So far, I had only seen Android TV box with digital TV tuner using Amlogic or HiSilicon solutions, but S204 Android set-top box differs, as it is powered by Allwinner H3 quad core Cortex A7 processor, and includes DVB-T2/C (Terrestrial and cable TV) and DVB-S2 (satellite TV) tuners. AFAIK, Allwinner H3 does not include any TS interfaces, so they must have used USB tuner chip(s) [Update: Allwinner H3 does have a Transport Stream interface as per the datasheet, but it’s not really advertised by Allwinner]
USB – 2x USB host ports, including one OTG capable port
Misc – Power button, front panel LCD display
Power Supply – 12V/1.5A
Dimensions – 140 x 120 x 25mm
Weight – 326 grams
The device runs Android 4.4.2 and ships with a remote control, a power adaprer, HDMI and AV cables, and a user’s manual. If the screenshots are to be believed, the interface appears to be the same eOn center launcher as used on U4 Quad Hybrid, which offers support for PVR, Time-shifting, EPG, a configuration web interface, and more, and is actually pretty good.
S204 is sold for $79.99 on GeekBuying, and considering it’s unclear whether it will get the same level of support as U4 Quad Hybrid, does not feel like such a good deal as K1 Plus T2 S2 is now sold for $60, and supports 4K DVB-S2 @ 60 fps thanks to an Amlogic S905 processor. The manufacturer could be a company called L&Y electric industries Co based on listings for a DVB-T2/C only model on Global Sources and ECPlaza.
TVheadend is a streaming server and recorder for Linux, FreeBSD and Android supporting DVB-S, DVB-S2, DVB-C, DVB-T, ATSC, ISDB-T, IPTV, SAT>IP and HDHomeRun as input sources, and while in theory it should be possible to configure any recent Android TV set-top box with digital TV tuners, configuration is complex, and there’s no guarantee the tuner will be recognized. However, the manufacturer of U4 Quad Hybrid has already configured their box to support HTSP clients, so I’ve installed the latest firmware, and given it a try with my Android smartphone running Kodi 15.2 with TVheadend HTSP client, and I could successfully stream live TV (DVB-T2 free-to-air channels) to my smartphone.
Once you’ve scanned the channels using DVB-T2 and/or DVB-S2, there’s no other configuration in U4 Quad Hybrid TV box, but you’ll still need to find out your IP address by going to Setup->Network, and WiFi, Ethernet or 3G depending on your chosen Internet connectivity option. My device is connected to Ethernet, and my IP is 192.168.0.108.
I’m using a smartphone, but you could as well go with any device or computer that support Kodi. Currently the firmware in U4 Quad Hybrid is not compatible with Kodi 16.0, so you’ll need an earlier version, and I installed Kodi 15.2 on my phone. You can download Kodi 15.2 for Windows or Android here.
Once Kodi is installed, you can start it, and go to Settings->Add-ons->My add-ons->PVR clients, and scroll down to select TVheadend HTSP client.
Click on Configure to enter U4 Quad Hybrid IP address in “Tvheadend hostname or IP address” field, and click OK. By default,the add-on is disabled, so you make sure you select “Enable” too. Now go back, and enter Settings->TV to tick Enabled.Configuration is now complete, and when you go back to Kodi home screen, you could see a new TV menu with five sub-section: Channels, Guide, Recordings, Timer, and Search.
I’ve just tapped on TV, and got the list of apps from U4 Quad Hybrid set-top box on my smartphone. The channel information (in Thai language) was not displayed properly for some reasons.
Now select any channels from the left, and will it start playing in the preview windows, and tap the preview and it will switch to full screen.
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Once the video is playing you can also tap the screen to have access to options, change channels, change audio tracks and so on.
You can watch the video below to see all configuration steps, and a demo starting at 3:15.
Telechips processors were often found in consumer devices such as Android tablets, mini PCs and TV Sticks a few years ago, but it’s been a while since I have seen a devices based on Telechips. So after seeing an automotive SoC from the company, I decided to visit the company website to check if they were still designing processors for the consumer market, and found TCC898x quad core Cortex A53 processor for “Smart Stick, IP-Client and STB with 4K 60fps decoding” with some interesting features.
Telechips TCC898x SoC specifications:
CPU- Quad core Cortex A53 processor with NEON, TrustZone, 32KB/32KB L1 cache and 512KB L2 cache
MCU – Cortex-M4 micro-controller
2D – Vivante GC420 composition processing core for 4K user interfaces
3D – ARM Mali-400MP2
VPU – Multi-format VPU and 4K VPU with HEVC and VP9 support
Telechips TCC898x supports Linux (with HTML5 interface) and Android operating systems, and contrary to most other Android TV boxes and set-top boxes, devices based on the new processor will support 4K user interfaces too thanks to Vivante GC420 2D GPU. The chip also support hardware cyphers and conditional access (CAS) for “full compliance with 4K contents security guideline for variable STB applications”. I could not find much more information, and Googling for TCC8980 processor (and others up to TCC8989) did not return anything interesting so far. The last update to Telechips open source page shows the company released Linux 3.4.45 source code in February 2015.
MXQ 4K TV box list of features is rather impressive, as the 4K media player packs support for high bitrate (200 Mbps+) 10-bit H.265 and H.264, as well as VP9 at 4K resolution, 4 USB ports, Ethernet, and HDMI 2.0 for just $30. That price includes shipping. We just don’t know how it performs, but we’ll soon find out as GeekBuying sent me a sample for review. I’ll start by checking out the hardware, before testing it over a few days, and write a complete review.
MXQ 4K Unboxing
The retail package shows MXQ-4K “OTT TV Box” and some of the key selling points like Kodi support, 4K, HEVC/H.265, and son on. You’ll also find the Android 4.4 Kitkat logo since strangely Rockchip did not provide an Android 5.x SDK for their low cost processor.
The device ships with an IR remote control, a 5V/2A power supply, an HDMI cable, and a user’s manual in English.
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The enclosure is a standard looking black rectangular box with an SD card slot, and three USB port on one side, as well as several ports on the rear with one USB 4 port, two 3.5mm jacks for coaxial S/PDIF and AV (composite + stereo audio), the HDMI 2.0 port, a Fast Ethernet port, and the power jack.
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MXQ 4K Teardown
It will be quite interesting to open it to better understand how they could keep the price that low. I had to peel off four sticky rubber pads, and loosen four screws to take the device apart. Pretty straightforward.
There’s also a sticker with a MAC address starting with 72:F1:6D on the case, which looks up to … nothing. So either the company only recently registered, or they just made up some MAC addresses by themselves to save on registration costs…
This is what the board looks after opening the case, and there’s a single chip: SanDisk X505260971 NAND flash with 8GB capacity.
Taking out the board completely explains why the device is quite cheap, as many features are integrated into Rockchip RK3229 processor, including the Ethernet PHY and audio codec, and the four USB ports has not using a USB hub chip either.
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There’s only RK3229 with a heatsink, two NANYA NT5CB256M16CP-D1 RAM chips, Pulse H1102NL magnetics for 10/100M Ethernet, and Espressif ESP8089 Wi-Fi chip, probably one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest WiFi IC on the market for this type of device. You’ll also have noticed two push buttons right behind the 3.5mm jack. The user’s manual explain the one behind the AV port is for firmware upgrade, and but I’m not sure what the one behind the S/PDIF port is for entering bootloader mode. There is also an unpopulated 3-pin header on the bottom right which should be for the serial console, and the board is named T066-V1.
As mentioned in the introduction, GeekBuying kindly provided the sample for review, and you can purchase the device for $29.99 shipped from them if you are interested. Other shopping options include GearBest, Banggood, and Aliexpress.
VideoStrong has launched K1 Plus TV box powered by Amlogic S905 processor last year, and I had the chance to review their model last November. But here I am reviewing K1 Plus again. Why? That’s because the company’s has several K1 Plus models: the “standard” version that’s just like any Android TV boxes, and the DVB version with DVB-S2, DVB-T2/C, or DVB-T2/C + DVB-S2 combo, and the latter is the one I’m reviewing today. K1 Plus DVB combo teardown revealed that the main board was exactly the same as K1 Plus “standard”, and that only a tuner card was added. So I’ll have a two part review with the first part checking if they fixed any of the bugs found on K1 Plus “Standard” with “November 2015” firmware in the new “January 27, 2016 DVB” firmware, and the second part will focus on testing DTV app with DVB-S2 and DVB-T2, PVR and time-shifting.
K1 Plus “Standard” vs K1 Plus DVB Firmware
The launcher used in DVB firmware is exactly the same as in the standard version.
I listed some pros and cons in my conclusion of K1 Plus “standard” review. Let’s check out the cons, and find out if they’ve been fixed or improved:
Pre-installed Kodi 15.2 version does not work well when 2160p video output is selected (1080p output looks better); automatic frame rate switching is not working either.
HDMI – Dolby Digital 7.1+, DTS HD and Atmos pass-through not working; CEC not working; Video output resolution set in settings is not always used at next power on.
Missing DTS and Dolby support for PCM output
No DRM installed, even Widewine Level 3 required for SD playback on relevant apps.
WiFi performance may be erratic (TBC), very good sometimes, and near stall speed at others.
3D games such as Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 are not playing very smoothly, and performance may degrade with play time (and higher heat).
No option to show status and notification bars, no Download icon in app list.
Lacks Bluetooth support
USB hard drive partitions (NTFS / exFAT) reported as having 10MB free only, basically rendering the partitions read-only.
The pre-installed version of “Kodi” is still 15.2 with some add-ons, but the build date has changed from 2015-11-09 to 2015-12-07, so there may have been some improvements.
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First I had to be careful to check output resolution is to 2160p @ 60 Hz, because the system will always revert to 1080p50 (as shown in the screenshot above), which remains a bug yet to be fixed. All videos were shown in Letterbox mode in K1 Plus “standard”, and i’s nice to see this have been fixed:
Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
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
Unfortunately none of the 10-bit H.265 videos are playing. But it’s still a big progress since Kodi was pretty unusable in the standard version.
Last time I tested HDMI audio pass-through with Video Player, and this time I did it with Kodi, and sadly it’s not really usable.
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), video not smooth
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1) most of the time, but two small audio cuts occurred during playback
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only
TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
DTS HD MA – DTS 5.1 only, and two short audio cuts during playback
DTS HD HR – DTS 5.1 only, and one short audio cut during playback
Since the company is not using Amlogic S905-H processor there was no way DTS and Dolby downsampling to PCM (stereo) would work with other apps, and I could confirm that MX Player would not output any audio from playing such files over PCM output.
I played a 2-hour 1080p video over WiFi from a SAMBA share, and it worked just fine.
At least Widewinve DRM is now support (Level 3), and that a small step in the right direction. So overall video output and playback support have improved, but it’s not quite at the level of the competition.
Wifi was quite stable overall, but performance had it’s up and downs and the average throughput was lower than K1 Plus “standard”.
Throughput in MB/s
Bear in mind that WiFi performance can be extremely volatile, and when I tested K1 Plus DVB, the transfer time for a 278 MB file varied between 1m15s and 2m22s during my several attempts.
I also had some new issues with both Google Play and Amazon Underground. I could browse app and select them for installation with the former, but after a few minutes I realized that none of 16 apps I selected would install, as it was waiting for WiFi connection, and I was using Ethernet… So I switched to WiFi, and I could complete the installation. Amazon Underground failed to install for unknown reasons, but the patented bug fixing method called “Good Night SleepTM” resolved the issue, and the app could install the next morning.
Once I managed to get Amazon appstore running, I could install Riptide GP2 racing game, which I played for 15 minutes both to test 3D graphics performance, and stability. I basically had the same issue as with K1 Plus, with the games crashing if I adjusted the graphics settings higher, poor performance with “high resolution” (MAX-4) settings, and the game became less and less playable over time, with some micro freezes (around second) occurring from time to time. Temperatures measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the case were respectively 56 and 64C after around 15 minutes. I also went to CPU-Z to check aml_thermal after the game, and the reported temperature was 86C, which seems pretty high.
All other Amlogic S905 TV boxes I’ve tested before have the 10MB USB hard drive bug, meaning I can only read from my USB hard drive, or copy files smaller than 10MB, because the size is incorrectly detected. Since K1 Plus DVB has a PVR function it’s very important for it to work. Sadly it still has the same bug, so I’ll have to use a 64GB flash drive (properly detected) in order to record live TV or use timeshifting. I first discovered this bug in August 2015 on Mygica ATV1900AC, so 6 months later I would have expected it to be fixed, especially since I’m not the only one to have the issue.
Videostrong had two months (end of November until end of January) to fix the bug found in my first review, and I have to say I’m very disappointed with the progress done so far, with most critical bugs still there, and the only positives being a somewhat working Kodi (with several caveats) and DRM support. Oh yes, and there’s still no way to show the status and notification bars, so you’d have to hack the system by changing systemui.apk and build.prop, as explained by Karl in his review of Eny EM95 TV box.
DTV app for DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 Free-to Air channels
The main selling points of K1 Plus DVB box is the combo tuner, and you’ll need to start DTV app to get access to live channels.
Once you’ve connected your satellite dish for DVB-S2, and terrestrial antenna for DVB-T2, you’ll be ready to configure the syste,. Since there are a few steps involved I’ve already explained how to scan DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 channels on K1 Plus Amlogic receiver. My configuration is using a simple fixed satellite dish, but there are options to control a motorized satellite dish, and/or multiple satellite dishes via DiSEqC.
Once the system is configured, you’ll need to select whether you want to use DVB-S2 or DVB-T2 each time your start the app, but you can press the DTV button on the remote to quickly restart the app and change the tuner selection.
Live TV is working pretty well, and switching between channels does work quite fast for both DVB-S2 and DVB-T2, although for the first couple of seconds the video is not 100% smooth.
If you are using languages with accents or complex languages there may be issues, as you can see is the case for Thai language in the overlay info window above. The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) can be accessed with the corresponding remote control key, and it is working, although sometimes it’s pretty slow to get the data, and with the same font rendering issues.
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And once you are in the EPG, you can select a program and press OK to either schedule to box to Play or Record a program, with the icon R or P showing on the right side of the screen once you’ve done the selection.
You can consult the schedule list (Book List) by pressing the Blue button, and the system appears to handle programming conflicts too.
Scheduling works well, as long as you let the DTV app running in the foreground. If you use a web browser or play games in Android, the scheduled recording or play time will be start automatically. Same thing is you schedule a program on DVB-T2, and you are currently watching live TV with DVB-S2, it will not switch automatically. The device must be running all the time, since there’s only on or power off, if you plan to schedule recordings. Power consumption is relatively low at around 10 watts with storage, but it’s still annoying. So I don’t find the K1 Plus set-top box to be user-friendly from that point of view.
You can also record manually by pressing the PVR key on the remote control. Recording works pretty well, and videos can be found in DTVRecordFiles of your storage device both with .ts (the videos) and .amdur files. You can play the video directly from the DTV app by going to the Menu and selecting Record list, or from media players on your Android device, and the results is usually satisfying. However, I also copied some files to my computer, and I could play them with some artifacts at the beginning in VideoLAN (VLC), but not at all in Totem video player.
The video were recorded at 1080p at 25 fps using H.264 AVC codec, and they’ve properly recorded both audio tracks (AAC). Here’s a short sample.
Timeshifting can be enabled with the Play/Pause key on the remote, and working reasonably well with possibly some artifacts when enabling the function, with a default recording time of 5 minutes, but the length is configurable in the PVR options.
There’s also a hidden “Smart Data Manager” menu which you can enabled by pressing the Menu key, going into Installation, and pressing 111111 in the remote.
This will give you access to “Smart Data” and “BISS” but it’s not something I have tried.
You can check the video review to have a better understanding of the digital TV capabilities and performance of K1 Plus DVB. bear in mind that I could only tried SD and HD channels, since I have not found 4K UHD channels, even test channels, in my location.
K1 Plus DVB Android set-top box is one of the few Android TV boxes on the market with a combo DVB-S2 & DVB-T2 tuner, and I’m glad Videostrong brought this type of product to market. However, I’m very disappointed by the progress made on the firmware front between my review of K1 Plus standard with a firmware released in November, as they’ve almost fixed none of the issues I reported at the time. Kodi has improved a little (10-bit H.265 is not working though), Widevine DRM Level 3 has been enabled, but 3D games (Riptide GP2) still crash when graphics settings are set to high, 3D graphics performance is quite poor compared to other Amlogic S905 devices, it overheats leading to CPU/GPU throttling, the system feels sluggish at times with apps loading slowly, I still can’t use my USB hard drive (10MB bug), the user’s interface does not provide access to status and notifications bar, and so on… So it feels like either Videostrong does not have the resources for development, they don’t really care (or reuly think the firmware is good enough), or they are incompetent…
However, the DVB part is not that bad, as least compared to some other Amlogic Android DVB boxes I’ve tested in the past such as HD18T or ATV586. Most features work reasonably well, and I could use both DVB-S2 and DVB-T2 parts, but there are still some bugs such as artifacts at the beginning of recording videos or Timeshifting, and (Asian) font rendering issues. The system integration is also inexistent, meaning that the TV box and DTV app must be running at all times for scheduling to work, there’s no background process handling this, and you can’t simply use other Android apps, and expect to get a pop-up when the recording/playback start time has been reached. You also have to chose between DVB-S2 or DVB-T2, as you can’t record a program on DVB-S2, while watching a program on DVB-T2 for example. The idea behind having a combo tuner is great, and it works, but the implementation is not as user-friendly and good as one may have expected.
I’d still like to thank Videostrong for giving me the opportunity to review both their K1 Plus “standard” and K1 Plus DVB combo, and resellers and distributors can contact the company via their Alibaba page for further request and/or purchase in quantities. K1 Plus DVB-S2/T2 Android TV box is currently sold for around $76 on GearBest and GeekBuying.
Futarque A/S, a Danish company specializing in digital TV (tuners, IPTV), DVD and Blu-ray solutions, has developed the Rho Board powered by Mstar MSO9280 quad core ARM Cortex A7 processor with 1GB RAM and 4GB NAND flash, and featuring HDMI 2.0 output, a Raspberry Pi 2 compatible expansion header, and a TV tuner connector for an optional DVB-T2/C tuner.
Rho board specifications:
SoC – Mstar MSO9280PBM quad core Cortex A7 processor with an hexacore (4+2) Mali-450MP GPU
Video Codec – MPEG 1/2, 4K @ 60 fps AVC and 4K @ 30 fps H.265
Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet
USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB port
40-pin “Raspberry Pi” header
TV tuner connector
SDIO expansion connector
Misc – IR Receiver, reset button, RS232 minijack
Power Supply – 12V via power barrel
Dimensions – TBD
Rho Board Controlling a GertBoard for RPi
The board supports Android only, and the company has provided a tutorial showing how to get started, control the GPIOs from Android, and more. Some Java source code can be found in Github, and a support forum has already been setup.
If you do get the tuner, the company has also installed the full version of Aurora TV, an Android app developed by the company that allows you to watch live TV via DVB-T2 or DVB-C. You can also try the app before getting the board, since it also works with HDHomeRun or Sat>IP networked tuners, and that means the Rho Board can be used to stream live TV to any of your other Android devices at home.
The company is looking to raise 100,000 DKK (Danish Krone) or close to $15,000 on Kickstarter to fund mass production of the board. Pledges starts at $35 for the Rho Board only, and up to $79 for the board with the tuner, a 12V power supply, an air mouse, and a plastic case. Shipping adds 100 DKK (~$14.72), and delivery is scheduled for May 2016.
The first step is to connect both your satellite dish and indoor or outdoor TV antenna to the device, as well as all necesarry cables, and possibly a USB hard drive if you want to use PVR function.
Now go to the list of apps start DTV app, or press the DTV button on the remote control.
Each time the app starts you’ll be asked to select DVBT2 or DVBS2, and if you want to switch between one or the other, you’ll either need to exit the app and restart it, or press the DTV button.
I’ll start with DVB-T2. The first time, you’ll be ask whether you want to scan for channels, to which you’ll likely answer yes, and be presented with the installation menu.
Now select “Auto Search”, and the scan should start.
I got 22 channels and no radio station. It’s done, and that part was easy.
However, if you are missing some channels, you may need to change the country/area because by default it is set to Europe. Press the remote control’s Menu key, select DTV preference->General settings->Area Setting.
And select your Area or country from the list that includes Europe, Singapore, Colombia, Russian (sic.), Thailand, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Holland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan. You’d have to repeat the scan if you change the country. I’ve done so with Thailand, and I got 30 channels instead of 22 channels, so you may to set your area before running the scan, unless “Europe” is what you need.
Satellite digital TV configuration starts the same way, except the installation menu is a little different.
Enter into Satellite List to select your satellite, in my case Thaicom 2.
You can select multiple satellites if you wish, or/and your satellite dish is motorized. You can find the full list of pre-defined satellites in the video embedded at the end of this tutorial. You can also add your own, edit and delete pre-existing ones with the color button of the remote control. Now go back, select Multi Scan, make sure a green tick is shown on the line of your selected satellite(s), and press the Blue button on the remote control.
Change Scan Type to Blind Scan, select FTA only (Free-to-Air) Channel Type, and All, TV or Radio for Service Type, and press OK to start the scan.
Once this is all done, you should a bunch a TV channels and radio stations. I eventually got 55 TV channels and 5 radio stations using Thaicom 2 satellite. Some of the TV stations have no video, maybe because the signal is weak as I have quite a long cable to bring DVB-S2 to my office, or some other issues as I have no trouble getting some HD channels.
The 5-minute video below shows the steps I went through for both DVB-T2 and DVB-2 configuration as explained in this post.
Videostrong K1 Plus with DVB-T2/DVB-S2 combo tuner is only listed on Alibaba for now, and not available for retail. But a salesperson from GearBest told me they should have it later this week. FWIW, the version without tuner us currently on sale for $36.89.
While there’s now a decent choice of Android TV boxes with DVB-S2 or DVB-T2 tuners, devices with ATSC tuners are a little harder to come by, and the few Android devices I know of include WeTek Play, U4 Quad, and some Mygica (Geniatech) and Vygica ATSC Android set-top boxes. SkyStream X5 is now another option, based on Amlogic S812, mostly advertised as an Android streaming player, but still with one ATSC tuner to watch free-to-air television in North America, and a few smaller countries.
The media player ships with a power adapter, SkyStream air mouse remote control with QWERTY keyboard on one side, an indoor antenna for local channels (SD only), an HDMI Cable and a Quick Start Guide & Manual. It runs Android 4.4 Kitkat (rooted) with SkyStreamTV user’s interface, and Kodi 15.2 pre-installed with over 40 video streaming add-ons.
The video below shows the DTV app and DVR function, which looks very similar to the DVB app on other Android digital TV receivers based on Amlogic processors such as HD18T or Mygica ATV586. You can also check out their YouTube account for other videos including a 30-minute Kodi tutorial, Quick Start Guide, and more.
The Android ATSC set-top box appears to be available now, sells for $199.99, and you can get more details and/or buy the product on SkyStream X5 product page. [Update: It’s also on Amazon US]