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$50 Hotach HTV003 Android Media Player is Powered by Telechips TCC8935 SoC

February 10th, 2014 34 comments

The last few months have been pretty quiet in terms of new Android mini PCs and media players, at least when it comes to new platforms. But finally there’s something new, as Telechips TCC893x based devices are starting to show up on the marketplace. The devices won’t beat performance records as the new Telechips SoC features a dual core Cortex A9 processor with a Mali-400MP2 GPU, but they’ll be very affordable. Hotach HTV003 is one of the first media player powered by Telechips TCC8935, and sells for $50 on Aliexpress.

Hotach_HTV003

Hotach HTV003 specifications:

  • SoC – Telechips TCC8935 with two ARM Cortex A9 cores up to 1GHz, one Cortex M3 core, and an ARM Mali-400MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 4GB NAND Flash + micro SD card slot up to 32 GB
  • Connectivity – Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Video Output – HDMI
  • Audio Ouput – HDMI
  • USB – 2x USB host ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Power Supply – 5V/1A via micro USB port
  • Dimensions – 77 x 40 x 14.5 mm

The box is sold with an HDMI cable (optional), a USB cable, a 5V/1A power adapter, and a user’s manual. HTV003 currently runs Android 4.2.2, and is said to support Miracast DLNA, and Airplay.  The company does not mention the Ethernet speed, but TCC893x processors integrate a Gigabit Ethernet MAC, which would be a unique feature for a device at this price. It still believe it’s a 10/100M Ethernet port though. I’m not exactly sure if the Cortex M3 is used in the device, but it could potential handle remote control input, while the Cortex A9 cores are down, to lower standby power consumption.

The Linux kernel, Android Jelly Bean, and a VPU “driver” (actually a wrapper around a binary) source code is available for Telechips processors on the company’s open source SW page. So there’s potentially some hacking potential, but the Linux kernel was also available for previous processors, and interest failed to take off except somewhat for CX-01 (Android only).

At $50 + shipping ($58 in total), it’s about the same price as the cheapest AllWinner A20 media player with Ethernet, but features faster Cortex A9 cores compared to the Cortex A7 cores found in AllWinner SoC. The GPU is the same: MAli-400 MP2. Beside Aliexpress, you could checkout the company’s Alibaba store if you want to buy in quantities, or visit Hotach website. The complete company name is actually Shenzhen Hongtai Auspicious Technology Co. Ltd…

Thanks to Gabe for the link.

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How to Install XBMC on D-Link Boxee Box

January 28th, 2014 7 comments
D-Link Boxee

D-Link Boxee

D-Link Boxee Box is a Linux based media player powered by Intel Atom CE4100 processor that became available in 2010, and features a dual sided  RF remote / QWERTY keyboard that probably inspired many of the air mouse that are available today.

The box features many of the ports and connectors that are available on most Android STB today, namely an HDMI port, an optical S/PDIF) out, a stereo analog audio out, Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi, two USB ports, and an SD card slot. Many people however got disappointed with the firmware at launch time, and even if subsequent firmware updates have improved the user experience, some people have considered it was worth the effort to port XBMC to the device.

Myles McNamara wrote the instructions to install XBMC on D-Link Boxee Box. I’ll summarize the steps below, and it appears to be relatively easy.

  1. Installing Boxee+Hacks to gain root access
    The first thing you’ll have to do is to gain root access by following these steps:

    1. Download install.zip (Boxee+Hacks) from http://boxeed.in/
    2. Format a USB flash drive or SD card to FAT32 using the label BOXEE (case sensitive)
    3. Copy the files from the zip files to the USB drive or SD card.
    4. Plug it into the device, and boot Boxee Box
    5. Go into ‘Settings’->’Network’->’Servers’ to enable ‘Windows File Sharing’
    6. Add ‘;sh /media/BOXEE/install.sh‘ to your ‘Host Name’. Make sure it looks like ‘boxeebox;sh /media/BOXEE/install.sh‘ after you’re done.
    7. Reboot the device to start the install process.
    8. Once it’s complete, you’ll have a device with root access.
  2. Installing XBMC on Boxee Box
    There are two ways to install XBMC on D-Link media player: building XBMC from source using code and instructions available on https://github.com/quarnster/boxeebox-xbmc, or much simpler, download the latest version from devil-strike.com which as of today is xbmc13.alpha12.boxeebox2014.01.18.early_alpha2_92146e8.zip. You’ll notice this is an alpha version, and this XBMC port to Boxee Box is new, so although the system will run, you can’t expect everything to magically work out of the box.Once you’ve downloaded the zip file, extract the files to the root of a storage device (USB flash drive or SD card) making sure xbmc.bin is in the root folder, insert the storage device in Boxee Box, power the device, and it should automatically boot into XBMC. If you remove the storage device, it will just boot Boxee+Hacks you’ve installed previously.
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Review of Beelink A9 RK3188 Android Media Player

January 20th, 2014 20 comments

Beelink A9 is an Android TV Box powered by Rockchip RK3188 SoC with 2GB RAM, and 8GB RAM (See full specs). The hardware is pretty standard, but the company released Android 4.4 SDK for the device, so when Beelink / Nexteon told me they wanted to send me one for review, I accepted. I won’t test the Android SDK today, but I’ll just show the pictures of the device, and run my usual series of tests for review. The shipped sample is not running Android 4.4 (beta), but Android 4.2.2.

Unboxing Pictures

I’ve received this Android media player in the no brand package below. I’m not sure if Beelink will sell directly to individuals, so you’ll likely to received some different if you order Tronsmart A928 or Zero Devices Z6C which are based on the same platform.
Beelink_A9_Package
There are quite a few accessories in the package: The box itself, a small IR remote, 2x USB OTG to USB adapters, 2x micro USB to USB cables, a long HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power supply, and a user’s manual in English and Chinese.

Beelink A9 and Accessories

Beelink A9 and Accessories

There’s no much to see from the front of the device except the power button, and the glossy cover which acts like a dust magnet…
Beelink_A9
The back and sides of the device are more interesting as this is where all the ports are.
Beelink_A9_ConnectorsFrom left to right, we’ve got the power jack, an audio jack, S/PDIF optical output, Ethernet, HDMI, one USB port, and a USB OTG port at the back, and two more USB port and a micro SD slot on the side.

You can watch the unboxing video below if you please.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Let’s connect an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, some input device (RF dongle for Mele F10 air mouse), and the power supply to get started. I haven’t use the IR remote during testing. It works OK, but as usual is not very practical with Android. Unlike most Android STB it won’t start automatically, and you need to press on the power button for at least one second to boot the device. A  dim blue light will lit the button, and you’ll almost immediately see Google TV logo on your TV, followed by the Android animation, and within just over 30 seconds, you’ll see the Android launcher.

Beelink A9 Android Home Screen / Launcher (Click for Original Size)

Beelink A9 Android Home Screen / Launcher (Click for Original Size)

I really link this launcher as it look nice, you can see a slideshow of your pictures at the top left, and music controls are easily accessible.  The only problem is that you won’t be able to add your own App to the home screen, and will have to click on Apps to find them.

Within seconds, another screen popped up, as the device supports automatic OTA update.

Beelink_A9_OTAI’m not sure there are many changes (same date), but I accept the upgrade anyway, and after two reboot it was complete.

Lets’ go through the settings menu. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet options are available for connectivity. I had no problem with Wi-Fi and Ethernet, but although Bluetooth is built-in, I was unable to enable Bluetooth at all. You can only use Wi-Fi or Ethernet at a time, not both.  There’s also the section for Data usage, as well as options to configure VPN, portable hotspot, and PPPoE, but I haven’t tried any of these.

The Display menu will let you select the wall paper, sleep time, and font size, and if you want to adjust your screen video output, you’ll need to go top the Screen section. There’s a menu to adjust overscan (Screen Scale),  an Output Interface selection with only HDMI, and HDMI mode to select 720×480@60, 720×576@50, 720p50, 720p60, 1080p50, or 1080p60. The UI itself is fixed to 1280×720 as usual.The “Sound Devices Manage” in the Sound section will be you select the following audio output: RK29_RT5631 (downsampling via HDMI), ROCKCHIP-SPDIF, RK29_RT5631 & ROCKCHIP-SPDIF, ROcKCHIP-SPDIF PASSTHROUGH, or RK29_RT5631 PASSTHROUGH. I still don’t have an home theather system so I did not test S/PDIF pass-through, but I’ve got a new HDTV that comes with its own SW media player, so I though HDMI pass-through might just work, but I had no audio at all after selecting RK29_RT5631 PASSTHROUGH. Not sure if this is the TV limitations, or Beelink A9 issue.

The device has 8GB of NAND flash, and the storage is partitioned so that apps get 1.97GB (1.37GB available), and there’s 3.95 GB for user’s data, the rest being used by the system. Developer options are visible and enabled by default, with lots of different options, and the firmware is already rooted. Looking into the “About device” section shows the device model number is  “A9″, and it’s running Android 4.2.2 with Linux kernel 3.0.36+.

I could install all applications I tried via Google Play including ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Candy Crush, Raging thunder 2,  etc… All Apps I tried could run just fine. The power buttons on the IR remote and the device itself, do not completely turn the unit off, but just put it into suspend mode.

Like with RK3188 based device, the firmware appears to be very stable, and  I did not experience a single crash or hand, and it’s run very smoothly.

Video Playback

XBMC Custom XAF is pre-installed with several add-ons (See pic) and the UI is rendered @ 60fps, but since this version of XBMC just calls MX Player, I’ve just used MX Player and ES File Explorer for video playback tests, since I find it more convenient. The videos used below were played from  a SAMBA share in Ubuntu 13.10 via the Ethernet port of the device.

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 – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Do not play (like it’s loading forever)
  • WebM / VP8,  480p, 720p, 1080p – OK

High bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – OK most of the time, but in some fast moving scene the video is choppy, and the audio cuts. There was also a massive audio/video sync issue.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Mostly OK, but I did notice it buffered for a short while once in the middle of the video.
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK

The device could decode all high-end audio codecs, but Ethernet appears to be weak on the device, and some buffering and audio cuts happened:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Decoding OK, but very long buffering during playback (2s playback, 10s buffering repeatedly)
  • DTS-MA – Decoding OK, but some short (<1s) buffering occurred during video playback.
  • DTS-HR – OK

I used the default RK29_RT5631 mode (audio downmixing) to playback those files. SPDIF and HDMI pass-through are also supposed to  work in theory, but I don’t have the equipment to test it.

I also played some other videos in different containers AVI, MKV, VOB, FLV and they could all play just fine.  I could not notice any issues such as frame skipping. There was however one annoying issue when seeking while playing with MX Player just exiting.

So video and audio decoding performance is quite good, but it is limited by the mediocre performance of the Ethernet connection. Video @ 30Mbps will have trouble to play smoothly. Even ED_HD.avi @ 10Mbps could not play smoothly, but video are using VBR (Variable Bit Rate), and I don’t know how to check the real-time bitrate with Android players.

Wi-Fi Performance

I’ve then connected the device via Wi-Fi router to test Wi-Fi performance. I transferred a 278 MB video files between SAMBA and the internal flash and repeated the test three times. On average, the transfer took 2:33 (1.81 MB/s), which is one of the fastest Android device I’ve tested, and is close to what you’d get with MK908, but still far from CS868. Beelink A9 features AP6330 module, but is significantly faster than T428 with the same module.

Beelink_A9_Wi-Fi_performanceThese are the results for my setup, and yours may vary considerably.

Rochchip WiFiDisplay app (Miracast) is also installed, but also it detected my phone (ThL W200 / MT6589T) correctly, I was unable to use Miracast a my phone kept trying to connect.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Built-in Bluetooth can not be enabled. External BT USB dongle us not recognized either.

External Storage

My USB flash drive was automatically recognized and mount, so I’d expect external USB hard drives to work too. I also inserted a microSD card in the device and it works fine.

USB Webcam

I tested two webcams. An old Logitech webcam was no recognized, but a noname webcam could be detected by the system.

Gaming

I’ve tested 3 games: Angry Birds Star Wars II Free, Candy Crush Saga, and Racing Thunder 2. They could all run fine, and be control with Mele F10 remote.  As usual, the IR remote control can not be used for games. Bluetooth is not working at all, so no luck with getting sixaxis to work either. If you like to play with DroidMote, /dev/uinput is present so it should work.

Beelink A9 Benchmarks

Beelink A9 being yet another RK3188 box, I was not expecting much from the benchmarks, but I was wrong, as I learned something new.

Beelink_A9_AntutuAndroid media players and mini PCs based on Rockchip RK3188 now get at least 17,000, and often 18,000 @ 1.6GHz without overclocking, but Beelink A9 only gets 15,356 points. A closer look show “CPU 1416Mhz (4x)”, so for some reasons the CPU clock has been set to 1.4 GHz instead 1.6 GHz.
Beelink_A9_QuadrantQuandrant results are also disappointing, and system information indicates the same 1.4 GHz frequency. What is going on? It tuns out, AndroidPC.es reported about RK3188-T this week-end, a low cost version of RK3188 that can be clocked at 1.4GHz, and you can get more information on Freaktab. Some manufacturers will just change RK3188 to  RK3188-T in their devices to save a few bucks, but the device will still be promoted as RK3188. To be honest, the performance difference is not really noticeable, but it’s a lie if they do so. That’s perfectly OK if the manufacturer clearly announces it’s using RK3188-T instead of RK3188. Radxa Rock is based on RK3188, but Radxa Rock Lite will probably feature RK3188-T instead. Anyway, it’s likely Beelink A9 uses RK3188-T, at least the sample I used, let’s open the box to find out.

Inside Beelink A9

Opening the device is very easy, as you just have to remove two screws, no plastic clips get in the way.
Beelink_A9_Board_with_Shield
There a large shield on top of the board, so I had to remove 5 more screw to disassemble the board from the bottom of the enclosure, and lift some pads to remove the shield.

Top of Beelink A9 Board

Top of Beelink A9 Board

On the top of the board, we’ll have all the connectors, four RAM chips, AP6330 Wi-Fi module, ITE IT66121FN HDMI transmitter, COTOP C1602NS for Ethernet, and a few others components. The Rockchip SoC is also there, but markings are not visible, so I can’t confirm it’s using RK3188-T, although benchmarks imply it does. The board name/version is Nexteon H86_V20_20131116.

Bottom of Beelink A9 Board

Bottom of Beelink A9 Board

On the other side, we’ve got 8 GB flash, and space for another 8GB chip, as well as serial pins (GND, Tx, RX)  at the top right close to the flat cable for the power button board.

Conclusion

The hardware and/or firmware still have some issues such as Bluetooth not working, and mediocre Ethernet performance, but apart from these two important issues, the firmware appears to be working nicely. Wi-Fi performance was very good for me, and most other features worked fine. It is currently unclear whether devices like Tronsmart A928 and Zero Devices Z6C will ship with Rockchip RK3188 or the slower RK3188-T at this stage, since both SoCs are pin-to-pin compatible.

Beelink A9 could be used as a development machine since the Android 4.4 SDK (beta) has been released, and UART pins and a USB OTG port are available, but I haven’t tried the SDK yet, and people who tried the MK908 version reported it could not boot. So for development, I’d probably prefer Radxa Rock development board, even though Android 4.4 is not available yet, as the source code is available in a git repo, and not only a tarball, and you can get developer’s support via Radxa google groups and IRC.

Tronsmart A928 running Android 4.2.2 is already available for $99.99 with a 2.4GHz air mouse, and Zero Devices Z6C will become available with a wireless game controller once Android 4.4 is stable enough.

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Media Player SoCs at CES 2014 – Qualcomm Snapdragon 802 and Sigma Designs SMP8756

January 9th, 2014 3 comments

Apart from Nvidia Tegra K1, CES 2014 has been somewhat disappointing when it comes to new mobile SoCs announcement. On the media processor front, we’ve had Marvell announces Skyworth Android TV set-top boxes and HDTV based on their ARMADA 1500 Plus SoC, and we’ve got at least two new processors for media players with Qualcomm Snapdragon 802, and Sigma Designs SMP8756. Let’s have a look at some of the details.

Qualcomm_Sigma_Designs

Qualcomm Snapdragon 802

Qualcomm has started to enter the media player space with MPQ8064 / 8064M last year, but I haven’t seen actual products based on this SoC, except Qubi, which is not shipping yet. This year, the company announced Snapdragon 802 SoC designed for next-generation smart TVs, smart set-top boxes and smart digital media adapters.

As usual, the company gave very little details in the press release, but here’s what we know:

  • Quad core Krait processor @ 1.8Ghz with Adreno 330 GPU
  • Qualcomm Hollywood Quality Video (HQV) processing engine allow up-converted 1080p content to be delivered at a level approaching Ultra HD
  • Hexagon DSP provides efficient processing for Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound
  • Dual-band Qualcomm VIVE 802.11ac
  • Ultra HD resolution, and video decoding support
  • Playback of four HD videos simultaneously
  • Advanced content protection with integrated Snapdragon StudioAccess

The company will provide a custom Android Software Framework based on Kit Kat, as well as AllJoyn software connectivity framework for the “Internet of Everything”.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 802 processor will begin sampling in Q1 2014, and is expected to be in commercial devices by the end of the year. There’s no information on Qualcomm website.

Sigma Designs SMP8756

A few years ago, Sigma Designs processor were based on ARM7TDMI, and the company switches to MIPS core since then, but company has just gone back to ARM with SMP8756 secure media processor featuring ARM Cortex A9 CPUs and Mali GPU. Their newly announced HiDTV PRO-SX6 also features a dual core ARM Cortex A9 and Mali-400 GPU.

SMP8756 is a processor for set-top boxes and DVR, part of the company’s new SMP8750 series SoC, with support for 4K2K and HEVC, and the following specifications and features:

  • CPU – Single core ARM Cortex A9
  • GPU – ARM Mali-400
  • FHD (1080p) and UHD (2160p) resolution and video decoding
  • HEVC Main-10 profile allowing processing of up to 10-bit color samples
  • Broadcast TS processing
  • Secure media processing
  • Multi-format Full-HD video decoding
  • VXP display processing
  • Certification of CAS technologies (e.g. Verimatrix and Nagravision) planned.

The company can provide both Android and Linux SDKs for development. is available for either Linux or Android platform development. The chipset will support global tuner/demodulator standards, wired and wireless network controllers, DTV middleware stacks and IPTV middleware ports, such as Wyplay and OpenTV.

There’s no availability information, nor SMP8756 product page on Sigma Designs website.

PS: There’s actually been another STB SoC announcement at CES 2014 with Broadcom BCM7364 and BCM7399 for entry-level satellite STB, but they do not seem to offer IP connectivity.

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Popcorn Hour A-410 Linux Based Networked Media Jukebox is Now Available for Pre-order for $259

January 4th, 2014 8 comments

CloudMedia, previously known a Syabas, has announced the available of Popcorn Hour A410, a networked media jukebox (NMJ) powered by Sigma Designs SMP8911 dual core processor with 1GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, support for 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives, USB 3.0, and numerous audio / video ports. It can be used as a media player, as well as a NAS (Networked Access Storage).
Popcorn_Hour_A410Popcorn Hour A410 specifications:

  • SoC – Sigma Designs SMP8911 Dual-Core 800Mhz processor (MIPS) with 512KB L2 Cache and VXP Video Processor
  • System Memory1024MB DDR2
  • Storage – 256MB SLC NAND Flash, SD Card reader, 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA HDD bay, and eSATA connector.
  • Audio/Video I/OsHDMI, Component, CVBS, Stereo Audio, optical and coaxial S/PDIF.
  • Audio DAC – ESS Sabre Audiophile class DAC (24-bit, 192 Khz sampling rate)
  • Video containers – MPEG1/2/4 Elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V),MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG, DAT, VOB),MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS),AVI, ASF, WMV, Matroska (MKV),MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4, 3D BD ISO
  • Video Decoders – XVID SD/HD,MPEG-1, MPEG-2 MP@HL, MPEG-4.2 ASP@L5, 720p, 1-point GMC, MPEG-4.10 (H.264) : BP@L3, [email protected], [email protected], [email protected],WMV9 : MP@HL,SMPTE 421M (VC-1) : MP@HL, AP@L3
  • Audio Containers – AAC, M4A,MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA),WAV, WMA, FLAC, OGG
  • Audio DecodersDTS, WMA, WMA Pro,MPEG-1 Layer 1, 2, 3, MPEG-4 AAC-LC, MPEG-4 HE-AAC, MPEG-4 BSAC ,LPCM, FLAC, Vorbis, TrueAudio, APE Audio
  • Audio Passthrough – DTS, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD MA
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 Host, 1 x USB 3.0 Slave
  • Connectivity – 10/100/1000M Ethernet
  • Misc – Power and Standby LEDs, IR sensor
  • Power Supply – 12V DC, 3.5A Max
  • Power Consumption – Typical: 15W, Max: 40W.
  • Dimensions – 182mm (W) x 158mm (L) x 56mm (H)
  • Weight – 1.3 kg
  • Casing – Aluminum case designed by Silverstone , fanless Operation

The box comes with a remote Control and corresponding two AAA batteries, several cables (HDMI, eSATA, and USB 3.0 slave), one HDD dock key, foud HDD dock screws, an AC power adapter, a quick start guide, and a warranty card.

Popcorm_Hour_A410_Rear_Panel

Several network protocols are supported namely Bonjour, UPnP SSDP, UPnP AV, Windows Media Connect, Windows Media Player NSS, Samba, NFS, BitTorrent P2P, and Usenet downloader. It can be access as a NAS via SMB, NFS, or  FTP.

Popcorn Hour A400/A410 User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

Popcorn Hour A400/A410 Jukebox User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

The user interface is said to be customizable with shortcuts and a background that changes according to the time of the day, and Network Media Tank Jukebox (shown above) is pre-installed in the box. An Android and iOS app called NMJ navigator can freely be downloaded and installed in order to control your device via your smartphone or tablet.

Sigma Designs SMP8911 is a secure media processor with two main MIPS cores @ 800MHz, one more MIPS core @ 400MHz for image processing, a security core @ 400MHz, three DSPs @ 400MHz, a 2D/3D graphics processing unit, and more.

SMP8910 / SMP8911 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

SMP8910 / SMP8911 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

You can read more details about the processor on my earlier coverage of SMP8910 / SP8911, or on Sigma Designs SMP8910 page.

For further information and/or pre-order the device for $259, visit Popcorn Hour A410 page. Shipping is expected on the 10th of January. Since A410 is an upgrade of the previous A400 NMJ with more RAM, and the Audio DAC, you can also check out A400 user’s manual, and visit networkedmediatank.com forums.

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Beelink A9 Android TV Box Features Rockchip RK3188 SoC

January 2nd, 2014 28 comments

Beelink A9, soon to be sold as Tronsmart A928 or Zero Devices Z6C, is a yet another RK3188 box with 2GB RAM, and 8GB Flash running Android 4.2, upgradeable to Android 4.4.2, and if it was not one of the four devices with Android 4.4.2 SDK I may not have decided to write about it. But since it should be more easily hackable with the SDK release, although with caveats, it becomes much more interesting. Beelink_A9

A9 Specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3188 quad core Cortex A9 @ 1.6Ghz with Mali-400MP4 GPU @ 533MHz
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 to 16 GB eMMC flash + microSD slot (up to 32GB)
  • Video Output – HDMI
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, S/PDIF, 3.5mm audio out jack, built-in MIC.
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR sensor, power LED, power and update button, 2x (internal, optional?) RS232 ports.
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Weight – 225g
  • Dimensions – 140mm x 65mm x 59.5mm

BL-P7_gamepadThe eMMC flash is said to allow for 17MB/s write speed, and 300MB/s read speed, the firmware supports 720p webcam, and OTA updates (I’d assume if the reseller enables it ). The company can also provide BL-P7 gamepad (pictured on the right) with the box, compatible with over 400 games, but the look is quite different from Z6C game controller.

Standard accessories provided with the device include an HDMI cable, an AV cable, a power supply, and an IR remote.

The device is not available right now for retail, and price has not been disclosed, although for reference only, Tronsmart A928 showed up shortly for $92.99 before being removed from GeekBuying website. There’s no product page on Shenzhen AW Technology / Beelink website, but you can download A9 user’s manual.

There’s one caveat to the SDK release. As pointed out by one reader, the firmware is still using Linux 3.0.36 which means some of the new features introduced in Android 4.3 and 4.4 such as Bluetooth LE, and printing may not work. I’ve just read on MINIX Facebook page, that MINIX does not intend to release Android 4.4.2 with Linux 3.0.x, and instead is waiting for a proper SDK for Android boxes with an upgraded kernel that will better support Android 4.4, and be available at the end of February, so Android 4.4 firmware should be available in March or April.

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Jynxbox M6 Android TV Box Review

December 20th, 2013 10 comments

I’ve shown some unboxing pictures and video of Jynxbox Android M6 earlier this week, and today I’ll write a review of this AMLogic AML8726-M6 dual core Android media player. I’ll start with my first impressions, go through the different settings, test video playback, wi-fi performance, and reports about different miscalleous tests: Bluetooth, USB mass storage, USB webcam, etc…

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

First, you’ll need to insert the provided AAA batteries in to the remote control. Opening the remote is a bit tricker than I would like as the cover does not come off that easily. Before powering up the device, I’ve connected the provided HDMI cable between the device and my HDTV, and an Ethernet cable to my hub. The first Ethernet cable would not click with in the device RJ45 connector, although it works with my laptop and other devices, but using another one worked just fine. Connecting the power adapter will boot the device immediately (no power button on the device), we’ll quickly see an Android logo, and after a few more seconds we’ll get the home screen shown below.

Jynxbox Android M6 Home Screen

Jynxbox Android M6 Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

This launcher will provide access to Google Play store, the stock Android web browser, a file manager, a MediaCenter (not tested), the Facebook app, and XBMC Frodo 12.2. The top menu gives access to the Media Player section (3 apps for Picture, Music, and Video), Online Media (YouTube pre-installed only), Games (Angry Bird pre-installed only), the list of all Apps, and Settings.

There’s no direct way, or I haven’t found any, to switch to the stock Android home screen, but since the device comes with an IR remote, this type of interface is better to use. XBMC is also well suited to IR remote. However, if you’re going to use other part of Android, and for user input, it’s much better to get an RF remote / air mouse such. as . That’s exactly what I’ve done for the first time setup, by connecting a Mele F10 air mouse. For the rest of the review, mainly XBMC, I’ve used the IR remote, and it’s doing a good job there.

Lets’ go through the settings menu, which looks the same as other AMLogic based Android TV boxes I’ve tried.

You’ll have options to configure Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Ethernet for connectivity. Bluetooth is not built-in, but I’ve added a Bluetooth USB dongle, and it was properly recognized. You can only use Wi-Fi or Ethernet at a time, not both. I’ve found that enabling Ethernet will stop Wi-Fi,m and vice versa, which is fine by me. There are also options to configure VPN, portable hotspot, and mobile networks, but I haven’t tried any of these.

Jynxbox_Android_M6_About_deviceThe display menu will let you choose different video output resolution (480p/i, 576p/i, 720p50, 720p60, 1080i50, 1080i60, or 1080p60), as well as CVBS/YUV output modes. The default resolution is set to 720p60. CVBS (composite) worked pretty well considering the resolution, but make sure you change the font size to HUGE to read anything clearly. YUV (component) output would only show in gray even after trying several combinations, as if only the luminance signal was available. Having said that, it’s unlikely you’d use component output with this player, as there’s no SPDIF output, so you’d get no audio, unless your audio systems accept HDMI in. There’s also submenu to adjust the screen position in order to compensate for over/under scan. The audio settings will let you choose between PCM (downsampling), SPDIF out, or HDMI pass-through.

Jynxbox M6 has a 4GB flash, and the storage is partitioned so that apps get 1.29GB (258MB used), the internal SD card 894 MB, the rest being used by the system. Developer Options are already visible with lots of different options available, but not enabled by default. Finally, looking into the “About device” section shows the device name is  “Jynxbox M6″, and it’s running Android 4.1.2 with Kernel 3.0.8.

The firmware comes already rooted. I could install all applications I tried including ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo Candy Crush, Raging thunder 2, Sixaxis Controller, etc… All apps I tried could run just fine with the exception of Antutu which failed to run the 3D benchmark. The power button on the remote control, just put the device in suspend mode, and does not completely turn it off.

The firmware appears to be very stable, and  I did not experience a single crash or hand, and it’s rather smooth considering it’s a dual core media player. You can have a look at the demo below showing the custom launcher / interface, a settings walked through, and a test of XBMC to show the add-ons and hardware accelerated video playback. An interesting point is that XBMC comes with several add-ons pre-installed including Navi-X, Xunity Maintenance, Pandora, Simply Movies, etc.. These give you access to TV shows, movies, music, in more or less legal ways…

Video Playback in XBMC

XBMC is very much a key selling point of the device, as it’s even a large part of the home screen, so I’ve used XBMC directly to play videos from SAMBA shares, just like I did with the GBox Midnight MX2. XBMC is rather smooth being rendered at about 35 to 40 fps @ 1280×720 resolution. The MX2 was a bit smoother at 50 fps.

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 – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Do not play
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p OK, 720p seems like slow motion at time, 1080p is very slow with plenty of audio cuts. This is probably due to software decoding for this codec.

Since I’ve connected the device via Ethernet, I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Black screen 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 with some artifacts at the very beginning.

The box passed all high-end audio codec tests with flying colors:

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

Please note that I used PCM mode (audio downmixing) to playback those files, but HDMI pass-through should work as well, as long as if your TV or home theater system supports it. Some videos were a bit choppy however, due to high bitrate, but since this particular section of the video test aims at testing audio support, I ticked OK. [Update: The TrueHD 5.1 video had some audio cuts during video playback from the network. I also tried all videos from a USB drive, and they could all play.]

I ended the video test by playing several videos and movies using AVI, MKV, VOB, FLV… container formats. They could all play just fine, and I could not notice any issues such as audio/video sync issues or frame skipping, which have happened on other platforms.

Wi-Fi Performance

Time to disable Ethernet and connect to my Wi-Fi router to test Wi-Fi performance. As usual, I transferred a 278 MB video files between SAMBA and the internal flash. I repeated the test three times, and on average it took 3:28 (1.33 MB/s), which is not particularly fast compared to other android TV boxes and mini PCs, but still fast than G-Box Midnight MX2.

Jynxbox_Android_M6Please 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

I’ve connected a USB Bluetooth dongle to the device, and the dongle was properly recognized. I could then pair it with my phone and transfer a file. However, the current firmware is not compatible with Sixaxis (no HCI library available), so your Bluetooth game controller will not work with the current firmware. Tested with that method.

External Storage

My USB flash drive was automatically recognized by the media player, so external USB hard drives should also work, provided there’s enough power. I also inserted a microSD card in the device’s reader, and it also work fine.

USB Webcam

I tested two webcams, an old Logitech webcam, and a noname webcam, and neither of them could be detected by the system. So Skype and Google hangout are not usable with the current firmware.

Gaming

I’ve tested 3 games: Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Racing Thunder 2. They could all run, but as with all other Android TV box there are caveats. The IR remote can not be used to play any of these games, so you’ll need to connect a mouse, or an air mouse to control the games.

I used Mele F10, and I could play the three games above. No problem (that I could find) with Angry Birds. Candy Crush is working fine, except that is you are connected via Ethernet, you won’t be able to connect to Facebook to synchronize your levels. Switching to Wi-Fi fixes this. Racing Thunder 2 also ran smoothly, however it’s quite awkward to control the game with the mouse, as you have to click left and right of the car to turn.

As mentioned in the Bluetooth section, wireless Gamepad (sixaxis) do not work. The best way to control the system with games is probably to use DroidMote app.

Jynxbox Android M6 Benchmarks

Antutu 4.x completed the benchmark early at it failed to run the 3D benchmark, and gave an irrelevant scores. Quadrant, and Vellamo run just fine however. An interested note is that Antutu detect the processor as being Samsung Exynso 4412, but CPU-Z and Quadrant confirmed the device features an AMLogic processor. The product name is stvmx, and the board name is stv_mbx_mx.

Jynxbox_M6_QuadrantJynxbox M6 gets 2907 points in Quadrant which is just on top of some older dual core systems such as Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Atrix 4G.

With Vellamo benchmark, the system got 425 points in the Metal test, and 1087 points in the HTML5 test, which again places it in the same performance range as Samsung Galaxy Nexus (running Android 4.3).

Inside Jynxbox Android M6

Once the firmware review was completed, I decided to give another try with opening the enclosure. After forcing a bit more than usual with a flat-headed precision screwdriver, I managed to open it via the opening at the button of the case, breaking one or two plastic clips in the process. You’ll also have to unscrew four internals screw to completely remove the board from the case.

Jynbox_M6_Casing_InternalsA Wi-Fi antenna with an SMA connector plug it connected to the plug, and a 3 to 4mm thick metallic round is fixed to the bottom of the case, which explains why the device is heavy (170g.) relative to its size.

Jynxbox M6 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Jynxbox M6 Board (Click to Enlarge)

The top of the board features a large metallic shield, all the connectors, and at the bottom left, a 4-pin header that is most likely the UART pins used to access the serial console. The PCB markings shows RMX1212 as the board name. The MAC address starts with ACDBDA which belongs to “Shenzhen Geniatech”, so they are probably the one who designed and manufactured the box.

Conclusion

Jynxbox Android M6 is another good Android media player based on AMLogic AML8726-MX. It’s very stable, runs smoothly, XBMC is running great with lots of add-ons pre-installed, and it could play most video files I tested, except Real Media, and WebM/VP8 struggles at higher resolution (720p/1080p). Like other AMLogic boxes, it can’t play Elephabnt Dream test files. Audio decoding was perfect with all files I tried, and I did not experience any audio/video sync issues. This device appears to have slightly better XBMC and video support than Matricom GBox Midnight MX2 and Tronsmart Prometheus, but I haven’t tested these for a few months, and the updated firmware may have improved too.

The device is very small and nice, although it’s some what heavy. But it appears to have been designed that way on purpose, so that it does not move around. The remote control is small and nice, and does the job in XBMC and the user interface, thanks to little things like a Play/Pause button, but for any other Android apps, you’d better use standard USB or Wireless keyboard and mouse, or an air mouse.

The are still a few downsides, but mostly minor depending on your usage. I only got a black and white  display with component (YUV) output, sixaxis Bluetooth game controller are not supported, neither are USB webcams. Contrary to many other products with are already running Android 4.2.2, the firmware is still based on Android 4.1.2, and features such as Miracast (Wi-Fi) Display are not available.

Jynxbox Android M6 has very similar hardware and features, notably XBMC support, compared to Tronsmart Prometheus (See review), and Matricom GBox Midnight MX2 (See review), and its strong points are a smaller, nicer form factor, and pre-installed XBMC add-ons. Having said that at $119 it’s a little more expensive than both the G-Box Midnight MX2 ($97), and  the Tromsmart Prometheus ($89.99), but the former does not include an HDMI cable, and the later lacks a remote control.

I’d like to thanks theatertvbox.tv again for sending a unit for review.

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