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A Quick Look at SAMART Strong Black “Free” DVB-T2 Receiver in Thailand

December 17th, 2014 3 comments

Thai government has made digital television a priority, so they’ve launched a program to give a 690 Baht voucher ($21) to all households in Thailand. The voucher is send by registered mail to your home, and delivery has to be signed by a Thai person. Then you can go to a shop equipped with a Thai ID card and house registration book copy, present this voucher, and get a free (except for tax payers of course) DVB-T2 receiver, or use it to buy something a more advanced set-top box or digital TV package with 690 Baht discount.

690 Baht Voucher for Digital TV

690 Baht Voucher for Digital TV

We decided to get a free DVB-T2 receiver, and ended up with a box called SAMART Strong Black supporting SD and 1080p video streams over DVB-T2, EPG (Electronic Program Guide), and with a USB port to connect devices for recording programs or time-shifting. SAMART is a Thai company whose name means “can” (formal) as in “we can”, not as in “beer can”… So I decided to have a closer look at the device, and report what kind of features and hardware a $21 DVB-T2 may have.

SAMART Strong Black Specifications & Features

Specifications listed on the user’s manual:

  • Processor – 32-bit RISC processor @ 550 MHz
  • System Memory – 64 MB DDR
  • Storage – 8MB Flash for firmware
  • Video Output – HDMI up to 1080p60 or AV
  • Tuner
    • System – DVB-T2 (ETSI EN 302 755)
    • Receiving Channels – 470 – 862 MHz
    • RF Input/Output Impedance: 75 Ohm
    • Active Antenna – 5V, 150 mA
    • Demodulation – QPSK, 16-QAM, 64-QAM, 256-QAM
    • In and Out Antenna connectors
  • Video Codec – MPEG-2MP@ML and MP@HL, MPEG-4 P2 ASP, H.264 MP & HP
  • Video Containers – MKV, AVI, MPG, MP4, TS, DAT, VOB, FLV, MPEG
  • Audio – Codec: MPEG-4 HE-AAC v1/2; Sampling freq: 22.1 kHz, 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, and 48 kHz
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port
  • Misc – Power LED, IR receiver, 3.5mm jack for IR extension, 4 buttons on front panel (power. vol/ch- +, vol/ch -, and exit/menu)
  • Power Supply – 100-240V 50/60Hz in to 5V/1.2A out
  • Power Consumption – Active: <= 6W, standby: <= 0.5W
  • Dimensions – 175 x 185 x 55 mm
  • Weight – 550 grams

Other features include 3D display support, picture adjustment (color/brightness/contrast), 7-day EPG function, USB hard drive for PVR, time-shifting, and firmware update functions, multiple audio and subtitles, automatic and manual channel scanning and so on.

SAMART Strong Black Unboxing

That’s the pretty package for this DVB-T2 receiver box.

The box comes with HDMI and AV cables, a 5V/1.2A power supply, an IR remote control with two AAA batteries. a warranty card, a user’s manual (strangely in English only), and some promotional brochure.

SAMART_Strong_Black_Package_Content

DVB-T2 Receiver and Accessories

I’m not exactly sure that 5V/1.2A will be able to handle an external 2.5″ HDD, we’ll have to see another day. Let’s have a closer look at the device itself.

SAMART Strong Black (Click to Enlarge)

SAMART Strong Black (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a government sticker on the top of the box to make it clear that box was “sold’ as part of the program. Four buttons are on the front pane: power, Ch+/Vol-, Ch+/Vol+, and Exit/Menu, as well as the power LED, and a window for the IR receiver. The USB port is on the right side of the box. The rear panel comes with the following port from left to right:  RF antenna connector, RF loop, jack for optional IR extension cable, HDMI output, 3.5,mm jack for composite and L/R audio, and power jack.

SAMART Strong Black Board Pictures

There’s a two year warranty with the device, which I may have well lost, since as usual, I open the enclosure. There aren’t any screws, so you have to pull the top of the box with some tools.

SAMART Strong Black PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

SAMART Strong Black PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

The board name is SAMART-G v.1, so it looks like it’s really a locally designed and manufactured product. The processor has a small heatsink on top, but I failed to remove it because the thermal paste would have to be softened with heat, and I don’t have the right equipment for that. But we can still check the other components: ESMT M14D5121632A is a 64GB DDRII RAM, and Mstar MSB1236C must be the demodulator.

Close up on Tuner (Click to Enlarge)

Close up on Tuner (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also open the shield on top of the tuner to find out the device uses MaxLinear MxL608 tuner, which appears to be quite popular, as over 10 million STBs feature this tuner.

Since I did not have full details about the processor, and the operating systems, I decidd to connect a USB debug board to the 4-pin connector on the board. The left and right are respectively ground and 3.3V pin, so I played with the two other pins, and selected various baud rate, but all I got on my minicom terminal was gibberish.

A Google search for 550 MHz processor used in STBs points to Mstar or Novatek processor, but since neither company list their products lists on their respective website, it’s still unclear which exact processor might be used. I could only find one STB with star 550 MHz processor, and another one with Novatek 550 MHz processor. My guess goes towards Mstar since they’ve used an Mstar demodulator in their design.

We tried it at the shop, and it worked fine, but my indoor antenna at home must be too old, as the signal was 0% even though I live close to the broadcasting antenna. I tried to get a 300 Ohm to 75 Ohm matching adapter to make my own antenna, but I was told they don’t do this in Thailand, it’s old tech. maybe a language problem. So instead I purchased the matching adapter on Ebay, together with a cheap Digital TV indoor antenna.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: dvb, review, samart, set-top box, stb, thailand

Infocus CS1 A83 (C2107) Android Tablet Review

December 16th, 2014 4 comments

I’ve already shown some picture, listed specs and reported Antutu benchmark results for Infocus CS1 A83 Android tablet powered by Allwinner A83T octa core processor. I’ve been using this tablet as my main mobile device for about a week, and for about 3 to 5 hours a day, and I’m now ready to write a full review reporting my experience with this Full HD tablet.

General Impressions

I mainly use a tablet to browse the web, check emails, play some casual games like Candy Crush Saga, watch some YouTube videos, and Skype calls, and I could not really fault the tablet for any of these applications. Having said that, my reference device is only ThL W200 smartphone powered by Mediatek MT6589T processor with a 5″ display @ 1280×720, and for all the tasks listed Infocus tablet is much better because it’s more responsive, the 1920×1200 is crisp, and the cameras are working (for now). I could get a GPS fix quickly too, but GPS is something I tested thoroughly on the tablet.

Battery life is also good for my needs as a charge of the 3,550 mAh battery lasts for well over 24 hours, and takes 2 hours to complete (8% to 98%). They say the first impression is what count, and CS1 A83 (aka C2107) does a good job at that since it boots in about 15 seconds. I’ve only experienced two major annoyances with the volume down button, which requires a strong press to work, and Wi-Fi connectivity does not always work after getting out of standby, requiring a reboot. I worked around the latter issue, but setting Wi-Fi always on in the settings.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMark

Benchmarks are useful as a quick way to evaluate a device’s performance, but they should not be the only reason for your to buy a particular tablet, smaprthone, or any other device.

I’ve already run Antutu last week, but I’ll include it again today, which shows a score (26,000) a little  lower that what you’d get with an Amlogic S802 device (4x Cortex A9 @ 2 GHz + Mali-450MP6 GPU).

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also run two more benchmark to evaluate browser, and multicore performance with Vellamo 3.1 , and 3D graphics with 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme.

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo Score browser score is about the same as LG Nexus 4 smartphone (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro – APQ8064), and at 3,448 points for 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme, InFocus C2107 is certainly not a gaming beast, but as we’ll see below it’s still very much usable.

Internal Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

Internal storage performance is important for overall system responsiveness, as for example while installing apps some system slow down considerably due to I/O activity, and for boot and app loading time. So far, InFocus CS1 A83 is the best device I’ve ever tested with regards to eMMC performance thanks to 58.87 MB/s read speed, and 29.36 MB/s write speed. Benchmark app used: A1 SD Benchmark. Please note that InFocus CS1 A83 us the only tablet in the chart below.

Infocus_C2107_Internal_Storage_Performance

Read & Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also tested the tablet Wi-Fi performance by transferring a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer. I obviously placed the tablet in the same location I normally place TV boxes and development boards.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The tablet transferred the file at 2.72 MB/s (21.76 Mbps) on average which puts it in the middle of the pack. It’s quite possible I should not really compare Wi-Fi performance of a tablet with the one of media player, since these are different form factors. Your environment, including your router firmware, may also greatly impact the relative Wi-Fi performance between devices.

Performance is average, but I never lost Wi-Fi connectivity during active use. The first couple of dauys everything worked fine, but then I started to be unable to connect to my Wi-Fi router when getting out of stack. First I rebooted the tablet to work around the issue, but finally I went to Wi-Fi Settings-> Advanced (Via … green icon on top right),, and set “Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep” to always. This may affect battery life a little bit, but at least this annoying Wi-Fi issue went away.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

The 8MB rear camera does the job, and it clearly delivers better pictures than ThL W200 smartphone, but it struggles in low light conditions for for still pictures and videos, I suppose like most devices. I was also impressed by its ability to take close pictures such as text on books or PCBAs thanks to its autofocus, which at times takes about 1 or 2 seconds to focus. Beside slow focus, and poor quality in low light conditions, the lack of flash may be one of the main downside.

Since photos speak more than words, I’ve include photos samples, as well as video samples at night and day time which I’ve uploaded to YouTube, such make sure you watch them at the max (native resolution).

Video Samples


Other video samples:

Font-facing camera

The 2MP front facing camera is mostly used for selfies, and video conference, so I’ve taken a few close shots of pets and statues.

I’ve also use Skype with the device, and it worked as expected, although the picture is quite dark, and I have not found a way to adjust the front-facing camera brightness, so you’d have to make sure you call in a well lit environment for an optimal visual experience.

Video Playback

In order to test video playback, I simply installed Antutu Video Tester, and run to test to find out Allwinner A83T gets a very good score of 631 points which makes it close to the top of the rankings. This app uses the stock video player test audio/video codecs, and video quality.
Allwinner_A83T_AntutuVideo_Tester_1

Allwinner_A83T_Antutu_Video_Tester_2The device fails to play a realVideo 4 video, and can’t decode ac3 (Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS audio.

As a comparison a device such as Open Hour Chameleon (Rockchip RK3288) can play all video files, but also fails to decode AC3 and DTS (with the stock player), and only gets 263 points due to the poor video quality of Rockchip RK3288 processor (so far, and hopefully firmware upgrades can fix this). To work around the audio issue, you could also install XBMC / Kodi which (most probably illegally) decodes AC3 and DTS by software.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important feature of mobile devices. For my usage, i.e. 3 to 5 hours per day watching YouTube videos, browsing the web, checking emails, some games, and Skype video calls, a full charge is good for over 24 hours.

In order to get a more standardized evaluation of the battery life, I’ve been recommended to use LAB501 Battery Life app which provides ways to test battery life for web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming use cases. I planned to fully charge the tablet, and stop the test when the battery level reached 15%, however for some reasons the browser test stopped at around 50% twice. A full charge sometimes stops at 98%, and won’t go to 100% even after one hour or more. Wi-Fi was on, and brightness set to 50% for all tests.

Here are the results:

  • Browsing (98% to 53%) – 229 minutes (3h50). Extrapolating a linear discharge, it would have last around 7 hours
  • Video (100% to 12%) – 397 minutes (6h37). It should be good enough for 3 to 4 full movies on a charge.
  • Gaming (99% to 15%) – 276 (4h36)

Allwinner_A83T_Dashboard_Power_SavingThe tablet also comes with a Dashboard app showing CPU, memory & Storage usage, as well as battery charge, and option to clean junk, boost memory (by killing apps), and as shown above, set some power savings parameters. I’ve only used the tablet in Normal mode, but if you need extra battery life, or a boost in performance for game, these may be options to consider.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

Both file transfer  and Bluetooth Smart (BLE) worked just fine. The latter was tested with Vidonn X5 smartband.

GPS

I haven’t done much testing with GPS, and at first I thought the tablet may not have GPS, because there are not options for GPS in the Settings. Eventually, Google Maps, Nike running+, and GPS test confirmed the tablet supports GPS, and can get a GPS fix relatively fast, at least when I have an internet connection. I have not tried to roam outside.

Infocus_CS1_A83_GPS_testGaming

I’ve played Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 on the device, and all three games played rather nicely, albeit I noticed a little of sluggishness in Candy Crush Saga. The two racing games played quite well, but it’s probably because they adapt the level of details to the device used.

Others

Multitouch app showed the touchscreen supports five touch points max.

The auto brightness works, but is not really well suited to my eyes / preferences, so most of the time, I set the brightness manually. The good thing is that in the dark, I can set the brightness low enough, so that I don’t need third party apps like Lux Lite. I wish it would be possible to teach the device the level of brightness depending on lighting conditions.

The stereo speakers at the back of the tablet are clear and loud, much louder than my smartphone speakers, but this is probably to be expected.

Video Review

I’ve also shot a video review to show a bit more of different options, benchmark results, gaming (Candy Crush Saga, and Riptide GP2), GPS, PDF reader (Acrobat) performance with a large PDF file (ODROID mazagine), and more. The video has been shot with a sports camera, explaining the lens distortion (fisheye effect).

Conclusion

I really like this tablet, as the screen is sharp, performance is good enough for my need, as well as battery life. The main annoyances for me are the Volume down button not working well, and auto-brightness not configurable.

Here are the list of cons and pros based on my experience.

PROS

  • Clear and crisp 1920×1200 display
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve tested so far
  • Good video playback (based on Antutu Video Tester results)
  • Decent Battery Life – > 24 hours on a charge for my usage
  • Auto focus allows for clear pictures even at close distance (in good light conditions).

CONS

  • Volume down only working when pressing hard (Probably only with my early sample)
  • Wi-Fi may fail to reconnect after getting out of standby (Work around -> Set Wi-Fi always on).
  • Video / still picture quality poor in low light conditions, and lack of flash
  • Some games may feel a little sluggish (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Front-facing camera image is darker than usual in Skype, but this may be a Skype issue, rather than a problem with the tablet’s camera (TBC)
  • Auto-brightness can’t be customized (but it should be fixable via a paid app)

Allwinner and Foxconn sent me an early sample of the tablet, and it’s not available for sale just yet. I’m not even sure of the exact name, maybe it will be sold as InFocus C2107, or maybe InFocus CS1 A83. Price on the invoice was $170. As reference, I’ve checked the price for Amlogic M802 / Mediatek MT6592 tablets with a 7″ display using 1080p or 1920×1200 resolution, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, and other similar specifications which should provide similar performance than the Infocus tablet.  On such model is Chuwi-VX3, which sells for about $180 to $190 but also includes 3G support, so Infocus CS1 A83 should be cheaper than this model, and $150 to $170 including shipping would be a competitive price (IMHO).

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ODROID-XU3 Lite Board Ubuntu Review – Setup, Usability, and Performance

December 14th, 2014 13 comments

After testing ODROID-XU3 Lite with Android 4.4, and finding a workaround to some HDMI issues, I could finally try out Ubuntu, or rather Lubuntu with LXDE instead of Unity, in Hardkernel low cost octa-core development board. I’ll start this review by explaining how to install and setup Lubuntu on the board, followed by running various program to test the system usability as a desktop computer with LibreOffice, Chromium, XBMC, and 3D graphics, and finally run some performance tests with Phoronix Test Suit, build the Linux kernel natively, and transcode a video with avconf.

Setting Up Ubuntu on ODROID-XU3 Lite

All firmware images for ODROID development boards, can be found on odroid.in website, and if you want Ubuntu 14.04 image, go to ubuntu_14.04lts folder, to select the latest firmware file for your board. The latest image for ODROID-XU3 (Lite) is currently ubuntu-14.04.1lts-lubuntu-odroid-xu3-20141105.img.xz, it’s the same for micro SD card or eMMC boot. You should have gotten a eMMC to micro SD adapter if you’ve purchased an eMMC module from Hardkernel.

You can download, extract, and flash the image with dd (Linux) or Win32DiskImager (Windows). For example. in a terminal in a Linux computer:

wget http://odroid.in/ubuntu_14.04lts/ubuntu-14.04.1lts-lubuntu-odroid-xu3-20141105.img.xz
sudo apt-get install xz pv
xz -d ubuntu-14.04.1lts-lubuntu-odroid-xu3-20141105.img.xz
dd if=ubuntu-14.04.1lts-lubuntu-odroid-xu3-20141105.img | pv | sudo dd of=/dev/sdX

Where X is the letter of your micro SD or eMMC module inserted into your computer. Check the value carefully with lsblk before running the dd command, or you may lose your data stored on other drives connected to your computer,. For extra safety, you could also consider doing this procedure in a virtual machine, for example by running Ubuntu in VirtualBox.

Now insert the micro SD card or connect the eMMC module to the board, and you configure the boot switch between the Ethernet and USB ports as shown below using a pen or tweezers. For eMMC both must be in high position, whereas for SD card boot one must be down.

ODROID-XU3_Lite_Boot_Switch

Left: eMMC Boot; Right: Micro SD Card Boot

Now connect a keyboard, mouse, the HDMI cable, Ethernet, and/or other peripherals you may want to connect and power up the board by connecting the provided 5V/4A power supply. A typical boot should complete in around 22 seconds, although the first boot might take a little longer.

Lubuntu Desktop in ODROID-XU3 Lite

Lubuntu Desktop in ODROID-XU3 Lite

A this stage, the installation is nearly complete, and you should already have a usable system, however, if you’ll see that the rootfs partition is only 4.9GB with 310 MB available (that’s after installing LibreOffice):

df -h
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/mmcblk0p2  4.9G  4.4G  310M  94% /

Since my eMMC module has a capacity of 16GB, it would be nice to use all of it. Normally, you’d use fdisk/parted, and resize2fs  to get the full size, but Hardkernel provides ODROID Utility that can do just that among others. So click on the icon on the top right to launch the program, input the password (odroid), and after running apt-get update automatically, the following interface should appear.

ODROID_UtilityClick on Resize your root partition, and after making sure the root partition is in /dev/mmcblkp2, click <Yes> to continue and resize the root partition on your micro SD card or eMMC module. After a reboot, you can check all the available storage in a terminal:

df -h
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/mmcblk0p2   15G  4.4G  9.4G  32% /

9.4GB available out of a 15GB partition. Perfect! The setup is now complete.

Using ODROID-XU3 Lite as a Desktop Computer / Media Player

The Ubuntu image comes pre-loaded with Firefox, Chromium, Transmission, Arduino IDE, Abiword, PacmanFM, XBMC and a few others programs. Since they probably wanted to keep the image reasonably small, they did not install large program, but I install LibreOffice for a better office suite, and Nautilus for a file manager with Network Shares access:

sudo apt-get install libreoffice nautilus

The system is extremely responsive, and if you’re using a computer with a mechanical drive, ODROID-XU3 Lite will boot and load programs much faster than your full-blown Intel/AMD computer.

The best way to showcase ODROID-XU3 (Lite) capabilities is to shoot a video, so I’ve just done that showing:

  1. 20 seconds boot
  2. ODROID Utility options
  3. List of installed applications
  4. LibreOffice (Writer)
  5. Chromium – Multi-tabs, YouTube (embedded / full screen; VP9 / H.264/AVC1), and Candy Crush Saga (Flash game) in Facebook
  6. 3D hardware acceleration with es2gear
  7. XBMC Media Player with 2D/3D OpenGL ES and hardware video decoding.
  8. Power off

I’ve also opened a terminal running htop to show the eight cores CPU usage during these tests.

Side note: Since my camera (Canon Powershot A2300 HD) is pretty poor at shooting videos of screens, I’ve used SJ1000 action camera instead as the image is much sharper, but there’s a fisheye effect due to the wider angle of such camera. There are some tools in Linux including Python scripts and KDEnlive that can remove the fishing effect, but they introduce some aliasing, which does not look nice in this type of video, although it’s probably acceptable for content without text or thin lines.

Based on these tests, ODROID-XU3 Lite can be used as a desktop replacement or an XBMC media center, but you have to be aware of some limitations:

  • YouTube embedded videos play usually well, and 360p/480p full screen video play quite well, but the user experience is not very good with 1080p full screen videos, either with VP9 or H.264 codec.
  • Adobe Flash is not pre-installed, but in Chromium, it should be quite easy to install libpepperflash.so to enable Flash support. I have not tried, but normally, flash performance on ARM is rather subpar compared to x86.
  • The window manager may not be hardware accelerated with the GPU.

For all other uses, ODROID-XU3 Lite is clearly the best ARM Linux platform, I’ve tried so far, with a fast eMMC, 2D/3D hardware accelerated graphics (for apps that support OpenGL ES only), and hardware video decoding.

Other Use Cases and Performance

Before starting some benchmarks, I’ll check what type of Exynos 5422 I have in my system:

root@odroid:~# dmesg | grep BIN                                                 
[    0.355271] [c6] CPU Info : Samsung Exynos5422 Soc is BIN2

BIN1 is for the Exynos 5422 processor clocked up to 2.2 GHz found in ODROID-XU3 board, and BIN2 is limited to 1.8 GHz, and normally found in the Lite version of the board which I’m reviewing right now.

Phoronix Suite Benchmarks

Antutu is the most famous benchmark in Android, but in Linux, Phoronix Test Suite is the reference. It’s a bit more complicated to use than Antutu, but more flexible, and throrough.

sudo apt-get install php5-cli php5-gd php5-gd
wget http://phoronix-test-suite.com/releases/repo/pts.debian/files/phoronix-test-suite_5.4.0_all.deb
sudo dpkg -i phoronix-test-suite_5.4.0_all.deb

After apt-get install,. I had to run “sudo apt-get install -f” to complete the installation.

Than I’ve followed the instructions here, and selected four tests from the suite to test audio encoding, multi-core file compression, server, and disk I/Os:

phoronix-test-suite batch-benchmark pts/encode-mp3 pts/compress-7zip pts/apache pts/iozone

It turns out the iozone test for disk I/O takes nearly five hours, and recently my computer tends to turn off randomly, and since I started the test from an ssh console, the test got interrupted, so I only ran encode-mp3, compress-7zip, and apache benchmarks which last only about 15 minutes in total.

Out of the three test, compress-7zip failed because of a lack of memory:

[c4] Out of memory: Kill process 9593 d
[16693.088181] [c4] Killed process 9593 (7za) total-vm:1844536kB, anon-rss:1509B

So the whole Phoronix benchmarks did not exactly work out as expected, but you can find the result for MP3 encoding and Apache tests @ http://openbenchmarking.org/result/1412146-LI-20141214131

ODROID-XU3-Lite_Phoronix_Intel_Core_i3_radxa_proI’ve compared the ODROID-XU3 Lite results to some recent results on Openbenchmarking website including an Intel Core i3-4150 quad core system (cpu-ubuntu), an older Intel Atom N570 system (2G), and Radxa Pro board powered by Rockchip RK3188 processor. So Exynos 5422 can’t match a recent Core i3 processor yet (which by itself costs more than ODROID-XU3 Lite board), but does well against N570 netbook processor, and is about twice as fast as Radxa Rock Pro board in these two tests.

Mainline kernel compilation

People may want to use this powerful low cost Octa core board in build farm, so I though it would be fun to try building Linux mainline kernel natively. Let’s installing dependencies, and get the source latest Linux release (3.18) first.

sudo apt-get install libncurses5-dev gcc make git exuberant-ctags
git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux-stable.git
cd linux-stable
git checkout -b stable v3.18

Ubuntu 14.04 comes with gcc 4.8.2 only, but this compiler will break Linux mainline build, so I had to install gcc 4.9 instead:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gcc-4.9

You’ll also note some ODROID boards are already part of mainline, probably with partial support, but unfortunately ODROID-XU3 (Lite) kernel has not been upstreamed yet.

root@odroid:~/linux-stable# ls -l  arch/arm/boot/dts | grep odr                 
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   8334 Dec 14 14:11 exynos4412-odroid-common.dtsi        
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   1310 Dec 14 14:11 exynos4412-odroidu3.dts              
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root    829 Dec 14 14:11 exynos4412-odroidx2.dts              
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root   1691 Dec 14 14:11 exynos4412-odroidx.dts

Anyway, let’s build the kernel for Exynos processor, and see how fast the board can compile a Linux kernel:

make exynos_defconfig
time make -j8 CC=gcc-4.9
...
real    5m43.746s
user    31m25.235s
sys     4m11.130s

So it takes less than 6 minutes to build the kernel on ODROID-XU3 Lite, about 4 times longer than on a powerful, but much more power hungry (300W) AMD FX8350 based computer. In other words, it should be possible to achieve the same performance as my computer using 4 or 5 ODROID-XU3 Lite boards in a mini build farm using distcc compilation for about the same price, but only a fraction of the power consumption, and of course native compilation has advantages over cross-compilation, since some tests may have to be skipped for the latter.

Video Transcoding with avconv

Finally, one follower on G+ asked me to test MPEG2 to H.264 video transcoding with ffmpeg. The latter does not seem to be available, and as been replaced by avconc, so I installed libav-tools instead, and ran the transcoding.

sudo apt-get install libav-tools
time avconv -i big_buck_bunny_1080p_MPEG2_MP2_25fps_6600K.MPG \
-vcodec libx264 -minrate 300k -maxrate 300k -bufsize 1835k bbb-h.264.avi
avconv version 9.16-6:9.16-0ubuntu0.14.04.1, Copyright (c) 2000-2014 the Libav s
built on Aug 10 2014 18:32:09 with gcc 4.8 (Ubuntu/Linaro 4.8.2-19ubuntu1)
Guessed Channel Layout for  Input Stream #0.1 : stereo
Input #0, mpeg, from 'big_buck_bunny_1080p_MPEG2_MP2_25fps_6600K.MPG':
Duration: 00:00:44.74, start: 0.240000, bitrate: 7159 kb/s
Stream #0.0[0x1e0]: Video: mpeg2video (Main), yuv420p, 1920x1080 [PAR 1:1 Dc
Stream #0.1[0x1c0]: Audio: mp2, 44100 Hz, stereo, s16p, 160 kb/s
[libx264 @ 0x6c9c0] using SAR=1/1
[libx264 @ 0x6c9c0] MB rate (734400000) > level limit (2073600)
[libx264 @ 0x6c9c0] using cpu capabilities: ARMv6 NEON
[libx264 @ 0x6c9c0] profile High, level 5.2
Output #0, avi, to 'bbb-h.264.avi':
Metadata:
ISFT            : Lavf54.20.4
Stream #0.0: Video: libx264, yuv420p, 1920x1080 [PAR 1:1 DAR 16:9], q=-1--1c
Stream #0.1: Audio: libmp3lame, 44100 Hz, stereo, s16p
Stream mapping:
Stream #0:0 -> #0:0 (mpeg2video -> libx264)
Stream #0:1 -> #0:1 (mp2 -> libmp3lame)
Press ctrl-c to stop encoding
frame= 1035 fps= 8 q=55.0 size= 30701kB time=40.52 bitrate=6206.7kbits/s

It took 2 minutes 31 seconds to encode a 44 seconds video, so real-time 1080p video transcoding is currently not feasible with avconv / ffmpeg.

Have said that, Exynos 5422 supports video decoding and encoding, so it should be possible to write a program using the MFC (Multi-Format Codec) driver for Exynos. I could not find any sample code, but having a look a XBMC source code for ODROID boards might be a start, since it’s using the MFC drivers for decoding.

ODROID-XU3 Lite can be purchased directly from Hardkernel for $99 + shipping, or through distributors like Ameridroid (USA) or Pollin Electronics (Germany). Adding an eMMC module, an HDMI cable, and the serial debug board to your order is recommended, although you could replace the eMMC with a fast micro SD card (class 10 or greater) for a still decent performance.

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MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Review

December 12th, 2014 18 comments

I posted pictures of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus media player a few days ago, and in this post I will report my impressions and testing results for the box, the first Amlogic S812 device I’ve fully reviewed so far, which adds H.265 video decoding up to 2160p, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the original MINIX NEO X8-H. You can check my previous post for the full specifications of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package includes both MINIX IR remote, and MINIX NEO M1 RF air mouse. I did not use the infrared remote at all, and instead I mostly used the provided air mouse, together with Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse when I needed to input text, or for comparison. NEO M1 comes with a built-in battery, and Off/On button, and can be used as a standard remote control, or as a wireless mouse. In most cases it works fairly well, but inputting text may be a little cumbersome as you need to use the software keyboard, and I’ve noticed when I scroll several times, for example in Google Play going through my list of apps, its behavior becomes erratic, and frustrating to use. I’m tried to charge the NEO M1 again, and re-calibrate it, but it did not help. I’ve also disconnected the other RF dongles to make sure there was no interferences. The Mele F10 (Deluxe) does not have this problem, so overall the “air mouseness” of NEO M1 isnot as good as the one of Mele air mice.

I’ve connected an Ethernet cable to my Gigabit hub, an HDMI cable, an SD card, a USB hard drive, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with three RF dongles for the two air mice, a wireless gamepad, and a USB flash drive. After connecting the power, you need to press the button to start the device. The boot took a massive 1 minute and 54 seconds, which seems really slow for a recent high-end device. So I removed all USB devices, and boot time decreased to one minute, better, but not really a fast booting beast. For refernce some RK3288 devices boot in 20 seconds with all devices connected.

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

The status bar is hidden by default, but you can simply pull it up if you need it. As with other MINIX NEO device you can choose between MINIX Metro launcher, or the default Andrid Home Screen as shown above. If you want to checkout the user interface in more details, read my review of MINIX NEO X6, which includes screenshots of MINIX Metro, and a video walk-through.

The resolution was correctly automatically detected and set to 1080p, and the user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080. Although I connected the box to Ethernet, Wi-Fi was selected in the settings, so I had to go into settings before I get an Internet connection. Small detail.

The Settings menu is very similar to NEO X6 with a MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other, but it adds some extra options highlighted 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, 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz, or 4k2k 24/25/30Hz/smpte
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Start screen Saver (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control (For Rockchip/MINIX remote app)
    • Google TV Remote (for Google TV remote app)
    • CEC Control
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • No Output to USB Audio
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • Dolby DRC settings – On/Off, and DRC mode selection (LINE or RF)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup; “More Settings”: redirects to standard Android Settings.

4K video output and S/PDIF are extra hardware options supported by MINIX NEO X8-H Plus. DRC stands for Dynamic Range Control, and it aims to improve audio quality in various environments.  Here’s an explanation of what it does (Source: Dolby Metadata Guide):

Different home listening environments present a wide range of requirements for dynamic range. Rather than simply compressing the audio program at the transmission source to work well in the poorest listening environments, Dolby Digital encoders calculate and send Dynamic Range Control (DRC) metadata with the signal.
This metadata can then be applied to the signal by the decoder to reduce the signal’s dynamic range. Through the proper setting of DRC profiles during the mastering process, the content producer can provide the best possible presentation of program content in virtually any listening environment, regardless of the quality of the equipment, number of channels, or ambient noise level in the consumer’s home.
Many Dolby Digital decoders offer the consumer the option of defeating the Dynamic Range Control metadata, but some do not. Decoders with six discrete channel outputs (full 5.1-channel capability) typically offer this option. Decoders with stereo, mono, or RF-remodulated outputs, such as those found on DVD players and set-top boxes, often do not. In these cases, the decoder automatically applies the most appropriate DRC metadata for the decoder’s operating mode.

Most people won’t probably use this, but in case you want to turn it on, I understand you should probably select LINE if you own a 5.1/.1 capable AV receiver, and to RF for other audio receivers / TV. Corrections are welcome.

NEO-X8H-PLUSMINIX NEO X8-H Plus features a 16 GB eMMC flash with a single 12.48 GB partition, with plenty of free space (11.5GB+). In the “About MediaBox” section of Android settings, the model number is “NEO-X8H-PLUS″ , and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I did not try to root it either, but the micro USB OTG port means it should be feasible. At first, I thought NEO X8, NEO X8-H, and NEO X8-H Plus shared the same firmware, and seeing a new release, I tried to update my box, but don’t do that, as a separate firmware is available for NEO X8-H Plus. The latest release is dated November 22, 2014, but since only recovery mode changed, I kept the pre-installed firmware (November 14, 2014). I tried the online OTA update, but after a slow checking on the server, it just reported “no updates available”. MINIX seems to have a two weeks window between the firmware update, and the availability of their OTA server(s) in Hong Kong.

Google Play Store worked pretty well, and I did not need to side-load any apps for this review. The only apk I installed was Amazon AppStore, in order to play Riptide GP2.

The power button on the side of the box cane be used to power on the device, enter and exit standby mode (short press), and call the power menu (long press) showing “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. NEO M1 power button can only be used for standby mode, as a long press does nothing. Mele F10 Deluxe can only be used to enter standby mode, but not exit it, probably because the power key is an Infrared key on NEO M1, and Mele code is different. You can still power on the device with any remote by clicking on the “soft” power button on the task bar to activate the power menu. It’s not possible to turn on the box with the remote control. NEO X8-H Plus does not overheat. After Antutu 5.3 benchmark, the max. temperature was 38°C and 44°C on respectively the top and bottom of the case, and after 4 races in Riptide GP2, the max. measured temperatures went up to 45°C and 55°C.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is fast, and stable. I never experienced slowdowns, freezes, or hang-ups. The only time I felt there may be issue is when doing repeated scroll downs with NEO M1 air mouse, where the mouse pointer did not feel responsive, but this had nothing to do with the device, only the air mouse limitation, as I had no such repeatable issues with Mele F10 Deluxe.

Video Playback

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus came with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, and contrary to my review with MINIX NEO X6, I did not install XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition, which supports automatic refresh rate switching, and better support for .ts files, and just kept using the release version (Built on July 28, 2014). So I installed it to give it a try. XBMC user interface renders at around 35 fps @ 1920×1080. I had no problems connecting to SAMBA shares in Ubuntu 14.04 in either XBMC or ES File Explorer. Most videos have been tested with XBMC, but I also switched to “4K MoviePlayer” app to play some 4K videos.

Videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – Mostly OK, but some people may feel a slowdown @ 1080p. 480p/720p playback at 24 fps (instead of 25 fps), and 1080p at 20 fps.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK, although XBMC reports 720p/1080p video playing at 22 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – Audio only, and the 1080p video makes XBMC exit.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Does not play at all (Stays in XBMC UI).

I wanted to install the “Frequency Switcher” in the Video Add-ons, but all I got was a message saying the platform was not supported. So no automatic refresh rate switching is possible for now, at least with this version of XBMC.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • 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) – Plays at 15 fps instead of 29.970, and XBMC also reports skipped frames.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

As usually I played high definition audio codec using HDMI PCM output since I don’t have an AV receiver, and all files played perfectly including audio and video:

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

Blu-ray ISO are supported. Tested with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play.

4K videos playback is quite a disaster in XBMC, especially since this version of XBMC does not seem to support HEVC:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Audio only

If you are a regular reader, you may noticed that I added two new videos, one 10-bit HEVC/H.265 sample by NGCodec, and a BT.2020/Rec.2020 sample.

Since most videos did not play, I reverted to 4K MoviePlayer app install in the box which yields to better results:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – “Not supported media”
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Fails to play.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Shows the first image, but get stuck at 1 second.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Plays but with several wide horizontal bluish / purplish bands with some transparency in from of the video.

Please note that XBMC-13.3.3 Beta 6 apparently support 4K playback support for X8-H PLUS, but people also report AV sync issues in the beta version. (I’ve seen that after testing).

I’ve also added one SBS (Side-by-Side) 3D videos to Over/Under 3D videos. My Panasonic TV is not a 3D TV according to the specs, so I can only check if video decoding is working. NEO X8-H appears to handle 1080p well, but can play my 3D 4K video:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK, but XBMC reports it playing at 57 fps instead of 60 fps. Hardly noticeable to me.
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Most AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos could play without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. However, I could not play IFO files, only VOB, and I noticed XBMC sometimes report videos are not played at the original frame rate. For example, while playing a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, I noticed the frame rate oscillated between 22 and 26 fps, instead of 23.970 fps of the video. I’m not sure if this is expected, or improvements are needed. Nevertheless, I had no problem to play the movie fully, but over 14,000 frames were skipped as reported in XBMC live debug log.

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 transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate network performance of Wi-Fi, repeating the test three times, and averaging results. NEO X8-H Plus support both 802.11n and 801.11ac, so I tested both. The first one with my older TP-Link TL-WR940N, and the second standard with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7). The device averages a disappointing 2.11 MB/s with 802.11n, and a more respectable 3.50 MB/s with 802.11ac.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The actual performance you get may vary depending on the router used, and your environment.

Transferring a 885MB files over Ethernet showed similar performance as other Gigabit Ethernet devices, but this tests is mostly bound by the internal flash performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Transferring a file from a FAT32 partition on a USB hard drive to a SAMBA share (SSD drive) was done at a higher 24.58 MB/s

Checking the raw Ethernet performance with  iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, showed some serious limitations of NEO X8-H Plus (or Amlogic S812), although they can’t really be seen for typical usage:

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.106, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 39357 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.26 GBytes   180 Mbits/sec
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.67 GBytes   239 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is advertised as “bluedroid″, and after pairing, the first transfer failed for some reasons. Subsequent photo transfers worked just fine.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, since I was lazy to root the device.

The AP6335 wireless module used in this device is supposed to support Bluetooth 4.0 BLE. So I tested with protocol with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, and successfully connected using its Smartband app, and retrieved my “fitness” data.

Storage

Both a USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT32 could be recognized and mounted by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but not the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions, as with most devices, the exceptions being Open Hour Chameleon and M-195, which also support EXT-4.

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

A1 SD Bench app can test the read and write performance of any storage device in Android, and that’s what i used to evaluate the eMMC and USB NTFS performance. The read speed was 23.83 MB/s, and the write speed 20.06MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sda1). Good devices with USB 2.0 normally get close to 30MB/s in both directions, so NEO X8-H Plus is a bit of a weak player here. Results well above 30MB/s are only achievable via USB 3.0 ports.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The 8GB eMMC used in the device only achieves 14.27  MB/s (read) and 12.43 MB/s (write), which again is quite disappointing, especially the read speed, for a supposedly high-end device, and this explains the rather slow boot time.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The device are now classified with the total read + write speeds, and NEO X8-H Plus is close to the bottom of the scale.

USB Webcam

I could install both Skype and Google Hangouts, but Skype refused to make any calls (nothing happened), even using Skype “Echo / Sound Test Service”. I could make a call successfully with Google Hangouts but something the image was garbled.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2, and all three games worked very well.  I played Candy Crush Sage with the air mouse and . Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 with  Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and both games were very smooth even with settings maxed out. Riptide GP2 advanced settings set all settings enabled and to high, except Shader Complexity was set to low, and Physicals Wakes & Shadow Details were greyed out. Riptide GP2 usually came to a halt after several minutes of play, but it did not happen in this device. It’s however unclear if it’s because of an updated firmware, or Riptide GP2 developers fixed some of the issues.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus / Amlogic S812 Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports a processor with four ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked between 24 MHz and 1.99 GHz coupled with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is NEO-X8H-PLUS (n200), the resolution 1920×1080 (240dpi) and the system has 1,605 MB available to Android with 12.48 GB internal storage.

Amlogic_S812_NEO_X8-H_Plus_CPU-ZMINIX NEO-X8-H Plus gets 31,204 points which is the highest score I’ve seen for a device based on Amlogic S802/S812 processors so far, probably due to firmware optimizations.
MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Antutu
In Vellamo 3.1, the media player gets 792 points for the Metal benchmark, 1,808 points for the Multicore test, and 1,880 points for the Browser benchmark.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus-VellamoThe device gets 6056 points in 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme, lower than the score obtained in Rockchip RK3288 and Allwinner A80 devices, but it’s expected for a Mali-450MP GPU.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Ice_Storm_ExtremeConclusion

MINIX NEO X8-H firmware is extremely stable, and the user experience is smooth, but when you get into performance of individual components like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC flash, and USB storage the performance is disappointing, especially for an relatively expensive device. XBMC playback is quite good, except for H.265 and 4K, but that’s probably becaue the XBMC version in the current firmware, is not the latest one, and current beta XBMC app looks more promising..

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and fast.
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz), and 4K2K up to 30Hz/SMPTE
  • 3D games play without issues.
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • Air mouse included in package
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with 4K MoviePlayer app
  • USB webcam works with Google Hangouts
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC, and USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing for a device at this price.
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Skype
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Poor 4K support, and H.265 supported in included XBMC version. (Will be fixed in subsequent XBMC apk updates)
  • Relatively slow boot time. 1 minute without USB devices, almost 2 minutes with several USB devices connected.
  • Air mouse is not as good as some other product in the market such as MeLe F10 Deluxe, because in some circumstance it may be difficult to control the mouse pointer.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing the sample for review, and if you are interested in this device you may consider buying from Gearbest for about $160 including shipping. Other shipping options includes Amazon US, DealExtreme, TinyDeals, GeekBuying, and many others. Prices are about the same for every seller.

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Android 4.4 and Ubuntu 14.10 Tested on Ugoos UM3 mini PC (Rockchip RK3288)

December 10th, 2014 13 comments

A few days ago I posted pictures of Ugoos UM3, a cute mini PC powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A17 processor, with 2GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, a few USB ports, and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac connectivity. There are so many Rockchip RK3288 based TV boxes and sticks on the market, that it has become difficult to differentiate, so Ugoos has decided to support not only Android 4.4 like all their competitors, but also Ubuntu 14.10, and they’ve provided an alpha release of dual boot Android / Ubuntu images for Ugoos UT3 and UM3 models.

Yesterday, I flashed the latest Android/Ubuntu firmware for UM3, and tested the image, so today I can report my findings. First of all, I’d like to point out that I received an earlier sample with various flaws that I reported to Ugoos, and they’ve already committed to fixes:

  • 5V/2A power adapter is not powerful enough to drive the box and an external hard drive, leading to HDMI TV blinking, and reboots. Fix: Change power adapter to 5V/3A.
  • No heatsink leading to 100+ C temperature and reboot in Antutu benchmark, even with better power supply. Fix: All finished UM3 have an heatsink (metal plate) as shown below.
    Ugoos_UM3_metal_plate
  • Confusing OTG/DC marking on micro USB DC only port, and no marking on actual USB OTG port. Fix: The case will be update to show where the full-sized USB OTG port is.

So now that we’ve got these engineering sample issues out of the way, let’s talk a bit about the firmware. If you’d rather not read, and just watch the video, scroll down to the bottom of this post. Right after flashing, the firmware will boot to Android by default.

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The system has actually two launchers pre-installed, the stock Android home screen as pictured above, and the same TV-friendly user interface as Nagrace HPH NT-V6. The company has also added “Ugoos” settings to the firmware which are options to display CPU usage (overall or per cores), cores frequency, and memory usage. There are two partitions reserved for Android out of the 8GB flash: a 0.95 GB partition for apps, and a 2.17 GB partition for data. I’ve tried Antutu benchmark, but either the 5V/2.5A power supply I used is not powerful enough (even when no hard drive is connected), or the temperature went above 100 C for too long, and the system simply reboots. I did not use my 5V/8A power supply since I have not made a 5.5/2.1mm power barrel to micro USB adapter yet.

That’s all I did with Android, then I clicked on the power button in the task, and selected Switch System option. Within 45 seconds, I got to login prompt for user ugoos, enter the password (ugoos), ans started to play around.

Ubuntu 14.10 + XFCE (Click for Original Size)

Ubuntu 14.10 + XFCE (Click for Original Size)

The first task was to connect Wi-Fi, which mostly worked, except DNS would not work properly. /etc/resolv.conf seems to be hardcoded to 192.168.2.1, which my router IP address is actually 192.168.0.1. To fix the DNS issue, I ran a few commands:

sudo rm /etc/resolv.conf
sudo ln -s /run/resolvconf/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf
sudo resolvconf -u

Wi-Fi won’t connect automatically at boot time, and I always had to click on my ESSID in the menu on the top right to connect to the network. USB Ethernet is supposed to work, but it’s not something I’ve tried. I’ve also checked the storage reserved for Ubuntu rootfs: 3.2 GB with 1.4 GB used, so 1.8 GB free, and we can also access the 2.3GB Android “data” partition from Ubuntu.

So after I tried LibreOffice which boots in a few seconds, typed a short seconds with a USB keyboard, and as expected I did not encounter any issues here. Then I switched to Chromium, but YouTube would refuse to load and complained with the message “Connection is not private”, and recommending to set the date/ time of the computer. So I looked for a way to configure the date and time in XFCE, and apparently it’s not possible from the user interface, so instead I used command tools to set the timezone, and get the time from NTP:

timedatectl list-timezones
timedatectl set-timezone Asia/Bangkok
sudo ntpdate-debian

timedatectl is part of systemd-services (in Ubuntu), but I can’t remember if ntpdate was pre-installed. If it was not simply:

sudo apt-get install ntpdate

After setting the correct date and time, I could use Chromium to test the following:

  • Loading cnx-software.com – No problem, it loaded reasonably fast, and all items were properly displayed.
  • Playing an embedded YouTube video in CNX Software – OK (360p)
  • Playing the same YouTube video in YouTube – Some audio cuts and video may be choppy at time (480p)
  • Same YouTube Video (VP9 – 480p) in full screen – Video even more choppy, and audio cuts more frequent
  • Facebook Flash games – Candy Crush Saga: Will only load up to 67% of the game, and I could not play; Angry Birds with Friends: Load with error message: “This application is not correctly embedded. Wrong wmode value”.

So the web browsing experience is far from optimal, at least if you plan to use YouTube, or other online video services, or play flash games.

For the next step, I went to my USB hard drive (NTFS partition) in the File Manager, and clicked on a 1080p H.264 video (Big Buck Bunny) which started mplayer, and play the video smoothly. Later I tried the MP4 version of the video, and noticed some slowdowns. So some 1080p videos may play just fine, and some others not so. To make sure video decoding was done by software, I also tried to play a 4K video, and as expected it was a disaster (2 to 3 frames per second).

Finally I installed es2gears to confirm 2D/3D graphics acceleration is not enabled (yet):

sudo apt-get install mesa-utils-extra

Running es2gears will simply fail, and not even fallback to software rendering. I forgot to capture the exact error message, and one of the warning reads “libEGL warning: DRI2 failed to authenticate”.

Once I finished playing in Ubuntu, I clicked on the top menu Other->Reboot to Android, which opens a terminal windows asking to enter your user password into to complete the action, and within 30 to 40 seconds, I was back in Android.

Here’s the video with my tests. I’m sorry but the video quality is not very good,  especially in Ubuntu where it’s difficult, not to say impossible, to read the small text. I’ll have to find a better solution solution for next time, maybe getting an HDMI input recorder.

Some other quick comments. There’s no circuitry for power off in Ugoos UM3, so you’d have to disconnect the power to turn it off. If you do so in Ubuntu, the box will start Ubuntu next time, and in Android, it will boot to Android. I’ve also noticed that once Ubuntu enters screensaver mode (Black screen), there’s no way to get out of it, and a power cycle is needed.

That’s the status of the Android / Ubuntu image so far. Several bugs need to be addressed, VPU and GPU support in Linux, much more work is currently needed to have better Ubuntu image, although it can already be used to work with LibreOffice, and with caveats, to browse the web. Ugoos UM3 only has a 8GB eMMC flash, which means only 3GB is available in Android and Ubuntu, so you may consider using the Android or Ubuntu image instead of the dual boot image, if you need to install more applications.

If you plan to buy in quantities, you can do so by contacting the company via Ugoos UM3 product page. Since the device still in development, albeit almost ready, few sellers propose it for pre-order including Dealsprime for $109.99 including shipping, and on “Ugoosshop” for 129.95 Euros. It’s big brother, UGoos UT3, which also supports Android and Ubuntu, has been available for a month or so, and sells for about $140 on Amazon US, Chinavasion, GeekBuying, and others.

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Unboxing of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Quad Core Android Media Hub

December 7th, 2014 3 comments

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is an update to the popular NEO X8-H, replacing Amlogic S802 by Amlogic S812 processor, which adds HEVC/H.265 hardware video decoding up to 4K UHD (2160p),  as well as Gigabit Ethernet. The new version also supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi. GearBest agreed to send me one sample for review. First. I’ll post picture of the device, and the board, before writing a full review in a few days.

MINIX NEO X-8H Plus Unboxing Pictures and Video

The company sent me the box by DHL, and which I got within a few days together with a document reading “Inbound Charges Invoice” in order to pay import taxes to my local government, and the courier’s service charge.
MINIX_NEO-X8-H_Plus_Package
Th device comes in the usual black, gray and green package from MINIX, customize with NEO X8-H Plus module, and highlighting support for H.265/HEVC 2160p, and Dolby Digital Plus.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus, MINIX NEO M1 Air Mouse, and other Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus, MINIX NEO M1 Air Mouse, and other Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

The media player, or like MINIX likes to call it, the media hub comes with lots of accessories: a micro USB to USB cable, an HDMI cable, a USB OTG adapter, a 5V/3A power supply, a Wi-Fi antenna, an infrared remote control, as well as a product brochure, and a multi-language setup guide in English, German, Chinese, and Russian. GearBest, as most other sellers do, also provided MINIX NEO M1 air mouse in the package, together with its RF USB dongle, and a reference card / small user manual.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus (Click to Enlarge)

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus (Click to Enlarge)

All devices from the company look alike, as people prefer discreet and functional devices, rather than fancy designs. One side features the Wi-Fi antenna connector, while the other comes with the power button, headphone and microphone jacks, a USB 2.0 port, an SD card slot, and a micro USB OTG port. The rear panel gets a recovery button for firmware updates (in case OTA does not work), HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, 2x USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45) port, and the power jack. It must be the first time I see a separate microphone jack on an Android TV box.

Unboxing video:

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Board Pictures

Based on my experience with MINIX NEO X6, I was not very confident I would be able to open the device. There are four sticky rubber pad on the bottom of the enclosure. Just leave them alone, as there aren’t any screws under… I could just use my little green tool to separate the bottom and top part of the enclosure, by popping out the bottom part, which came out very easily.

NEO X8-H Plus Board (Click to Enlarge)

NEO X8-H Plus Board (Click to Enlarge)

There’s not much to be seen on the back of the board except FCC/CE compliance markings. There are four screws hoding the board to the case, three came off with some efforts, but the last one, the one with a small white mark under, stayed put whatever technique I tried to untighen it, just like with MINIX NEO X6. I don’t know what the factory does (glue?), but I suppose they don’t want people to tear down their devices. I could have a little peak inside, and I notice a metallic plate on the top to keep the device cool. Somebody told me all MINIX devices have an RTC clock, which I’ve never seen in other devices. So I was curious, but it’s not something I can check visually, so I’ll have to tried to boot the media player without connecting the network to find out.

[Update: The guys at hwswbits blog managed to open MINIX NEO X8 (version with Amlogic S802), and take a picture of the board, which should be very similar, except for the AP6330 wireless module, replaced by AP6335, and a different Ethernet transceiver

MINIX NEO X8 Board (Click to Enlarge)

MINIX NEO X8 Board (Click to Enlarge)

]

GearBest provided the sample, and they sells it for about $160 including shipping. Since MINIX has strict business conditions, the price between vendors are about the same, and you can also find it on Amazon US, DealExtreme, TinyDeals, GeekBuying, and many others.

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Allwinner A83T Tablet Unboxing, First Boot, and Benchmarks

December 6th, 2014 11 comments

Allwinner & HonHai Procesion Industry, better known as Foxconn, sent me an Infocus tablet based on Allwinner A83T processor with eight Cortex A7 cores up to 2GHz, and a PowerVR SGX544 GPU. Today, I’ll list the specifications of this tablet, show unboxing pictures, first boot video, and run Antutu benchmark.

Infocus New Tab CS1 A83 / C2107 Specifications

The invoice calls the tablet “New Tab CS1 A83″, but Android reports the model as C2107, so I’m not fully sure what will be the actual name. It might well be New Tab CS1 A83, as I could find an Infocus an earlier Infocus New Tab CS1 tablet powered by Allwinner A31.

Anyway, here are the specifications I could derive from the device, and running Antutu/CPU-Z on the device:

  • SoC – Allwinner A83T octa-core ARM Cortex-A7 @ 2.0 GHz with PowerVR SGX544MP GPU supporting OpenGL ES 2.0/1.1, OpenCL 1.1, DX 9.3.
  • System Memory – 2 GB RAM
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC + micro SD slot
  • Display – 7″ capacitive touchscreen, 1920×1200 resolution.
  • Audio – 3.5mm headphone jack, stereo speakers
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Camera – 8.0 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front-facing camera
  • USB – 1x micro USB OTG?
  • Sensors – Orientation, G-sensor, accelerometer, magnetometer, light sensor, gyroscope
  • Misc – Power and volume buttons,
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port
  • Battery – 3250 mAh (TBC, based on older CS1 specifications)  3,550 mAh (Liliputing opened the tablet)
  • Dimensions – 190 x 108 x 89 mm
  • Weight – 290 grams

Infocus CS1 A83 Pictures

I got the tablet from Foxconn Hong Kong via DHL, in the following white Infocus package.

Infocus_C2107_PackageThe tablet comes only with a 5V/2A and its USB cable, but it might be because I’ve got an early sample, and once it become available, there may be a user’s manual, screen protector, and many other accessories like a pair of headphones.

Allwinner A83 Tablet and power Adapter (Click to Enlarge)

Allwinner A83 Tablet and power Adapter (Click to Enlarge)

On the front, we’ve got the display and the 2MP front-facing camera. Stereo speakers are located on the bottom of the back of the tablet, and the rear camera on the top.

Infocus_New_Tab_CS1_A83

Infocus New Tab CS1 A83 (Click to Enlarge)

The other ports are power and vol +/- buttons on the side, and micro USB port, headphone jack and micro SD card slot on the top of the device.

Infocus_CS1_Buttons_PortsFirst boot

The tablet came fully charged, and pressing the power button one or two seconds boots the tablet, and Infocus tablet boots in just 15 seconds, it’s the fastest boot ever for the Android devices I’ve reviewed so far. You can watch the video below to see the unboxing and first boot for this tablet.

At first I thought Google Play was not installed in the tablet because I did not see the Google Play Store app in the list of apps.

App List and About Tablet Screenshots (Click for Original Size)

App List and About Tablet Screenshots (Click for Original Size)

But I eventually found out the Play Store was installed when I accessed it in Chrome, and looking again in the list of apps, the small icon on the top right is for the Play Store.  I don’t know if this is standard in all Android 4.4 tablet, or Foxconn customized it. The About Tablet section in Android section shows the model number is C2107, the processor UltraOcta-A83, and Android 4.4.4 runs on top of Linux 3.4.39.

The only problem I found during the first few minutes of usage is with the volume down button. I need to press it quite hard, and it won’t work. I don’t have this problem with the volume up button.

Allwinner A83 / Infocus C2107 Tablet Benchmarks

Alwinner A83T is a very new processor, so I ran CPU-Z to get information about both the processor and the tablet.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

CPU-Z correctly detects the processor as an octa-core Cortex A7 clocked between 480 MHz and 2.02 GHz, and with an Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 544MP GPU. The model number is C2107 (C2107_CN) and the manufacturer Infocus. Kernel developers may be interested to learn / know AllwinnerA83T is an sun8i platform. Screen resolution is 1920×1200 pixels, 1506 MB RAM is accessible in Android (the rest being used for the VPU, and other hardware buffers), and the internal storage partition 12.40 GB.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The battery capacity (1,000 Mah) reported by CPU-Z is most probably incorrect. The tablet has a bunch of sensors as reported in the specifications.

Now time for Antutu 5.3 benchmark.

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

With 26,326 points, Infocus New Tab CS1 A83 is a mid range tablet, with a score between Xiaomi MI 2 (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro – APQ8064) and Xiami Redmi Note (Mediatek MT6592).

That’s all for today. I plan to use the device for about a week, mainly browsing the web, checking email, watching videos, and playing games. I’ll also make sure to test the rear and front camera, evaluate the battery life (Is there a standard tool), runs some more benchmark, and report any issues I may have had in the full review. let me know if you’d like me to test anything specific.

The tablet is not currently up for sale, but the proforma invoice I received specifies the price is $170 per unit.

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