix ANX6210 displayPort to VGA converter. The chip in 48 QFN package on the right reads something like SH66F80Q. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but based on the PCB traces it’s used to handle the keyboard. The board is named “K702-Z3735F-V1_1”.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I had to loosen five screws, including one under the white thermal pad to take out the board. The logo close to the center of the board probably refers to CHIPHD design company, whose website is chiphd dot com (potential harmful site according to Google and Firefox browser), but the company’s contact details are also available on another website. The RTC battery can be found under the black tape on the right, and the three screws with red “glue” and used to hold the cooling metal plate in place.

K3_Keyboard_Processor_CoolingI did not want to mess with that before the review, so I’ve taken a side picture that shows the processor, metal plate and thermal pad.

I’d like to thanks GeekBuying for providing a sample for review, and if you are interested you could purchase the device for $114.99 on their website. Few other sites sell the product, but it can also be found on eBay, and Banggood. K3 appears to have the same exact design as T20 Keyboard PC that runs both Windows 10 and Android 4.4. I’ll complete the review with performance and reliability testing when time permits.

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Zidoo X5 TV Box Unboxing and Teardown

February 2nd, 2016 1 comment

Zidoo X5 is the latest Android TV from Zidoo, based on Amlogic S905 quad core processor, with 1GB RAM and 8GB flash. The company sent me a review sample, and I’ll start with pictures of the device and board, before writing a full review in a couple of months.

Zidoo X5 Unboxing

I got the device by DHL in the typical white and green Zidoo branded package.

Zidoo_X5_Package

The device ships with an HDMI cable, a remote control with IR learning function that requires two AAA batteries (not included), a 5V/2A power adapter, and Zidoo X5 “simple manual”.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Zidoo is innovating for the enclosure of the devices, not following the rectangular shape of most TV boxes on the market.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The front panel is extra thin and includes a small window for the power LED and IR receiver, while on one side, we can find two USB 2.0 ports and a micro SD slot, and the rear panel features most of the ports and connectors with a reset/recovery button, the power jack, a 3.5mm jack for video composite (CVBS) and stereo audio, a Fast Ethernet port, HDMI 2.0 output, and optical S/PDIF.

Zidoo X5 Teardown

If you want to open the device, turn it upside down, remove the four rubber pads, and loosen the four screws holding two plastic parts together.

Zidoo_X5_Bottom

There’s not much to see on the bottom side of the PCB, except a sticker with a MAC address with 80:0A:80 prefix that indeed belongs to Shenzhen Zidoo Technology Co., Ltd.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I had to remove three more screws to complete take out the board, and we can see that beside the heatsink directly on Amlogic SoC, the company also added a metal bar and a thermal pad that’s in contact with the heatsink for further cooling.

Zidoo_X5_Cooling_Heatsink
The board is called Z_X5_V1.0, and we can see both on-board and a soldered antenna. Amlogic S905 processor is connected to two SKhynix H5TQ4G63CFR DDR3 DRAM chips (2x 512MB) and a Samsung KLM8G1WEMB-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash with theorithecal read and write speeds of respectively 100 MB/s and 6MB/s with 2500/200 R/W IO per second (IOPS).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Wireless connectivity is achieved with a Realtek RTL8723BS WiFi module, IC+ 101GR and PPT C1522C are used for Fast Ethernet, and the board also features Everest Semi ES7154 24-bit audio DAC for stereo output.  The serial console header can be found on the right side of the board on the picture above.

I’d like to thanks Zidoo for sending their X5 TV box for review. It can be purchased for $59 and up on sites like GeekBuying, Aliexpress, or Banggood.

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Unboxing of MINIX NGC-1 Windows 10 Edition mini PC

February 2nd, 2016 16 comments

This morning I’ve received MINIX NGC-1 Intel Braswell fanless mini PC, so I’ve taken a few pictures of the device and its accessories, before starting testing the performance and reliability of this low power computer.

Contrary to the black, gray and green packages I’ve come across for their Android TV box, MINIX has gone blue with their latest Intel mini PC’s package.

MINIX_NGC-1_Package
The product announcements mentioned both Windows 10 and Ubuntu support,  and I’ve received the Windows 10 Edition, which hopefully means there will also be a Ubuntu edition.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Beside the mini PC, the package includes two external WiFi antenna, an HDMI cable, a 12V/3A power supply and corresponding power cord, as well as a multi-language setup guide, and MINIX product brochure.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The power supply should work anywhere in the world as it takes 100-240V/1A input @ 50 or 60 Hz.
NGC-1_Power_Supply
NGC-1 is very similar to the one used for MINIX Android TV boxes, except the company replaced the usual black color, by silver, and obviously the ports are quite different.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The front panel features the power button with three USB 3.0 host ports, one side comes with two antenna connectors and a Kensington lock, while the rear panel includes a 3.5mm audio jack, mini DisplayPort and HDMI video output,  optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power jack.

At this stage, I would normally teardown the device, and in theory you’d just need to remove the four sticky pads on the bottom of the device, loosen the four screws, and pop the cover out.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Sadly, none of my screwdrivers and screwdriver bits would allow me to actually do that, so I had to skip. So the next step will be actually run Windows 10 to test the device capabilities.

MINIX NGC-1 pre-sales will start on February 12, 2016 for $399.90 in North America, 399.90 Euros in Europe, and 299.90 GBP in the United Kingdom.

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Mini Review of G9C Android Media Player

January 30th, 2016 16 comments

Shenzhen Tomato sent me their G9C Android TV box at the beginning of December, but as Google Play was not working reliably in the first firmware, I decided to delay the review a little, and the company has provided a new working firmware a few weeks ago, and I’ve now taken the time to test some the main issues I normally find on Amlogic S905 Android TV box. I’ve also ready shown pictures of the device and the board, so today, I’ll only report my experience with the firmware.

First Boot and First Impressions

I’ve connected all necessary cables, and several USB devices include an harddrive and RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. The device started automatically upon connecting the power, and on average the boot takes between 25 to 30 seconds. Not bad at all for an entry-level device.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The launcher looks familiar…

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

…and the list of apps as well (I installed DRM info by myself). So I invite you to check out MINI MX review if you want to find how more about the launcher and settings, as they are identical in G9C.

About_G9CIn the about section, the Android version (5.1.1), and kernel version (3.14.29) are also identical. But at least the person who built the kernel is different so the complete firmware must be a little different.

There’s a single storage partition with 4.76 GB total space, and 3.51GB available once I had installed the apps I needed for testing, and copied some files.

Like with other Amlogic S905, G9C did not like my AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) for HDMI-CEC, and i was unable to enabled it, with the system reporting that “This remote device does not support CEC”.

Google Play works pretty well with the latest firmware (I can uploaded it if somebody needs it, as I was only given a temporary link), and I could install Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground too, although the installation of the later took a little longer than usual, and it crashed the first time right after I logged in.

Power control is implemented properly as you can turn on and off the device with the remote, or go into standby. A short press will go into standby, and a long press on the power button of the remote control will pop-up a window asking whether you want to power off the device.

The firmware itself appears to be relatively stable, however I could sometimes notice slowdowns, where the mouse pointer could not move for short periods, and in several instances I had apps just exiting for not obvious reasons.

Video Playback with Kodi 15.2

The device is pre-loaded with a version of Kodi 15.2 built on November 4, 2015, and I played all videos from a SAMBA share over Gigabit Ethernet unless other stated.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I’ve started with 1080p Linaro media samples (except for Real Media @ 720), and they could all play:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (1080p) – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Network: Could be smoother, and later on the video is buffering; USB HDD: Could be smoother.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Network: buffering all the time. USB: Playing, but not really smooth

So the system buffers even while playing videos with less than 20 MBit/s bitrate. That’s not quite normal, and they should look into it. The device is also struggling to play the 120 Mbps from the hard drive, but this should be Amlogic S905 limitation since it occurs on all other devices with that processors.

I’ve also tested HDMI audio pass-through from my USB hard drive, because from the network video playback was quite a disaster with constant buffering. Here are the results after changing audio device to HDMI pass-through, and corresponding Kodi settings:
  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1). Video not smooth
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • TrueHD 5.1 – No audio
  • TrueHD 7.1 – No audio
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS HD High Resolution – Network: Won’t play (stays in UI); USB HDD: DTS 5.1 only.

G9C simply does not support audio pass-through very well. Using some other version of Kodi could help.

I’ve also tested AC3 using PCM output (downmixing) with MoviePlayer and Video Player apps and there was no audio, most likely due to the lack of licenses for those codecs.

I’ve completed the video testing, by checking some 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Network: Lots of buffering; USB HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (H.264) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI).
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Won’t play at all (stays in UI)

I’ve added a very high bitrate video with Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv which plays at 243 Mbps, and is supposed to work on the latest RK3229 processor. But g9C did not manage to play that one at all, and none of the 10-bit H.265 videos either.

Automatic frame rate switching did not work, even after setting it in Android settings (HDMI self-adaptation) and Kodi settings.

G9C_DRM_InfoI’ve run DRM Info to confirm there was indeed no DRM installed at all in the device, like with many others. Shenzhen Tomato however told me they can implemented for OEM/ODM customers that need it.

WiFi performance

I’ve tested WiFi performance by transferring a 278MB between the internal flash and a SAMBA share three times with ES File Explorer, and with 1.7MB/s transfer on average, G9C is one of the devices with the poorest WiFi performance, at least with my setup.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Storage

The mini PC could mount my FAT32 SD card, as well as NTFS and exFAT partitions on my USB hard drive, but sadly the usual 10MB free space bug found in other Amlogic S905 devices is still there.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No (10 MB free space)
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No (10 MB free space)
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

The eMMC flash has a pretty good read speed @ 38.64 MB/s, but a poor write speed @ 6.64 MB/s with the former explaining fast boot times, and the latter most likely being the reasons with the slowdowns experienced during use.

G9C_eMMC_Read_Write_Speed

Gaming Performance

3D graphics performance of Amlogic S905 platforms is quite well known, and usually the main difference between devices is how well the maintain the performance over several minutes of play time. So I tested Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes for this purpose. However, I had a few other issues at the beginning. The game would be choppy in the user interface at the beginning, but it quickly become usual after a minute of so, and I went through the tutorial without issues or slowdowns. Then I went to the settings, and tried to maxed out the graphics “resolution”, but it would crashed at MAX-2, and I repeated it three times with the same results. So I only set it to MAX-3, but the game would then crash when I wanted to play. So I reverted to default settings, and played for 15 minutes with the games being rendering at a good frame rate over the duration of the games. The temperature at the top and bottom was around 55 C after the game.

G9C Benchmarks

CPU-Z still reports a quad Cortex A53 processor @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU, and the device reports itself as being model “AOSP on p200”.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

G9C achieved 36,060 points in Antutu 6.0.1, or in the same ball park as other S905 platforms such as MINIX NEO U1 (38,032 points)  or Vega S95 Telos (36.741 points). Please note that I had to run Antutu 4 times to get a score, as the app would crash before ending the results, or completely fail the 3D benchmark leading to a very low score.
G9C_Antutu_6.0

You can access the full results here.

Conclusion

G9C Android TV box has one of the fastest boot time of any other Amlogic S905 devices I’ve tried so far, but apart from that the media player has poor WiFi performance, a slow internal storage write speed leading to regular slowdowns, and possibly some apps crashing, Kodi still have a few issues that have mostly been resolved on other devices (e.g. frame rate switching, audio pass-through), and some older bugs I found on other devices that have not been resolved.

PROS

  • Recent Android 5.1 OS firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported
  • Fast boot time (25 to 30 seconds)
  • Relatively fast internal storage read speed
  • Power handling properly implemented (Power on/off with remote, and standby)
  • Performance seems to be constant over the hours.
  • Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio pass-through is working.

CONS

  • Frequent slowdowns due to slow write speed of internal storage
  • Potential instability with app using 3D graphics, e.g. Antutu, and Riptide GP2 with high graphics settings
  • Kodi does not support 10-bit H.265, HDMI pass-through is limited to Dolby 5.1 (AC3) and DTS 5.1, and automatic frame rate switching is not working
  • Streaming over Gigabit Ethernet will often buffer in Kodi.
  • 10 MB free space bug on some USB device is still not fixed, meaning those drives are basically read-only.
  • Complete lack of DRM support
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses, which can be an issue if you don’t use Kodi.
  • Poor WiFi performance

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomato for sending a unit for review. If you are a distributor, reseller, or have a custom project that could use G9C hardware, you could contact the company via their G9C product page. Individual can purchase G9C on Amazon US ($56.99) or GearBest ($52.57).

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U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV Box Unboxing and Teardown with DVB-T2, DVB-S2 and ATSC Tuners

January 22nd, 2016 17 comments

Yesterday, I wrote about U4 Quad Hybrid Android Digital TV receiver based on HiSilicon Hi3796M processor, and supporting for DVB-T2/T/C, DVB-S2, and ATSC standards. Today, I’ve received the device, taken a few pictures, and torn it down to find out more about the hardware. The full review will come out in a few weeks.

U4 Quad Hybrid Unboxing

DHL did their job quickly as I received the set-top box in about two days in the following package.

U4_Quad_Hybrid_PackageThe box comes with a 12V/1.5Am AV and HDMI cables, a WiFi antenna, an IR remote control requiring two AAA batteries (not included), a user’s manual in Korean language only and… a separate tuner…

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

So let’s check that tuner more in details…

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The demodulator chip is LG3390A, so an ATSC tuner is included in the package. Not very useful in Thailand, but it’s good to know it’s included. I also open the cover of the bottom connector.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

And if I’m correct, what we have here is Aihora AV2012 DVB-S2 tuner chip, so that little expansion board should support both ATSC and DVB-S2.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The box itself look fairly nice. We’ve got a USB 2.0 host port and a a USB 3.0 host port on the side (both limited to 500 mA), as well as a micro SD slot, the AV port, and a mini USB port for an IR/LED extension cable (not included). The rear panel features ANT IN and LNB IN antenna connectors, coaxial S/PDIF, the WiFi connector, HDMI output, 10/100M Ethernet, and a power jack for the 12V input.  If the antenna ports do not mean much to you, a look to the Korean user’s manual may help, as ANT IN is referred to “Ter In” and LNB IN to “Sat In”, which should be the left connector if for DVB-T2/T/C and the right connector for DVB-S2/T2, and if you want ATSC + DVB-S2, you simply need to insert the ATSC tuner. The sad part is that doing so would void your warranty according to the sticker on the rear panel… So I don’t really get it.

You could also watch the unboxing video for something more visual.

U4 Quad Hybrid Teardown

You’ll need to remove three screws to open the device. The one on the rear panel above the HDMI port, and two on the bottom of the case.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

There’s a sticker in Korean on the bottom about Shenzhen Sosci Technology, which specializes in, you guessed it.. LED aquarium lights! I’m not sure if there are other companies with the same name, and I picked the wrong one, or they simply chose to diversify. The MAC address suffix 00:11:AD points to Shanghai Ruijie Digital Technology, an Internet service provider, and the company that actually sent me the product is called Shenzhen Vivant Technology, so lots of parties involved here!

U4 Quad Hybrid Board (Click to Enlarge)

U4 Quad Hybrid Board (Click to Enlarge)

The board called W96M_MAIN VO.4 feature the HiSilicon processor with a heatsink, an 8GB FORESEE NFEFEH68-08G eMMC flash, two SKhynix H5TQ4G63AFR DDR3 chips (2x 512MB), and Realtek RTL8188ETV Wifi module.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

If we zoom in on the tuner area, we can see AVL6762TA DVB-T2/T/C demodulator, and on the main board itself and located on the bottom right of the picture above, Hisilicon Hi3136 is the DVB-S2/S demodulator.

U4_Quad_Hybrid_LCD_Display

There’s also two LEDs, an IR receiver, and a 4-digit LED panel on the front of the board.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

There’s basically nothing on the bottom of the board, except S1 switch which should be the firmware recovery button.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Vivant Technology for sending a review sample, and you contact them if you wish to purchase in quantities. They also sell U4 Quad Hybrid for $119.99 shipped by DHL on Aliexpress, but a cheaper option is to go with China Post for $106.69 instead.

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Getting Started with NavSpark mini GPS Module

January 20th, 2016 5 comments

I noticed NavSpark mini GPS module a couple of weeks ago, and since it was free, not including $10 for shipping, I went ahead and ordered. Since the freebie got popular, SkyTraq took some time to ship it, and when they did they provide a “not trackable” tracking number, which I’m not sure what that mean as I could track the parcel from Taiwan to Thailand using 17track website without issues.

The packages included NavSpark mini and a USB to TTL module as described, so I insert both and connect VCC ,GND, and UART as shown on the pictures on the product page.

Click to Enlarge

NavSpark mini (Left) and USB to TTL board (Right) Connected to Breadboard – Click to Enlarge

I also connected the GPS antenna from LinkIt ONE development kit to the uFL connector on NavSpark mini, as well as a micro USB to USB cable to my computer. If you don’t have such antenna, you’ll need to add the $9 GPS/GLONASS antenna on NavSpark website to your order.

The easiest way to get started, and make sure the board works is to use GNSS Viewer program. The downside for a Ubuntu guy like me is that it only runs on Windows. But no problem, I started my  Windows 7 virtual machine in Virtual, enable the USB to TTL port with Devices->USB menu, and installed Prolific drivers. However, I never managed to make the driver works, with Windows 7 complaining that:

Windows cannot verify the digital signature for the drivers required for this device. A recent hardware or software change might have installed a file that is signed incorrectly or damaged, or that might be malicious software from an unknown source. (Code 52)

I did not want to mess with Windows in the evening, so I simply started an old Acer netbook with Windows XP. No problems with drivers, but GNSS Viewer did not like my netbook resolution (1024×600), and the program is poorly written as it does not allow you to resize the window.

So I decided to just use the Arduino IDE in Ubuntu by following the instructions in the User’s guide:

  1. I already had Arduino 1.6.6 installed from https://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/Software
  2. You’ll also need the LEON3 sparc toolchain to be install in /opt:
  3. You are also asked to install the 3-bit version of openJDK:
  4. Finally, you have to install NavSpark board manager (http://navspark.mybigcommerce.com/content/package_navspark_index.json) and configure the Arduino IDE to use NavSpark mini.
    NavSpark_mini_Arduino
    This looks good, except for the Invalid library found message…
  5. The next step is to find some hello work app to check GPS connectivity, and this is where I stopped, simply because there aren’t any available samples according to the user’s manual, except demo_hello_world_nmea.
    NavSpark_mini_code_sampleBut when you download the samples, they are all there, except the working one :)…

I’ve ask what need to be modified for partially compatible samples on the forums.

Finally, I remembered I still had a Windows 10 TV stick, I tried GNSS Viewer yet again in MeLE PCG01, and I was happy that after 3 hours of messing around, I finally managed to get a signal, and could make sure the board was indeed working.

GNSS_Viewer_NavSpark_mini

Click to Enlarge

All I had to do was to select the COM port for Prolific, and click on Scan All which connect the COM port @ 115,200, and got a very fast fix indoor.

If you are interested in such GPS module, the “freebie” is still available, and you just need to pay for $10 for shipping, and remember to add a u.FL GPS antenna if you don’t have one.

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Ugoos UT4 Android 5.1 TV Box Review

January 19th, 2016 2 comments

Ugoos UT4 is one of many Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes available on the market today, but it’s one of the model with higher-end specifications including  2 GB RAM, and 16 GB flash, as well as Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi, Ugoos offers regular firmware updates for their devices, and as I found out in Ugoos UT4 specs and teardown post, the mini PC features a fan to keep the device cool at all times. Today, I’ll focus on reviewing the firmware including video playback capabilities, performance and whether advertised features work as they should.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Before powering on the device, I connected some cables (Ethernet, HDMI, optical audio, AV to speakers), and made use of all four USB ports with a USB hard drive, a webcam, a keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and to power my external speakers that are connected to the AV port. Finally, I inserted the power cable, and UT4 booted automatically with a typical boot time being 25 to 30 seconds, or one of the fastest start-up time I’ve experienced lately.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

So Ugoos has decided not to include a TV launch with their device, and instead go with the typical Android Home Screen with some pre-installed apps including Settings, a File Manager, the Play Store, the list of Apps, Kodi, YouTube, and Chrome. The status bar can be hidden easily by clicking on the double down arrow icon on the right of the power icon. The notification bar at the top does not get out of the way in all apps, which may annoy some people… But it does disappear in Kodi and the games I tried. There’s also a small display bug when you hide the taskbar, and the gray icon highlighter, shown on the Settings icon in the screenshot above, will be have an incorrect vertical alignment afterwards (too high).

The box automatically detected the TV is HDMI 2.0 capable and set the video output to 2160p @ 60 Hz. However, I noticed later on that the resolution had changed to 1080p60 or even 720p60, so it’s better to go in the settings (Display->HDMI mode) to set this manually. I could also confirm that the AV port worked with my speakers. Both HDMI audio and AV are always enabled.

The most useful options inside Android Lollipop settings include:

  • Wireless & Networks – Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Data usage for Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Bluetooth, and a “More” section with: Airplane mode, Tethering & Tethering & portable hotspot, PPPoE and VPN
  • Device
    • USB – Connect to PC
    • Sound & Notifications – Volume for various sounds, notification settings, and a Sound Device Manager to select Default Output, Spdif Passthrough, or HDMI Bitstream
    • Display
      • Wallpaper, sleep, Daydream, font size, screen rotation
      • Cast Screen
      • Screen Scale
      • Output Interface – HDMI only
      • HDMI Mode:
        • Auto
        • 4096x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 3840x2160p @ 60Hz (YCbCr420), 50Hz (YCbCr420), 30Hz, 25Hz, or 24Hz
        • 1920x1080p @ 60 Hz, 50Hz, 30Hz, 25Hz, 24Hz
        • 1280x720p @ 60 or 50 Hz
        • 720x576p @ 50 Hz
        • 720x480p @ 60 Hz
    • Storage – Two partitions: 3.87 GB “Internal storage” with 3.57GB free, and a  9.12 GB “NAND FLASH” partition

About_Ugoos_UT4While there’s no unified partition in the device, the 3.87GB internal partition should be large enough for most people. Usual settings like Accounts, Language & Input, Printing, accessibility are all enabled.

Going into “About device” shows UGOOS-UT4 model number is running Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.0. There’s also “vendor software version” reports that’s UGOOS_UT4_V0.0.1.b on my device. OTA firmware updates appear to be working, but my system was detected as being up to date so I could not test it. The firmware is not rooted by default.

While I prefer using air mice like MeLE F10 Deluxe or MINIX NEO A2 Lite with Android TV boxes, an infrared remote control is normally included. So I added two AAA batteries to test the provided remote, and while it works, the range was rather short, and if I stood more than 4 meters away, key presses started to get unreliably detected. I tried with two sets of batteries, and the result was the same.

After successfully registering my Google account, Google Play Store complains I was unauthorized to access my list of apps… But I rebooted, and it worked quite well afterwards. I could install all apps I needed for review, except Hplus Watch for F68 Bluetooth LE smart watch, which I had to sideload. I could also install Riptide GP2 using Amazon Underground app.

At first, power handling appears to be properly implemented, as when you press the power key for a short time it goes into standby / sleep mode, and a long press – or clicking on the power icon in the task bar – pops up a menu with: Power off, Reboot, Sleep, Reboot bootloader. However while Reboot and Sleep modes are working fine, power off  and reboot bootloader modes do not seem to work. The screen does go black, but the power LED is still on, power consumption is high (~7 watts), and there’s no way to power it on again, except by powering cycling the device.

I still tested power consumption, but bear in mind power off mode simply hangs, so the consumption is higher than normal, and hopefully Ugoos can fix it in the next firmware. I tested power consumption without any USB device, and with a USB hard drive:

  • Power off – 4.0 Watts (system hangs)
  • Standby / Sleep  – 1.3 Watt
  • Idle – 4.2 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 6.0 Watt (system hangs)
  • Standby / Sleep + USB HDD – 3.1 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 6.4 Watts

So for the current firmware, I’d recommend to only use Sleep mode. Idle power consumption is also a little higher (1 Watt extra) compared to Kingnovel R8, another RK3368 TV box, and while there could be various reasons for it, the fan is likely the culprit here.

Since I’m talking about the fan, I’d like to mention it is rotating all the time, not only when the processor gets hot. Compared my computer, it’s very silent, but if I turn off my main computer, I can clearly hear the fan, even standing at about 2 meters away. I don’t find it noisy at all or disturbing, but it may be an issue for some people.

The fan clearly helps with temperature, as after running Antutu, the temperature was just 38 and 41°C on the top and bottom of the case, and it only went up to 40 and 44°C after 30 minutes playing Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2.

Beside the power off issue, Ugoos UT4 is a good device with fast boot and app loading, and I only had slowdowns once or twice. So overall it’s a very responsive system, and performance can be sustained over time thanks to the cooling fan. There are also a few display bugs like icon highlight alignment when hiding/showing the task bar, and the notification bar may be an annoyance with some apps.

Video Playback with Kodi

Ugoos UT4 comes pre-loaded with a version Kodi 15.2-rc1 likely modified with specific patchsets to add Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD passthrough to RK3368, and it’s actually been compiled almost the same day as the source code release.
Ugoos_UT4_Kodi_15.2

I’ve played all videos from a SAMBA share in Kodi over Ethernet, unless otherwise noted. I’ve also enabled Automatic frame rate switching in Kodi, but unfortunately it did not work at all, so some videos may suffer from micro stuttering.

Linaro media samples, Elecard H.265 samples, and low resolution VP9 video could all play fairly well, except Real Media videos:

  • 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) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Could be a little smoother
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I then switched to some video with various frame rates

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – OK
  • 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) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK from the network, except a micro pause occurs after about 2 seconds playback.

The next step was to test audio capabilities of the device using HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi, and PCM output (downmixing) in both Kodi and Video Player.  I selected the output in Android Settings->Sound & Notifications->Sound Device Manager and chose Default Output, Spdif Passthrough, or HDMI Bitstream accordingly. For audio pass-through, I also configured Kodi as shown below.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Video PCM Output
(Kodi)

PCM Output
(Video Player)

HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK
video 1:1 aspect ratio
No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio No (TrueHD 7.1)
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 only OK (DTS 5.1)

Audio downmixing and pass-through are working well in Kodi, but since Dolby and DTS licenses are not included most other video players and online video services won’t support Dolby and DTS audio, unless you are passing the audio through an AV receiver.

Some 4K videos can be played, but there are still some issues, and there’s no miracle as VP9 and 10-bit H.265 codecs are not supported by Rockchip RK3368 VPU:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK most of the time, but a freeze lasting 9 seconds occurred at the 4 seconds mark (apparently not related to buffering).
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK, but a micro pause happened once.
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Black screen
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Freeze at the beginning and get stuck there.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not very smooth and massive audio delay (4K H.264 @ 60 fps not supported by RK3368)
  • 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) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Won’t play, stays in UI

Both Sintel-Bluray.iso and amat.iso (Ambra – Prism of Life) Blu-ray ISO could play smoothly, as well as two 1080i video samples.

Hi10p videos have the same problem as on other Android TV boxes in Kodi:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – Audio and subtitles OK, some video artifacts
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Audio and susbtites OK, more artifacts

This will likely only be possible with the upcoming Rockchip RK3229 and RK3399 SoCs that natively support 10-bit H.264.

LG 42UB820T 4K UHD television does not support 3D, but I still played some 3D videos to check 3D decoding capabilities of Ugoos UT4:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Plays in slow motion, and some audio delay
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Blackscreen with audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Finally, I tested various other videos in my library (VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD, DiVX, FLV and MKV), and I did not notice any issues, except for some FLV that could not play.

The stability test consisting of a 2-hour movie was successfully, and the movie played in its entirety reasonably smoothly, but not perfectly due to the mismatch between the video frame rate and the TV refresh rate. I also notice it was impossible to access the zoom menu while playing the video. During my testing, I adjusted the volume to the maximum while playing some videos, only to notice it was reverted back to some other values when playing another video.

Ugoos UT4 achieved 730 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0. That’s not quite as high as on Amlogic S905 TV boxes (~900 points), but still a good progress over Beelink i68 (532) or Zidoo X6 Pro (328) scores.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

DRM info reports that neither Widewine nor PlayReady DRM are installed.
Ugoos_UT4_DRM_Info
However, since Netflix is now available internationally, I did have a try, and was able to stream a video at SD resolution. So either the lack of DRM for standard definition streaming is not an issue with Netflix, or the app reported incorrect information.

If you want to reproduce most of the tests above, you can download the video samples (mostly in comments section).

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal storage, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate WiFi performance. The results for Ugoos UT4 are pretty good as 802.11n connection achieved 3.18 MB/s on average, and 802.11ac 5.87 MB/s,  one of the top three results, and about equivalent to MINIX NEO U1 WiFi performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I repeated the same test with Gigabit Ethernet, but instead of using a larger 885 MB file, and the average transfer rate was 9.4 MB/s, which for some reasons is quite lower than other devices I tested, possibly due to the low write speed of the flash, as we’ll see below. Having said that, it’s not that far from other Rockchip RK3368 based mini PCs file transfer throughput.

Throuput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Since as Gigabit speeds, file transfer rate is likely to be limited by storage performance, it’s important to also test raw network performance, which I did with iperf -t 60 -c “server-ip” -d command in Android.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Here the performance is slightly over average, and very similar to other Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes such as Zidoo X6 Pro or Beelink i68.

iperf output:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Ugoos UT4 supports Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and shows as rk3368 Bluetooth device like most other device based on the same processor.  While I could pair it with my iocean MT6752 smartphone, and initiate photos transfer, it eventually failed with the message “Request can’t be handled correctly”, on both the device and my phone.Ugoos_UT4_Bluetooth_Issue

I has more luck connecting to a Bluetooth headset that I used to watch a 1080p YouTube video. I also tested Bluetooth LE (BLE) with F68 smartwatch successfully. Since the firmware is not rooted, I skipped the test with my PS3 gamepad clone using Sixaxis Controller app.

Storage

The mini PC could mount NTFS & EXT-4 partitions on my USB hard drive,  as well as an SD card formatted with FAT32, but it could not handle exFAT, nor BTRFS partitions.

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

USB storage performance, tested with A1SD bench, is average with respectively 21.98 MB/s and 27.01 MB/s read and write speeds for NTFS, and 22.44 MB/s and 26.17 MB/s for EXT-4.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read (Blue) and Write (Red) Speeds in MB/s

The internal storage (Samsung eMMC 5.0) has a good read speed (~60MB/s), but write speed is limited to less than 10MB/s, which probably explains why I experienced two or three slowdowns during this review.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

Candy Crush worked well with NEO A2 Lite air mouse, but that’s not a surprise. I then use a wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2, and both games were very smooth with default settings. I maxed out the graphics settings to “High Resolution”, while Beach Buggy Racing was just as smooth, Riptide GP2 was a little less so, but still very playable, and decided to perform my stability test with those settings. After playing around 15 minutes with Beach Buggy Racing, and then 20 minutes with Riptide GP2, the graphics performance was just the same all the way, so the cooling fan is doing its job.

Ugoos UT4 Benchmarks

Before running the benchmark, I ran CPU-Z, which detected UGOOS-UT4 model with an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.20 GHz, and a PowerVR G6110 GPU. So the company did not try to boost the CPU clock frequency despite the presence of the fan.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The TV box got 39,032 points in Antutu 6.0.1, and managed to pass all tests, including Marooned graphics.
Ugoos_UT4_Antutu_6.0The score cannot be compared to Antutu 5.x, and the only other scores I have are 38,032 points for MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905) and 35,069 points for GeekBox (Rockchip RK3368). That’s interesting that Ugoos UT4 is over 10% faster in Antutu than GeekBox that is a very a similar platform.

Ugoos_UT4_VellamoI’ve also run Vellamo 3.0, and results confirm a performance boost compared to other Rockchip RK3368 devices such as Beelink i68 or GeekBox in all three tests: Browser, Metal and Multicore.

Ugoos_UT4_VellamoOther platforms in the chart are based on Amlogic S905 (Neo U1, and K1 Plus), and Amlogic S812 (WeTek Core and Neo X8-H Plus). So proper cooling appears to provide some performance boost even in benchmark that do not last that long.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Finally, Ugoos UT4 achieved 5,121 points in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme that compared to 4,248 in Beelink i68 or 4,327 in MINIX NEO U1.

Conclusion

All in all, Ugoos UT4 is a pretty good device with responsive firmware, decent Kodi support including working 4K H.264 and H.265 video playback, and audio pass-through for DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, very good WiFi performance for 802.11ac, and thanks to the cooling fan a performance that stays high over time, and allows Ugoos UT4 to outperform other Rockchip RK3368 devices I’ve tested so far. However, it would have been even better if an eMMC flash with a higher writing speed had been chosen to completely eliminate some rare slowdowns, the firmware has still a few bugs, including power off and Bluetooth file transfer that do not work, and the lack of automatic frame rate switching in the pre-installed version of Kodi 15.2.

PROS

  • Stable firmware, and responsive most of the time
  • Constant performance throughout thanks to the cooling fan, which provides better performance than equivalent RK3368 based devices
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported, and AV
  • Fairly good Kodi support with working 4K H.265 video playback, and Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS-HD and TrueHD audio pass-through via HDMI and S/PDIF.
  • Very good WiFi performance, especially 802.11ac, and 802.11n is above average.
  • Fast read speed of internal storage, leading to fast boot time (< 30 seconds) and app loading
  • 4 USB ports  allow for good expandability
  • 3D games are running well, even after playing for several minutes

CONS

  • Powering off the device does not work (UT4 appears to hang)
  • Kodi issue – Automatic frame rate switching is not working, some videos will freeze a short time a few seconds after the beginning of the video, most videos don’t have the option to adjust the zoom level.
  • Bluetooth file transfer does not work, at least with my smartphone
  • IR remote control has a relatively short range (4 meters)
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses, so there will be no audio if you use PCM output in some applications (Kodi is OK).
  • Lack of Widewine and PlayReady DRM which might be an issue with some premium video streaming apps, or a least limit their capabilities.
  • Relatively slow write speed of the internal storage may lead to some slowdowns (does not happen often)
  • The fan is always spinning, and audible in quiet room at one or two meters (I don’t really notice it personally, but some people may do).
  • UI bugs – Icon highlight misalignment when hiding or showing the task bar, volume settings may not be remembered

Ugoos sent me the sample for review, and if you are planning in purchasing in quantities, you could contact the company via their Ugoos UT4 product page. Individuals can purchase Ugoos UT4 for $103.90 on Ugoos Aliexpress store, as well as GearBest, GeekBuying, and probably some other online shops.

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