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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.

Helios4 Personal Cloud DIY NAS Supports 3.5″ Hard Drives, RAID, and More (Crowdfunding)

May 11th, 2017 34 comments

A few months ago, we covered GnuBee Personal Cloud 1, a NAS that runs on open source software, and that supports up to six 2.5″ SATA drives. The crowdfunding has been successful – after lowering the funding target -, and backers should hopefully get the NAS right after summer. But at the time, some people complained about the  memory capacity (512MB),  the lack of support for 3.5″ drives, and a few other items. A new project called “Helios4 Personal Cloud” addresses many of those concerns. It comes with 1 to 2GB RAM, enclosure supporting four 3.5″ drives, supports RAID, and is powered by Marvell ARMADA 388 processor that has been specifically designed for this type of application.

Helios4 NAS specifications:

  • SoC – Marvell ARMADA 388 dual core Cortex A9 processor @ up to 1.866 GHz with RAID5/6 acceleration engines, security acceleration engines, etc…
  • System Memory – 1 or 2 GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 4x SATA 3.0 ports, 2x HDD power connectors for 3.5″ drives using the provided DIY enclosure; micro SD slot supporting SDHC/SDXC cards
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x micro USB port for serial console only
  • Expansion – 14-pin GPIO header, 4-pin I2C header which can be used for an LCD screen & control buttons.
  • Misc – 2x PWM fan headers + 2x fans provided with DIY enclosure
  • Power Supply – 12V/8A via 4-pin jack

The basic kit comes with an Helios4 board (shown below), 4x SATA data cables, 2x Molex to dual SATA power cables, and a 12V/8A power adapter. The full kit adds a case available in black or blue, two 70mm PWM ball bearing fan, and a fasteners set.

The NAS will support Armbian Debian and Ubuntu images, OpenMediaVault open NAS solution, and SynCloud open source app server. The developers (Kobol Team), based in Singapore, also promise to release software and hardware design files for the project. For now, they have Armbian build scripts, as well as Linux and U-boot source code on Github. The board has been designed in collaboration with SolidRun, which has experience with Marvell via their MACCHIATObin / ClearFog boards and system-on-modules.

The project has just been launched on Kickstarter, where Kobol aims to raise 150,000 SGD ($106,000 US). All prices are in SGD, but I’ll use the USD equivalent going forward. An early bird pledge of $125 US should get you the basic kit with 1GB RAM, while $149 is required for the 2GB version. If you want a full kit with enclosure, you’ll need to pledge $139 (1GB RAM) or $169 (2GB RAM). Worldwide shipping adds $39 or $43 for respectively the basic and full kit, even if you are in Singapore. Delivery is scheduled for September 2017.

Christmann RECS|Box Atlas Quad Apalis Microserver Evaluation Kit Supports Four Toradex Apalis SoM

May 10th, 2017 1 comment

System-on-modules are normally used in low volume embedded systems, but they can also be used in microservers, for example to upgrade capacity as needed. Christmann informationstechnik + medien GmbH has developed a microserver evaluation kit taking up to 4 Toradex Apalis SoMs for example based on Nvidia Tegra K1 processor, and also offers full rack systems with up to 72 modules.

RECS|Box Atlas Quad Apalis with 4 Apalis Modules – Click to Enlarge

Christmann RECS|Box Atlas Quad Apalis specifications:

  • Modules – 4x Slots for Apalis SoM
  • Connectivity – 1 GBit/s Compute Ethernet, 1 GBit/s Management Ethernet
  • Video Output – 1x HDMI
  • USB – 3x USB host ports, 1x micro USB port
  • Misc – 5 Status LEDs for USB, communication, and serial console, 4x fan connectors, KWM switch, 5x temperature sensors, 6x current sensors, 1x voltage monitor, fan speed monitoring
  • Power Supply – 12V via a 4-pin jack
  • Dimensions – 300 x 145 x 68 mm

The evaluation kit includes an Atlas board with an  acrylic base plate and 2 fans, a power supply, a micro USB cable, and an Apalis baseboard, but Apalis modules, which could have to purchase separately with a choice of NXP i.MX6, Nvidia Tegra 3, or Tegra K1 processor. Toradex is also working on an NXP i.MX8 version of their Apalis module, and Christmann  appears to have designed their own Apalis compliant SoM based on Samsung Exynos 5250. There’s no mention about the operating systems to run on the module, but the company provides “RECS Master” monitoring software running on your computer.

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RECS|Box Atlas Quad Apalis platform is sold for 1,275 Euros (without the modules), and once you are happy with your evaluation, you may select rack systems such as RECS|Box Antares and Arneb 19”  which can run 24 and 72 Apalis System on Modules respectively in a cluster configuration. If you prefer x86 (or FPGA) servers, the company also provides eval kit and servers taking COM Express modules. You’ll find more info on Christmann informationstechnik + medien’s embedded website.

Packet 96-core Cavium ThunderX Baremetal ARMv8 Servers are Available for $0.50 per Hour, $372 per Month

May 6th, 2017 4 comments

Last week, I wrote about Scaleway ARMV8 cloud servers powered by Cavium ThunderX processors. They are very cheap, as low as 0.0006 Euros per hour or 2.99 Euros per month, but you only get access to 2 to 8 cores, so obviously you don’t get a baremetal server for that price.  If you want the latter Packet.net has been offering just that since the end of last year with their Type 2A baremetal server with two Cavium ThunderX 48-core processors, 128 GB RAM, 384 GB SSD and 20 Gbps bandwidth.

Cavium ThunderX Dual Socket Motherboard – For illustration only, not necessarily the one used by Packet.net

The servers can currently run Centos 7, CoreOS, Ubuntu 16.04 LTS,  with support for container platforms such as CoreOS Tectonic, Rancher, Docker Cloud, ContainerShip, StackEngine, Docker Machine, etc… You can check the status for other operating systems and features and the roadmap page.

They also have x86 servers, and I’ve included the hourly and monthly prices and features for all their servers for comparison. [Update: Type 2A monthly price is actually $372 per month, see comments]

Click to Enlarge

Visit Packet’s Type 2A product page for details.

Categories: Cavium, Linux, Ubuntu Tags: armv8, centos, Linux, server, ubuntu

Cavium ThunderX based Scaleway ARMv8 Cloud Servers Go for 2.99 Euros per Month and Up

April 28th, 2017 22 comments

Scaleway launched 32-bit ARM server hosting services in 2015 for 10 Euros per month, before dropping the price to 2.99 Euros per month half-year later, and now the company has just launched a new offering with 64-bit ARM servers powered by Cavium ThunderX processor going for 2.99 to 11.99 Euros per month depending on configuration.

Click to Enlarge

The processors are equipped with DDR4 ECC memory, and all three services included unlimited transfer, so you don’t need to pay for any bandwidth fee. While the price is shown per month, you’ll be billed by the hour (0.006 Euro/h for ARM64-2GB), so if you are using those for development it may even cost less per month, as you can turn them off when not working.

All server are located in a Paris data center in France, and runs Ubuntu 16.04, but more operating systems and “InstantApps” will be added to the selection. More servers will soon be available in their Netherlands datacenters (AMS1).

You can add a new ARMv8 server in Scaleway dashboard to get started with the new servers. You’ll find a few more details on Scaleway Virtual Cloud Servers page.

Categories: Cavium, Linux, Ubuntu Tags: armv8, Linux, scaleway, server, ubuntu

Headless Mode to be Supported in Chrome and Firefox Browsers

April 13th, 2017 2 comments

Good news! You can now use Chrome browser without display… Wait… What? While most users want to actually see the page they load in a web browser, some may want to run their browser in a server without display. Headless mode in web browsers can be used for automated testing requiring loading web pages, extracting metadata, generating bitmaps from page contents, etc…

It’s been possible to do so in the past using Xvfb to emulate a framebuffer tricking the browsers to believe there was a display in Linux. But now headless mode is build-in right into browsers, so you don’t need X server running at all, and beside Linux, it will also work in Windows, and Mac OS.

You can launch headless mode in Chrome 59 (currently in dev channel) as follows:

You may want to add --disable gpu option to remove an error message. Then go to http://localhost:9222, or http://IP:9222 is you using an actual server in order to open the DevTools interface.

Google also mentions Selenium tool for automated testing, as well as use Node.js or a C++ API to extract data.

Google Chrome won’t be the only browser to support headless mode, as Firefox developers have also been working on it, and it might already work (or not) with nightly builds. To enable it, run the command below:

Via Edibel

Categories: Linux, Windows 10 Tags: chrome, firefox, server

GnuBee Personal Cloud 1 Low Cost Linux NAS Supports Up to Six 2.5″ SATA Drives (Crowdfunding)

March 23rd, 2017 46 comments

Networked Access Storage (NAS) with a large number of SATA bays usually cost several hundreds dollars up to thousands of dollars depending on the features set and performance, but there’s a new a project called GnuBee Personal Cloud 1, or GB-PC1, that delivers a MIPS Linux system supporting up to six 2.5″ SATA drives for less than $200.

GB-PC1 NAS specifications:

  • ProcessorMediaTek MT7621A dual core, quad thread processor @ 880 MHz, overclockable to 1.2 GHz
  • System Memory512 MB DDR3
  • Storage – micro SD card slot tested up to 64 GB, 6x 2.5” SATA HDD or SSD
  • Connectivity – Dual Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Serial port – 3-pin J1 connector or 3.5 mm audio-type jack
  • Power – 12 VDC @ 3 A via 5.5 mm x 2.1 mm, center-positive barrel jack
  • Dimensions –  21.6 cm (L) x 7 cm (W) x 14 cm (H)
  • Weight – ~210 g (without drives)

The case is comprised of two anodized aluminum side plates assembled with six threaded brackets and screws, and comes with 24 drive screws (four per drive).

The NAS supports Debian, OpenMediaVault, LEDE, as well as the lesser-known (at least to me) LibreCMC distribution. Source code including Linux 4.9 and U-boot, some documentations, as well as the BoM & schematics (PDF) can be found on Github.  Potential applications include network storage and backup, file server,home media server, download server, web server, or remotely accessible private cloud.

A comparison table has also been provided by the developer with GB-PC1, QNAP TS-431 ($294.22 on Amazon US) and Synology DS416slim ($289.99 on Amazon US).

Click to Enlarge

TS-431 might have an implicit price advantage with support for 3.5″ SATA drives, as you may need less 3.5″ drives to achieve the same amount of storage as with 2.5″ drives. One clear advantage of GB-PC1 is that you should have better control over the software than the two competing commercial solution. One clear disadvantage however is the mechanical design, as GB-PC1 has been designed to offer as low a cost as possible.

GB-PC1 launched on Crowdsupply a few days ago with the goal of raising at least $75,000. Rewards start at $168 for a diskless GB-PC1, but you may also want to add $19 to get a 12V/3A power supply, and potential $6 for a 2 GB micro SD card preloaded with Debian. Shipping is free to the US, and $12 to the rest of the world, with delivery planned for August 2017.

Via Orange Pi’s Facebook Group

Xtream Codes IPTV Panel 2.4.2 Review – Part 4: Tutorial to Change the Main Server, Backup & Restore the Database

March 20th, 2017 3 comments

This is the fourth part of a review about Xtream Codes IPTV Panel, software to become your own content provider, and manage streams, clients, and resellers. The first three parts:

  1. Review of Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel Professional Edition – Part 1: Introduction, Initial Setup, Adding Streams…
  2. Xtream Codes IPTV Panel Review – Part 2: Movie Data Editing, Security, Resellers, Users and Pricing Management
  3. Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel Review – Part 3: Updates and New Features for Version 2.4.2

Main Server Change – Part 1: New Server

Changing your Main Server could bring you troubles, if you do not know what you are doing. Many different reasons to change the Main server such as  crashes, new one. making a Load Balancer to be a Main Server…

Remember, it’s all about the existing backup, and you’ll restore your backup later, after successfully changing the Main Server. That is not difficult and everybody can do it. But if you install your backup with your former configurations-Servers etc, it will need some corrections after the backup install is finish, and for example all your Clients, Servers ( and your Old Main Server) will be in again after you install your backup.

I’ll try to explain what that’s all about and show different examples.

  1. Changing the Main Server sounds and looks pretty easy, piece of cake, right?

But let me tell you, it’s not! Be absolutely sure about what you are doing before. We start with “Manage Server” left side in the Panel.

Then you scroll down to the end and you’ll see this:

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Warning: Make sure that you took all necessary steps before you press this button, all will be gone in a flash… BEFORE YOU Press MAIN SERVER CHANGE

Step 1: Do a Manuel Backup; this is still possible, since Xtream-Codes thought it would be a good idea to take the manually install Backup-Button off the road, for later installing your FULL BACKUP again by yourself!. NOT A GOOD IDEA, Xtream-Codes!

Step 2: Do a fresh automated backup on Xtream-Servers.

  • Database Manager—Remote Backup Now

Step 3: Take your time to think about your scenario! What do you want to do? Changing to a brand new Main? Formatted the old one only? Making an Existing Load balancer Main now? You see? Different procedures. It needs different preparing on this step of the game.

You have to think about the existing BACKUP, with all your clients and streams in, right? Or you want to loose them? I guess not. Again, think about, that the backup and later installing of your backup contains all your streams, clients etc…but also the old Server configurations.

Have also your ROOT ACCESS from the Panel at hand, because after pressing the CHANGE-Main Button…it happened a few times, that I could not login anymore in the CMS without root user/pass. You can find this Root USER/PASS in your Client Area WHMCS with Xtream-Codes,

Click My SERVICES—-

Press this then after:

And you see all what you need after:

We now change the Main to a NEW ONE:

After pressing the Button

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A warning pops up, asking, “Are you Sure”?

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We press OK! Seat belt on, and then this should come (In former versions I was simply getting kicked out the CMS, and have to login with Root user/pass only, Admins could not. This seemed to be fixed to a friendlier follow up now…)

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Now you put your NEW MAIN’s IP and SSH ROOT Password in, also your MYSQL ROOT Password, if any. If you are not sure, then in most cases simply put your ROOT SSH in again. Also, check the SSH Port, standard is Port 22, except if you changed it before. Don’t care about the rest now; you can change it later easily. Your New MAIN SERVER will install now, if all necessary data’s was right. And after a couple of Minutes, your New Main is installed

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After Installation of your NEW Main is finished, you want to restore the backup. Like I said, Xtream-Codes gives you right now (Sure that they will bring it up again) only the choice to install a Remote Backup from Xtream Codes Servers. To do this, you do as follows: Go DATABANK Manager and you see all your Remote Backups

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Right click the curved red and green arrow (load Backup), and after you choose your Remote Backup, this shows up:

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Press OK, and you see that Databank with all your Values is restored.

NEXT STEP, like I mentioned already above: after your Backup is installed, you will see, that your former OLD MAIN SERVER seems to be installed again! YOU HAVE TO GO ‘EDIT-SERVER…EDIT MAIN… and CORRECT IP AND SSH! This will do it then!.

And after successful installing the new Main (if he is a brand new one) , and installing the Backup then after, you Main will show the former IP of your Main, cause he was still in the installed backup in!

No problem at all, simply go edit Main-Server, insert again IP and SSH Root Password, and right SSH port, commonly Port 22, if you don’t changed it in your New Main.

Click to Enlarge

It also appears that your Load Balancers need a FULL REMAKE

PRESS FULL REMAKE ALL LB’s

AFTER PRESS FULL REMAKE ALL LOAD BALANCERS, HERE WE GO

It is possible, that you have to have to repeat this action with remaking all Load balancers. But be assured, it will work.

This was Part 1 of CHANGING the MAIN SERVER. I guess you know, what follows later, the little bit more complicated procedure of Changing The Main under different scenarios:

  1. We make an existing Load balancer to a NEW MAIN
  2. The preparation to do this

Changing Main Server – Part 2: Convert Load Balancer to Main Server

Scenario: We want a running Load balancer as a new Main Server! The right now “running” Main we want to send in retirement, right? This example requires that you have a few Load Balancers up and running. In case you have only 2 dervers in total, it’s not so complicated at all. Like I said above, each scenario is different. There are Admins with 20 or more Load balancers, and there are small ones, with 2 or 3 in total.

Do exactly Step by Step as follows, no twisting, no turning, no upside down please.. 🙂

Step 1: You go to TOOLS left Side, and transfer temporarily all streams from the future Main Server to another Load balancer of your choice! That’s how I have done it, not sure it will work later if you go another way, letting the streams on the future Main (the Server is a LB right now), but we have to delete this Server later out of the Panel configuration to make him Main! Reason: After we push the Remote-Backup back in, he will appear as a Load balancer again, and we can’t make him a Main Server without deleting him in the Panel.

Go exactly this way right from the start! NO REMOTE BACKUP BEFORE!! (Still hope that Xtream-Codes will implement the old feature back in soon, because not many can handle phpmyadmin, to implement a databank backup by their own later, or they should put a “hint or kind of warning” in before, something like Remote Backup now? Just in case the Admin forget it! Remember also, that the cron job “Remote Backup” is only once each 24 hours, so better do this manually Remote Backup before.)

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In general, a good idea in safety reason, the Remote Backup’s, it is a way more safe then before. Here we go now:

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After you’ve transferred your Main Server’s streams to another server, check first, the Main is really empty, it will need sometimes 1 or 2 or more minutes, depending of the quantity of your transferred streams. Now we have an empty Main, it’s the one, we do not need anymore after.

We have also to transfer the streams from the Load balancer we want as a NEW MAIN, making him completely empty. No streams on it. We do the same with the Load balancer we want as Main now! We are transferring his streams to another Load balancer the same way we have done before with the Main who has to go.

Step 2:

We do a REMOTE BACKUP after we transferred all streams, and to be on the safe side, a manual Backup to your Computer as well. First you press BACKUP DATABASE (the Backup File will load down to your computer), and direct after, we press REMOTE BACKUP NOW (Backup is loaded into Xtream Codes Server).

Click to Enlarge

Step 3:

We go MANAGE SERVER and at the bottom we see Main-Server-Change again:

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Let’s summarize what we have done.

  1. We have the Main and the future MAIN now with no Streams on it
  2. We are still in the process to change our Main Server
  3. Backups are already made (we are with an empty Main Server and an empty Load balancer right now)
  4. We have all our necessary data’s, IP and SSH Root Pass from the Load Balancer we want to put as a New Main. Login data’s ROOT for our CMS, just in case…

After that, we go MANAGE SERVERS-EDIT SERVER-DELETE SERVER.

We delete the Load balancer we want as NEW MAIN. Now we can press the Button Main Server Change.

Click to Enlarge

All necessary follow up’s standing already in Part 1 above!

We are ready to go!

  • Just in case you forgot or out of whatever reason you prefer to do a manually “load” of your saved databank backup, it’s also possible with phpmyadmin later.
  • In case you cannot do, open a ticket, XC is happy to help you out!
  • Don’t forget, Xtream-Codes support is not open 24/7!
  • And one of the most important last steps, after successfully installed the new Main, don’t forget to switch the old former MAIN OFF!
  • Switch him off, or make a new install! and sure you have to sort out your streams later, balancing them again.
  • In all other cases, like you have only 2 Servers, the procedure is similar and not complicated, cause of your limited streams, and clients. This example was written in case you got a few more Load Balancers running.
  • Don’t hesitate to open a ticket in case you are in trouble, Xtream Codes will help you in any cases.

I hope this little How-To helps you guys a little.

Ray