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CuBoxTV is a $100 OpenELEC TV Box Powered by Freescale i.MX6 Quad SoC

November 26th, 2014 6 comments

Last year, Solidrun launched their Cubox-i mini PCs powered by Freescale i.MX6 single, dual or quad core processor, and running Debian, OpenSUSE, Android 4.4, or various XBMC based Linux distributions. The company has now announced a new product called CuboxTV, that on surface looks similar to their Cubox-i4Pro mini PC with a quad core processor, but instead of running Linux desktop distributions, or Android, it’s pre-loaded with OpenELEC Linux distribution running Kodi 14.

CuboxTVCuboxTV specifications:

  • SoC – Freescale i.MX6 Quad with four Cortex A9 core up to 1GHz, and Vivante GC2000 3D GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB SDRAM @ 1066 MHz
  • Storage – 8GB internal storage + micro SD interface
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4b, 3D support
  • Video Decoders – MPEG-4 ASP, XVID, H.264 HP, H.263, MPEG-2 MP, MJPEG BP, VP8, Sorenson-H263.
  • Video Encoders –  MPEG-4 SP, H.264 BP, H.263, MJPEG BP
  • Image Codecs – JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG.
  • Audio Decoders – AAC, AACPlus, MP3, Vorbis, FLAC, audio encoder SBC, MP3, speech codecs G.723.1, G.726, G.711, G.729AB, NB/WB AMR.
  • Audio Encoders – SBC, MP3.
  • Speech Codecs – G.723.1, G.726, G.711, G.729AB,NB/WB AMR.
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (Limited to 470 Mbps)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host port
  • Misc – IR receiver
  • Power – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions – 5.08 x 5.08 x 5.08 cm
CuboxTV_Kodi_Linux_OpenELEC

CuboxTV, or is it Cubox-i4?

The picture above can be found on CuboxTV product page, but it’s probably a picture of Cubox-i4Pro, as CuboxTV lacks the eSATA port, and the micro USB “service” port (for serial console) according to specifications listed by SolidRun. Other differences include lack of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity, and 1GB RAM instead of 2GB RAM.

So CuboxTV has been optimized to provide a cost effective solution dedicated to media playback, and while Cubox-i4Pro sells for $139.99, CuboxTV goes for $99.99 during the pre-sale period (first two weeks?), and $124.99 thereafter.

Via Liliputing and Harley.

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Unboxing of Cloud Media Open Hour Chameleon Android Media Player

November 24th, 2014 9 comments

Cloud Media (previously Syabas) recently announced Open Hour Chameleon Android media player powered by Rockchip RK3288 processor. Compared to the many competing solutions based on Rockchip’s quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor, Open Hour comes with a metallic case to provide better casing, and instead of coming with internal NAND or eMMC flash, they provide a bootable SD card (Class 10) pre-loaded with Android 4.4.2, and they also have a preliminary Lubuntu image. They also recommend to use SPMC for video playback as “going forward, Rockchip will fully support SPMC instead of their custom Kodi”. Before writing the full review, I’ll show some pictures of the device, and take it apart to check out the hardware and their thermal dissipation solution.

Open Hour Chameleon Unboxing

I’ve received the box by Fedex in the following package.
Cloud_Media_OpenHour_Chameleon_PackageThey list the key features on the top of the box namely RK3288, XBMC,  Android Kitkat, H.265/HEVC codec, and 4K UHD support. On the bottom of the package, the specifications are listed in several European languages, and they have hidden 2.0 in HMDI 2.0, which probably means the box only supports HDMI 1.4 (up to 4K 30 Hz), but it’s not something I’ll b able to test since I don’t own a 4K UHD TV.

OpenHour_Chameleon_Accessories

Open Hour and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

The device comes with an Infrared remote control with IR learning function, two AAA batteries for the remote, a 8GB class 10 SD card pre-loaded with Android 4.4, an HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power supply, a quick start guide, and a warranty card. The quick start guide lists the content of the box, links to the box’ Wiki, Forum, and Support, explains that you must connect the box to your HDMI TV (doh!), shows how to use the IR remote control learning function so that you can use it with both the box and your TV. [Update: the final quick start guide will be different]

OpenHour Chameleon (Click to Enlarge)

OpenHour Chameleon (Click to Enlarge)

The box is entirely made of aluminum, and comes with two LEDs and the IR receiver window at the front, an SD card slot (for OS), and a USB 2.0 host port on one side, with most ports being available at the back of the enclosure: an optical S/PDIF output, a seldom found coaxial S/PDIF output, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an USB 2.0 port, a micro USB OTG port, a micro SD slot, HDMI output, yet another USB 2.0 host port, an On/Off switch, and the power jack.

If you prefer watching an unboxing video, here it is…

Open Hour Chameleon Board and Enclosure Pictures

Contrary to other boxes, you need to use a “standard” screwdriver, i.e. not a precision screwdriver, to open the box,. There are four screws on the bottom of the enclosure, and two on the rear panel. After you’ve removed the first four screws, you can slide the bottom panel.

Bottom of OpenHour Chameleon Board

Bottom of Open Hour Chameleon Board

The only noticeable item on the bottom of the PCB is the micro SD slot. There’s also a sticker with the MAC address, which starts with 00:06:DC which belongs to … Syabas. So it looks like Cloud Media (Syabas) is indeed which has designed the box, and it’s not one of these companies that take a design from a company, re-brand it, and (sometimes) provide some extra support.Let’s untighten the four screws holding the board, and take out the rear panel. But when I try to pull the board out of the box, I feel some resistance.

openhour_chameleon_thermal_designThat’s because they’ve really done a proper thermal design, and contrary to many companies they don’t use a metallic case, and leave a big gap of air between hot chips and the enclosure, but instead the board is actually connected to the case. Big shock! It’s the first time I see a proper thermal design with an Android TV box!

OpenHour_RK3288 Board and Enclosure / Heatsink (Click to Enlarge)

Open Hour_RK3288 Board and Enclosure / Heatsink (Click to Enlarge)

I can finally take the board out by pulling a little stronger. You can clearly see the aluminum heatsink screwed to the metallic enclosure, and a thermal pad between the heatsink, and a metallic shield use to dissipate heat and maybe? for EMC purposes. I’ve taken the shield out gently with a precision screwdriver, but you’d really better avoid doing this, or do it with plastic parts.

OpenHour Board (Click to Enlarge)

Open Hour Board (Click to Enlarge)

The board is named OPENHOUR_3288_V1.1, so it has definitely been designed by Cloud Media, or at least for the company, and manufactured/designed on 2014/09/15. You’ll also notice the thermal pads on top of the shield to provide thermal conductivity with Rockchip RK3288 SoC, and the four DDR3 chips (SK Hynix H5TQ4G63AFR) providing 2GB RAM. The serial pins (GTR) are available between the IR receiver and LEDs on the bottom left of the board. The board can support eMMC flash, but the company chose instead to boot the device from an SD card. There’s also some unpopulated zones on the left of the board, but I’m not sure what these may be for. The PMIC is Active Semi 8846QM, the Gigabit Ethernet transceiver is a Realtek one, but I forgot to note the part number. There’s no Wi-Fi/Bt module, so if you want Wi-Fi or Bluetooth you’ll need to use a wireless USB dongle.

That’s all for today. I’ll write the review with Android in a few days or next week, and I’ll probably give a try at there Lubuntu image too in a separate post.

Open Hour Chameleon is available for $149 on Cloud Media Store. Shipping is scheduled for December 5, 2014, but it’s actually their 7th batch, so quite a few Chameleons have already been shipped. I could also find it on Ebay, and if you live in German it’s listed on Amazon DE for 159 Euros. Cloud Media also sells a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module for $21.90.

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MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Supports H.265 4K UHD Video, Gigabit Ethernet with Amlogic S812 Processor

November 20th, 2014 6 comments

MINIX has now announced an updated version of their MINIX NEO X8-H android media player simply called MINIX NEO X8-H Plus, replacing Amlogic S802 by Amlogic S812, which brings support for video playback of H.265 / HEVC videos up to 4K resolution, and Gigabit Ethernet. The Wi-Fi module also appears to been upgraded to support 802.11ac.

MINIX_NEO_X8_Plus

The rest of the specifications are exactly the same as NEO X8-H:

  • SoC – Amlogic S812 quad core cortex A9r4 @ 2 GHz with Mali-450MP6 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC + SD/MMC card reader
  • Connectivity – 10/100/1000M Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 fps, with CEC support
  • Audio Output / Input – HDMI, 3.5mm stereo jacks for speakers and microphone, optical S/PDIF
  • Video Container Formats – DAT, MPEG, MPE, MPG, TS/TP, VOB, ISO, AVI, MP4, MOV, 3GP, FLV, MKV, M2TS, MTS, M4V, WMV, ASF, RM/RMVB, etc…
  • Video Codecs – MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, VC-1, H.265, etc…
  • Audio Formats – MP2, MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, OGA, FLAC, ALAC, APE, AAC, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, and DTS
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB port
  • Misc – IR receiver.
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions – 12.8 x 12.8 x 2.1 cm
  • Weight – 340 grams

Accessories also appears to be the same: 5V/3A power adapter (1.80m cable), a short OTG cable (23cm), a micro USB cable (1m), an HDMI cable (1.02m), a Wi-Fi antenna, an IR remote control, and an English user’s manual. There’s also M1 air mouse and its USB receiver included in the package.

The device runs Android 4.4.2, and I’ve been told it would ship next week (Monday). I hope the firmware is better than the current version available for M8S, as I’ve had to postpone my review due to too many issues, including one hardware (power supply) related problem.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus currently sells for about $159 including shipping [Update: X8HPCN coupon will lower the price to $146.99], instead of $149 for NEO X8-H. I got the information via Gearbest, but it’s also available for purchase on GeekBuying, and Ebay for now.

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MINIX NEO X6 Media Hub Review

November 18th, 2014 5 comments

Last week-end, I took a few pictures of MINIX NEO X6 media hub, and had a look at the company’s firmware and forum support which indeed seems to be good. Today, I’ve completed the full review of MINIX NEO X6, and I will compare it to two of its lower priced competitors: MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The IR remote control works fine, including continuous up ad down pressing, but I switched to using Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, a micro SD card, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, a USB flash drive, and a UVC webcam. I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button on the side of the box, but nothing happened at first… You have to press the button one second or more to start the box, then the blue LED turns off, a MINIX logo show ups, a few seconds later a short MINIX animation, and the first screen greets you asking to choose between “Launcher” and “MINIX METRO”, respectively the default Android home screen, or MINIX customized user interface. The boot takes about 1 minutes and 30 seconds. By comparison MXQ S85 takes a little over 40 seconds, and EM6Q-MXQ about 1m 50s.

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

The status bar is hidden by default, and I simply pulled it up with the mouse pointer to take a screenshot. But before carrying on with the review, I noticed the company released Firmware 002 for MINIX NEO X6, so I decided to check the Update app in Android (on Monday), but the new firmware was not on the update server.  I even asked if they had a schedule to push the OTA update, but I did not receive an answer in time for the review. So instead, I used the standard firmware update method which involves USB Burning Tool for Windows, and pressing the recovery button. I was a pain, I did it in VirtualBox, but after one error, it finally successfully updated the firmware.

Back to the review. For some reasons, my TV resolution was automatically detected to be at 720p60, so i changed the settings to 1080p60 manually. I’ve noticed that switching to 720p still keep the user interface to 1920×1080 resolution, so there’s no performance gain doing so.

The Settingd menu is based on the same Metro-style interface found in most Amlogic boxes, but with MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted the differences with MXQ-S85 in bold, and crossed the deleted options.

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, or 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz
    • CVBS Mode Setting: 480 CVBS or 576 CVBS (if Composite output selected on TV).
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Screen Save (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control
    • Google TV Remote
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • No Output to USB Audio
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

CVBS and S/PDIF options have been removed since those two ports are not available in MINIX NEO X6, and they rightly removed the “Location for weather” because the services only works for Chinese cities. “No Output to USB Audio” is enabled by default, and it’s probably there to avoid audio capable air mouse, such as Mele F10 Pro, to takeover HDMI audio output automatically.

I’ve made a video to show MINIX NEO X6 user interface, system settings, as well as H.265 video playback and automatic refresh rate switching which both work in XBMC 13.3.3 MINIX Edition.

About_MINIX_NEO_X6MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB eMMC flash with a single 5.32GB partition, with a little under 4GB free by the end of my review. The model number is reported as being “NEO-X86″ in “About MediaBox” section, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I have not rooted it, but since a USB cable is provided for the OTG port, and the firmware upgrade procedure worked, it should be able to root the device.

I had no problem installing apps with Google Play Store including the something problematic Vidonn Smartband app, a paid app, and messenger apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp) which would not install in MXQ S85 TV Box. I’ve also installed Amazon AppStore, in order to test Riptide GP2.

MXQ S85 could not be powered off cleanly, but MINIX NEO X6 has no such problem. The power button on the side of the box is used to power it on (need to press 1 second or more), and the remote control or the soft power button in the status bar are used to pop-up a menu to let your “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. The only downside is that you can turn on the media player with the remote control, and you have to get up to press the power button on the device. It must be the coolest device I ever tested (no pun intended), the maximum temperature measured after Antutu 5.2 was 37°C and 45°C respectively on the top and bottom of the box.  After playing Riptide GP2 for nearly 30 minutes, the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 40°C and 46°C.

MINIX NEO X6 firmware is rock solid, as during my testing I did not experience any noticeable slowdown, crash, or freeze. One game did fail to load once, but at the second attempt it worked just fine. For some reasons, I also had problems to connect the SAMBA shared in XBMC at first, but finally I could connect. I never had the message “app not responding” pops up like in MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Firmware 002 comes with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, but I saw they have XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition recently released with automatic refresh rate switching, something I only heard was possible in Linux so far (with ARM hardware), and better support for .ts files. So I installed it to give it a try. The 1080p XBMC user interface is rendered at about 30 fps with this hardware. Normally, I’d play video from a SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04, but for some reasons I got the message “Connection Refused”, albeit I got it working just fine with ES File Explorer. So most of the video test were made from a USB hard drive.

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • 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) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time, and audio is cut.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – OK, but it’s not possible to seek in the file.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also successfully tested automatic refresh rate switching with the HEVC / 1080p video @ 24 fps, where my TV output 1080p24 automatically, and reverts to 1080p60 after I interrupt video playback.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • 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, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped and dropped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Next are some videos with high definition audio codec:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK, but I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the 7.1 video.
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – Audio is OK, I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the video.

Sintel-Bluray.iso played OK in XBMC, so Blu–Ray ISO files are supported.

As with other Amlogic S805 based Android TV boxes, AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 videos could all play fine, without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, and no issue here either. So overall, video playback capabilities of NEO X6 are quite impressive.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

A 278 MB file is transferred between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, to test the network performance, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is very good @ 3.01 MB/s on average, about the same as MXQ-S85, but not not quite as fast as the outstanding Wi-Fi performance of EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet worked fine at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance a little better than other Amlogic S805 players.

MINIX_NEO_X6_SAMBA_Flash_Copy

Throughput in MB/s

I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, to get a raw Ethernet performance number, and it confirms NEO X6 is still the best in its category (S805 boxes have green dots):

MINIX_NEO_X6_iPerf

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.105, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 48372 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   625 MBytes  87.4 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   564 MBytes  78.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth file transfer works as expected. MINIX NEO X6 is advertized as “m201″, and I did not experience any issues while transferring pictures from my Android phone to the box.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, as the device is not rooted, and I did not try to root it.

I used Vidonn X5 fitness band to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE), but the app could locate the smartband.

Storage

USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT21 could be accessed by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions were completely ignored as usual.

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

USB hard drive and internal flash performance were tested with A1 SD Bench app. The read speed was 18.87 MB/s, and the write speed 22.37MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sdb1). Both results are not very good, but equivalent to what I got with MXQ S85, yet much slower than EM6Q-MXQ.

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

MINIX claims to have use an eMMC flash with NEO X6, and the benchmark results indeed shows its the fastest S805 device when its comes to internal storage read and write speeds, achieving respectively 23.23 MB/s (read) and 9.95 MB/s (write), which makes sure the apps load a bit faster. Boot should also be faster, but for some reasons it’s not the case, at least against MXQ S85.

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

USB Webcam

I could make an audio call with Skype using the “Echo Service”, and the webcam was recognized and working, but although I could record a video message, it would never show up, and I could not share it with my contact. Google Hangouts also recognizes the USB webcam, but the image freezes a lot, so it’s currently unusable.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga was responsive enough, and I crushed candy with my air mouse. I used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. Beach Buggy Blitz exited while loading the first time, but after that it worked. The quad core Mali-450 GPU is powerful enough to handle this game at a decent frame rate with the default settings (low graphics settings), even at 1080p. The system struggles a bit more with Riptide GP2, but changing the graphics quality to “Smoother Framerate” improve the user experience. I played several races waiting for the usual freeze in Riptide GP2 on Amlogic devices, but I decided to give after the 7th races (about 30 minutes), as the game was still running good. I’m not sure if Amlogic or MINIX did something to the firmware, or Vector Unit changed something in their game.

3D games are working and, NEO X6 appears to be more stable than other Amlogic devices, but if gaming is important to you, you should still consider a faster devices based on Rockchip RK3288 processor for instance.

MINIX NEO X6 CPU-Z & Antutu Benchmark

I failed to have a look at the board in MINIX NEO X6 unboxing post, but CPU-Z provides some interesting insights, which could explain some of the close results with MXQ S85 in several benchmarks above. The model number is reported as NEO X6 (m201), whereas MXQ-S85 was reported as S85 (m201). At first I thought the board could be virtually the same, except MINIX took out S/PDIF, and replaced a standard NAND flash, by an eMMC flash, but the connectors placement are quite different, so they must really be different, and I’m not sure what m201 means in this case.

MINIX_NEO_X6_CPU-Z

The media hub gets 1716,448 points in Antutu 5.2, which is a bit faster than the scores achieved by EM6Q-MXQ (16,647), and MXQ S85 (16,448), mostly because the CPU is clocked at 1,536 MHz instead of 1,488 MHz, and faster I/Os.

MINIX_NEO_X6_Antutu

Conclusion

There’s no doubt MINIX NEO X6 is a good device. Firmware is very stable, I did not experience slowdowns, video playback is excellent, with rare features like H.265 support in XBMC, and automatic refresh rate switching, Ethernet and Wi-Fi both offer good throughput, 3D games won’t hang like in most Amlogic boxes, and the main downside is probably the rather poor USB / NTFS read and write performance, which becomes an issue in case you have very high bit rate videos (120 Mbps+) stored on a USB hard drive.

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and relatively fast (considering the processor involved)
  • Excellent XBMC support including H.265/HEVC support, and automatic refresh rate switching.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz)
  • 3D games play without issues. (Performance is not optimal however due to the GPU/CPU)
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • OTA firmware update
  • Webcam works with Skype
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy / Smart is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade connects to server, but firmware files may not be uploaded to the update server in a timely manner. (TBC)
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Google Hangouts.
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Lacks optical S/PDIF output
  • Relatively slow boot time (1m30s) despite eMMC flash

MINIX NEO X6 media hub is clearly a better device compared to the low cost MXQ S85 and EMQ6-MXQ media players, albeit its outperformed in some individuals tests. Overall, there are less issues, XBMC runs better, and if support and regular firmware updates, probably for a year based on experience with previous MINIX devices, are important to you, it could be worth paying double price to buy MINIX NEO X6 instead of MXQ S85. For $100, you could also buy one of the many Rockchip RK3288 media player, and if video playback is not your focus, web browsing and gaming will be much faster, but if your main usage will be to play 1080p videos, including with the latest HEVC/H.265, NEO X6 capabilities are greater than on any of the RK3288 TV boxes I’ve tested so far. Devices based on Amlogic S812 will also be an option, in theory providing both the same excellent video playback (up to 4K), and much faster CPU/GPU performance, but it’s something I’ll test soon.

Tinydeal provided the sample for this review, and if are interested in the device, you could buy  MINIX NEO X6 for $99.99 including shipping on Tinydeal.  It is quite popular. so it can be found on many online resellers including DealExtreme, Amazon, Pandawill, GeekBuying, etc…

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Unboxing of MINIX NEO X6 Android Media Hub

November 15th, 2014 No comments

MINIX is a Hong Kong company known for its NEO series Android media players, which are a bit more expensive that the company, but the hardware and especially support is supposed to be better, justifying the higher price. I had never tried it a MINIX device, but thanks to Tinydeal I now have MINIX NEO X6 powered by Amlogic S805 quad core processor, with 1GB RAM, and 8GB eMMC, so I’ll soon be able to find out if the praises for the company are justified, or simply hyped. Today, I’ll take some pictures of the devices, and try to open it to check out the hardware, before writing a full review in a few days, and compare it a much cheaper device like MXQ S85.

MINIX NEO X6 Unboxing Photos

The parcel was sent by Singapore Posts so it took a couple of weeks to be delivered.

MINIX_NEO_X6_package
The device is stored in a MINIX branded black, grey, and green pakage, listed the key features of the bo (H.265 1080p video playback, XBMC, Android 4.4…), and the full list of specifications.

Minix_NEO_X6_Accessories
The box comws with a simple IR remote control (2x AAA batteries required), an HDMI cable, a USB cable, a 5V/2 power adapter (US) with EU plug adapter, a product brochure, and a setup guide in English, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.

MINIX NEO X6 (Click to Enlarge)

MINIX NEO X6 (Click to Enlarge)

MINIX NEO XEO features an external high gain Wi-Fi antenna. An IR receiver window and power LED can be found on the front panel, a power button, micro SD card slot, and two USB 2.0 host ports on one side of the enclosure, and the rear panel features a headphone jack, an HDMI video output, a 10/100M Ethernet (RJ45) port, and the power jack (5V). So compared to MXQ S85, MINIX NEO X6 adds an external antenna, but replace the AV port with a stereo audio port, and lacks optical S/PDIF output, and a micro USB OTG port.

Unboxing video:

MINIX NEO X6 Board Pictures

In order to open the box, you need to remove four rubber pads, and untighen four screws… Unfortunately, the screws are tightened extremely firmly, and I had to use a precision screwdriver together with a pliers, and managed to remove two screws, but destroyed the two others in the process. So I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to show pictures of the board for this device…

MINIX Support

To compensate for the lack of internal pictures, I’ve decided to have a look at MINIX support when it comes to firmware, software and support forums. MINIX NEO X6 is pretty new, so instead I’ve check the number of firmware updates they’ve made for their older MINIX NEO X5, but checking directly on their Download page.

MINIX_NEO_X5_FirmwareNEO X5 was released in March 2013, and the company provided a total of eight firmware updates for the device, over a period of one year, with the latest update being released on March 2014, so it’s pretty safe to assume there won’t be any more updates now, but they’ve provided updates for a year, which is better than most other devices on the market. Now, I’m expecting manufacturers to provide OTA updates, but that’s something we’ll find out in the review.

You’ll also notice XBMC MINIX Edition is in the list of downloads.  It’s an optimized version of XBMC, and the latest beta iteration XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition even supports automatic refresh rate switching, e.g. if a video is encoded @ 25 fps, video output will switch to 1080p25, at 60 fps to 1080p60 and so on, something that was only possible in Linux until recently. However, MINIX may not comply with the GPL license with this version, as I could not find any source code (TBC).

Finally, I had a look at MINIX NEO X6 support forum, and people reports issues like HDMI-CEC not working, H.265 not supported in XBMC, etc… which is sort of normal for new devices, but MINIX team and the community at large appear to be respond to most requests, and committed to fix users’ issues.

So based on this quick analysis, I find reasonable to pay a little more for this support, but to justify the $50 extra you have to pay for the MINIX NEO X6, the hardware and firmware needs to be better than the competition, we’ll see soon.

I’d like to thanks Tinydeal for providing the sample, and you could consider buying MINIX NEO X6 for $99.99 including shipping from them, if you want the device. Since MINIX NEO X6 is quite popular it can be found on many online resellers such as DealExtreme, Amazon, Pandawill, GeekBuying, and so on.

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Rikomagic to Launch MK80 and MK12 TV Boxes based on Allwinner A80 and Amlogic S812 Processors

November 11th, 2014 9 comments

There’s a three processors fight right now in the Android mini PC market with Rockchip RK3288, Allwinner A80, and Amlogic S802/S812 SoCs. All have their own strength and weaknesses, and have about the same performance, but so far I like Rockchip RK3288 for 3D gaming, Amlogic S802 and S812 for video playback, and Allwinner A80 for its possibly better potential to run Linux desktop distributions (TBC). Rikomagic have already been selling Rikomagic MK902 II powered by Rockchip RK3288 processor for a little while, and they’ve now announced two new upcoming products: MK80 with Allwinnert A80, and MK12 with Amlogic S812.

Rikomagic MK80 and MK80 Plus

Rikomagic_MK80Preliminary and probably incomplete product specifications:

  • SoC – AllWinner Ultra Core A80 4x Cortex 15 @ 2016 MHz, 4x Cortex A7  @ 1320 MHz big.LITTLE processor with Imagination Technologies PowerVR GC6230 GPU with support for OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0/3.0, Directx 9.3
  • System Memory – 2GB (MK80), or 4GB (MK80 Plus) RAM
  • Storage – 16 GB (MK80) or 32GB (MK80 Plus) eMMC + external SATA port (via a USB 2.0 bridge) + micro SD up to 64GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 + AV port
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac with external antenna, Bluetooth 4.0 (TBC)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 2x USB 2.0 ports.
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A

The board will run Android Kitkat, and they also claim 4K2K H.265 support, which is probably a mistake, since Allwinner only claims H.265 support up to 1080p30, and the codec is not even listed in Allwinner A80 datasheet, contrary to H.264, VC-1 and others. And in my Draco AW80 review, another Allwinner A80 box, none of my H.265 videos could play with H/W decoded in either Kodi or MX Player. So H.265 support @ 2160p is not something I would expect to be possible with Allwinner A80, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong. MK80 and MK80 Plus specifications match exactly the one for Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta and Telos mini PCs, so I would not be surprised if they were based on the same Sunchip board.

Rikomagic MK12

Rikomagic_MK12Technical specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S812 quad core cortex A9r4 @ 2 GHz with octa-core Mali-450MP6 GPU @ 600+ MHz
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (AP6330)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K2K @ 30 Hz
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG
  • Power Supply – 5V/2.5A
  • Dimensions – 116 x 112 x 18.91 mm

MK12 will run Android 4.4 Kitkat, and support 4K2K H.265 video codec. It’s also the first Amlogic TV box I’ve seen that feature the promised Gigabit Ethernet port, so let’s hope that part is correct. The box will ship with an HDMI cable, a USB cable, a power supply, a remote control, and a user’s manual in English.

Pricing and availability information is not available for either MK80 or MK12 for now.

[Update: There’s also MK05 with Amlogic S805, and product pages for MK80 and MK12 are now up]

Via Google+ Mini PC community and China Gadget Reviews.

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Unboxing of Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta mini PC Powered by AllWinner A80 Processor

November 7th, 2014 20 comments

GeekBuying sent me a sample of their Tronsmart Draco AW80 mini PC powered by Allwinner A80 octa core processor. I’ve received the Meta version with 2GB RAM, and 16GB eMMC, but next month Telos version will ship with 4GB RAM and 32GB eMMC instead. Today I’ll show some pictures of the product and the internal boards, and in a few days I’ll write a full version with the Android 4.4 firmware. Later, I’ll most certainly review the Ubuntu beta image that’s scheduled for released by the end of the month.

Tronsmart Draco AW80 Unboxing

I’ve received the device by DHL in the black and gold package below.

Tronsmart_Draco_AW80_PackageI was surprised by the size of the box (16.4 x 16.4 cm) which quite larger than what I’m used to with other TV boxes, and all cables and accessories are stored in little black boxes within the main package.

Draco AW80 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Draco AW80 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Accessories include a 12V/2A power adapter, a SATA cable, an HDMI cable, a USB 2.0 cable, an IR remote control requiring two AAA batteries (not included), and a quick start guide in English.

Draco AW80 Meta (Click to Enlarge)

Draco AW80 Meta (Click to Enlarge)

A small rounded window for the IR receiver, and a through hole for a bi-color LED can be seen on the front panel. One one side, we’ve for two USB 2.0 host ports, an SD card slot, and a SATA connector. The rear panel features the Wi-Fi antenna, an RJ45 port for Gigabit Ethernet, a USB 3.0 OTG port (full size), HDMI and AV outputs, optical S/PDIF, and the 12V DC power barrel. There’s also a “Fn” through hole on the bottom of the metallic enclosure, most probably for firmware update.

Unboxing video:

Draco AW80 Meta Board Pictures

In order to open the enclosure, I had to take out the four sticky rubber pads on the bottom, and untighten four screws. The base of the case would not come out, so I pulled it with a precision screwdriver using one of the many ventilation hole on the bottom of the enclosure.

Bottom

Bottom (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a tiny board connected to the mainboard for the IR receiver and a Blue/Red LED. Nothing much to noticed on the mainboard except SW6 switch which should be to access U-boot / FEL mode for firmware update. Four more screws need to be removed to take out the board from the case.

Tronsmart_Draco_AW80_BoardThere’s a massive heatsink, and it indeed looks exactly like the board used in Zero Devices Alice Z8C. I’ve popped out three bits with spring to take out the heatsink. There a thermal rubber pad between the heatsink and the SoC/RAM/eMMC, no thermal paste.

AW80 Board (Click to Enlarge)

AW80 Board (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a shiny sticker reading “Tronsmart Draco AW80″ on the board to hide the actual board name. The Wi-Fi / Bluetooth module is AP6335 which means dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 n/g/n and 802.11ac should be supported together with Bluetooth 4.0. Four Samsung K4B4G1646D 16-bit DDR3 chips are used to get 2GB RAM, and the eMMC is model Samsung KLMAG4FE3B-0001 moviNAND (eMMC v 4.41) with maximum sequential write speed of 60MB/s, and sequential read speed of 150MB/s. Other ICs include AC100  audio codec, and  Realtek Gigabit transceiver. There’s part of the board that unpopulated, but I’m not sure what it was meant for, expect for the LED and IR parts. The UART pins for serial console can be found right below the DC jack and S/PDIF connector.

Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta pictured in this post sells for $149 on GeekBuying, whereas the upcoming Draco AW80 Telos with 4GB RAM and 32GB flash is available for pre-order for $199, and should ship by the end of the month. You can also purchase either model on Aliexpress.

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