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Posts Tagged ‘sata’

Xnano X5 4K TV Box with Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI Input, USB 3.0, and SATA Goes for $68 and Up

July 12th, 2017 10 comments

Realtek RTD1295 processor allows for 4K TV boxes with DVR and PiP function through HDMI input, and USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 storage interfaces. I previously reviewed Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus based on the solution, and I especially liked support with NAS function through OpenWrt running side-by-side with Android 6.0. Those are high-end devices that cost well over $100, but we’ve recently seen cheaper models, likely with less refined firmware, no metal case, and possibly lacking OpenWrt that go as low as $78 shipped with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box. We can now get an even cheaper model, albeit with just 1GB RAM and 8GB flash, thanks to Xano X5 sold for $68.32 including shipping on Aliexpress. There’s also a 2GB/16GB version on the same page going for $82.76.

Xnano X5 Smart Box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash, SATA 3.0 connector for external drives, micro SD card slot up to 64GB
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output with HDR support, AV output (composite), and HDMI input
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV out (stereo audio), 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with one 5dB external antenna
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 85 x 19 mm

Based on the documentation on the Aliexpress page, the box appears to run both Android 6.0 and OpenWrt, and ships with a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a user’s manual, a high gain WiFi antenna, and a power adapter. HDMI input support DVR, Broadcasting over UDP, and PiP functions.

The company also published a picture of the board, and for people who want to develop U-boot or Linux on the board (mainline for RTD1295 is in progress), the 4-pin header on the right between the USB 3.0 port and micro SD slot could the UART header to access the serial console. We’ve previously seen USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet performance is excellent on such box, so it could also make an interesting Linux device/board if more people work on it.

Other Aliexpress sellers offer the box for a few dollars higher, GearBest is not quite as competitive here, as it sells the device for $78 including worldwide shipping [Update: GBCNA coupon brings that down to $67.19].  If you do a group buy of at least five, DHGate sells it for  $62.29 per unit including DHL shipping.

Thanks to Danman for the tip.

Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 6th, 2017 11 comments

Vorke Z3 is another mini PC / TV box powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with two Cortex A72 cores, and two Cortex A53 cores making it theoretically one of the fastest TV boxes on the market, excluding NVIDIA Shield Android TV which is well ahead of the competition, albeit with poor worldwide availability. I’ve have already shown Vorke Z3 hardware inside out, so in the second part of the review, I’ll focus on testing the firmware including video playback, and the system performance, and see how it compares to the similar Yundoo Y8, which I reviewed last month.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

One the selling point of Vorke Z3 is its SATA connector, so I connected a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive first, as well as Seagate USB 3.0 drive (1TB) to the USB 3.0 port, I also added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard, as well as two USB RF dongles for Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse. I did not use the USC type C port at that point, but we’ll see later that it can be used for firmware update, remote storage access, and video output.  I completed the hardware setup by plugging in Ethernet, HDMI, and power cables.

Click to Enlarge

Press the mechanical power switch on the rear panel in order to start the box, with a typical boot taking around 30 seconds. That’s acceptable, but I was expecting a faster boot with the high end eMMC flash used together with the powerful processor. The first time, you may be asked to choose between Launcher3 (Stock Android Home screen similar to what you get on your phone) better if you are close to the screen using the box as a mini PC,

or the familiar MediaBox Launcher better suited to TV use, if you are seated a few meters from the screen.

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Below are the pre-installed app (minus RKMC which I installed manually) in the stock firmware.

YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix are installed, but you’ll notice Kodi is missing, and there’s a good reason for this as we’ll find out below…

Click to Enlarge

The Settings are pretty much standard, but when you go to Display Output, you’ll see HDMI and HDMI1 output, because the mini PC can handle two display if you connect a compatible USB type C to HDMI dock to the device, and you can either mirror the displays, or extend the desktop. I don’t have such dock, and GeekBuying did not seem interested in sending me one, so I did not test that part, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I could still go to the HDMI section, and configure video output up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz. What I found out is that the system will not keep the setting, and it will just jump aroud 4K @ 30 Hz, 1080p60 or 720p60 between reboots. The Sound & Notification section does not include “Sound Devices Manager”, so you can’t enable audio pass-through, so if you want to do that you’d have to use the blue “Settings” app instead. The settings do not have any options for CEC or HDR, with the latter not supported by the hardware.

The screenshot above was taken at the end of the review, and I still had plenty of space out of the 26.74GB partition. USB3_NTFS is the NTFS partition of my four partitions USB drive, meaning exFAT, EXT-4 and BTRFS file systems are not supported. “USB Drive” is actually the SATA drive, and is a misnomer as the hardware implementation relies on a PCIe to SATA bridge. In case you planed to use the device as a mini PC connected to your printer, you may want to know Printing settings are missing.

The About section shows the device name is indeed VORKE Z3, and it runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.4.166 with the Android security patch dated August 2016. The build machine’s hostname is sunchip-CS24-TY, so it’s quite possible Sunchip is being the software and hardware design. Two versions of the firmware are available with either root or no root, so you could install the one you prefer using AndroidTool (Windows) or upgrade_tool (Linux).

The IR remote control is pretty basic, and I assume most people will used the own input device be it a an air mouse or the smartphone app. It did the job but only up to 4 meters, farther than this, and some key presses will be missed. I had no troubles installing apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground stores.

It’s not possible to cleanly power off the device with the remote control, only the mechanical switch on the back can do this, so instead you can only go in or out of standby.  I measured the power consumption with or without SATA and/or USB hard drive(s) attached in power off, standby, and idle modes:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 5.1 Watts
  • Idle – 5.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 8.1 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 9.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 10.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 11.2 Watts

After playing a 2-hour H.264 video in Kodi, I measured maximum temperatures of 37 and 40°C on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer, but the temperature felt a little higher than that when touching the surface with my hand, maybe it’s made of a material that interferes with measurements. After playing Riptide GP2 for around 15 minutes, the temperatures went up a little to 39 and 42°C, and gameplay was OK overtime, but only similar to what I experience on Yundoo Y8 or Amlogic S912 TV Boxes, and not as smooth as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. CPU-Z always reports 26 °C, so it’s not usable as an alternative temperature measure. I also noticed the box got quite hot (44 °C with IR thermometer) when I turned off the display, and let the UI in the launcher doing nothing. I did not notice any sharp drop in performance during use, but thermal throttling is happening as we’ll see in the Benchmark section.

I like the SATA port and USB type C port supporting data and video in Vorke Z3, and I found the firmware to be rather stable and very responsive. However, there are many small issues like no clean power off, HDMI setting is not remembered properly, so settings like Printing, CEC, Audio device, and automatic frame rate switching are missing from the main Setting app. The IR remote control does not feel very good either, and range was rather short.

Kodi & RKMC Video Playback, DRM Info, and YouTube

Kodi is not installed so I went to the Google Play store to install Kodi 17.3, and naively expected most videos to play fine. Those are my results for 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Stays in UI
  • 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) – Stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – First try: Kodi hangs; Second try: ~2fps + artifacts (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

Wow… I don’t think I can remember any platform that failed that badly. But I usually use the pre-installed Kodi app, which in this case was missing, so maybe that’s why. I’ll give up on Kodi 17.3 for now, but I remember somebody mentioned RKMC 16.1 would work better on Rockchip device. I did some research, and installed RKMC in the box. I made some mistake doing so, reinstalled the firmware and lost all my screenshots in the process. So maybe sure you backup any files before messing with the system partition or config files.

But what about the results with RKMC and my 4K videos samples?:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Crash
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Crash
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI + hang
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Crash
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI + hang
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Crash
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI + audio
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI + audio
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK (hardware decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

So H.265 video won’t play, VP9 will, but are unwatchable with software decode, and only H.264 videos are playing relatively well.

I got more insights in my RKMC post with Superceleron commenting:

Well don’t expect miracles, besides that is a old kodi fork dont have python 2.7 and it have subtitles security flaw.
On my tests, on A7 version of rk sdk use kodi 18 nightly it will play ok almost all codecs. (i just made a custom rom for A95X-R2 so i know it plays it ok)
On A6 forget it, i had to make some mix custom roms to make it work with FTMC.. it now plays almost all codecs (it crashes with RKCodec on H264 10bits, but mediacodec play ok but max 720p)
Rockchip never learns….

and

Yes need to wait for it, or simple try one of my roms for 3399 like for the Yundoo Y8 or H96 Max.
It will work lot better than stock, i fixed the play of VP9 in Hw in FTMC but still crash in H264 10bits, and cant play Youtube 4k due to codec issue!

So at this stage, I’d recommend not to buy any Rockchip RK3399 TV box if you want to play videos in Kodi, and wait for Android 7.1 firmware which is expected sometimes in the next few weeks or months. If you already have one, and/or are ready to waste some time, you could try TVMC that works somewhat in Yundoo Y8, or use one of the aforementioned ROMs on Freaktab.

I’ll skip video testing in this review, and if time permits perform tests again once Android 7.1 firmware and Kodi 18.0 are released.

Click to Enlarge

I still checked DRM info, and there’s no DRM support at all, except for something called CENC ClearKey.

YouTube worked well for me up to 1080p. Video is rendered to the framebuffer (I can take screenshot of it), which should explain the resolution limitation, and mean that it’s likely using software decode.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

As I connected to my 802.11ac router, I noticed the Link Speed was 526 Mbps when I checked, so better than the usual 433 Mbps you get on most other devices.

I first tested WiFi 802.11ac throughput by transferring a 278MB file beetween SAMBA and the internal flash and vice versa using ES File Explorer. There’s again a serious problem with SAMBA implementation, as download speed was fairly good @ 3.00 MB/s, but upload speed drop to 1.06 MB/s only, leading to a well below average average speed.

Throughput in MB/s

But iperf tests below show 802.11ac performance is actually quite good in both directions, so the real problem is with SAMBA implementation/configuration in the firmware.

WiFi 802.11ac upload:

WiFi 802.11ac download:

I repeated the SAMBA test with a larger 885 MB file over Gigabit Ethernet, and I confirmed the same issue as it took 49 seconds to upload the file from the server, and 1 minute and 52 seconds to upload the file.

I also run iperf again for Gigabit Ethernet using full duplex option:

I was expecting higher numbers, but those values will be good enough for most people.

Storage Performance

I used A1SD Bench to evaluate sequential performance of internal storage, USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces.

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In theory, the Samsung eMMC flash used is very good, and results from the benchmark confirm this with 157.63 MB/s read speed, and 124.80 MB/s write speed. That’s the best performance I’ve ever gotten from an Android device.

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

Sure enough, I never had troubles with “app is not responding” or app beings slow to load.

USB 3.0 and SATA performance is also pretty solid, especially sequential read speed. Write speed was actually 100 MB/s the first time I tried with SATA, but after I had to reinstall the firmware, I never managed to get back to that result with the speed limited to around 72 MB/s.

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

Nevertheless, results are fairly good, and SATA should provide a little more performance than USB 3.0.

Vorke Z3 Benchmark & System Info

CPU-Z reports a dual cluster “RK3066” processor with two Cortex A72 cores @ 1.99 GHz, and four Cortex A53 cores @ 1.51 GHz, and an ARM Mali-T860 GPU.

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VORKE Z3 (rk3399_box) uses a 1920×1080 framebuffer resolution, comes with 3878MB total RAM (the rest being used by hardware buffers), and 26.74 GB interface storage.

Antutu 6.x score varies a lot between 69k and 78k due to thermal throttling. But if I run the benchmark right after boot, I get the result below, roughly the same as Yundoo Y8 one (76,819 points).

Vellamo 2.x results would also varies due to thermal throttling, but also because for some reasons SunSpider test would fail to run from time to time, as shown by the yellow mark on the first Chrome Browser test.
For some reasons, Chrome Browser result is much lower (4,512) compared to the 5,275 points I got with Yundoo Y8, but Multicore (2,587 vs 2,492) and Metal (2,311 vs 2,332) results are roughly the same.

3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme results was also slightly lower with 9,726 points compared to 9,906 points for Yundoo Y8.

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At one point I only got 6,7xx points, but it was not because of overheating, and was instead due to the system randomly changing resolution and refresh rate, with the video output set to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz at the time, limiting the framerate to 30 fps max.

Conclusion

I did not have the best experience with Vorke Z3 due to my struggle with Kodi and RKMC, and various smaller issues like HDMI output resolution & framerate randomly changing between reboots, lack of proper power off mode, some overheating, etc… But there are also some positives like excellent internal storage performance, good USB 3.0 and SATA performance, a USB type C port supporting data, and video output, and very good WiFi performance, so I’m hoping the upcoming Android 7.1 Nougat firmware will greatly improve the device usefulness.

PROS

  • Good overall performance and stable firmware
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV box
  • Fast USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces for external storage
  • Very good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • USB type C port with support for data and video output (via an external dock).
  • OTA firmware update appears to be supported

CONS

  • The device is unusable with Kodi 17.3, or RKMC with most videos failing to play properly
  • Overheating leading to CPU / GPU throttling (The performance degradation is noticeable in benchmarks, but I have not really experienced it during normal use after playing a 2-hour video, or playing games for 15 minutes)
  • HDMI video output setting is not properly remembered, and it may be 720p, 4K30, 1080p60 at next boot.
  • No clean power off mode (mechanical switch only)
  • Only NTFS and FAT32 files systems are supported, no EXT-4, no exFAT
  • Lack of DRM support
  • Poor upload speed to SAMBA server

GeekBuying sent the device for review, and in case you are interested you could buy Vorke Z3 for $149.99 shipped with VORKEZ3F coupon on their website. You’ll also find the device from various sellers on Aliexpress.

$45 Hisilicon Hi3535 Based Network Video Recorder Board Comes with HDMI, VGA, Dual SATA, GbE, and USB 3.0 Ports

July 5th, 2017 35 comments

Network Video Recorder (NVR) boards allow you to record videos from IP cameras to a SATA drive, and display them in a mosaic for monitoring & security. One of such boards is XiongMai NBD7024T-P powered by a Hisilicon Hi3535 dual core Cortex A9 processor, and featuring Gigabit Ethernet, SATA, and USB 3.0 interfaces, on top of HDMI and VGA video output and stereo audio output. With such features, this type of board could likely be re-purposed for other applications, such as a NAS setup too,and they are fairly inexpensive going for $45 including shipping on Aliexpress.

Click to Enlarge

NBD7024T-P NVR board specifications:

  • SoC –  Hisilicon Hi3535 dual core Cortex A9 processor @ 1.0 GHz
  • System Memory – 4Gbit (512MB) RAM
  • Storage – 2x SATA ports up to 8TB each, maybe some SPI flash for firmware
  • Video Output – 1x HDMI, 1x VGA
  • Audio Output – 2x RCA jacks for stereo audio
  • Video Input (IP) – 8x @ 5M, 16x @ 4M, 32x (24fps), 16x, 8x @ 1080p, 32x @ 960p, 16x @ 720p up to 192 Mbps bandwidth
  • Video & Audio Compression – H.264, G.711A
  • Display & Playback “Quality” – 1280×1080 max display resolution, playback: 5M/4M 1080p/960p/720p
  • Video Preview – 1/4/8/16/24/32
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet port + 4ch WiFi ???
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – RTC battery, some expansion headers
  • Power supply – 12V/4A
  • Power Consumption – <10W (without HDD)
  • Dimensions – 164mm x 80mm
  • Weight – ~130g
  • Temperature Range – 0°C-+55°C
  • Humidity – 10%-90% RH

You can use the built-in interface shown above, a Windows based CMS app, XMeye mobile app to manage the video streams, or any ONVIF compliant apps. The board is said to run some kind of embedded Linux distributions. The seller of the board on Taobao, also “sells” the SDK for various Hisilicon processors for 5 RMB. But since the name of the SDK is shown a search for Hi3535_V100R001C01SPC020 led me to that direct link on baidu where it looks like you can download it for free, until you find out the archive is password protected… The SDK is said to be based on Linux 3.14, and you’d have to use this, since I could not see any activity about Hi3535 in LKML.

HiSilicon Hi3535 Block Diagram – Click to Enlarge

The manufacturer of the board is Hangzhou XiongMai Technology, and you can find a product brief here. If you find $45 is too high for your use case, some cheaper 4-channel NVR boards based on HiSilicon Hi3520D ARM Cortex A9 processor @ 660 MHz can be found for about $17 shipped with Fast Ethernet, one SATA 2.0 interface, and HDMI & VGA output.

HiSilicon Hi3535 processor sells for about $8 in quantities, so in case software support is acceptable, and HiSilicon helps with the release of the SDK, it might be possible to make low cost boards for headless applications. It still remains to be seen how SATA, Ethernet, and USB 3.0 interfaces perform on the processor.

Thanks to Jon for the tip.

NFV PicoPod is a Cluster of Six MACCHIATOBin Networking Boards for OPNFV, ODP, DPDK and OPF

June 29th, 2017 9 comments

If you are interested in networking applications, you may have already heard about Marvell ARMADA 8040 based SolidRun MACCHIATOBin board with multiple 10Gbps and Gbps network interfaces, three SATA ports, and more. PicoCluster has decided to make a cluster of 6 MACHIATOBin boards coupled with a Marvell Prestera DX 14 port, 10GbE switch for OpenDataPlane (ODP), Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), OpenFastPath(OPF) as well as OPNFV (Open Platform for Network Functions Virtualization) .

Click to Enlarge

The main features of the full assembled kit –  named Cube – include:

  • 6x MACCHIATOBin quad core Cortex A72 boards (24 cores in total)
  • 1x Prestera DX 10GbE 14-port switch board
  • 6x fans
  • Power Supply
  • Acrylic case

The cluster kit comes with 64GB micro SD cards pre-loaded with the latest OPNFV Danube software release for ARM integrated by ENEA Software AB. The cluster is said to be compliant with the OPNFV Pharos specification.

Click to Enlarge

Three pre-order options are available with delivery scheduled for September 2017:

  • $1,699.00 – Starter kit with all required items  minus the MACCHIATOBin boards
  • $4,699.00 – Advanced kit with all required items including the Marvell boards, but it still needs to be assembled
  • $4,999.00 – Assembled Cube with everything as shown in the picture above

There’s also an option for 6 SSD mounts that add $100 to the kits. You may find more info on the product page, as well as on ARM Community’s blog.

LAKE I Home Cloud TV Box with HDMI Input, SATA Bay Sells for $78

June 28th, 2017 3 comments

Realtek RTD1295 based Android TV boxes are usually interesting devices as they play 4K videos relatively well – minus 4K H.264 @ 30 fps -, support HDMI input with PVR and PiP functions, and often come with a SATA interface for NAS functions handled with OpenWrt. Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus are examples of such devices, and I found them to work pretty well in my reviews, but they are quite pricey with prices ranging from $130 to $200 (with internal SATA bay) including shipping. A cheaper option is Beelink SEA I, which I started to review, but one firmware update wiped out the HDCP key, and the product became unusable with the company unwilling/unable to provide the HDCP key. There’s now a new even cheaper model with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box sold for $77.99 on GearBest with GBLAKEI coupon.

LAKE I Home Cloud TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.1 flash + SD card slot up to 128 GB + SATA hard disk bay for 2.5″ drives with 9.5mm / 7.5mm thickness
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output, and HDMI input (recording and streaming up to 1080p @ 60 Hz)
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – HDR, 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps, BDISO/MKV, etc… automatic frame rate switching
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with two external antennas
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0, 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/1.5A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 124 x 27 mm
  • Weight – 210 grams

The “HardDisk” bay shown in the first picture allows you to add a 2.5″ drive inside the box. The box is said to run Android 6.0, but again we don’t know if it also runs OpenWrt just like on Zidoo and EWEAT boxes. One of the picture also indicates “Intel HD Graphics 400” is used to provides 3840×2160, so the information on GearBest page can not be fully trusted. This fanless TV box ships with a HDMI Cable, a power adapter, an infrared remote control, and a user manual.

I asked GearBest for some confirmations, but I did not get a reply in time for the article. Finally, I found out the box on Alibaba, and it is sold by SHenzhen AZW Technology better known as Beelink, and the system is sold a dual OS TV box with Android 6.0 and OpenWrt there.

Via AndroidPC.es

NanoPi NEO NAS Kit Review – Assembly, OpenMediaVault Installation & Setup, and Benchmarks

June 18th, 2017 55 comments

NAS Dock v1.2 for Nano Pi NEO / NEO 2 is, as the name implies, a complete mini NAS kit for 2.5″ drive for NanoPi NEO or NEO 2 board. The NEO 2 board is strongly recommended, since it’s not much more expensive, but should deliver much better results due to its Gigabit Ethernet interface. I’ve received two of those kits together with several other boards & accessories from FriendlyELEC, and today I’ll show how to assemble the kit, configure OpenMediaVault, and run some benchmarks.

NAS Kit V1.2 Assembly with NanoPi NEO 2 Board

The only extra tool you’ll need is a screwdriver, and potentially a soldering iron as we’ll see further below.
The metal box is stuff wih accessories so the first thing is to open one or two sides to take out the content. We have the mainboard, NanoPi NEO back plate, NanoPi NEO 2 back plater, a heatsink and thermal set, and a set of 5 screws to tighten the hard drive which mean there’s one extra screw. FriendlyELEC always adds extra screws, and I find it’s a nice touch, as it can be a real pain if you happen to lose one.

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Let’s have a closer look at the “1-bay NAS Dock v1.2 for NanoPi NEO/NEO2” board. We have a UAS capable USB 3.0 to SATA brige chip between the two header for NanoPi NEO board (note that the USB connection will be limited to USB 2.0 since the board only supports that), an LED, a USB 2.0 host port for a printer, WiFi dongle, or webcam, the power switch, the power jack, a 3-pin serial header, an I2C connector for Grove modules, and of course the SATA connector.

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There’s not much on the other side of the board, except a CR2032 battery slot for the RTC.

Before going further, you’ll need to go to the Wiki, and get the latest OpenMediaVault firmware, in my case nanopi-neo2_debian-nas-jessie_4.11.2_20170531.img.zip, which I then flashed with Ether program to a micro SD card..

Once this is done, install the heatsink and thermal to your NanoPi NEO 2 board, and insert the micro SD card into the board.

Notice that I also soldered the headers. While it would be obvious to people would have looked at the pinout diagram, I’ve read some people have justed connect the board using the (pre-soldered) 4-pin header, as they may have believed it was a USB header, but it’s just the serial console instead, and obviously the hard drive was not detected. If you don’t feel like soldering the headers to the board yourself, make sure you tick the option “with pin headers soldered” when ordering. It just costs $1 extra.

Now we can insert our board into the “1-bay NAS Dock” board, instead the hard drive, and optionally an I2C module. I connected an I2C OLED display i the picture below for illustrate, as using the display would require cutting out the case. Some people may want to connect an I2C temperature sensor instead.

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I used four screws to tighen the hard drive on the other side of the board, and install a CR2032 battery for the real-time clock.


Finally, you’ll need a 12V power supply with at least 1A, but I could not find any (safe) spare ones so I used Maxoak K2 power bank instead, since it can output 12V @ 2.5 A max.


OpenMediaVault Setup on NanoPi NEO 2 Board

So I connected everything, and applied power, but the board would not boot with the Ethernet Link LED blinking in a regular fashion, meaning something was very wrong. So I took out the board, and connected a serial debug board, connect to the console via minicom using 115200 8N1, and that’s what I got:

The boot was just stuck there. I re-inserted the micro SD in my PC, and I could see both boot and rootfs partitions, so everything looked good.
Then I powered the NanoPi NEO 2 board with a 5V/2A power supply only, and the boot succeeded:

Then I went back to the 12V power input on NAS Kit with the power bank and the boot succeeded. Very strange. It turns out the board would not boot most of the time, but the symptoms are not reproducible 100% of the time. This kind of random behavior is usually a timing or distorted signal issue. So I thought the micro SD card might not play well with the board, and the power bank signal might not be so clean. So I first flashed another micro SD card, but same results. I used another 12V/5A power supply, and it did not really help either. Finally, I used another NanoPi NEO 2 board and it appears to be stable.

You can find the board using FriendlyELEC.local if bonjour services are running in your computer:

Alternatively, you could check out the IP address in other ways. In my case, I just type friendlyelec.local in Firefox to access the web interface. The default username and password are admin and openmediavault.

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After login, you can access the dashboard showing system information, and which services are running. You may want to disable the services you don’t need.

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You can go to Storage->Physical Disks to check if your hard drive has been detected. No problem for me here with a 931.51 GiB drive detected.

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You may then want to setup a fix IP address. There are various ways to do this but I went to Network->Interfaces and set eth0 to a fixed IP address. You’ll be asked to apply the changes once it’s done.

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I also changed the hostname to CNX-NEO2-NAS in the General tab.

After that I decided to address some security issues. First by changing the administrator password in General Settings->Web Administrator Password.

I then went to Access Rights Management->User to find out there were two pre-configured users: pi and fa. I deleted fa user, changed pi’s user password, and added it to ssh group. It’s actually even probably better to just delete both user, and create your own.

The root user is not shown, but you’ll want to login as root through ssh first and change the password, as the default password is fa. Once it’s done, you’ll have better security, and your system should not be easily accessible via basic “hacks”. For more security, you’ll still want to install an RSA certificate. A self-signed one should do if you plan to use it only in the local network, but you may also consider a free Let’s Encrypt certificate instead.

We can now take care of the hard drive. I went to Storage->File Systems, and clicked on +Create file system which will let you choose between BTRFS, EXT3, EXT4, XFS, and JFS. I’ve gone with EXT4 first.

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After a few minutes you drive should be formatted, so we can configure network shares. I want to use SAMBA and SFTP to transfer files for the purpose of this review, so I went to Access Rights Management->Shared Folders to add a new share called HDD for the root of of hard drive. You may want to add multiple share if you plan to split videos, documents, music and so on.

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I clicked Save, and selected ACL to add permissions to pi and admin users. You can add whatever users you plan to use to access the share.

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That share3d folder can now be assigned to the services you plan to use. SFTP is enabled by default when SSH is running, so I create a SAMA/CIFS share by going to Services->SMB/CIFS->Shares to add the share.

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Browsing the Network with Nautilus would show both cnx-neo2-NAS – SMB.CIFS and cnx-neo2-nas – SSH (SFTP) shares.

Configuration is now complete. I have not find a clean way to power off the system, so I normally open a terminal session via ssh and run the shutdown now command. A software button to turn of the NAS would have been a nice features on the kit.

I also often encountered the error “Software Failure. Press left mouse button to continue. Session not authenticated.” before the session timeout is set to 5 minutes. If you prefer a longer timeout, you can change it in General Settings->Web Administration.

In case you want to use the RTC, you may first want to set the timezone:

Check the date is correct, and write it to the hardware clock:

before reading it back.

You can test it by rebooting the board without the Ethernet cable:

Perfect! You’d just have to make sure the “set” command is run automatically at boot time if the time in the RTC is set. It would be good if FriendlyELEC updated their image to do that automatically at boot time.

NAS Dock V1.2 + NanoPi NEO 2 Benchmarks

Since I can now copy files and folders over SAMBA and SFTP, we can start running some benchmarks to evaluate performance. I’ll use EXT-4, BTRFS, and XFS file systems on the hard drive, and run iozone to specicially test storage performance, following by copying large and small files over SAMBA or SFTP to test real-life NAS performance. For large file copy, I’ll use a folder with 7 large files totaling 6.5 GB, and for small files, I’ve done a fresh checkout of the Linux kernel in my computer:

and removed symlinks since they may cause issues during copy, as well as .git directory with a huge 1.8GB file:

The end result is a directory with 64,013 files totaling 748.6 MB.

Iozone results

EXT-4:

BTRFS:

XFS:

I’ve taken results with 16384kB reclen for read, write, random read and random write values to draw a chart, since most people are likely going to store large files in their NAS. The smaller reclen could be interesting if you plan to handle smaller files.

All three file systems have a very good read speed of around 40 MB/s, but BTRFS write appear to be the fastest among the three, with EXT-4 being the weakest at around 25 MB/s. But for some reasons, those results are useless in practice, as we’ll see below. Finding out the exact reason would possibly require studying and profiling iozone and the kernel source code which would be outside of the scope of this review.

File copy over SAMBA and SFTP

Results for large files in minutes and seconds.

File Copy  Large Files SMB SFTP
Write Read Write Read
EXT4 02:49.00 02:40.00 03:54.00 04:15.00
BTRFS 03:20.00 02:40.00 03:48.00 04:32.00
XFS 02:45.00 02:38.00 03:36.00 04:23.00

Chart converted to MB/s.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

First, we can see very good read performance from the NAS (NAS to my PC)  with 41 to 42 MB/s close to the theorethical limit of a USB 2.0 connection. Write speed is a a little different as the files were transferred more slowly with BTRS, and around 40MB/s with EXT-4 and XFS.  Since SFTP is encrypted the transfer speed is roughly the same for all three file systems. Overall the file system you choose does not really impact performance with large files.

Results for small files in minutes and seconds.

File Copy  Small Files SMB SFTP
Write Read Write Read
EXT4 15:26.00 18:34.00 09:02.00 12:48.00
BTRFS 18:48.00 18:02.00 10:30.00 11:30.00
XFS 17:33.00 18:22.00 09:18.00 12:35.00

Chart converted to MB/s.

Transferring a large number of small files over SAMBA is really slow, and barely faster over SFTP. Again,there aren’t any significant differences between file systems here.  If you are going to transfer a large number of small file over the network, you may want to either compress the files before transfer, or compress the files on the fly using the command line:

It took just 1 minute and 49 seconds to transfer all 64,013 files, or over five times faster than SFTP write to XFS, at around an effective 6.86 MB/s. So knowing your tools may matter as much as having the right hardware.

I was going to run a last part after enabling optimizations provided by tkaiser, but it turns out FriendELEC has already done that in their firmware image.

If you want to reproduce the setup above, you’ll need to purchase NAS Kit v1.2 for $12.99, and a NanoPi NEO 2 with soldered headers for $15.99. If you don’t have a 2.5″ hard drive, you’ll need to add this, as well as a 12V power supply which you could purchase locally, or on FriendlyELEC website for under $10. All in all that’s cheaper than a similar kit with a Raspberry Pi 3 board, and you’ll get close to four times the SAMBA performance for large files since RPi 3 will be limited to 10 to 12 MB/s due to the Fast Ethernet connection.

Realtek RTD1296 STB/Media NAS SoC Coming Soon with Multiple Ethernet Ports, Dual SATA, HDMI 2.0 Input and Output

June 7th, 2017 No comments

I have reviewed several Realtek RTD1295 TV boxes with NAS and HDMI input functions such as Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus, and those were quite capable devices with a rich feature set, but Realtek has been working on a new higher-end RTD1296 SoC for quite some time. It comes with the same CPU and GPU, but has a larger package with more peripheral interfaces.

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I received the screenshot above last December, but the information does not seem to have changed since then. Realtek RTD1296 is equipped with a quad core Cortex A53 processor, an ARM Mali-T820MP3 GPU, and the same H.265/VP9 video engine as RTD1295. However, the new SoC adds one extra RGMII (Gigabit Ethernet) interface, one more USB 3.0 port, one extra SATA interface, and offers higher DDR bandwidth. The PCIe interface would also allow you to use more than just two SATA drives.

Charbax got in touch with the company, and shot a video showcasing their various RTD1296 solutions include and Android TV STB with Voice Assistant (not the Google One yet) which allows you to turn on the box, PIP recording for game streamers on YouTube, Twitch…, and some Synology and QNAP NAS based on RTD129X (exact part not provided).

Via ARMDevices

U5PVR Deluxe Set-Top Box & NAS Review – Part 2: Android TV, Debian, and Live TV App

June 6th, 2017 8 comments

U5PVR Deluxe is an set-top box with digital TV tuners that runs Android TV 5.1, and support 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve received a model with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, and already posted “U5 PVR Deluxe Android Set-Top Box Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing, Teardown, and SATA HDD Assembly” a few weeks ago, where I described the hardware, and I inserted a one terabytes 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve now had time to test the device, but it took much longer than expected due to a partial firmware update issue, which forced me to redo many of the tests. There are also some undocumented features, so if you want to make the most of the device, be prepared to spend time in the forums.

U5PVR Connections, OTA Firmware Update, and Setup Wizard

The box have one USB 3.0 ports, and three USB 2.0 ports, so most people won’t need an extra USB hub, and for the review, I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the former, as well as two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

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I also connected Ethernet and HDMI cables,  as well as my terrestrial TV antenna to the RF coaxial input of the device. You’ll probably want to connect the RF output to your TV if it comes with a DVB-T2 tuner, but I don’t have a cable for that so I skipped.

Finally I connected the 12V power supply, and pressed the power switch on the back panel to start the device up.

My box had a firmware dated 31st of March 2017 without OTA support, so I went to the forums to find the latest firmware dated May 4th. I downloaded the file, and proceeded with the firmware update, and everything seems to work with the Android logo and progress bar, as well as a slightly different UI, so I kept proceeding with the review at this stage. But later, as I had used the remote control to take screenshots, and found out all files were there by empty. So I contacted the company via their Google+ community, and found out my firmware was still stuck at March 31st. Noooo! The company gave me a new firmware file dated May 29th, which I first copied to my SATA hard drive to complete the update, but after going through the procedure, no change, so I repeated the steps by copying the file to one of the partition of my USB hardware, and it went through probably. They also told me that I could install the Linux part via OTA, which I did.

But wait a minute.. Linux? What is it for exactly on this box? Answer:

  1. Plex media Server accessible via BoxIPAddress:32400/web using ID : u5pvr; password : u5pvr
  2. Transmission server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9091 using ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  3. FTP Server using u5pvr as username and password
  4. Second TVHeadEnd server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9981 using  ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  5. SSH using root username with u5pvr password.
  6. Install various other Linux program like Webserver, Audio streaming server, Rclone for Google drive. Asterisk voice server etc…. Similar to Synology NAS

They call this “Android Over Linux (AoL) ” and it allows to run both Android TV and Debian apps. I’ve quickly tried to login to SSH, and you indeed access to an ARM Debian machine:

That’s all nice and convenient, but for user who don’t know what installing “Linux” does, it somewhat expose them to hackers with a default username and password. U5PVR should not be accessible directly from the Internet, but it’s still not ideal. Asking users to set usernames and password right after installation would be beneficial. People who know can easily change the default password as they wish.

The support guy on G+ (William Tedy) also went on with some other Android features that I was not all aware of, and you may read about them on Google+ as the list is rather long, and due to time constraints I won’t test it all, especially Wio GPS board is looking at me with its big beautiful eyes (antennas) asking why I’m not taking care of it yet….

Nevertheless, I don’t expect people to have the same problems as I had with firmware update since boxes selling now come with OTA firmware enabled. For the very first boot, you’ll be asked to Select a Home app. Going with Home Screen will bring you to the default launcher, while Setup Wizard will guide you through the first time setup.


I’ve selected Setup Wizard and Just once to check how useful it would be. You’re first welcomed and asked to select your language.

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Then you can select you network. If you are using Ethernet with DHCP, you don’t need to change anything, but if you prefer WiFi you can configure it here.

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The next Windows will let you sign-in to your Google account. That’s where I found out the air mouse would not always work here, as while I could type the text, clicking on Next would do nothing, and I had to use the IR remote control, or switch to remote mode on the air mouse instead.

Once the Google Account is completed, the Setup is finished. So it was only minimal, and you may still have to setup the rest of the device in the Settings and Live TV app.

U5PVR Android TV, Settings, and First Impressions

You’ll then be directed to the launcher, and to my surprise it was Android Leanback launcher, and as we’ll see below the box is running Android TV, as opposed to just Android as on most TV boxes on the market.

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I had a pretty bad first impression of Leanback launcher, as it included some “recommended” videos that I did not care at all for, including some with fairly disgusting thumbnails. The screenshot above is for the older firmware, and it seems the company has now disabled recommendations and it just shows “Some recommendations are hidden. To enable, go to Settings”. I’ll show how to enable/disable this a little later. The new firmware also have some extra icons and different pre-installed apps.

There’s a row of icons with some common apps which can be deleted, added, and moved as required, and the last row included two settings app: ATV settings (Amlogic settings app) and Settings (Android settings), as well as Network, QuickClean and Power icons. The former shows “unknown SSID” as I’m using Ethernet.

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The list of pre-installed apps is shown above, and you’ll notice Kodi is not there. We’ll see why later…

The ATV settings app is shown below.

After scrolling the top row to the right.

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If you’ve ever used an Amlogic TV box it should look similar. Options are pretty much the same as on other boxes except there’s a Ethernet/WiFi menu on top of the network menu, as you can use both Ethernet and WiFi at the same time.HDMI CEC is enabled by default, which may not be the best idea, as it may confuse some people, who don’t understand why their TV will turn off when they turn off the box. The HDR10 option just enable and disable HDR support, something I cannot test since I’d need a new 4K UHD TV with high dynamic range support.

The Color Space menu will allow you to switch between RGB444, YCbCr444, YCbCr422, etc… It’s mostly useful in case you have some strange colors, or even a pink screen due to interoperability issues between the TV and the box. I did not need to use this.

The second row has a Home Screen menu, which you can enter to change Leanback launcher behavior via two menu: Recommendation row and app and games row

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I just disabled everything so I don’t need to get annoyed by videos thumbnails in the launcher. You can always enable sources that are useful to you, and disable others.

The Settings icon redirects to Android TV settings with pretty much typical options. SAMBA Service has been added and enabled by default without password, but you can add your own password if needed.

The Home menu allows you to switch between Leanback and Live TV app for the launcher. Beside starting live TV automatically, we’ll see the later is perfectly usable as a launcher since you can access apps from it. Which launcher would prefer depends on your main use case. If you mainly like to watch online videos from YouTube and other services, then Leanback might be good for you, while if you are mainly watching live TV over DVB-T/T2, live TV may be a better choice.

Since I lost all screenshots taken with the remote control due to the firmware issue, I only have storage data at the end of the review. We can still see 10.99 GB space is available to the user out of the 16GB flash, and at the end of the review, I still had 8.04 GB available.

The bottom of the settings also has some extra menus for System Upgrade and Advance options (Color Space, and HDR mode selection: SDR/Dolby/HDR10/Auto).

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The About set-top box section shows the model number is “BADA” and it runs Android 5.1.1 on Linux3.18.24 for Hisilicon Hi3798 CV2x processor. The Build numbers shows the firmware is also running “Internal Linux”.

Google Play Store is different on Android TV, and more suitable to the TV experience thanks to larger icon and fonts.

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The downside of that is that the store will filter apps, and only show apps made for the big screen and compatible with Android TV.

So for example, I could install ES File Explorer, and Kodi, while Antutu would not show in the list. I find it ironic that ES File Explorer is considered TV-friendly, as it’s a total pain to use with the remote control… But nevertheless, I tried to use alternative app stores such as Amazon Underground, but since I could not find half the apps I needed there, I eventually installed most app through APKPure app, which is great to work around all sort of limitations including geolocalization ones, as it just installs the APK. What you gain in convenience, you may lose in terms of security, so only install apps you trust.

The IR remote control works well and I tested range up to 10 meter. I could also use the IR learning function to program some of my TV keys (volume, power…). As with other TV boxes with tuners, using the IR remote control is not really optional, as you’ll need the keys in the live TV app. I’ve also noticed Android TV did not always accept clicks from my MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, so I had to revert to remote control mode.

Power handling is a bit different from other devices. The remote control only allows you to go in and out of standby, and if you want to go into power off mode, you’ll need to use the mechanical switch at the back, after going into standby. You can only reboot by using the Power button in the launcher.

I measured U5PVR power consumption with a power meter in different configuration:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA HDD) – 10.1 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 10.3 Watts
  • Power off (SATA & USB HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA & USB HDD) – 11.0 Watts
  • Idle (SATA & USB HDD) –  11.2 Watts

That standby power consumption is pretty, but there’s a good reason for it: U5 PVR continue to act as a NAS when in Standby mode contrary to product based on Realtek RTD1295 like Zidoo X9S or EWEAT R9 Plus. So you can still access SAMBA, copy files through FTP, and perform BitTorrent download with Transmission BT…

U5PVR enclosure stays cool at all times. I measured just 33°C and 39°C max on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer after playing a 2-hour video with Kodi 17.3, and after about 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the temperature went up to just 34°C and 44°C. The frame rate in the game was typical of other devices based on Mali-450MP, i.e. playable but not ultra smooth with max settings, and performance was constant during my test of the game.

So while I had various issues with my first use of U5PVR, those were mostly due to the older firmware when I initially tested the box (I don’t expect firmware update issues anymore in the retail device), and my lack of familiarity with Android TV since it was my first device with the OS. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Debian rootfs in the device making a versatile NAS system, and U5PVR support team was helpful in helping me resolve the issues, and make me learn more about their device.

Audio & Video Testing, YouTube, and DRM Info

As we’ve seen in the section above, Kodi was not pre-installed in the firmware, so I decided to install the latest version (Kodi 17.3) from the Play Store, and ran some test from a SAMBA share – except otherwise indicated – with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not perfectly smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth at all most of the time
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow (image updated every 3 seconds. Not support by hardware)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Not smooth after a while
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK (and for this video in particular, I noticed colors were much more vivid than on other TV boxes I’ve recently tested)
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Visual defects from time to time
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – ~1 fps and lots of artifacts and  (software decode, not supported by VPU)
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Choppy at times
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not 100% perfect

So there’s a good reason Kodi is not pre-installed in the box, as it’s not working very well, and later I also realized H.264 1080p would not play smoothly. The developers told me they are working on hardware video decoding for Kodi 18 Leia, so in a few months Kodi might be more usable.

There was no point in continuing testing Kodi at this stage,so instead I reverted to Media Center app which can play files from storage devices , UPnP, NFS, and “LAN” (i.e. SAMBA). The user interface is not really beautiful, almost retro, but it does the job.

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I repeated the test 4K video tests, and results are way better:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Back screen with audio only at first, then massive artifacts.  (Hi10p codec not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Network: not always smooth; HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – The video plays better than other boxes I’ve used, as it is always smooth., but no audio (Vorbis likely not supported)

Automatic frame rate switching also worked, but it’s not enabled by default, so you’d need to go to Settings->Video Output, and check “Output format adaptation for 2D stream” to enable it. Again I also noticed some videos looked quite better due to more vivid colors than on other TV boxes I tested.

I also tested 720p/1080p videos (Big Buck Bunny) with various codecs taken from Linaro media samples and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

No problem at all here. I continued the review with videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – Very choppy and slow, audio delay
  • 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
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Only Elephant Dream video (ED_HD.avi) failed to play, as the system don’t seem to support Microsoft MSMSPEG4v2 very well.

I also test audio capabilities with HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, as well as stereo ouput (PCM 2.0) for people getting audio through their TV’s stereo speakers. HDMI audio pass-through needs to be enabled via Settings->Sound->HDMI Output set to RAW, as Auto mode did not work for me.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 No audio Dolby True HD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS HD Master

* My AV receiver is supposed to work with Dolby Atmos, and I have the latest firmware, but somehow it will only show Dolby True HD 7.1, despite the developers having successfully tested Atmos on (apparently the same) Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver.

Audio results are pretty good, unless you try to play videos with TrueHD audio tracks only using stereo downsampling.

No problems found with Blu-Ray ISOs (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso), and MPEG2 1080i videos. Hi10p will play with video artifacts, and showing subtitles with a not-so-beautiful font. U5 PVR is supposed to support 3D video, but it’s not something I can test due to a lack of compatible hardware. I was still able to decode 1080p SBS and Over/Under 3D videos with the box. 4K 3D stereoscopic videos are not supported, as on all other devices I’ve tested so far.

I could several videos from my libraries with MKV, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV, but IFO files would not play at all with Media Center displaying the message

Video Problem – Can’t play this video

The Youtube app is the one designed for Android TV.

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I had no problem playing various videos, and for the very first time I’ve got a device that can play 4K videos (2160p) in YouTube.
What you won’t get from other Android TV TV boxes is DRM support, as there is none at all.

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Live TV app & DVB-T/T2 Tuner

The Live TV app to watch live TV over DVB or ATSC looks the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid, the previous model from the company, which I have already reviewed, so I won’t detail the settings in much detils yet again. U5PVR can support DVB-C/T/T2, DVB-S/S2 and ATSC depending on the model you’ve purchased. The model I have for review comes with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner.

The initial setup will let you select the country, since since Thailand is still not in the list, I selected Vietnam instead just like I did with the previous model, before starting the scan.

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For some unknown reasons, the signal from my roof antenna is shown to be rather weak in this box, and I only got 9 channels instead of the 26 channels I got in Mecool KIII Pro.

I even repeated the scan later on, and only got 6 channels. Hopefully, this is just an issue with my sample, and not a design problem.

You can bring up the menu in Live TV app by pressing the Menu button on the remote control.

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The TV section will give you access to Live (DVB) TV, and IPTV for channels from the Internet. The latter is empty, but you could import your own. EPG will allow you to select between single or multiple channel views of the electronic program guide. Fav App and All App section is what makes the app suitable as the default launcher since you can start the app to watch live TV, but also easily access other apps from it. Finally you have the Setup menu basically the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid to configure live TV and various system settings.

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The File Manager will allow you to browse your storage and networked devices, including videos recorded with the PVR section.

I started playing with the PVR function by pressing the Record key on the remote control to manually start a recording. The interesting part is that you can select between Storage deviuce (SATA or USB drive connected to U5PVR), or Network Drive to record to SAMBA. I tried the later and it works very well. If you buy U5PVR Slim model without hard drive support, it could be a really nice option to record to your own NAS. Note that I had to press Start several times, as the system would often start recording, and stop it a few seconds later. After several tries, I could record normally…

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I’d assume few people will use manually recording hower, as the EPG is a much better to schedule timers to record or start programs. The two screenshots above show Single Service and Multiple Service views of the EPG.

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Once you’ve select a program you can press the Record key in this menu to add a timer to a storage device or SAMBA/NFS, select recurrence type, and so on.

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If you have several Timer set,you cn access the list by going to EPG, then pressing the Menu key to show up a Popup menu with various options, and select Timer List.

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You’ll be able to edit, delete and add timer there.

PVR function worked well for me, as it can record in the background (e.g. you can watch YouTube, browse the web and son), and even watch any other channels during recording thanks to the dual demodulator in the box. However, recording from standby mode did not work for me.

Timeshifting is working as long as a USB drive is connected. If I only connect my SATA HDD, it will show no storage device is connected.

It’s also possible to stream live TV to your computer or smartphone using TVheadEnd with Kodi 17.x (See Stream Live TV to Your Computer or Smartphone with U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV Box, Kodi and TVheadend for details), Plex, or Android TV’s Live Channel.

If you want to watch recordings on other device, you can do so easily by going to the pvr directory using SAMBA, or use UPnP or Plex server running on the box.

If you use the former, you’ll find the video to be nicely sorted with a directory for each channel, and the recorded file name with the name of the program and time.

Storage & Network Performance

I’m using A1 SD bench app to evaluate storage performance, as the eMMC flash used is rather fast with ~100 MB/s and ~60 MB/s read and write speeds respectively.
However, the USB and SATA partition were not detected at all bythe app, maybe because of Android TV has a different way of presenting those. I also had constant problems when connecting a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port on the front panel, as the partition would not show, or sometimes just a short time, and boot may also fail when the USB 3.0 HDD is connected. I did not have such problems when moving the USB 3.0 HDD to a USB 2.0 port, and NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are supported.

I tested SATA performance from Debian instead using iozone3 benchmark in an SSH terminal:

It’s working pretty well with up to 195 MB/s sequential read speed, and up to 155 MB/s sequential write speed, which should allow you to record videos, and use the NAS function at the same time with good performance.

I then testing NAS performance over Gigabit Ethernet by copying files over SAMBA and FTP to the SATA drive I installed in the box.

Gigabit Ethernet SAMBA Transfer on U5PVR

A 13MB/s file copy is not very performance, as running the same SAMBA transfer test on Zidoo X9S – a TV box with similar NAS features but using RTD1295 processor and OpenWrt – yielded a 50 MB/s transfer rate, so there’s some work to do on U5PVR.

Gigabit Ethernet FTP Transfer on U5PVR – Click to Enlarge

FTP is much faster, and basically maxes out Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth @ about 104 MB/s.

If you plan on using the box as a NAS, you should really use Gigabit Ethernet for higher and constant performance. But I’ve also switched to testing 802.11ac WiFi performance, by copying a 278MB file between the box’s flash and a SAMBA server back and forth. At l least that’s the theory… While I could copy a file from SAMBA to the internal flash @ 3.61 MB/s, copying from the flash to SAMBA was much slower (500 KB/s), but would never complete as ES File Explorer would simply crash after a while.

So instead I reverted to using iperf to test WiFi performance

  • 802.11ac WiFi upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi download:

The results are quite weaker than for example Yundoo Y8’s WiFi performance with over 200 Mbit/s in both direction.

U5PVR / HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 Systen Info & Benchmarks

I had to run CPU-Z before running any benchmarks. Hilison Hi3798C V200 is detected as a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 400 MHz to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-T720 GPU. The manufacturer and model as shown as NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV since they likely spoofed the popular box to get more apps working with all features including YouTube 4K.

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I ran Antutu 6.x, and results as pretty good for this kind of system with 41,337 points, quite higher than both Amlogic S905X (33K) and Amlogic S905 (38K) devices.

Conclusion

I did not have the best of start with U5PVR Deluxe, due to firmware update working partially at the beginning, but the more I used it, the more I liked it. The TV box is one of the rare device with Android TV operating systems, it also runs Debian making running server services a breeze for people familiar with Linux, and Live TV app does it job, despite a low strength signal on my sample at least.

PROS

  • Rare TV box with Android TV OS, albeit only Android 5.1.1 version
  • Debian rootfs running in parallel with Plex Server (with some limitations), FTP, Transmission BT, SSH.. pre-installed. Other packages can be installed with apt
  • Excellent video playback in Media Center with automatic frame rate switching, vivid colors
  • HDMI audio pass-through working for Dolby, DTS, True HD, and DTS HD. Dolby Atmos is also supposed to work.
  • Live TV App with EPG, PVR function to SATA, USB, NFS and SAMBA, Timeshifting, and broadcasting over the network via TVHeadEnd
  • Dual DVB-T/T2 tuner allowing for watching and recording at the same time. Support for SmartCard for model with DVB-S2 tuner.
  • YouTube 4K support
  • Internal bay for 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drive; NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 support
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and useful shortcuts
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good support from the developers via Google+ or the forums

CONS / Bugs

  • Android TV limitations: Play Store can only find a few apps (workaround: apkpure), clicks with air mouse not always working
  • Kodi is currently not well supported
  • Problems with USB 3.0 port. HDD partitions cannot be mounted, and device may not boot at all.
  • Audio – TrueHD / Atmos down-mixing is not working, Vorbis audio not supported with Media Center app
  • Video – IFO/VOB files (DVD rips) cannot be played in Media Center app
  • Live TV app – Manual recording does not always start; recording from standby mode not working (minor); antenna signal weak in my box
  • No DRM support at all
  • Underwhelming WiFi performance
  • Steep learning curve to make use of all features, nothing is explained in user guide, so spending time reading in the forums or G+ to learn is probably a must.

I’d like to thank Shenzhen Vivant for sending a review sample. You can purchase U5PVR on Aliexpress for $229.99 including shipping via DHL for the DVB-T2/DVB-S2 version, not the dual DVB-T2 tuner reviewed here. However, you can purchase the dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, dual ATSC tuner, and DVB-S2+ATSC tuner separately on Aliexpress for $30 to $35.