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$50 UNI-T UT61E Digital Multimeter Supports Data Logging to a Windows Computer

October 19th, 2014 16 comments

Since I don’t use a multimeter that often, and don’t need high precision, I bought an ultra cheap multimeter (Sunwa DT830B) locally a couple of a years ago. I normally use it for continuity testing (no beep though) for repair work / checking solder point, and some quick voltage measurement, and it works well for these simple tasks, although the lack of buzzer makes it a little inconvenient. But I discovered its limits when I tried to measure current. The 200 mA range works fine, but I started to encounter issues when switching to the 10A range, as device under tests would just start rebooting if the current draw was too high, and the manual indicates that you  “cannot measure more than 15 seconds in the 10A range”. Since I did not want to spend $100+ on a Fluke multimeter, I did some research for a better multimeter, and finally bought UNI-T UT61E digital multimeter + 9V battery for $56.27 on DealExtreme, but it’s also available without battery for about $50 on Amazon US, Ebay, or Aliexpress.

UNI-T_UT16E_Multimeter

I’ve just bought it today, and I would usually write about it once I receive it, but there are already detailed reviews on the Internet which are rather positive, as well as users reviews. According to UT61E user’s manual, currents up to 5A can be measured continuously, and a neat feature is that you can also connect it to your (Windows) computer to gather data with the provided software (UT16E Interface program), or another free program called UltraDMM. The multimeter comes with test leads, RS232 cable for connection with a PC, an adapter to measure capacitors, and a CD with documentation and software. The adapter also have holes for transistor measurements, but it is not supported by UT16E model.

UltraDMM Software

UltraDMM Software

MJLorton’s review comprised of 4-part video review (almost 2-hours!) is the best, and most extensive review I’ve seen. The final conclusion is that this multimeter is very good for the price, and it mostly works as advertised. The display is sharp and crisp, even better than Fluke DMM is that respect, but there’s no backlight, and it does not refresh as fast (about twice per second) as better quality and more expensive multimeters such as the $400 Agilent U1272A. Accuracy is decent and within specs, but possibly not as good it could be (or calibration was off), measurements may overshoot for a short time while changing voltage, and there’s no auto-power off.  Finally, the multimeter is rated CAT IV (600V), and CAT III (1000V), but after tearing down the tool, the reviewer had low confidence in these safety ratings, and only recommend to use it for electronics, and home appliances, but avoid high power measurement.

I’ve included the 4-part video review below.

Part1 – General impressions, basic functions such as DC voltage & current measurements, continuity, accuracy testing, etc…

Part2 – PC data logging software & UltraDMM application testing, mains measurement (230V/50Hz), etc…

Part3 – UT16E tear-down compared to Agilent U1272A, multimeter power consumption, and battery life estimation.

Part 4 – Torture test a low (8 C) and high (40+ C) temperatures, calibration with DMMCheck board.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: electronics, review, tool

MT87 Digital Clamp Multimeter Hands On

October 11th, 2014 5 comments

When you want to measure power/current on electrical device, a kill-a-watt is the easiest method, but it’s not always possible for items like air conditioner, water pumps, etc… because they may simply be no plug to disconnect. Luckily, current clamps are made just for this purpose, where you simply place one of the two wires in a clamp / loop, and it magically measures the current.  You can’t put both wires inside the loop or measurement will not work at all. The good news is that such devices are very inexpensive, and I bought MT87 digital clamp multimeter, which is also a multimeter adding voltage and resistance measurement capability, for just $11.33 on DealExtreme.

MT87_Digital_Clamp_MultimeterMT87 comes with measurement leads (voltage/resistance only), and a user’s manual. The linked user’s manual is not exactly the same document, but very similar, and also refers to MT87C model which adds temperature measurement.

There are three ranges for alternative current (20A, 200A and 400A), 600V ranges for alternative and continuous voltages, a 200 kOhm range with 100k resolution, and a diode and continuity option with buzzer. So it’s pretty much for heavy duty measurements, and not useful for low power devices, but it’s not what it’s for. The button of the right on the device is used to hold data, so if it’s in location you can’t read the display during measurement, you can press the button, take out the clamp and read the measurement.

I haven’t tried the voltage and resistance measurement. After inserting two AAA battery in the device, the first challenge was to find an electric appliance with the two cables already separated, since I did not want to use a cutter on the power cords of my appliances. First I found I could do that with my water pump, measuring around 2A @ 230V, so 460W. But them I realize the cables from the street to my house were easily accessible, and properly insulated, so I should be able to measure the full power consumption of my house, but simply clamping the device to one of the cables.

MT_87_House_power_consumptionAnd I did get measurements which are consistent with the results I got for my computer and fridge using my now defunct kill-a-watt clone:

  • Computer only – 0.74 to 0.80 A (~ 180 Watts)
  • Computer + fridge – 1.18 A (~ 270 Watts)
  • Computer + 9,500 BTU aircon – 3.99 A (~ 920 Watts)

So based on these few results, it works nicely, and it can be a useful and affordable tool to evaluate how much power your household appliances consume.

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Categories: Hardware, Testing Tags: power, review

MXQ S85 Android TV Box (Amlogic S805) Review

October 11th, 2014 20 comments

MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ are two main Full HD H.265 Android media players based on Amlogic S805 currently selling on Chinese online stores. I’m lucky enough to have received both, and I’ve already completed the review for EM6Q-MXQ, so today I’ll complete MXQ S85 review and compare both devices. I’ve already taken picture of the device, accessories, and checked out the board’s components in my unboxing post, so in this post, I’ll focus on the user interface, evaluate performance, and test most hardware features of this media player.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve started by a quick test of the IR remote control, and it works as expected after inserting two AAA batteries, before switching to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected all ports of the device except the S/PDIF output: Ethernet cable, HDMI and AV cables, micro SD card, USB hard drive, USB webcam, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad.  I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button opn the top of the box, a Blue LED turns off, “Google TV” icon appears on TV and in a little more than 40 seconds the boot completes. It’s not quite as fast as higher RK3288 TV boxes (20s), but it’s much better than the boot time on EM6Q-MXQ (1m 50s), so the flash must be faster.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The user interface is the Android Home screen, but you can also switch the MediaBox launcher with a Metro-style user interface found in many Amlogic S80X TV boxes, by going to the “Home” section in Android settings. The box automatically selected 1080p60 Hz video output, and the user interface resolution is 1920×1080 as you can infer from the screenshot above. I’ve noticed that switching to 720p still keep the user interface to 1920×1080 resolution, so there’s no performance gain doing so.

The “Setting” menu is based on the same Metro-style interface as EM6Q-MXQ with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted difference in bold.

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, or 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz
    • CVBS Mode Setting: 480 CVBS or 576 CVBS (if Composite output selected on TV).
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Screen Save (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control (app)
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (not working), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

So it’s exactly the same as EM6Q-MXQ, except the current firmware also supports 1080p @ 24 Hz.

I’ve also tested composite output, and both 480 CVBS and 576 CVBS settings worked fine. There’s no component (YPbPr) output in this box.

I have not made a video for MXQ S85, because it’s very similar to EM6Q-MXQ, except you have the option to switch between the Android home screen or MediaBox launcher, 1080p24 is supported, and S85 is a little more responsive. But you can watch the video I shot for EM6Q-MXQ if you haven’t already where I walk through the user interface and settings, XBMC user interface (1920×1080 UI rendered at 30 fps), and show H.265 video playback in MX Player.

About_MXQ_S85MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB NAND flash with a single partition (8.00 GB – black magic again…), and at the end of the review I still had 4.01 GB free. Looking into “About MediaBox” section, we can find out that the model number is “S85″, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is rooted, and after I started the review I found firmware 106k4 (an updated to version 105k4 used for the review), which you can probably flash with Amlogic USB flash tool, but I have not tried.

All apps I needed for the review could be installed with Google Play Store including Antutu, 3D Mark, ES File Explorer, MX Player, Beach Buggy Blitz, A1SD benchmark, Sixaxis Controller, etc… However, as I scrolled through the list of apps installed on other Android devices, there were a few incompatible apps notably some messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp), Instagram, Google Translate, and a few others. But you can usually work around these issues by spoofing your device name with an app (paid), or changing build.prop. I’ve also downloaded and installed Amazon AppStore, in order to play Riptide GP2.

Albeit the box features a power button, power handling is not perfect, as a clean power off is not possible. You can either use the remote control power button to enter and exit standby, and the power button on the unit, can be used to achieve real power off, and to turn the device on, but it’s and hardware power off which powers off the device immediately, Android does not cleanly shuts down. The device temperature is pretty cool: 40°C and 46°C measured with an infrared thermometer respectively on the top and bottom of the box, right after running Android 5 benchmark. And after playing Riptide GP2 for about 10 minutes (at which stage the game froze), the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 42°C and 46°C…

The system very pretty stable, but just like with EM6Q-MXQ, attempting to play a 4K video in XBMC will freeze the system requiring a hard reboot. However, the flash is fast enough no to experience various slowdowns, or making apps randomly exit. Android did pop up the “app not responding” windows at load time for some games, so it’s not perfect, but answering “wait” will start the games normally. Nevertheless, although it’s clearly not as snappy as the latest Amlogic S802 or Rockchip RK3288 based mini PCs, I did not find MXQ S85 frustrating to use, unlike EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Videos were playing from SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04 over Ethernet using XBMC 13.1 pre-installed in the system, switching to MX Player for videos that failed to play. I had no problems connect to SAMBA with XBMC and ES File Explorer.

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, H.265/HEVC videos by Elecard, as well as a (low resolution) VP9 video:

  • 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) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p OK, 720p some rare parts in slowmo, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode), but seeking does not work properly. It will switch to S/W decode, and the video becomes unwatchable.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video)
    • XBMC – Won’t even start
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode).

Then I played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – XBMC: audio only; MX Player: black screen only, no audio.
  • 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, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Videos with high definition audio codec could be played in XBMC (with performance issues), but not in MX Player (except AC3):

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – SAMBA: Audio completely cuts after a few seconds. USB: No problem with audio, but video feels slow.

A Blu-ray ISO video (Sintel-Bluray.iso) played perfectly in XBMC.

I tested over a dozen other videos from my library (AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 containers), and they could all play with any A/V sync issues. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB), so no problem with stability either.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

A 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is still pretty good @ 2.95 MB/s on average, although not quite as fast as EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Wi-Fi Transfer Rate in MB/s

Wi-Fi Transfer Rate in MB/s

Ethernet worked at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance similar its competitor. Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta is way ahead, simply because it’s the only box I have that actually supports Gigabit Ethernet.

Ethernet Transfer Rate in MB/s

Ethernet Transfer Rate in MB/s

For a raw benchmark of Ethernet performance, I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line. It does not quite maxes out Fast Ethernet bandwidth like Rockchip RK3288, but results are similar to EM6Q-MXQ just like with the test above.

TCP window size: 136 KByte (default)
————————————————————
[ 6] local 192.168.0.104 port 57781 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
[ ID] Interval Transfer Bandwidth
[ 4] 0.0-60.0 sec 476 MBytes 66.5 Mbits/sec
[ 6] 0.0-60.0 sec 566 MBytes 79.1 Mbits/sec

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Contrary to the version of EM6Q-MXQ I reviewed, MXQ S85 comes with Bluetooth.

I could transfer pictures from my Android phone to the box over Bluetooth, Sixaxis Compatibility Checker appeared to support PS3 wireless gamepads, but my controller was not recognized.

Bluetooth LE (Smart) was tested with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, but unfortunately the app could not locate the device over BLE.

Storage

FAT32 formatted micro SD card and USB flash drive could be recognized and properly mounted by the system
Only NTFS and FAT32 partition on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed. That’s common to all Android mini PCs I tested, except A80 OptimusBoard which could mount the EXT-4 partition too (but in read-only mode).

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

A1 SD Bench was used to benchmark USB hard drive and internal flash performance. The read speed was 16.92 MB/s, and the write speed of 21.87MB/s fore NTFS partition in /storage/external_storage/sda1, both results being weak.

MXQ_S85_USB_NTFS_Benchmark

USB HDD (NTFS) Read and Write Speeds

The NAND flash speed is clearly not outstanding at 15.8 MB/s (read) and 6.83 MB/s (write), but still better than EM6Q-MXQ, and apparently good enough for a smooth operation of the device most of the time.

MXQ_S85_NAND_Flash_BenchmarkUSB Webcam

I had troubles with both Skype and Google Hangouts with my USB webcam. I did manage to see the image in Skype once, but never long enough to make a phone call. The camera is not detected at all in Hangouts.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 could run on the box. I played Candy Crush Saga with my air mouse, and switched to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. For each game, the system showed up pop up with “App XXX is not responding. Do you want to close it?”, but selecting “Wait” could load the games just fine. Beach Buggy Blitz framerate felt good using the default settings (low res), but I did notice some very short freezes (<1s) from time to time. Riptide GP2 is not really enjoyable with default settings (high resolution), but lowering the resolution makes it relatively enjoyable to play. Riptide GP2 freezing I encountered on other Amlogic s802/S805 devices, and Allwinner A80 development board occurred yet again, after just around 10 minutes of play time. I’m not sure if the game itself is buggy, or the GPU drivers/libraries are. I checked the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the device at that time, and I got 42°C and 46°C.

Even if games can run, the gaming experience is not great, and you should really consider spending more to get a Rockchip RK3288, or not as good, Amlogic S802 devices if you are really interested in playing games. Nvidia Tegra K1 devices should even be better but in a completely different price category.

MXQ S85 Benchmarks

CPU-Z shows the device is indeed powered a quad ARM Cortex A5 processor clocked between 24 MHz and 1.49 GHz, but instead of using a performance governor, MXQ S85 is using a hotplug (on-demand). The board is m201, which can be a useful thing to know in case you download firmware files. FYR, EM6Q-MXQ is based on hd18t board.

Amlogic_S805_CPU-Z_MXQ_S85

The devices gets 16,448 points in Antutu 5.1 which is consistent with the score I got with EM6Q-MXQ (16,647).

MXQ_S85_Antutu_5.1

There are some differences in Vellamo 3 however, with a lower Browser score (812 vs 1061), a higher multicore score (1319 vs 1139). The metal score is about the same.

Vellamo_3_MXQ_S85

Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark is about the same with 2,308 points (vs 2,325 for EM6Q-MXQ), and clearly shows the relatively low performance of the quad core Mali-450MP GPU used in S805 compared to high-end SoC with better GPUs.

S85_3D_Mark_Ice_Storm_Extreme

Conclusion

MXQ S85 is actually a pretty good device and performance considering the price (<$50). Wi-Fi and Ethernet are pretty decent, video codecs/containers is quite good in XBMC, and H.265 can be played in MX Player, but not yet in XBMC. The firmware is pretty stable, and I did not come across massive slowdowns like in EM6Q-MXQ.

PRO:

  • The firmware is stable, relatively smooth to operate, and only hung when trying to play 4K videos
  • Good XBMC support.
  • HEVC/H.265 hardware video decoding support. Working in MX Player, but not with XBMC (yet)
  • Very good price/performance ratio.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and decent Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but no 25/30 Hz), and composite output (NTSC/PAL).

CONS:

  • Despite having a power button, power off is not perfect (no clean power off)
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (mostly used for wearables) is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade is not working
  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • USB webcam did not work reliably for me in either Skype and Hangouts.
  • “App xxx not responding” message may appear while loading large apps such as games.

Gearbest provided the sample for review, so if you are interested in purchasing you could do so on their site for $47.99 (with MXQBCM coupon), or for $45.99 (with MXQCM coupon) for the version without Bluetooth. Coupons are valid until November 30, 2014. MXQ-S85 can also be found on other stores including DealExtreme, Amazon US, Dealsmachines, and Aliexpress.

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Can Rockchip RK3288 Android TV Boxes Play Videos at True 4K UHD / 2160p Resolution?

October 6th, 2014 22 comments

[Update: The post has now been updated, after it was clear one of MX Player options was misunderstood. The conclusion remains the same]

Over the last few years there have been complains about Android TV boxes decoding 1080p video, rendering them to a 720p frame buffer, and upscaling them back to 1080p resolution for video output, so you ended up playing 1080p videos at a real 720p resolution. I never investigated the issue in details, and thanks to new media players now coming with a 1080p user interface / framebuffer, the debate for 1080p has more or less ended, and instead it has moved to 4K media players. A few days ago, 4K test patterns (actually 2160p / 3840×2160) were released as a PNG picture, and an lossless H.264 MKV video so that 4K resolution could be tested. The reason for having both a picture and a video is because both may go through different hardware path as I explained the aforementioned post. I don’t have a 4K TV myself, but Javi, working for Asiapads, tested both the picture and video on the upcoming Zero Devices Z5C Thinko HDMI TV stick powered by Rockchip RK3288 with a Samsung UHD TV.

First the bad but expected news. Even if you set 3840×2160 video output in the device, the user interface resolution remains at 1920×1080, so if you display the 4K test pattern, comprised of a grid of black and white pixels, you would only see a gray background, or an image with a low resolution. So if what you are looking for is a device to play games, browse the web for super sharp text, you’ll need to find another solution, probably a full blown computer with a graphics card capable of handling 4K UHD resolution.

What about video playback? The first challenge is to find a player that will actually play the video, because it seems most player won’t have lossless H.264 at all. To play 4K_video_test_pattern.mkv, you need to do the following:

  1. Install MX Player app
  2. Play 4K_video_test_pattern.mkv in MX Player, and on the top of the app click on H/W to select S/W decoder
  3. Click on the icon on the right of the Next button to adjust the aspect ratio to “100%” so that the image is not distorted. fit to screen.
  4. Click on pause to have time investigating

Here are the results on Zero Devices Z5C Thinko at 3180×2160 @ 30 Hz. [Update: this picture is based on 100% setting in MX Player, which zooms the video, so in any screen resolution, all pixels will be seen, even if you use 320x240.... But as we'll see below, even in 100% mode we can determine whether a device supports 4K or not]

4K_test_pattern_RK3288and if the device is set to 1080p resolution:

4K_Test_Pattern_1080pThe pictures are not taken with the same level of camera zoom, but it still seems convincing. 4K looks much better, so it must be that RK3288 Android devices really output 4K after all.

I also tried this yesterday on A80 OptimusBoard (AllWinner A80) connected to a Full HD Panasonic television, and I could clearly see some black and white dots [Update: Because I used "100%" mode which turn out actual show all pixel (even off screen) and in effect zooms the video], so I decided to take a picture too

4K_vs_UHD_test_patternThe left part above is taken from the picture of the Samsung 4K TV, and the right part is taken from a picture of my Panasonic FHD (1080p) TV, and it becomes pretty obvious what happened here. First on the top of the number “4” there are 6 dots on both pictures, so that’s the first oddity. But when you look at the red dots on both pictures, it’s pretty clear to see what happened. For each black and white dots on the UHD display there are two red dots, but only one on my FHD television. The conclusion is that MX Player very cleverly interpolated the dots to re-create a 1-pixel grid at 1080p resolution, and the real picture quality output from the Rockchip RK3288 is actually 1080p despite outputting a 3840×2160 signal to the TV, so “4K” does indeed appear to be a marketing trick rather than a reality, as it applies to video decoding and output capability only, but the image is downscaled at some stage before being upscaled again. The same is most probably true for Amlogic S802 based Android media players too. I’m pretty confident with my conclusions, but I’d be glad to read other opinions. The only thing I don’t understand is why 1080p video output on Z5C Thinko looks so much different than 2160p.

The left part above is taken from the picture of the Samsung 4K TV, and the right part is taken from a picture of my Panasonic FHD (1080p) TV, both using 100% mode in MX Player, which explains why all pixels are shown. But if you look on the 1080p TV, only one pixel is used for each black or white dots, whereas on the 4K TV, it’s clear 4 pixels (2×2) are used for each dot, meaning the true video resolution is actually 1080p, as if it was 4K UHD (aka 2160p), there would be one pixel per dot in 100% mode.

Moreover, If I play the video in MX Player using “fit to screen” on the TV, the background is clearly gray, as expected, and I understand Javi could only see the white and grey dots on his 4K UHD when using 100% mode in MX Player. So the  conclusion is clear: Rockchip RK3288 based Android devices, and probably Amlogic S802 Android devices, can not output true 4K videos / images, so it’s just a marketing trick, with the devices being capable of decoding 4K UHD videos, and outputting 4K UHD to your TV, but unfortunately the video is downscaled, before being upscaled in the process, so what you see on your new shiny 4K TV is actually a video rendered @ 1080p resolution.

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Unboxing of MXQ S85 Android Media Player Powered by Amlogic S805 Processor

October 5th, 2014 15 comments

Gearbest sent me MXQ S85 Android media player powered by Amlogic S805 quad core processor with 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, and Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity. MXQ S85 looks very similar to EM6Q-MXQ, another Amlogic S805 based Android STB, which I reviewed last week, but these are two distinct hardware platforms. Today, I’ll take some pictures of the devices, and the board to see which components are used, and who made the board, and I’ll write a full review in a few days.

MXQ S85 Pictures

I’ve received the parcel via DHL in the nameless package below where they just indicate it’s and Android TV box with a quad core processor, quad core GPU, pre-loaded with XBMC, and supporting HEVC / H.265

MXQ_S85_Package

The package contains the box, HDMI and AV cables, an OTG adapter, a 5V/2A power supply, an IR remote requiring two AAA batteries, and a user’s manual in English. The company also included a US plug adapter outside the product package.

MXQ S85 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

MXQ S85 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

One quick way to differentiate between MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ is the MX test on top of a red band that’s specific to MXQ Q85.

MXQ S85 (Click to Enlarge)

MXQ S85 (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a power button right on the center on the top of the enclosure. On one side, we’ll find a micro SD card slot, a micro USB OTG port, as well two USB 2.0 ports, and on the rear panel, we can see the DC power jack, the AV output (composite + stereo audio), an Ethernet port, and HDMI port, and optical S/PDIF.

If you prefer an unboxing video, here it is.

MXQ S85 Board Pictures

There aren’t any screws on the outside of the case, so you need to use a flat-head precision screwdriver to pop-up the bottom of the enclosure.

Botton of MXQ S85 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Botton of MXQ S85 PCB (Click to Enlarge)

The sticker make it clear it’s yet another board made by Shenzhen Netxeon Technology, and that the board features on Amlogic S805 with 1GB RAM, 8GB storage, and AP6210 Wi-Fi module. There are also some though holes that could be interesting,. But let’s remote four screws to completely take the board out of the case.

MXQ S85 Board (Click to Enlarge)

MXQ S85 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Contrary to EM6Q-MXQ, there aren’t any metallic plate inside the enclosure so the box is much lighter, and we’ll have to see if it has any consequence with regards to power dissipation. There’s no heatsink either, but instead a gray sticker, which I peeled and put on the left side in the picture. The board is named S85_V2.0_20140716, and definitely made by Netxeon… Beside the S805 processor, two MIRA P3P4GF4BLF DDR3 chips, and a 8GB 29F64G08CBABA NAND flash are soldered on the board. We can also confirm AP6210 is indeed the Wi-Fi module (2.4GHz) chosen for this product. Some of my readers bought TV110 media player, also powered by Amlogic S805,  and they are now unable to flash an updated firmware since there is no recovery button, but luckily S85 does feature one just at the back of the AV output jack. There are also three unconnected header including one that looks like a JTAG header, and the one of the two 4-pin headers must be used to access the serial console.

Gearbest currently sells MXQ S85 for a little over $50. There are two versions: one without Bluetooth, and one with, which costs about $6 more. Other shopping options include Dealsmachines ($49 – allegedly with Bluetooth), DealExtreme, Amazon US, and Aliexpress.

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Current Performance and Stability Issues on AllWinner A80 OptimusBoard Development Board

October 4th, 2014 6 comments

Sine A80 OptimusBoard is the first ARM hardware that supports both USB 3.0 and Gigabit that I’ve ever owned, so I though it might be interesting to see what performance I could get with a USB 3.0 hard drive through the USB 3.0 OTG port of the board. For testing purpose, I bought a USB 3.0 OTG adapter on Ebay, but I did not look closely enough as it turned out to be only a USB 3.0 OTG to USB 2.0 female adapter capable of USB 2.0 speeds… Kind of useless item since you can plug a standard USB 2.0 OTG adapter into a USB 3.0 OTG receptacle. But I tried my hard drive anyway, and quickly realized write performance was very poor at 3 MB/s on the NTFS partition, whereas most other devices can handle at least15 MB/s, and usually over 25 MB/s. So I contacted Allwinner with this issue, and they were kind enough to look into it, and provided an updated firmware.

Today, I tried it, and it seems they’ve selected a more aggressive scheduler for the board, as some benchmarks results are much higher. For example, Vellamo Browser score was over 3,000 today, where as during my initial benchmarks, it only achieved 2,300 points. So quite a boost. Unfortunately, this also introduced so stability issues (possibly resolvable with a heatsink and a fan), and did not improve NTFS performance in a major way:

  1. Multicore benchmarks will make the system reboot. Reproducible with Antutu Multi-thread and Vellamo Multicore tests.
  2. Riptide GP2 game will freeze after a short while. Very similar to what I’ve experienced with some Amlogic S802 TV boxes, except it happens much earlier (after one race).
  3. NTFS write speed is now 4.6MB/s, so it’s still an issue. FAT32 write speed is 29 MB/s, which is fine.

I’ve recorded these three issues in the video below.

So if you are wondering why there aren’t any Allwinner A80 mini PCs just yet, why Cubieboard8 is nowhere to be seen, and why no SDK has been provided for OptimiusBoard and pcDuino8, this could be could the explanation, and more work is needed at this stage of development. The first two issues were not present in the first firmware, but a more aggressive scheduler may have introduced the reboot/freeze issues. I don’t have a spare heatsink/fan, so I haven’t tried to work around these with passive/active cooling. Another possibility for the reboot could be the 5V/3A power adapter does not provide enough power to the board.

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Review of Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta 4K/H.265 Android TV Box

October 3rd, 2014 4 comments

It’s been a little while since I unboxed Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta Android TV box, but since the product was still consider “beta” by GeekBuying, I wanted to wait for a OTA firmware update (109k4), which was released at the beginning of the week. Since I’ve already listed the technical specifications, and showed pictures of the board and device, I’ll focus on feature tests and benchmarks results in the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I quickly tried the basic infrared remote control, inserting two AAA batteries, and it does the job, but for Android, you really need a pointing device, so I switched to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse during testing. I’ve connected a whole bunch of cable, and peripherals to the box including an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, an Ethernet cable, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and USB flash drive. When you connect the power, it won’t start immediately, and just need to press the power button on the device to boot it up. The remote can not turn the box on. Boot time is about 35 seconds, a bit longer than the 20 seconds boot time I experienced in some other Rockchip RK3288 powered media player.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Orion R28 TV boxes only coem with the standard Android home screen, so if you prefer a TV friendly launcher, you’d have to install one from Google Play. The task bar can be shown or hidden with the double arrows icon on the right. The user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080.

The Android settings are pretty standard. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN, Portable Hotspot, etc… can be accessed in Wireless and Networks section. Display settings include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, video output selection (HDMI /  YPbPr / TV), and resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. If you own a 4K UHD TV, you should also get some extra options up to 4K 60Hz. “TV” mode is composite output, and you can select PAL or NTSC, whereas YPbPr will only support 480p and 720p (no 1080p). “Default Output” (PCM), “Spdif Passthough”, and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through) options are available in the Sound settings (pass-though not tested). The review was done using HDMI output, but I’ve also tried composite and component (YPbPr). Composite output works for PAL and NTSC, but there was the usual green bar at the bottom with NTSC. For once, I managed to make YPbPr work, but only in greyscale (Luminance Y), with the Chrominance signals apparently not outputted..

NTSC (Click to Enlarge)

Composite – NTSC (Click to Enlarge)

PAL (Click to Enlarge)

Composite – PAL (Click to Enlarge)

Component - YPrPb 720p (Click to Enlarge)

Component – YPrPb  (Click to Enlarge)

There are three version for Orion R28: Pro with 8GB flash, Meta for 16GB flash, and the upcoming Telos with 32GB flash. My model is R28 Meta with a 16GB eMMC partitioned into a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps, and a 16 GB (black magic alert!) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 11.6 GB available space. I have not checked the free space in the “Internal Storage” partition before thr review, but after installing the applications required for the review, I had just 564 MB available, so some people will want to install custom ROMs to tweak the partition allocation.

The “About device” section includes to OTA updates option: “system updates”, and “wireless update”. You’ll need to click on Wireless Update to install new firmware updated. I’ve done so with upgrading 108k4 firmware to 109k4 firmware. The OTA update did not delete my existing apps and account settings.

Wireless Update In Progress (Click to Enlarge)

Wireless Update In Progress (Click to Enlarge)

Other information include the model number: Tronsmart Orion R28, the Android version: 4.4.2, the kernel version: 3.10.0, and the vendor software version: 109k4. The firmware is already rooted.

I’ll skip the user interface / settings video here, because it’s just the same as other RK3288 TV boxes, minus a custom launcher.

I managed to install most apps via Google Play such as ES File Explorer, MX Player, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…  Some incompatible apps include Vidonn, Fruit Ninja, and a few others. I’ll also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore.

Power Off/standby handling is mostly OK. A short press on the remote/box power button will put the device into standby mode, and by pressing the power button again will make it active. A long press on the power button (remote/box) will pop-up the Android menu with Power Off/Silent Mode, for a proper power off. One annoyance is that you can’t power the device with the remote control, and you need to press the power button on the box itself. If you use Mele F10 Deluxe the power button is the same, and power off work, but I could not go into standby, as the screen would just turn off for one or two seconds before becoming active again. Tronsmart Meta R28 becomes pretty hot, but it’s a common “feature” for all RK3288 boxes. The maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 52°C and 59°C after Antutu, and 57°C and 67°C after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes.

The firmware is stable and smooth, and I only had one freeze while playing an FLV video in XBMC. I never experienced slowdowns, but boot time, and to a lesser extend app loading is not quite as fast as on HPH NT-V6 or Kingnovel R6, because the eMMC flash read throughput is not quite as high on R28, as we’ll see below.

Video Playback

All other RK3288 devices I tested came either without XBMC, or with XBMC 13 (custom version) pre-install, but Kodi 14-alpha4 came with 109k4 firmware, so it’s interested to see if there are any improvements. The test environment includes an Ubuntu 14.04 server with a SAMBA from which I play videos from Kodi/XBMC, or MX Player in case of issues, over Ethernet.

Let’s start with some videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, to which I added H.265/HEVC and VP9 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK. Some hardly noticeable blinking effect in scenes with grass/trees, but it also happens on my PC, so it could be the original video.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK and relatively smooth, but not as perfect as on PC (VideoLAN)
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – 360p and 720p – OK, except seeking does not work. 1080p – many scenes are not smooth, and all 4 CPU cores are maxed out due to software decode.
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • VP9 (low resolution) – OK.

This version of Kodi can handle H.265 decode by software up to 720p, MPEG-2 playback seems better, but VC1 videos are still not supported.

Next are some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • 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) – Audio only (That’s the VC1 codec issue in Kodi).
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

I usually play Jeelyfish-120-Mbps.mkv from a USB hard drive because of the high bitrate, but since Gigabit Ethernet is working fine, that’s the first device that can play it over SAMBA.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in XBMC and MX Player:

  • AC3 – OK (but aspect ratio set to 1:1 is Kodi)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Kodi handled a Blu-ray ISO file (Sintel-Bluray.iso) properly.

Yet again none of my 4K video samples could play successfully in Kodi, with somewhat better results in MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4

    • Kodi – OK most of the time, but skips about 60 frames at the end of the video (The image will freeze before the end of the video).
    • MX Player – Not so smooth, and audio stops well before the video is complete (audio/sync issue?)
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv
    • Kodi – Many frames dropped.
    • MX Player – Severe decoding issues. Like I see the garbled video in five small screens.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion.
    • MX Player – Plays with S/W decode in slow motion.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9)
    • Kodi – Won’t start.
    • MX Player – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

Finally, I went through my video library with AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos. Some FLV video would make the system freeze, requiring an hard reset. At least one video suffered from audio/video sync issues. I could play a  complete 1080p video (1h50) in Kodi, so at least the system appear to be stable, even if many videos can’t be played smoothly. This is not unique to Tronsmart Orion R28 by the way, as other RK3288 boxes are also pretty poor when it comes to video playback.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve now testing both 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi with TP-Link TL-WR940N router, and 5GHz (802.11n/ac) with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) router. The test consists in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa. ES File Explorer is used for this purpose, and the test is repeated three times. But before going through the test results, here’s an interesting image…

Tronsmart_Orion_R28_Meta_WiFi_SignalWhereas I get about -49 dB on my phone, the Wi-Fi signal strength in Orion R28 is much lower (-68 dB). As an experiment, I’ve also removed the Wi-Fi antenna in case it was just a bad contact, but it drops to about -82 dB, so there’s another problem somewhere else. That means in Android I only get a “fair” signal, instead of the “excellent” I normally get with other devices in my office, behind just 6 meters (+wall) from the router.

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s

The weak signal did not seem to affect 802.11n transfer rate, bt may have impacted 802.11ac which ended up being slower than 802.11n… However, I’d expect it to affect range quite a bit, as normally I get signal that weak when I’m in the garden about 15 meters from the router.

At last! An Android mini PC where Gigabit Ethernet works for me! I could transfer a 885 MB file between the internal flash and SAMBA @ about 14 MB/s on average.

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Although this test usually works well with Fast Ethernet, the internal storage’s read/write speed will be the bottleneck with Gigabit Ethernet transfer, so transferring from SAMBA to flash is significantly slower (11.8MB/s) than from flash to SAMBA (19.66 MB/s), and even more so from USB HDD to SAMBA (28.5 MB/s), yet it gives an idea of actual file transfer performance between the network on the device.

In order to  get a true estimate of Gigabit Ethernet performance,  I used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android. Gigabit Ethernet first, followed by Fast Ethernet:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.110, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  425 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 58157 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.22 GBytes   747 Mbits/sec
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.74 GBytes   822 Mbits/sec
 [  5] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 37834
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.110, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 58259 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 5001
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   655 MBytes  91.6 Mbits/sec
 [  5]  0.0-60.1 sec   661 MBytes  92.4 Mbits/sec

Fast Ethernet performance is excellent, very close to the theoretical 100 Mbps achievable, and I’d assume Gigabit Ethernet performance will please most people with 747 Mbps and 822 Mbps.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth transfer from phone to Android media player is working fine.

The device is rooted, and I could confirm my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone is properly recognized with Sixazis Compatibility Checker.

However, I failed to connect to my Vidonn X5 activity tracker, so it could mean Bluetooth Low Energy (Smart) is not working.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be automatically mounted and accessed by the systems.
For once, I could see four partitions in ES File Explorer (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2 directory), but as usual only the FAT32 and NTFS partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted.

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

I benchmarked the NTFS partition (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS) with A1 SD Bench. Read transfer rate: 27.50 MB/s, write transfer rate: 22.68 MB/s. Both numbers are not that great, but I suppose still acceptable. Orion R28 is on the right on the chart.

Orion_R28_USB_Harddrive

The eMMC flash has a decent write speed (13.58 MB/s), but the read speed (20.19 MB/s) is over half of other competing products based on Rockchip RK3288. The latter will mostly affect boot time, and app loading time during normal use.

Tronsmart_Orion_R28_eMMC_Performance

USB Webcam

I could make a video call with my UVC USB webcam in Skype with both audio and video working, but I had to make a few tries, and Skype hung a few times with Android asking me to kill or wait for Skype to respond.

Google Hangout recognized my webcam, and could make a video call, unfortunately all I got was a black screen. Audio worked however.

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. As usual ran very nicely on RK3288 thanks to the Mali-T764 GPU. I played Candy Crush Saga with Mele F10 Deluxe, and the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Both Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 were smooth with maxed out graphics settings, although the latter would benefit from an even faster GPU at times. Temperature measurements after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes: 57°C (top) and 67°C (bottom).

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta Benchmark

No surprise here with 36,865 points in Antutu 5.1. It’s slightly faster than NT-V6 because the processor is clocked at 1.8 GHz instead of just 1.6 GHz.

Orion_R28_Meta_Anutut_5.1

Vellamo 3.x scores are just as expected, and comparable to other Rockchip RK3288 mini PCs.

Orion_R28_Meta_Vellamo

Ice Storm Extreme benchmark score (7,513) is about the same as other RK3288 TV boxes, even in the higher range, as these report scores between 7,000 and 7,500+.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta comes with a fast processor, excellent 3D graphics performance, and a decent, although not outstanding eMMC. The firmware feels smooth, and I only experience one system freeze in XBMC/Kodi while playing an unsupported video file. It’s also the only Android mini PC where Gigabit Ethernet actually works for me, so this is a big plus, although issue with other models maybe only be due to interoperability problems with my   Gigabit switch. There are also some downside like weak Wi-Fi signal, yet with above average Wi-Fi performance, and video playback needs improvement, especially in XBMC/Kodi, but other Rockchip RK3288 media players have the exact same issues.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Good platform for games with excellent 3D graphics performance, and support for RF and Bluetooth (PS3) gamepads.
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • First and only box with working Gigabit Ethernet so far (for me).
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested). Composite is working.
  • Support for OTA update
  • Support forums
  • Proper power off/standby handling.

CONS:

  • Kodi/XBMC has too many issues: VC1 not supported, H.265 only supported by software, audio/video sync issue, few 4K videos could play properly, may hang system, etc…
  • Weak Wi-Fi signal, although performance is OK.
  • Video output – Component does not fully work  (grayscale only)
  • Webcam not working properly (black screen) in Google Hangouts. OK in Skype but the app does not seem very stable.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy may not be working

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta can be purchased for $119.99 on GeekBuying or Aliexpress, You can also get a cheaper model without 802.11ac support (just 802.11 n/g/n) and only 8GB eMMC, called Orion R28 Pro, for $99.99 on GeekBuying or Aliexpress.

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