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Review of Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel Professional Edition – Part 1: Introduction, Initial Setup, Adding Streams…

September 22nd, 2016 6 comments

Today I’ll start the review of one of the streaming software available on the market, with version 2.2.0 EVO of IPTV Panel Professional Edition developed by Xtream-codes.

The Software is mainly used for the so-called IPTV broadcasting, but also with great potential for all kind of other content delivery applications such as audio and business streaming, cloud video transcoding, and all other kind of global streams.

What is IPTV?

Wikipedia definition:

Internet Protocol television (IPTV) is a system through which television services are delivered using the Internet protocol suite over a packet-switched network such as a LAN or the Internet, instead of being delivered through traditional terrestrial, satellite signal, and cable television formats. Unlike downloaded media, IPTV offers the ability to stream the media in smaller batches, directly from the source. As a result, a client media player can begin playing the data (such as a movie) before the entire file has been transmitted. This is known as streaming media.

IPTV services may be classified into three main groups:

  • Live television, with or without interactivity related to the current TV show;
  • Time-shifted television: catch-up TV (replays a TV show that was broadcast hours or days ago), start-over TV (replays the current TV show from its beginning);
  • Video on demand (VOD): browse a catalogue of videos, not related to TV programming.

IPTV is distinguished from Internet television by its ongoing standardisation process (e.g., European Telecommunications Standards Institute) and preferential deployment scenarios in subscriber-based telecommunications networks with high-speed access channels into end-user premises via set-top boxes or other customer-premises equipment.

This review will contain results mainly for the “end-user” or business owner, who already owns or bought legitimate streams, as Xtream-codes IPTV software does not provide any video streams, and “only” helps distributing your content.

If starting from scratch, producing your self-made streams, it’s already professionally explained in the video below using Xtream-codes IPTV panel on AMD MOI Pro IPTV streaming server.

I would love to do this by myself, but I would be in need of the necessary hardware. TBS can provides future producers of streams with all the required and necessary hardware.

Installation Process

After you registered at https://xtream-codes.com and placed your order, you get access (after payment) to your unique default root username, default root password, and your CMS Address.

You can now login with both credentials, and start adding your server addresses. Your Server IP and SSH Password is required, and the whole process is pretty straightforward.

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If necessary, you can add a second Load balancer Server by the same method. If you need more Load balancers (LB’s) in the future, you will have to pay an extra Fee. Xtream-Codes call this “plugins”, but I guess it’s a simple SSH Protocol.

They activate on their server side, like: 2/4/6 LB’s…. Again, the first LB is free of charge.

The Graphical User Interface (GUI): Xtream-Codes Panel

xtream-codes-iptv-guiIf you are confronted the very first time with it, it might be confusing at first with all the available options, but be assured, that after 1 or 2 days you’ll be getting used to it. Many features and possibilities are waiting for you, and it also a few have’s and have not’s. Let’s start with the “have’s!

One of the great features in version 2.2.0 Evo is the Transcoding process. Here a general overview of the 2 Versions: Profesional and Minimal Editions.

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Xtream-Codes also offers a Minimal Edition of this software for a cheaper monthly price (19 Euros per month vs 59 Euros per month)

xtream-codes-iptv-panel-minimal-editionAs you might expect, the professional edition adds several features including:

  • Load Balancing by adding servers (1 is free, all others must be bought)
  • Manage all servers in a very simple and powerful interface
  • MAG Devices Support
  • New powerful transcode System supporting almost every function
  • Every stream is playable (more protocols support)
  • Faster zapping time (instant)
  • Powerful Logging & Search System
  • Stream Statistics
  • Http Live Streaming (HLS) Output
  • iOS/Android Client Area Portal
  • More lightweight

The Menus & Options  of the Panel

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The Transcoding or Video-Conversion process

This is one one of the “Highlights” of Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel. I’ve tested over a hundred different kinds of formats, from Blu-ray-MKV, different AVI’s, FLV, MP4, WMV, MOV and OGG. Each time the transcoding process was successful.

I also tested quite a few homemade AVI’s without transcoding, all watchable later on. But for professional hosting, large sized movies should be encoded before transferred to your server, in my opinion. The reason is mainly the later ability for your future customers to watch the movie streams, without any kind of freezings or bufferings. Due to Internet limitations, and nowadays also server bandwidth problems, the movies should be transcoded in 720p maximum and the file size should be around +/- 1GB each. The bitrate should be somewhere around 2 – 3000k maximum. This would later almost guarantee the freeze free availability of the stream, if the user owns a decent Internet connection. Not everybody have an 200 Mbit/s and up broadband connection.

Sure, there are higher bitrates possible and many customers already crying for lossless FHD’s streams. In my eyes often a wishful thinking. Too many components playing a huge role in the Internet world, and last but not least there’s always the question of bandwidth.

encoding-vs-transcoding

“What’s the difference between encoding and transcoding?” was one of the first questions I had when I started working with video’s and IPTV streaming. I had always used them interchangeably and after a quick Internet search I was surprised that I did not find a clear answer.

While encoding and transcoding both represent ways of converting files between formats, there is a distinct difference:

  • Encoding, by definition, takes analog source content and converts it to a digital format. For example – converting a video on a VHS tape to an mpeg file or a video DVD.
  • Transcoding takes an existing digital format and converts it to a different digital format, like taking a sample video and converting it to an adaptive bitrate format such as HTTP-Live-Streaming.

Despite the clear differences by definition, I’ve noticed that only technical experts tend to use the term with distinction. People getting started with video are often left behind and confused between the terms like I was. I hope that with this short note, we were able to shed some light on this myth….

Here you can see the different kinds of VIDEO and AUDIO transcoding codecs available:

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The Preset option allows you to select between ultra fast and very slow transcoding options, which should also affect the video quality.

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The Video Profile option (in my opinion too many Apple’s…)

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Setting the average video bitrate

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Other Transcoding Options

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Main server and load balancer monitoring

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3rd Load balancer

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Load Balancer Settings

Load balancing Chart? What this feature is doing exactly? As stated before, IPTV Panel Pro has load-balancing mode that will redirect your users automatically to other servers in a case of huge load. The load-balancing chart is being used to control the SOURCE flow or how the stream source will be transferred to your servers.

You can draw any flow you want depending on your needs.

iptv-load-balancerBoth servers will take the stream from the source in the configuration above.

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In this case, the server “Load balancer 1” will read the stream from the source and at the same time he will transfer the same stream to the second server.

Implementing LEGITIMATE Streams in your Panel and Managing Streams

Attention: Many customers make here a major mistake, with the result of missing audio and other misbehaviors in the stream later. What Video & Audio Codec should I use if I transcode later?

Xtream Codes has added many video & audio codecs but not all of these codecs are supported for IPTV use. To be on the safe side, you should always use the H.264 as video codec and AAC as audio codec for IPTV use.

iptv-panel-live-stream

As we can see, importing a live stream, a movie or a radio broadcast stream was never that easy. We start by adding a live stream.

Two options here: One single stream, or multiple streams! If you import multiple streams, you need the file/stream list containing all of your streams.

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We have several options later, how the streams can act. For better understanding, it’s theoretically possible that you “restream” your legitimate bought streams later. In other words…in some cases, you may want to sell these streams to other resellers.

Through this setting you can block your streams to be “restreamed” later on, if you really try to sell some of your streams in time by choosing a category or bouquet later for your customer. Streams marked here as “yes” will not work for your customer.xtream-codes-restream-block

xtream-codes-stream-control Very useful are the “Quicktools” in the Manage-Streams Section:

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Adding a New Movie

You can also add a movie you uploaded to your server previously, or even from a remote source.

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If you add a movie from your own server, it works over the integrated file browser, while if you want to stream from a remote location, simply type in the location.

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You can set read “Input Source in Native Frames”, and  if you are transcoding, set it to YES.xtream-codes-imdb-database

You like to have a picon for your Movie? Here you can add a IMDB ID.

But here we go…Movies! It is common in this business, that once a while a server is having issues, and most times the load balancer also gives up. If this happens, and no matter the backup of your data bank, you are in troubles. You may have tons of movies in backup, and must re-assign them all again to a server manually.

This feature is definitely missing in the editing movies section. There are only 3 parts: Add New Movie, Import Multiple Movies and Manage Movies.

The scenario: You transfer in an emergency case over ssh protocol sftp-wise all your movies to an other server. You set up a new OS or reinstall one, and you get a new root password. After making a new server with Xtream Codes Panel, so far, so good. But you have to assign them later, all of them! A mass-edit regarding assigning movies to the main server or one of the load balancers would do it! Saving a dramatic amount of time for a customer. I repeat myself here, I mentioned that above already, regarding “add a new stream”. No reason for me to think of right now, that it should not be possible to assign this stream to a bouquet, and not only in to a category.

Adding a New Radio

It’s the same procedure as adding a video stream. You can import a single or multiple Streams from a file.

Creating new Client/Customer Lines xtream-code-user-details-2

Creating a new customer line is a piece of cake; just fill up the necessary fields. Like user, a unique password if you wish so, you even can use the created line in a stalker portal, but watch out then, please read:

xtream-codes-iptv-panel-mag-devices

If a customer has a MagBox for example, the better option is to bind the box over the MAC address. It is even possible to bind a before created simple m3u Playlist to a newly created MAC address. Simply go to “Add New Mag Device” and associate the existing line to it.

xtream-codes-iptv-panel-mag-stbPortals for Mag-Devices are like “http://yoursite.com:port/c/”

Features, Options, Security

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Restreamers Finder

Another useful feature is the so-called Restreamers Finder. In these days there are many restream software’s for ordinary users on the market, like Hola addons for Android Systems and many more.

Block User Agent

Not absolutely clear about this feature. What is a “User Agent”? A User Agent is normally a short string that web browsers and other applications send to identify themselves to web servers. Unfortunately, most browsers falsify part of their User-Agent header in an attempt to be compatible with more web servers. Useful, but I find that the manual assigning of each single user agent is a hell of a work. There are preconfigured block lists already in the Internet and it would be from great help, if Xtream Codes would allow loading a whole list.

Block IP/CIDR

IP blocking is clear, but what is a CIDR? Classless inter-domain routing (CIDR) is a set of Internet protocol (IP) standards that is used to create unique identifiers for networks and individual devices.

The IP addresses allow particular information packets to be sent to specific computers. Shortly after the introduction of CIDR, technicians found it difficult to track and label IP addresses, so a notation system was developed to make the process more efficient and standardized. That system is known as CIDR notation.

Resume? Absolutely useful!

There is still some work to do specially in the editing sector, one of the most important parts of streaming software:

  • Searching for Bad Movies (a dog’s work if hundreds/thousands of movies)
  • Adding a new stream and assign it direct into a bouquet, would be more then useful.
  • Mass edit Movies features (ex:Assign Movies to a server in bulk)

Part 2 (…coming soon)

  1. Finishing the part of the most important features
  2. Comparison the “Have’s” and “Have Not’s”
  3. Results after a new installation (Simulated Crash of the Main Server)
  4. The Pro’s
  5. The Contra’s
  6. The Competitors of Xtreme-Codes Panel
  7. Be aware of some kind of hoster (Strange experiences with 2 “Big Ones”! Troubleshootings)
  8. The Conclusion and resume

Ending the first part, I want to say thanks to Xtream-Codes for giving me the tools and the necessary “LB Plugins” (Naaaa, not a plugin, Xtream-Codes! Call it a Addon better!) to start.

WeTek Play 2 4K Android Set-top Box with ATSC, DVB-S2 or DVB-T2 Tuners is up for Pre-order for $120

August 19th, 2016 32 comments

With WeTek Play 2, initially unveiled as WeTek Play+, we now have a successor to WeTek Play with the same ATSC, DVB-S2/S, DVB-T2/T/C tuners, but much better specs thanks to Amlogic S905-H processor, 8GB storage, 2GB memory, and support for HDMI 2.0 and 4K60Hz video decoding allowing you to watch 4K UHD channels via your satellite dish for example. The device can be pre-ordered for $119.90 with the tuner of your choice, and shipping is slated to start on September 6th.

WeTek_Play_2

WeTek Play 2 specifications have changed slightly since January:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905-H rev. C quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 2.0GHz with  penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC 5.0 flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDCP 2.2 support
  • Audio – HDMI, optical S/PDIF
  • Video codecs – H.265 (10bit) & H.264 AVC up to 4K60Hz, H.264 MVC, MPEG-4 ASP, VC-1, AVS, MPEG-2, MPEG-1 up to 1080p60
  • Audio codecs – MP3, AAC, WMA, RM, FLAC, Ogg, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS
  • Tuners – Modular (replaceable) tuners for DVB-S2 (Satellite), DVB-C/T/T2(Cable/terrestrial), and ATSC (terrestrial for North America and South Korea)
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 (Ampak AP6335 module)
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports
  • DRM – Playready and Widewine; Netflix HD supported
  • Misc – IR receiver, IR extender port, 3.5mm jack RS-232 port,
  • Power Supply –  DC 12V
  • Dimensions – 180x125x42 mm

The receiver runs Android 5.1.1 with Kodi 16.1, and ships with a remote control, an update nail, an HDMI cable, an RS232 cable, and a power supply.

Amlogic-S905-digital-tv-tunerI’ve been sent a review sample, which has been stuck in customs for about 2 weeks, but I expect it to be “liberated” sometimes next week. You can find more details on WeTek Play 2 product page.

U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV Box Unboxing and Teardown with DVB-T2, DVB-S2 and ATSC Tuners

January 22nd, 2016 20 comments

Yesterday, I wrote about U4 Quad Hybrid Android Digital TV receiver based on HiSilicon Hi3796M processor, and supporting for DVB-T2/T/C, DVB-S2, and ATSC standards. Today, I’ve received the device, taken a few pictures, and torn it down to find out more about the hardware. The full review will come out in a few weeks.

U4 Quad Hybrid Unboxing

DHL did their job quickly as I received the set-top box in about two days in the following package.

U4_Quad_Hybrid_PackageThe box comes with a 12V/1.5Am AV and HDMI cables, a WiFi antenna, an IR remote control requiring two AAA batteries (not included), a user’s manual in Korean language only and… a separate tuner…

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So let’s check that tuner more in details…

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The demodulator chip is LG3390A, so an ATSC tuner is included in the package. Not very useful in Thailand, but it’s good to know it’s included. I also open the cover of the bottom connector.

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And if I’m correct, what we have here is Aihora AV2012 DVB-S2 tuner chip, so that little expansion board should support both ATSC and DVB-S2.

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The box itself look fairly nice. We’ve got a USB 2.0 host port and a a USB 3.0 host port on the side (both limited to 500 mA), as well as a micro SD slot, the AV port, and a mini USB port for an IR/LED extension cable (not included). The rear panel features ANT IN and LNB IN antenna connectors, coaxial S/PDIF, the WiFi connector, HDMI output, 10/100M Ethernet, and a power jack for the 12V input.  If the antenna ports do not mean much to you, a look to the Korean user’s manual may help, as ANT IN is referred to “Ter In” and LNB IN to “Sat In”, which should be the left connector if for DVB-T2/T/C and the right connector for DVB-S2/T2, and if you want ATSC + DVB-S2, you simply need to insert the ATSC tuner. The sad part is that doing so would void your warranty according to the sticker on the rear panel… So I don’t really get it.

You could also watch the unboxing video for something more visual.

U4 Quad Hybrid Teardown

You’ll need to remove three screws to open the device. The one on the rear panel above the HDMI port, and two on the bottom of the case.

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There’s a sticker in Korean on the bottom about Shenzhen Sosci Technology, which specializes in, you guessed it.. LED aquarium lights! I’m not sure if there are other companies with the same name, and I picked the wrong one, or they simply chose to diversify. The MAC address suffix 00:11:AD points to Shanghai Ruijie Digital Technology, an Internet service provider, and the company that actually sent me the product is called Shenzhen Vivant Technology, so lots of parties involved here!

U4 Quad Hybrid Board (Click to Enlarge)

U4 Quad Hybrid Board (Click to Enlarge)

The board called W96M_MAIN VO.4 feature the HiSilicon processor with a heatsink, an 8GB FORESEE NFEFEH68-08G eMMC flash, two SKhynix H5TQ4G63AFR DDR3 chips (2x 512MB), and Realtek RTL8188ETV Wifi module.

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If we zoom in on the tuner area, we can see AVL6762TA DVB-T2/T/C demodulator, and on the main board itself and located on the bottom right of the picture above, Hisilicon Hi3136 is the DVB-S2/S demodulator.

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There’s also two LEDs, an IR receiver, and a 4-digit LED panel on the front of the board.

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There’s basically nothing on the bottom of the board, except S1 switch which should be the firmware recovery button.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Vivant Technology for sending a review sample, and you contact them if you wish to purchase in quantities. They also sell U4 Quad Hybrid for $119.99 shipped by DHL on Aliexpress, but a cheaper option is to go with China Post for $106.69 instead.

WeTek Play+ Amlogic S905 Android Set-Top Box Features a Tuner with a SmartCard Reader and an mSATA SSD Bay

January 9th, 2016 33 comments

When WeTek announced the WeTek Core, some people were disappointed that they did not include a tuner like in the original WeTek Play, but the company has been working on a successor called Wetek Play+ that is based on Amlogic S905-H quad core processor and supports DVB-S/S2, DVB-C/T/T2, ISDB-T and ATSC tuners with a smartcard reader, as well as an extra store with an half-size SSD slot.

WeTek Play+ (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play+ (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play+ specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905-H (Revision C) quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 2.0GHz with  penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC 5.0 flash + micro SD card slot + mSATA SSD socket (implemented via USB to SATA)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDCP 2.2 support, and AV port
  • Audio – HDMI, AV (stereo), optical S/PDIF
  • Tuners – Support for DVB-S2, DVB-C/T/T2, ISDB-T and ATSC tuners
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports (external), 2x internal USB 2.0 ports
  • DRM / CAS – Playready and Widewine included, Smartcard reader for tuner
  • Misc – 3.5mm jack RS-232 port (TBC)
  • Power Supply –  DC 12V
  • Dimensions – N/A
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The TV box will run Android 5.1, but while I don’t have much more details about the software, I’m pretty sure it will run a recent version of Kodi, WeTek Theater for live video via the tuner, and WeCloud Antenna for IPTV channels, just like on WeTek Play.

Amlogic S905-H means the box with have the DTS and Dolby license to downmix audio on any apps, and not only Kodi, and Revision C is a new revision of the chip that apparently fixes bugs with 4K 10-bit HEVC DVB-S2 streams. I did notice the video freezing for a few seconds before resuming with some 4K DVB-S2 samples on two Amlogic S905 boxes, respectively K1 Plus and MINI MX, but I could not reproduce the issue with MINIX NEO U1 and XBMC for MINIX. I’m sure the MINIX box did not have the revision C of the processor since it’s very new, but it’s quite possible there are several bugs, and there must be a reason for Amlogic to create a new revision, so it will be something to check in the future if you want to make you sure you don’t have this bug, and want to buy a device with the latest revision.

The smartcard reader shown on the left of the first picture will be useful for people needed to have premium channels via the tuner. I’ve not been told which standard it supports yet. Since USB to SATA implementations are not exactly equal, with some Genesys Logic chips providing really poor performance, I’ve been informed that the performance was good enough to record 4K DVB streams, but I don’t have raw numbers.

I often see HDCP 2.2 and DRM mentioned in product specs, even for cheap Amlogic S905 devices, but usually they don’t have the right keys and firmware for this, and again WeTek Play+ will definitely support both.

I don’t have pricing nor availability information, but WeTek Play+ looks like a pretty good device on paper.

Dune HD Solo 4K is a High-End Media Player with a SATA Bay, a DVB-T2 Tuner, and Sigma Designs SMP8758 Processor

December 26th, 2015 10 comments

Dune HD, a company specializing in “high-performance digital media players”, has just unveiled Dune HD Solo 4K media player based on  Sigma Designs SMP8758 dual core Cortex A9 processor, supporting 10-bit HEVC video decoding up to 2160p @ 30 fps, HD audio pass-though, and including a SATA tray.

Dune_HD_Solo_4KDune HD Solo 4K specifications:

  • SoC – Sigma Designs SMP8758 dual core Cortex A9 processor @ 1.2 GHz with an ARM Mali-400 GPU and VXP image processing engine
  • System Memory – 1GB
  • Storage – 4GB flash for firmware, internal HDD rack with hot swap function for a 2.5″ SATA drive, SD card reader (TBC)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4b up to 1080p60 and 4K @ 30 Hz (including 23.976, 25, 29.97, 50, 59.94Hz refresh rates), and composite video
  • Audio Output – HDMI, analog stereo audio, coaxial S/PDIF (shared via AV port). 24-bit /192 KHz audio support
  • Video codecs – MPEG2, MPEG4, XVID, WMV9, VC1, H.264, H.265, H.265 Hi10p; support for very high bitrate video (up to 100 Mbit/s and higher)
  • Video file formats – MKV, MPEG-TS, MPEG-PS, M2TS, VOB, AVI, MOV, MP4, QT, ASF, WMV, BDMV, DVD-ISO, VIDEO_TS
  • 3D video formats – MVC, Side-by-side, Top/Bottom
  • Audio codecs – MPEG-1/2 layer I/II/III, AAC, LPCM, WMA, WMAPro, FLAC, multichannel FLAC, Vorbis, WavPack, APE (Monkey’s Audio), ALAC (Apple lossless), AC3 (Dolby Digital), DTS; support for very high quality audio (up to 192 kHz / 24-bit). Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD MA, and Dolby Atmos pass-through to AV receiver
  • Tuner – DVB-T/T2 RF IN
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi with two external antennas, optional Z-Wave controller for home automation
  • USB –  2x USB 2.0 ports (1x rear, 1x front)
  • Misc – IR extender port, on/off switch
  • Power Supply – 12V DC IN power connector
  • Dimensions – N/ADune_HD_Solo_4K_SATA

The media device support dual boot Linux + Android with the Linux OS featuring Dune HD media player functionality, and the Android OS providing access to Android apps.

Supported file systems include FAT32, EXT-2/3/4, and NTFS, all with read and write support. The player also has some other media features that are often missing or poorly supported in cheaper devices with as Blu-ray playback and menus, true 24p output (23.976Hz), NAS function, MPEG-DASH and HLS streaming support, etc.. . Solo 4K can also be an home automation gateway thanks to Control4 software.

I’ve never used a product with Sigma Designs SMP8758 processor, but I reviewed Popcorn Hour VTEN with SMP8657, that’s basically the single core version of the processor, and video playback and HD audio pass-through all worked very well, yet with some bugs at the time of review.

Dune_HD_Solo_4K_ConnectorsCloud Media also introduced Popcorn Hour A500-Pro media player with Sigma SMP8758 via a crowdfunding campaign where you could get it for $399 instead of $599 (MSRP) retail. Although both players as a different set of features, Dune HD Solo 4K should be a better deal once it becomes available in February of 2016 for 299 Euros (MSRP) [Update: price with VAT is 349 Euros]. You can find more details on the product page.

List of Amlogic S905 TV Boxes and Sticks

November 13th, 2015 96 comments

Rockchip RK3368 TV boxes looked promising at the end of the summer, but ended up being disappointing, not because of their expected lower performance compared to RK3288, but simply because they could not deliver on their main selling point: 4K H.265 / H.264 video playback, and the sheer number of issues with the first devices selling for nearly the same price as equivalent Rockchip RK3288 devices. Rockchip RK3368 will soon have a worthy competitor with Amlogic S905, which won’t deliver amazing benchmark scores, but looks promising for its 4K 10-bit HEVC video playback, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, and historically Amlogic delivers better video playback than Rockchip. The first Amlogic S905 TV boxes should start shipping by the end of the month, and prices are starting very low, just over $40, thanks to competition between the many manufacturers launching devices based on the new Amlogic SoC.

Amlogic_S905_Android_TV_BoxesThat’s why I’ve decided to make a list of Amlogic S905 Android 5.1 TV boxes and sticks:

  • Geniatech ATV495 TV Box – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2x USB 2.0 host ports and HDMI 2.0 and AV. Price: TBD
  • Geniatech ATV1950 STB – TV box with 2GB RAM, 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, 4x USB 2.0 host ports, HDMI 2.0, and dual tuner (ATSC/DVB-T/DVB-T2/ISDBT). Price: TBD
  • Ugoos AM1 – TV box with 2GB RAM, 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: TBD
  • Ugoos AM2 – Largish TV stick/dongle with 1GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB port, and HDMI 2.0 & AV outputs. Price: TBD
  • MXQ Pro TV Box – TV box with 1GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 4x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & AV outputs. Price: $50 and up
  • Beelink MINI MX – TV box with 1GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: $42.99.
  • Guleek A8 Android TV Stick -> TV stick with 2GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth, 1x USB 2.0 host port, 2x micro USB ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: TBD
  • Eny EM95 -> TV box with 1 or 2GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, Fast or Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV output. Price: $56.99 with 1GB/8GB configuration.
  • Acemax G9C – TV box with 2GB RAM, 8GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & AV ports. Price: TBD
  • Venz K1 Plus – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 4x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV outputs. Price: $42.99. Venz K1 Plus Hybrid is another version with DVB-S2, DVB-T2, ISDB-T, DTMB, or ATSC tuner.
  • MXQ Plus – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, a few USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV outputs. Price: TBD.
  • Venz K5 – TV box with 2 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, a few USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: TBD.
  • MXV Plus (MXV+) – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: $62.99.
  • Xiaomi 3 Mi Box – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 4 GB flash, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1, 1x USB 2.0 host port, and HDMI 2.0 and AV ports. Price: $71.79. Please note: Chinese interface only!
  • Eweat M8V – TV box with 1 or 2 GB RAM, 8 or 16 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 & AV ports. Price: $78.78.
  • Measy B4TS – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 3x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0. Price: $66.29.
  • Quintex S905 – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and optional Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV output ports. Price: $78.
  • M9+ (M9 Plus) – TV box with 1 GB RAM, 8 GB flash, Fast Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, 4x USB 2.0 host ports, and HDMI 2.0 and AV output ports. Price: $54.99.

Most of the devices come with 1GB RAM and 8GB flash, and price disparity is rather large. In this category the best values appear to be Beelink MINI MX and K1 Plus TV boxes at $43 both. The only TV stick, Guleek U8, is not for sale yet.  Two TV boxes stand out in terms of specifications with 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac, namely Ugoos AM1 and Geniatech ATV1950, with the latter also including a dual tuner, but they are not for sale yet.

Giveaway Week – Eny M8S Android TV Box

November 6th, 2015 244 comments

Today, I’m going to give away Eny M8S, an Android media player based on Amlogic S812 processor with 2GB RAM and 8GB NAND flash that runs Android 4.4, and supports H.265 video playback up to 3840×2160 at 30 fps.

m8sHow does the device perform? Well, I don’t really know because I postponed the review due to many problems including HDMI going on and off, lack of Google Play Store, some power issues, and eventually the box refused to boot. When I finally got a new firmware, I did upgrade it, but so many months had passed, that I postponed the review indefinitely… Having said that, I tested its 4K capabilities later on, and again before this giveaway to reset the box to factory settings, and it booted fine… The box is not abandoned, as the company released a new firmware at the beginning of this month, so the lucky winner may consider upgrading the box to the latest firmware.

Eny M8S and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Eny M8S and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

More photos are available on “Unboxing of Eny M8S H.265 / 4K Android Media Player Powered by Amlogic S812 Processor” post. Please note that the HDMI cable is not included.

To enter the draw simply leave a comment below.

Other rules are as follows:

  • Only one entry per contest. I will filter out entries with the same IP and/or email address.
  • Contests are open for 48 hours starting at 10am (Bangkok time) every day. Comments will be closed after 48 hours.
  • Winners will be selected with random.org, and announced in the comments section of each giveaway.
  • I’ll contact the winner by email, and I’ll expect an answer within 24 hours, or I’ll pick another winner.
  • Shipping
    • Free EMS for winners with a shipping address in Thailand
    • $17 for registered airmail small packet for the rest of the world payable via Paypal within 48 hours once the contest (for a given product) is complete.
    • If PayPal is not available in your country, you can still play, and I’ll cover the cost of sending the parcel by Sea and Land (SAL) if you win.
  • I’ll post all 7 prizes at the same time, around the 11th of November
  • I’ll make sure we have 7 different winners, so if you have already won a device during this giveaway week, I’ll draw another person.

Good luck!

M8S can be purchased for $48 and up on Amazon, eBay, GeekBuying, GearBestGearBest and many other websites.

Kingnovel R8 Android TV Box Review (VLC Edition)

October 25th, 2015 7 comments

Kingnovel R8 is one of the many Rockchip RK3368 based TV boxes on the market, and since I’ve already provided the specs, as well as pictures of the device and board, I’ll carry on with the review today. While I’m usually testing video playback in Kodi, I’ve only spent a short time with Kodi 15.2 on this box, and instead switched to VLC (aka VideoLAN), an another open source media player, and my favorite program to watch videos in my Ubuntu computer. Of course, I’ve also tested most hardware features and performance of the device.

First Boot, and First Impressions

Since I like to test worst case scenarios, I also make sure I use all the ports of the devices, and connected a USB hard drive, USB RF dongles, USB webcam, and relevant cables to the device before powering it up. Once you connect the power, I recommend you have some tea while waiting for the boot to complete, as it will usually take around 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Carbon_Metro_Launcher

Click for Original Size

The launched is called Carbon Metro and includes Kodi, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Netflix, a Web Browser and a link to “Setting”.

Apps Center

Apps Center

There’s also an Apps Center, which would have been better called “Favorites”, as you can add and remove shortcuts as needed…

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

… as well as “Smart Apps” which simply lists all installed app, in some random order…About_R8

I’m not going through the whole settings today, as they look exactly like the ones in Zidoo X6 Pro up to the “Ehernet” typo, except printing is also enabled. The 8GB partition has been partitioned in to a 2.91GB “internal storage” partition with 1.89 GB free, and a 2.88GB “NAND flash” partition. I could not see any major issues with settings, and I could change video output to 2160p60 with the user interface resolution fixed at 1920×1080, and I had no problem with Ethernet and WiFi connection to my router.

The About device section only shows a generic “rk3368-box” model name with Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.0.

I’ve added two AAA battery to the remote control, and I have to say the remote is pretty nice to use (for an IR remote) thanks to its compact size and fits well into my hand, and I tested up to 10 meter without issues. Having said that I only used it a few minutes, and switched to an air mouse instead which is much more convenient in Android.

I could install all apps I needed for the review from Google Play store or Amazon Underground, after side-loading the latter.

Power control is mostly implemented correctly with standby and power off working fine. A short press on the remote power button will go into standby, and a long press will pop-up a menu asking you to confirm you want to power off the device. Once in power off mode, you can use the remote control to turn it back on. However, power measurements showed some flaws:

  • Power off – 0 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle – 2.4 ~ 3.2 Watts
  • Power off + HDD – 2.1 Watt (HDD light still on)
  • Standby + HDD – 1.2 Watt (HDD light does turn off)
  • Idle + HDD – 5.0 ~ 5.4 Watts

So as long as you don’t connect any USB devices all is fine, but if you leave your USB hard drive attached is will still be powered on in power on, although it’s completely turned off in standby mode. When I connect all USB devices used for review, the power off consumption goes up to 3.1 Watts.

One good news is that the box temperature stays in control, and the Rockchip processor does not massively throttle like in Zidoo X6 Pro. The maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the device was respectively 41°C and 54°C after Antutu benchmark, and 42°C and 57°C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

The firmware does not seem to have massive bugs and never frozen, but Android would very often show the messages “Carbon Metro is not responding” or “Unfortunately Carbon Metro has stopped”, either because of poor implementation of the launcher itself, or more likely, the very slow NAND flash used R8 TV box. Switching from an app to Android home screen by pressing the home button on the remote will normally take 5 seconds, and apps don’t start very fast either, and sometimes the system feels rather sluggish. So unfortunately the first impressions were not very good mostly due to very slow boot time, launcher issues, and overall sluggishness.

Video Playback

A Quick Look at Kodi

Even though I’m going to focus on VideoLAN in this review, I’ve still had a look at Kodi. I was somewhat impressed than Kodi 15.2 is pre-installed, as the firmware is a few weeks old, and many still used Kodi 14.2.

Kodi_15.2_TVAddons

Click for Original

Kodi is also pre-loaded with TVAddons which I previously tried, provides lots of pirated content, and is despised by Kodi’s developers.

Firstly, I went to Kodi settings to enabled Dolby and DTS pass-through, and automatic frame rate switching, as well as the Android settings to set audio output to HDMI pass-through. Then I played three videos in Kodi via Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, all of which are in theory supported by RK3368 processor:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_normal.mp4 (H.264 @ 1080p60 + AC3) – Video OK, and the AV receiver showed “Dolby D 5.1”, but it sometimes switched to “Unknown” and audio was cut for less than one second, before resuming audio and “Dolby D 5.1” output.
  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (4K H.264 @ 30fps + AAC) – The video was not very smooth.
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps + AC3) – The video was not smooth, and audio played fine (Dolby D 5.1) was a while before continuously making a “machine gun” like noise.

Finally, I’m very happy not too have gone through the torture that would have been to run a full video playback test with Kodi on this firmware. You’ll probably want to find another version of Kodi maybe from Google Play, or the version recently released by Zidoo which has been specifically optimized for RK3368.

VLC

If you are interested in the open source nature of VLC for Android, and want to check it out yourself you can follow the instructions to get the code and build VLC. The app is available in Google Play, but there are two versions:

  • VLC for Android beta – Version 1.0.0 last updated on December 9, 2014 with 50 to 100 millions installs.
  • VLC for Android – Version 1.6.6 last updated on October 23, 2015 (But I tested version 1.6.0 released October 16, 2015) with 10 to 50 millions installs

If you only look at the app title, you may have thought the beta version has the latest developments, but checking the details clearly shows the beta version is not updated anymore, so you’ll want to install VLC for Android, which is exactly what I did.

The first boot might slow as the app will scan for media files on your system, especially if you have connected an hard drive with lots of videos or/and pictures, and since this happens in the foreground, you’ll have to be patient. Unfortunately after a while the app would just exit without any crash log files (vlc_logcat_<…>.log) in the root of my “internal SD card”. That problem is reproducible 100% of the time, maybe because I have two many files, or maybe because I have multiple partitions with the same directory structure (double files), and somehow that confuses the app. Since I normally play videos over SAMBA, I just disconnect the hard drive, and the app started normally, but then I found out that SAMBA is not supported by the app in VLC Android FAQ. You should be able to work around that by mounting the network shares with another app, but instead I just copied the sample videos in a USB flash drive, and after the scan I could see all my videos. Yeah!

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The videos are grouped by filename, and all Big Buck Bunny videos were in one single “group”. This looks nice, but for testing purpose it’s much easier for me to get a file list.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It works, but the user interface is clearly optimized for phones, as a lot of space is unused.

All good so I started by playing 1080p video samples found in samplemedia.linaro.org, but unfortunately I only got a black screen (without mouse pointer or volume display possible) with audio playing fine. So I went to the settings and following some recommendations from the Android FAQ.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The settings page shown above have various option for subtitle, video orientation, background video playback and so on, but I went into the hardware acceleration menu and try all four options, and only “disabled” worked for me. Please note that you may have to quit and restart the app for it to work.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Then I went into the Performance section, and forced video chroma to YUV as it’s supposed to provide the best performance, and it also worked on the device.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Finally, I had a look into the advanced options, and check the audio output which allowed selection between AudioTrack and OpenSL ES. I simply kept the default settings.

Based on these settings, here are the results for Linaro’s 1080p video samples, plus a low resolution VP9 sample, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – Not 100% smooth
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – Pretty good, but I did notice some frame “flashes” 2 or 3 times (Like a white frame or older frame is shown during playback)
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK, but I did notice some frame “flashes” 2 or 3 times
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Real Media (RMVB) (720p / 5Mbps) – Artifacts, and video freezes before the end
  • WebM / VP8 – Most of the time the video plays fine, but some frame flashes occurred
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – Black screen and audio
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Artifacts

Even saying that it’s not very good is an euphemism. VLC developer did say that the program may not work on all platform, and Rockchip RK3368 is one of these. Nevertheless, I still enabled HDMI audio pass-through in Android settings to see if HD audio would be passed through to my AV receiver:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 (VOB file) – VLC reported that a “Serious error occurred and VLC had to close”
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only, and the video was not smooth
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – the receiver showed PCM 2.0, but the audio felt like some extra-terrestrial life form was trying to enter in contact with me…
  • DTS HD Master – PCM 2.0 only
  • DTS HD High Resolution – PCM 2.0 only.

So with hindsights, it was not such a good idea to run VLC on an Android TV box, as the app is probably optimized to run on the most popular phones or mobile SoCs like Qualcomm, Samsung, or Mediatek.

Antutu Video Tester 3.0

I installed Antutu Video Tester 3.0 manually and the results were in line with other RK3368 mini PCs with a score of 516 points.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfer a 278MB file between the internal flash and a SAMBA share to test WiFi performance. Kingnovel R8 has one of the weakest WiFi performance I’ve tested so averaging 1.24 MB/s, and in the second test the transfer stalled a few times. Had it not stalled performance would have been higher, but not much, probably around 1.5 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I did the same test for Gigabit Ethernet, but with a larger 885 MB file, and the file was transferred at 10 MB/s. This is slower than most devices with Gigabit Ethernet device, but as we’ll see later the bottleneck should be the slow NAND flash, just like in WeTek Core TV box.

R8_Ethernet_PerformanceSo I’ve also tested dual duplex raw performance for one minute using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, and the performance is OK at around 600 Mbps in both directions. Kingnovel_R8_Ethernet_iperfiperf output:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I’ve tested Bluetooth transferring photos using Iocean M6572 smartphone, and a Bluetooth audio headset. Both worked.

Storage

A micro SD card formatted with FAT32, as well as NTFS &, EXT-4 partitions in my USB hard drive could be access in read/write mode, but not exFAT nor BTRFS.

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

A1 SD Bench results for the 2 partitions on the USB 3.0 hard drive:

  • NTFS (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK4/USB3_NTFS) – Read: 23.92 MB/s , Write: 16.75 MB/s
  • EXT-4 (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK4/udisk1) – Read: 25.18 MB/s, Write: 17.28 MB/s

Performance is acceptable for a USB 2.0 connection, but write speed should be optimized.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

The internal storage felt slow at boot time and during usage with some apps, including the launcher, often becoming irresponsive. A1SD benchmark confirmed the impressions,  as the flash could only achieve 14.02 MB/s reads, and 4.85 MB/s writes.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Some other products like WeTek Play and WeTek Core also have slow internal storage, but somehow they’ve managed to setup their firmware in a way that it does not affect the user experience much.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga worked without issues as in most devices, and Riptide GP2 was quite smooth, and remains very much playable after changing the graphics settings to the “highest resolution”.

Kingnovel R8 Benchmarks

If you still thought RK3368 would be clocked @ 1.5 GHz as advertised, that’s the third device were CPU-Z shows it clocked @ 1.20 GHz maximum. The board model is simply rk3368_box.
R8_CPU-Z

I’ve only run Antutu 5.7.3 benchmark this time, and R8 achieved 31,609 points, a bit below to the 34,101 points  I got with Beelink i68, but still well above the ~25,000 points in Zidoo X6 Pro which throttles a lot. (Note that X6 Pro will also get ~34,000 points if you run Antutu right after booting, but the score will decrease if your run Antutu after using the box for a while, and once I even managed to bring the score down to around 11,000 points after playing a 4K H.265 videos at 60 fps for one hour).
R8_Antutu_5.7.3

Conclusion

This time I’ve got a two parts conclusion: one for VLC on TV boxes, one for Kingnovel R8 specifically.

VLC on TV Boxes (powered by Rockchip RK3368 processor)

VLC for Android has been installed on tens of millions of devices, and the app has a pretty good rating of 4.3 out of 5. However, it’s quite likely developers are focusing their efforts on popular smartphones and tablets powered by Qualcomm, Samsung and Mediatek processors, as my VLC experience on Kingnovel R8 TV box was very poor without hardware acceleration support, and software decoding struggling with 1080p videos. I could not connect to network shares either, but all these potential issues are pointed out in the FAQ.

Since VLC is my favorite player in Linux, I was hoping for more, but unfortunately it should be avoided in (Rockchip) TV Box. That does not mean VLC won’t run well on any TV boxes, as the app supports Android TV operating system, and an earlier preview version had been tried on Nexus Player.

Kingnovel R8

Sadly Kindnovel R8 is yet another disappointing TV box both due to firmware (e.g. sluggish launcher), and hardware issues (e.g. slow NAND flash). I’ve compiled some of the pros and the cons for the device.

PROS

  • Android 5.1 firmware with Kodi 15.2
  • HDMI 2.0 video output works up to 2160p60 Hz
  • Good Ethernet performance
  • Proper power handling with standby & power off but one caveat: USB power is not turned off in power off mode.
  • I did not notice any overheating issues
  • The IR remote is nice and small with a good range (>10 meters)
  • 3D games played fairly well

CONS

  • NAND flash is slow, and the firmware may feel slow at times with “app unresponsive” messages popping up from time to time, especially the launcher. This also explains a 2 minutes 20 seconds boot time (when USB devices are attached to the device)
  • It takes 5 seconds to go from the current app to the home screen
  • Kodi 15.2 did not well with the three videos I tried: Neither 4K H.264 @ 30fps and 4K H.265 @ 60 were smooth, and HDMI audio pass-through was not reliable (Audio cuts while playing). Kodi may also be quite slow to exit at times as in many other devices, and that version is pre-loaded with TVaddons (piracy issues).
  • WiFi performance is one of the worst I experienced in TV boxes
  • USB power is not turned off in power off mode (but it is in standby mode)

The issues might be eventually fixed, and if you are a distributor you may either request Kingnovel to improve the firmware responsiveness, or ask them to provide a faster flash device.

I’d like to thanks Kingnovel for providing the sample for review, which can be ordered in quantities from the company, see R8 product page. While I would not recommend it, individuals can purchase “R8 TV box” on GeekBuying, Ebay, Banggood, or Aliexpress with prices starting at around $76, but the hardware in the device may be slightly different than the one reviewed (e.g. 2GB vs 1GB RAM), and the provided IR remote control is different.