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Review of Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite Amlogic S802 TV Box

April 12th, 2014 18 comments

Tronsmart Vega S89 is an Android TV Box based on Amlogic quad core Cortex A9 processor. You can refer to Tronsmart Vega S89 specs for more technical details, and checkout my Tronsmart Vega S89 Unboxing post for pictures of the device and the board. As a reminder there are two models of the device: Tronsmart Vega S89 with 16GB flash and dual band Wi-Fi (AP6330 module), and Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite with 8GB flash and 2.4 WiFi (AP6220 module). I’ve been sent the Elite version, but both version should have similar performance. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the user interface and settings, then I’ll switch to video and audio tests, Wi-Fi performance, and perform some other tests for Bluetooth, gaming, external storage, USB webcam, etc.. trying to cover most of the hardware features available on this device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Vega S89 (Elite) comes with an IR remote, but the two required AAA batteries are not included, so you’ll need to purchase some separately. As we’ll soon see the user interface has been designed to be used easily with an IR remote, but once you start using Android apps, you’ll probably want to use another input device. So I’ve also used the Mele F10 air mouse during testing. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, the HDMI and AV cables, and Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power supply, before pressing the power button which is oddly located at the back of the device. The complete boot took 38 seconds, and loaded the Metro style user’s interface shown below.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Tronsmart Vega S89 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

On the top of the screen, we can see the network status, the weather in your locale (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), and the date and time. There are also six main menus: Online Video (YouTube, Netflix, and XBMC), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, My Apps (all installed apps), Music, and Local. The last two are some apps to access/play local files with a not-so-slick interface that you are unlikely to use. There are smaller icons at the bottom, some shortcuts with the Browser, File manager, Gallery, 4K player, Google Play Store and XBMC by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish. You can navigate this user interface with the remote arrow keys. For those of you who are not fond of 720p UIs, I’ve got good news, as both video output and UI are 1080p, and you can click the screenshot above to see it the real size.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

Display Settings (Click for Original Size)

When you first boot the device, there’s no network at all, so you need to go to the Network settings, and select whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and both are working just fine. In the display settings, it will detect the maximum resolution for your TV, 1080p60 in my case, and it’s supposed to support UHD / 4K output, but I don’t own a 4K TV to check this out. Other options allow you to hide or show the status bar, adjust the display position/size, and whether you want to use a screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as I find it’s easier to navigate between apps and home screen with the Mele F10. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (not tested, but you can download RemoteIME.apk on your smartphone or tablet), adjust CEC controls, set your location (unfortunately only Chinese cities are available),  set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2), kernel version (3.10.10) and provides access to OTA System Update, which is not enabled. You can also access standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE. SMPTE stands for Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, but I’m not quite sure what it means in this context. There’s also an AV output, but there’s no option in the menu. If HDMI is not connected, it will simply switch to composite output, which worked as expected, including audio output. You can then choose between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and restart the device.

TVega_S89_About_Mediaboxhe product comes with a 8 GB flash, and there’s well over 5GB free storage on the only partition found in the internal storage which should be plenty enough to install as many apps as you wish. The firmware is not rooted, and developer options are disabled in the firmware. I’ve written an Amlogic S802 root how-to that will root your device and enable dev options. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the device name is  “VEGA S89″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… The only one that failed to show up in the list is Real Racing 3, but this one appears to have disappeared from most Android TV Boxes. Sixaxis Controller also failed to install returning an error in Google Play.

The power button on the device is used to power on and off the device. A short press is needed to start the device, but a long press (about 10 seconds) is required to turn it off. You can use the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode, but not powering off the device. There’s no soft power button, so these two are the only options to turn off the box. You can’t do that with a mouse, unless maybe you install some thrid party apps. I haven’t tried. I’ve also been asked to check power consumption, but I did not have the right connectors with me to use a multimeter or check with Charger Doctor. I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running Antutu benchmark. The top was 40 °C, the bottom 53 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C.

The firmware is extremely stable, I’ve never experienced a crash and the system never hung. With a quad core Cortex A9 processor at 1.99 GHz, it’s also very smooth, and slowdowns are very rare. At one point, my brother entered my room, and I could hear a “wow” when he realized how fast switching between menus was in Angry Birds Star Wars.

Video Playback

XBMC 14 alpha is pre-installed in the device, so I’ve decided to test videos with XBMC, reverting to MX Player to check issues, and double check some features. As always, I’ve played videos from a SAMBA share. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, and I added some Big Buck Bunny videos with H.265/HEVC codec from another source (Elecard):

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Only shows “Click OK when playback has ended”.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p is very choppy. Most probably software decode.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped. The number of frame skips does not seem to be related to the resolution.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Video appears to be fine, but after a while I’ve noticed a massive 4 to 5 seconds audio sync issue
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I still don’t own an audio system with HDMI or S/PDIF input, and if anybody have recommendation for a low cost system or way (around $100), that would allow me to test SPDIF and/or HDMI pass-through in future reviews, please please let me know. Anyway, I’ve still tested the audio codecs below, downsampled to PCM, in XBMC, and most worked perfectly:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

There’s HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in the menu, and I’ve already reported Geekbuying tested HDMI pass-through with success (apparently) with most codecs. However, when I switched to MX Player to play these files, none of them had audio. That probably means DTS, Dolby and AC3 are not supported by the hardware, but XBMC can use software decoding.

I was not confident about this one, but I threw a Blu-ray ISO into the test, Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, and it worked perfectly, it was also possible to switch between the eight chapters of the video. I did not have audio/video sync issues.

Amlogic S802 can support 4K video in theory. I tried with HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4, a 60 Mbps UHD video, and it failed in XBMC (audio only), but could play perfectly with MX Player from a SAMBA share over Ethernet. I also tried some HEVC / 4K videos, but they had the same frame skipped problems as  lower resolution videos.

Finally, I played some random AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos. They could all play, but some AVI still had that massive audio/video sync issues, the audio being late by a few seconds.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

The Wi-Fi test consists in transferring a 278 MB files between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa. I repeat the test three times. The first time I tried the transfer speed was catastrophic, sometimes running at up to 2MB/s, but most of the time hovering around 50KB/s, and in some cases even stalling, with the transfer taking 11 minutes and 30 seconds. I went outside, and came back 2 hours later, to repeat the test, and I was unable to reproduce the problem I had during the first test, so I discarded it, but this may be something to keep in mind. The transfer times averaged a decent 2:35 (1.79 MB/s), which bring Vega S89 in the upper middle of the field, with performance similar to MK908.

Tronsmart_Vega_S89_WiFIPlease bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be completely different than the ones I’ve gotten here.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, There’s no option in the custom setup, but you can enable Bluetooth in the Android setting. Vega S89 can detect my PC, but can’t find my phone (ThL W200). However, my phone could find and pair with Vega S89. The first time I transfered a file it got stuck at 29% and the transfer failed, but the second time was successful.

I’ve also installed Sixaxis Compatibility Checker to check if Sony PS3 Bluetooth Controllers, or clones, can work following these instructions. The drivers appear to be there, and I can pair my gamepad with the device, but the program segfaults when listening for controllers. I was unable to install the paid version “Sixaxis Controller” due to the error “Couldn’t install on USB storage or SD card” in Google Play.

External Storage

I could use both a micro SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could not access the Video in Google Hangouts however.

Gaming

I’ve tested 3 games: Angry Birds Star Wars,  Candy Crush Saga, and Beach Buggy Blitz. The first two are rather easy games on the GPU, and run just fine on most hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. As with other Android TV boxes and sticks, there are caveats because of the input devices, and the first two games can be played with an Air mouse, but not the IR remote, and racing games are very difficult to play because you have to move the cursor from on side of the screen to the other to turn left and right. If Sixaxis controller works you can use a Bluetooth controller to play games, but it failed to install on this device. Another solution might be to use remote apps like such as Droidmote.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (and Amlogic S802) Benchmarks

Before running the benchmark, I’ve gathered some details about this new processor and board with CPU-Z. It’s a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz, although I’ve never seen it at 24 MHz even at idle. Maybe this frequency is used in standby mode only. The GPU is also reported correctly as an ARM Mali-450.

CPU-Z_Amlogic_S802_Vega_S89

CPU-Z – Amlogic S802 in Tronsmart Vega S89 (Click to Enlarge)

The model is referred to as VEGA S89 (k200), with k200 possibly a reference design code from Amlogic. Pixel resolution is reported to be 1920 x 1008, and there’s mention of 1280 x 672 “dp” resolution, but I’m not sure what it means here. The device comes with 2GB RAM, but only 1578 MB is available to Android, the rest probably being used by, or reserved for the GPU, VPU, and some other hardware sub-systems. As mentioned previously there’s 5.75 GB flash available to the user from the 8GB NAND Flash.

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

Antutu 4.3.3 Score

I’ve installed Antutu from Google Play (Version 4.3.3) and the score I got was 22,603, which will be disappointing if you’ve read GeekBuying blog post showing a score of 30,000. I’ve been told I’m not the only one to get this score with this firmware, and the previous firmware was different. The factory tried with Antutu 4.4.1 and got 28,000 to 30,000. I’m not sure whether it’s a problem with Antutu (CPU in test is reported as 4x core @ 1104 MHz, instead of 1992 MHz on GeekBuying blog), or if it is an issue with the firmware itself. In any case, I’m pretty sure it will be fix in future firmware. You’ll also notice the GPU benchmark has not been run in full screen (607×1080), testing in portrait mode in the middle of my TV. It’s still much faster than the Antutu  score with Rockchip RK3188T @ 1.4 GHz in Beelink A9, especially with the 3D graphics test which is over 3 times faster (S802/Mali-450: 6800 @ 607×1080, RK3188T/Mali-400: 1960 @ 1280×672).

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Vega S89 Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

In Quadrant, Tronsmart Vega S89 is faster than HTC ONE X (Nvidia Tegra 3 @ 1.5 GHz), especially because of much better I/O performance.

The device gets 617 points with Vellamo Metal, and 1602 points in Vellamo HTML5, which is lower than the 859 / 1864 points found in GeekBuying review, so there might indeed be a performance issue with this firmware.

Nenamark2 is rendered at 60.2 fps which is the maximum framerate possible.

Conclusion

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) has good performance, a stable firmware, but there are still quite a few issues that needs to be addressed to make it a better product.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Fast and stable firmware
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet and decent Wi-Fi performance (N.B: Potential stability caveat with regards to Wi-Fi, TBC)
    • USB webcam works with Skype
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to turn the device off (Standby), and get up to press the power button.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • Some video issues: Audio/video sync with some AVI and FLV files, H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped), and
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (minor)
    • Current firmware does not seem to be fully optimized for performance based on Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo benchmark results
    • USB webcam could not be used with Google Hangouts

The firmware clearly still needs some work, but I believe this is a good base, as it is very stable, and most issues can be fixed by updating the firmware. Tronsmart usually tries to fix major issues, and GeekBuying will most probably send samples to some members of Freaktab to make custom ROMs that many are fans of, so in time, firmware is likely to improve. One of the most annoying issue is the audio/video sync issue with some AVI files, so if you have many in your media library, these may not be watchable. The need to try a video in XBMC, and then switch to MX Player if it does not work is also annoying, but hopefully they’ll improve XBMC overtime.

You can purchase Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite for $105 and Tronsmart Vega S89 for $120 from Geekbuying, and Aliexpress. There’s a $6 coupon (YYTKMFIX) for Vega S89 Elite, and a $10 coupon (GSFJMTQF) can be used on GeekBuying until April 18.

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Ugoos UT3 Rockchip RK3288 based Android TV Box (Board Pictures and Specs)

April 11th, 2014 18 comments

We’ve already seen RK3288 based Android TV boxes and sticks started to be advertised on Alibaba, and today Ugoos contacted me and shared some pictures and specs of their PCBA for Ugoos UT3 Android 4.4 TV box based on Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A17 + Mali-T764 GPU SoC.

Ugoos UT3 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Ugoos UT3 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Here are the specs of the board and product:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3288 quad core CortexA17 @ 1.8GHz + Mali-T764 GPU with support for OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 /3.0, and OpenCL 1.1
  • System Memory - 2GB DDR3  (Option: 4GB)
  • Storage – 8GB NAND Flash (Options: 16, 32 or 64GB) + micro SD card slot (up to 32 GB)
  • Connectivity – 100M/1000M Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz/5GHz) and 802.11 a/c using external Wi-Fi antenna, Bluetooth 4.0 (option?)
  • Video I/F
    • HDMI 1.4a output (female) up to 4k2k @ 30 fps, 1080p60
    • AV output (3.5mm jack)
    • HDMI input (female) up to 1080p
  • Audio I/F – HDMI in and out, AV out, optical S/PDIF, microphone jack
  • Video Codecs
    • Decoding – MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4,H.263, H.264, H.265,AVS, VC-1, RV, VP6/VP8, Sorenson Spark, MVC up to 4K2K @ 60fps
    • Encoding – H.264, H.265, VP8, MVC (1080p)
    • H.264, H.265 Data Rate – Up to 60Mbps
  • Audio Codecs/Formats – MP1, MP2, MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, OGA, APE, FLAC, AAC, M4A, 3GPP
  • USB – 3x USB Host port, 1x micro USB OTG
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Temperature Range – Operating: -10~40℃, Storage: -20~50℃
  • Humidity – 5%-90%, No condensation
  • Certification – CCC,CE,EMC,FCC,Wi-Fi

RK3288_boardThere’s also a connector on the top right that looks like a SATA connector for 2.5″ hard drives, but it’s not listed in the specs. If it’s the case they probably use a USB to SATA chip, as RK3288 specs do not mention sata. The Wi-Fi module reads like AP6335. RK3288 is the small chip surrounded by a “green square”.

The company said the first samples are ready, and they are starting to check software, so it may still take a while before products become available.

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Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Android 4.4 Media Player Unboxing

April 9th, 2014 8 comments

Last review, I wrote an unboxing post about M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9r4 processor with a Mali-450MP6 GPU. I’m still waiting for the firmware to test this device. In the meantime, Geekbuying sent me Tronsmart Vega S89 (Click for full specs), another Android Kitkat TV box powered by S802. There are actually two versions: Tronsmart Vega S89 (16 GB Flash, dual band Wi-Fi), and Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (8GB Flash, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi) which is the model I received. I’ll write an unboxing post today with the device and the board, and test the firmware in the next few days.

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Unboxing

Geekbuying sent me the sample via DHL which I received in the package below.

Tronsmart_Vega_S89There are quite a few accessories included with the board.

Tronsmart Vega  S89 and Accessories

Tronsmart Vega S89 and Accessories

From left to right: IR remote control (2x AAA batteries not included), HDMI cable, 5V/3A power adapter, Vega S89 TV Box, a micro USB to USB cable, an AV cable, and a user’s manual in English describing the ports, and explaining how to use Android. Interestingly, M8 is sold with a 5V/2A, but Vega S89 manufacturer has decided to play it safe with a 5V/3A power supply.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Ports (Click to Enlarge)

Tronsmart Vega S89 Ports (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s have a closer look of this cylindrical box to checkout the ports at the back. We’ve got the power button, two USB host ports, an AV output (composite + stereo audio), the power jack, an RJ45 Ethernet port, HDMI & optical S/PDIF outputs, a micro SD slot, and a micro USB OTG port. The top of the box is very glossy, and the side matte.

You can have a look at the unboxing video if you wish.

Tronsmart Vega S89 (Elite) Board and Enclosure

To open the box, you need to remove three stick pads at the bottom, and remove 3 screws. That part is easy.

Top of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Top of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

We’ll see AP6210 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz) and its internal antenna, all the various ports, a 8GB Flash chip, and an emplacement for another flash for the 16 GB version. Just like M8 there’s an heatsink on top of the SoC which this time points upwards in the enclosure. The UART pins can be seen just on the right of “Netxeon S82_V2.0_20140304″ markings on the board.

Bottom of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of PCB (Click to Enlarge)

Completely removing the board from the case was a bit more complicated, but by pushing the connector with a screw driver it eventually popped out. There’s nothing really noticeable on the bottom of the PCB, except there’s another thick metallic plate on the bottom of the enclosure. So all S802 based products seems to produce a lot of heat, and require some serious power dissipation measures, unless designers have been especially careful on the Vega S89 and M8.

Amlogic S802 on Tronsmart Vega S89 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Amlogic S802 on Tronsmart Vega S89 Board (Click to Enlarge)

It’s very easy to remove the heatsink from the CPU and RAM, and confirm it’s indeed S802. As I previously mentioned there should be different versions depending on pass-through (S802: No HDMI pass-through support, S802D: HDMI pass-through for Dolby, but not DTS, S802DD or S802H: HDMI pass-through for Dolby and DTS).  We can only see S802 on the SoC, but GeekBuying tested HDMI pass-through on the Vega S89, and reported Dolby (AC3), DTS, DTS-HD HRA, and  DTS-HD MA could work, but Dolby True-HD failed with their receiver only showing 2.1 audio instead of 5.1. This should mean the SoC above is S802DD/S802H.

Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite (shown in this post) is available from GeekBuying for $105, and Vega S89, replacing AP6210 Wi-Fi module with AP6330 dual band Wi-Fi module, and adding 8 GB Flash, for $120. You can also find it for the same price on various stores on Aliexpress.

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Rockchip RK3288 based Android Mini PCs and TV Boxes Are Starting to Show Up (Wholesale)

April 9th, 2014 12 comments

Rockchip RK3288 based devices should be available soon. At the end of last month, I read Pipo was about to introduce RK3288 Tablets at the Hong Kong electronics fair this month, and yesterday I’ve been informed some RK3288 mini PCs and TV Boxes had started to appear on Alibaba.

RK3288 HDMI TV Dongle (D368)

RK3288_mini-pcD368 mini PC is said to come with the following specs according to a product page on Alibaba:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3288 quad core ARM Cortex-A17 with Mali-T7xx 3D GPU (OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 /3.0,and OpenCL 1.1)
  • System Memory - 2GB DDR3  (Optional:1GB)
  • Storage – 8GB NAND Flash (Options: 4GB and 16GB), micro SD card (up to 32GB)
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 1.4a (Resolution 4K and 1080p60 support)
  • Connectivity – Dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and 802.11ac, optional Bluetooth 4.0.
  • Video Codecs
    • Decode – H.265, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4,H.263, H.264, AVS, VC-1, RV, VP6/VP8, Sorenson Spark, MVC
    • Encode – H.264, H.265,VP8, MVC(1080P)
    • Max H.264/H.265 datarate – 60 Mbps
  • Audio Formats -  MP1,MP2,MP3,WMA,WAV,OGG,OGA,APE,FLAC,AAC,M4A,3GPP…etc
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB for power.
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via micro USB
  • Certification – CCC, CE, EMC, FCC, Wi-Fi
  • Dimension – 110 x 40 x 12.9 mm

The dongle comes with a USB cable, an HDMI cable, a power adapter and a user’s manual by default. Options include a Y-type USB cable, a USB to Ethernet cable, an IR remote with an IR receiver (USB), and/or a 2.4GHz RF air mouse. There’s no price available yet.

RK3288 Android TV Box (B368)

RK3288_Android_TV_BoxB368 Android TV Box has the following specs, against according to its page on Alibaba:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3288 quad core ARM Cortex-A17 with Mali-T7xx 3D GPU (OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 /3.0,and OpenCL 1.1)
  • System Memory - 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB NAND Flash, micro SD card (up to 32GB)
  • Output – HDMI 1.4a (Resolution 4K and 1080p60 support), AV (CVBS) via 3.5mm jack
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV jack, 1x optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and 802.11ac with external Wi-Fi antenna, and Bluetooth 4.0.
  • Video Codecs
    • Decode – H.265, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4,H.263, H.264, AVS, VC-1, RV, VP6/VP8, Sorenson Spark, MVC
    • Encode – H.264, H.265,VP8, MVC(1080P)
    • Max H.264/H.265 datarate – 60 Mbps
  • Audio Formats -  MP1,MP2,MP3,WMA,WAV,OGG,OGA,APE,FLAC,AAC,M4A,3GPP…etc
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB  OTG port.
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via micro USB
  • Certification – CCC, CE, EMC, FCC, Wi-Fi
  • Dimension – 142.3 x 108.6 x 21mm

The specs are basically the same as the HDMI TV dongle, expect for the addition of AV output, optical S/PDIF, and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as the different dimensions. Both products are listed by the same company (Shenzhen Tena Electronics), and will run Android 4.4 Kitkat.

This Android TV box comes with an HDMI cable, a composite + stereo cable, an IR remote, a power adapter and a user’s manual by default. Options include an RF air mouse or an RF mouse and keyboard. There’s no price available yet, but AndroidPC.es recently wrote about G20, another upcoming RK3288 TV Box, running Aliyun OS, that should be available soon for 598 CNY, or about $97, in China. This price apparently includes a Wii-like remote. We’ll have to see how the market evolve, but it appears AMLogic S802 (4x A9 + Mali-450) and Rockchip RK3288 (4x A17 + Mali-T764) devices may have similar pricing.

ARM announced the first Cortex A17 based devices should become available in Q1 2015, but products based on Rockchip RK3288 may be available in a few weeks or a couple of months, so I wonder if we could end up with two kinds of RK3288, one with Cortex A12, and the other Cortex A17, as both cores are pretty similar.

Thanks to csgabe for the tip.

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Amazon Launches $99 Fire TV Android Media Player Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad Core SoC

April 3rd, 2014 18 comments

After few months ago, news broke that Amazon was working on an Android STB. The company has now launched Amazon Fire TV media player featuring Qualcomm Snapdragon 8064 quad core Krait processor with 2GB RAM, and supporting Amazon Prime Video, as well as a host of other popular online video and audio streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo, Pandora, and more.

Amazon_Fire_TVLet’s go through the specifications first:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 8064 quad core Krait 300 processor @ 1.7 GHz with Adreno 320 GPU. (Part of Snapdragon 600 family)
  • System Memory – 2GB LPDDR2 @ 533 MHZ
  • Storage – 8 GB internal
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4b output, w/HDCP. Resolution: 720p and 1080p up to 60fps
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical SPDIF
  • Video Codecs -  H.263, H.264, MPEG4-SP, VC1
  • Audio Codecs – AAC, AC-3, E-AC-3, HE-A, PCM, MP3, Dolby Digital Plus, 5.1 surround sound, 2ch Stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual-band/dual-antenna 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (MIMO),  Bluetooth 4.0 (profiles: HID, HFP 1.6, SPP),
  • USB -  1x USB 2.0 host port
  • Dimensions  – 115 mm x 115 mm x 17.5 mm
  • Weight – 281 grams

Amazon also included specs for the “Fire TV Remote” provided with their box:

  • Communication Protocol – Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR with support for the following profiles: HID, HFP 1.6, SPP
  • Buttons – Voice, 5-way Directional, Back, Home, Menu, Rewind, Play/Pause, Fast Forward
  • Dimensions – 38.3 mm x 139.9 mm x 16.1 mm
  • Weight 68 grams with batteries (45.5 grams without batteries)
  • Power – 2x AAA Batteries  (included)

The remote supports voice search thanks to two digital microphones.

Fire TV and Remote Description (Click to Enlarge)

Fire TV and Remote Description (Click to Enlarge)

Amazon Fire TV will come with the aforementioned remote, 2x AAA batteries, a power adapter, and a Quick Start Guide. An optional Game Controller is also available. The device runs FireOS, an highly customized Android firmware based on Android 4.2.

Amazon has also provided a comparison table including Fire TV STB, as well as what the company considers as its main competitors, namely Roku 3, Apple TV and Google ChromeCast.

Amazon Fire TV vs Roku 3 vs Apple TV vs ChomeCast (Click to Enlarge)

Amazon Fire TV vs Roku 3 vs Apple TV vs ChomeCast (Click to Enlarge)

When it comes to hardware, Fire TV is clearly ahead, so if the firmware is right you should have a very smooth experience. Fire TV appears to have support for  most of popular online U.S. video and audio services, lacking only HBO GO, and support for a greater amount of games, but it’s quite likely they put aside some others strong points of the Roku, Apple TV, and ChromeCast. I can’t really comment here, as I have never really looked into Roku or Apple TV in details.

Together with Fire TV launch, Amazon also announced FireTV SDK to let developer brings apps to their new device. All information you need should be available on  Amazon Developer’s Fire TV page.

Fire TV is available and shipping now for just $99 on Amazon (US only), and the Game Controller can also be pre-ordered for $39.99 with shipping scheduled for the 7th of April. You may also get a free 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime when you purchase Fire TV.

Thanks to CSilie for the tip

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Review of Mele X1000 Blu-Ray Android TV Box (Telechips TCC8935)

March 27th, 2014 7 comments

Mele X1000 is an Android media player based on Telechips TCC8935 dual core Cortex A9 that is said to support Blu-ray video playback. You can refer to Mele X1000 specs for more technical details, as well as my previous Mele X1000 Unboxing post for pictures of the device, as well as the PCB.  Today I’ll review Mele X1000, by showing off the user interface, and going through the different settings, test video playback including a Blu-ray ISO, wi-fi performance, and report whether all other features such as Bluetooth, USB mass storage, USB webcam, etc… work as expected.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

This media player comes with an infrared remote and corresponding AAA batteries, but during most the tests I’ve actually switched to Mele F10 RF remote (not included) as it’s just more convenient to navigate menus, and I’ve also test an Android Remote app compatible with the device, but more on that later. After connected an Ethernet cable, the HDMI and AV cable, Mele F10 USB RF dongle, and the power supply, I’ve pressed to power button on the front panel to get started. Boot feels a little slow, and it might take close to one minute to reach the user’s interface shown below.

Multimedia Launcher (Click for Original Size)

Multimedia Launcher (Click for Original Size)

On the top right corner, you’ll get the time, day of the week, and the options to add some system information such as network status with IP address. At the bottom of the screen you’ve got a navigation bar with access to “File”, “Photo”, “Music”, “Movie”, Apps, Settings, and Internet (Android Browser). The first four menu give access to storage devices including SATA hard drive or SSD (not tested), USB flash driver, SD card, and NFS & SAMBA network shares. The app section redirect to the list of Android Apps, which only a few pre-installed, including Google Play. Media applications are IPDTV (not working for me), and XBMC plugins, but XBMC is not installed in this firmware, something I’ve been told would be corrected during mass production. The settings menu gives access to a custom setup menu, and the Android menu.

Movie Menu with Blu-Ray Region Code and Playback Options (Click for Original Size)

Movie Menu with Blu-Ray Region Code and Playback Mode Options (Click for Original Size)

If you do not like the default launcher named “Multimedia Launcher”, you can switch the default Android home screen, or even select a “Pop Up” that will ask you each time. The navigation bar shown above will still be there in the Android Home screen, but you’ll have access to the 5 screens to add apps or widgets, just like in stock Android. I’ve kept the Multimedia Launcher for testing.

I have to admit I’m impressive with the level of options found in the setup menu. There are options about the configure the System. Audio & Video Output, network, movie, music, photo, and access to Android settings. It’s the level of details inside the menu that I found particularly compelling. Since there are so many options, I won’t go through them all in the article, but I’ve shot a video instead.

Some of the goodies include:

  • Language options for system and subtitles
  • Screensaver mode and options
  • Auto power off time
  • HDMI, DVI and Composite output options (640×480 to 1080p60)
  • HDMI, SPDIF, and AV audio output options. Pass-through options with HDMI and SPDIF allows you to select which audio codec (eg . DTS, Dolby) to downsample, and which one to pass-through.
  • YouTube Cache Size configuratin
  • Blu-ray settings (shown in the screenshot above)
  • Power button can be set to suspend or power off the device
  • And many more

I had no problem setting up Wi-Fi and Ethernet, the only thing is that both can’t be enabled at the same time, or Wi-Fi won’t work.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing with the user interface always set to 720p. Component (YPbPr) is not supported, but I tested composite output with success. the only problem is that I’ve been unable to revert to HDMI without doing a factory reset in the menu… A video input button on the IR remote could have been nice.

Mele_X1000_About_DeviceMele X1000 has a 4GB flash, and there’s only one partition on the flash providing 2.29GB of storage, which means it may take a while before apps take all storage. All your medi files woudl have to be in external device with as USB drives, SATA hard drives, and network shares, whch I think is just fine for this type of device. Developer Options are enabled with lots of different options. Looking into the “About device” section shows the device name is  “MeLE″, and it’s running Android 4.2.2 with Kernel 3.1.10

The firmware is not rooted, and I have not tried to find a root method yet. I could install all applications I tried including ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, Racing thunder 2, Sixaxis Controller, YouTube, Facebook etc…, except for one: Netflix, which did not show up in the search results. The apps I tried could run fine, except Quadrant with refused to start the tests.

As explained above, the power button on the front panel and the remote control can be used to put the device in suspend mode, or turn it off depending on the settings. This is possible thanks to an MCU that control power, IR, and the small LCD display, which appears to be more or less useless, as all I have seen is the power icon.

The firmware is relatively stable, but since the processor is only a dual core clocked at up to 1GHz, you may not want to do anything else while installing apps, as there’s a noticeable slowdown. For the rest of the time, it’s pretty smooth. There’s an animation between the main menu, which looks nice at first, but last about 3 seconds and becomes annoying overtime. During my testing, the Multimedia Launcher crashed three times, requiring a reboot.

TizzRemote App

In the Quick Start Guide, there’s mention of AirlinkMedia, an Android app to transform your smartphone or tablet into a remote control. They explain to look for it in Google Play, but there’s nothing there. The company finally then me a link to AirLinkRemote which failed to find my Mele. But previously, I found a QR code in the setup menu directing to TizzRemote, which immediately found my device, and allowed me to access control the files on the devices, and play YouTube videos. This also probably means the firmware and software has been developed by TizzBird, a Korean company specialized in Telechips products.

TizzMote App Screenshots (Click to Enlarge)

TizzMote App Screenshots (Click to Enlarge)

This remote app works pretty well, and you have access to files from your device or your phone. The files from the phone will only play in the phone however, where the files in the Mele will play on your TV. There are also remote and mouse modes, that allow you to use the touchscreen of your phone as a touchpad, and with buttons providing video playback trick modes. When I tried to input text using the soft keyboard on the phone, it would just show the previous letter twice on the TV. For example, test would show up as ttss, so basically unusable. The YouTube app is very similar to ChromeCast or EZCast, as you can search and play YouTube videos streaming directly to your box, but controlled by your phone. The YouTube videos I tried seemed to skip frames however.

Video Playback

As there’s an XBMC logo on the package, and at the bottom of the device itself, I expect to find XBMC, but all I could access was XBMC Plugin app. I’ve been told they will ship boxes to customer with XBMC Frodo V12, and I could just install this version. since XBMC Android is currently a mess, with different version depending on the device, I was not hopeful, and I tried to install the latest Frodo V12.3 apk, it could run and play videos, but it’s obvious it was just using software decode. I’ve asked the actual apk, and still waiting… So the only solution was to use the default user interface. I usually play from a SAMBA share, and configuration went smoothly, as the device automatically found the share, and entered the username and password, and success! Or so I was told because I never managed to see any files from my SAMBA share. I also tried with NFS, but same results. I tried to use ES File Explorer, which could connect to my SAMBA share, but it was clearly not using the internal player (required for Blu-Ray), and only the Android video player.  At this point I was quite frustrated. I was given a device promising XBMC, but without XBMC, and  it could not even be used as a networked media player. End of story, I used an 8GB Class 4 SD card to do video playback testing.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – Failed. “Unsupported video codec”
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Black screen only
  • WebM / VP8 – Skip test. “File” and “Movie” menus can’t find .webm video files.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Failed. “Could not play video”
  • 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

I don’t own an audio system with HDMI or S/PDIF input, but the box could play all high-end audio codec below (downsampled to PCM) without any issues:

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

HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through should work as well, since there’s an option in the menu, but this has to be tested.

Since the product is being advertised as a Blu-ray Navigation Android TV Box, I could play Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, without issue. I could also change the subtitles. I’m not sure how to test “Blu-ray Navigation”. I’ve asked the company at the beginning of the week, but I still have to receive an answer.

Finally, I played some random AVI, MKV, and MP4 videos without any problems. I also tried some FLV videos but many could not play well, either complaining about “unsupported codec”, or producing noise (audio).

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

I’ve transferred a 278 MB video files between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa. I repeated the test three times, and on average it took a cool 1:48 (2.57 MB/s), which makes Mele X1000′s Wi-Fi performance one of the best in the field, at least with my setup. This time the transfer rate in the direction Flash to SAMBA was faster (1:32) compared to the one from SAMBA to Flash (1:56). The SD card writing speed may have affected the result negatively.

Mele_X1000_WiFi_PerformancePlease bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be completely different than the ones I’ve gotten here.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

There’s no built-in Bluetooth, but Bluetooth menu is enabled in the Android settings, so I connected a USB Bluetotoh dongle, which the device failed to recognize.

External Storage

I’ve used an SD card formatted with FAT32 to play videos that hat part works. I’ve also done the same successfully with a USB flash drive. At one point I used an SD card for the Raspberry Pi, and it could only see the FAT32 partition, so either the device can’t handle more than 2 partitions on a device, or it can’t handle ext-2 file systems.

There’s also an external SATA port, but I don’t have a spare 2.5″ drive to test it.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with both Skype and Google Hangouts. Video is working in both apps, and the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat the recording.

Gaming

I’ve tested 4 games: Angry Birds, Angry Birds Go,  Candy Crush Saga, and Racing Thunder 2. They could all run fine. You can play these with the included remote control,. but with Mele F10, this is playable, except the racing games which are more challenging. You could always Candy Crush Saga with TizzRemote, but this requires some practice (and maybe luck), using two fingers on your screen. However, with this rather low end processor, this is obviously not the best gaming platform.

Mele X1000 (and Telechips TCC8935) Benchmarks

Since this is a complete new processor to me, I’ve started by running CPU-Z to get some data.

Mele_X1000_TCC8935_CPU-ZBeside the CPU details, interesting part of the model name (full_tcc8930st) which could be used to build the kernel, there’s only 741MB RAM available, which mens the GPU and other part of the hardware take about 280 MB, and the manufacturer is said to be DigitalZone Co.Ltd & ChipAlive Co Ltd. instead of MeLE. This could be a mistake, as Mele does have their own factory.

I ran Antutu 4.x, Quadrant and Vellamo to test the system performance. Quadrant failed to start the full benchmark, but other two completed successfully.

Mele_X1000_Antutu

Mele X1000 scores 9,002 in Antutu whichseems reasonable as RK3188 devices with four Cortex A9 @ 1.6 GHz, and a Mali-400MP4 now get aroud 18,000. However, please note that the 2D/3D GPU testsAntutu were performed in portrait mode using only the center of te screen (526×672 resolution) which could have inflated the graphics results. MeLE X1000 is listed just under Samsung Galaxy S2 (Exynos 4210), which about 1,000 less points.

In Vellamo, the media player got 1118 points in the HTML5 test, and 285 in the metal test, placing Mele X1000 at about the same level as the Galaxy Nexus powered by Texas Instruments OMAP4460, another dual core Cortex A9 processor.

There’s nothing unusual about the performance of the device for a dual core processor. This won’t give you an optimal performance for Android, but for what the device specializes in, i.e. video playback, it should be just good enough.

Conclusion

There’s no need to hide than I’m disappointed by the device, not because of performance, but simply because the current firmware has so many shortcomings that it real feels beta. Having said that Mele X1000 feels like a solid device thanks to its metallic casing, SATA support, Blu-ray ISO playback, and excellent Wi-Fi performance.

Let’s summarize the PRO and CONS

  • PROS
    • Metallic enclosure
    • SATA port
    • Outstanding Wi-Fi performance
    • Blu-Ray ISO support
    • High level of details and configuration options in the setup menu
    • Decent Android Remote App
    • USB Webcam support
  • CONS
    • Multimedia launcher somewhat unstable
    • SAMBA and NFS currently not working
    • Some videos can’t play. Potential skipped frame in YouTube
    • External Bluetooth does not work
    • XBMC not pre-installed in this firmware (Mass production unit will come with XBMC)

Mele X1000 is currently sold for $179 including shipping, which is quite expensive considering the firmware status, but if everything works, it may be worth it if you plan to play Blu-Ray videos, and have a surround audio sub system. I can see good potential as a media player, but in the first few months, Mele’s customer may spend some time working out the bug, and will rely on Mele to provide firmware update to fix issues. If you don’t plan to play Blu-Ray ISO or rips, and will spend more time playing around wih other Android apps, you’d be better off with some cheaper and more powerful TV BOX, in terms of CPU and GPU performance, such as the many based on Rockchip RK3188.

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$65 Cheerlink B712 and B716 Android Media Players Powered by Actions Semi ATM7029

February 25th, 2014 4 comments

Actions Semi ATM7029 is a quad core ARM Cortex A5 class SoC usually found in low cost Android tablets. A manufacturer, which might be Egotronics, has decided to make Android STBs with the processor, and B712 and B716 are now sold for about $65 on dx.com under the brand Cheerlink. This price should make them one of the cheapest full size quad core Android TV boxes on the market, albeit with much lower performance compared to devices based on Rockchip RK3188 or AllWinner A31.

Cheerlink_B712

Cheerlink B712

Cheerlink B712/B716 specifications:

  • SoC – Actions Semi ATM7029 Quad Core ARM Cortex A5 @ 1.2 GHz with Vivante GC1000 Plus GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB SDRAM DDR3 (512MB as an option)
  • Storage – 4 GB NAND Flash (8GB/16GB as options) + microSD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 1.4A, AV (3.5mm jack)
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • USB – 2x USB host ports
  • Power Supply – DC 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 16 x 11.8 x 2.4 cm (B712), 15.7 x 10.6 x 2.4 cm (B716)
  • Weight – 552 g (B712), 547.7 g (B716). Note: this must be the package weight…

Both media players run Android 4.2.2, and are said to support Google Play, and features like Miracast or DLNA. They are sold with an IR remote (2x AAA batteries not included), HDMI and AV cables, and a universal power adapter.

Cheerlink_B716

Cheerlink B716 (Back)

In terms of performance, you should expect about half the score of RK3188 in popular CPU and GPU benchmark. I could well be that these media players have a performance similar to Android TV Boxes based on Rockchip RK3066. In theory, power consumption may be lower. AFAIK, there’s no Linux source code available for ATM7029, but hackability would be limited too.

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