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HiMedia Q30 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.0 Nougat Firmware

July 25th, 2017 1 comment

HiMedia Q30 is an Android Nougat TV box powered by Hisilicon Hi3798MV200 processor, a cost-down version of Hi3798C V200 processor with the same CPU, a lower-end Mali-450MP GPU, about the same media capabilities, and less I/Os. I’ve taken pictures of the device and board if the first part of the review entitled “HiMedia Q30 (Hisilicon Hi3798MV200) Android TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so today, I’ll report about my experience with the device while running Android 7.0.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I’ve connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 port, and filled the two other USB 2.0 ports with a USB keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad. I added Ethernet, HDMI, and power cable to start the device.

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A typical boot takes around 25 seconds to the Android launcher below.

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That’s your typical TV launcher with date and connection status on the top, shortcuts to app in the center, and shortcuts at the bottom.


Above is the list of pre-installed apps such as Kodi, MediaCenter, Facebook, Netflix… I’ve never seen HappyCast before, so I clicked on it, but I still could not understand how to use it. That’s no issue since we have other ways to do “casting”.

The Settings App allows you to change Network, and Playback settings. The Display section does not do anything apart from showing the currently selected video output. You can also upgrade firmware locally or from the network (not tried since no new firmware), and find more info about the device.
Playback settings let you change HDMI and SPDIF output, HBR output, aspect ratio, and whether to switch to 24 Hz when needed.

The box runs Android 7.0 on top of Linux kernel 3.18.24. The firmware is not rooted.

The More button redirects to Android Nougat settings, where we’ll find some interesting options too.

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Note that while there’s a Bluetooth option, it won’t work as there’s no such hardware.

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Storage settings show we have 4.06GB space in the internal storage available to the user, with 821 MB used by pre-installed apps, and the box support EXT4, NTFS and exFAT file systems.

The Display section offers options like HDMI auto adaptation and HDCP 2.2 switch, with the latter possible helping go around some DRM issues. Custom display format is what you’d use to select video output such as 2160p 60 Hz, or 1080p 60 Hz. I found that the system would not remember my settings between reboot, often switching back to 1080i60, or other output modes, even with HDMI auto adaptation disabled.
Video output allows you to enable Output format adaption for 2D stream (how does that differ from HDMI auto adaptation?), and “enforce 3D framepacking ouput”

The SAMBA service is quite interesting as it will let you start a SAMBA server on the device with or without username and  password.

I enabled it and got access to the complete file system on the device immediately. I could navigate to the three mounted partitions on my hard drive by going to media_rw directory. That’s quite a convenient feature.

The Standby menu is used to enable/disable HDMI suspend, and set the suspend time.

Finally Advance options will allow to adjust color space with settings like YCbCr420 8bit or RGB444 10Bit, which can be useful in case you have funny colors or a pink screen, as well as TV HDR mode which can be set to SDR, HDR10, or AUTO.

I had (almost) no trouble installating extra apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground, but the former exited two or three times for no apparent reasons.

The IR remote control worked as expected with good range (tested up to 10 meters), and a working IR learning function. However, I mostly used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since mouse and keyboard function are a must in Android. The user manual lists two mobile apps: HiShare and HiRemote, so I tried both.

HiShare will allow you to cast photos, music, and videos in your smartphone to the TV. Once you select a media type, the app will list all corresponding media files, and once you click to play a file, it will show a list of renderers, I selected TV [email protected](HIMEDIA), and the music started to play in my TV.

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

That’s what the TV output looks like when music is playing.

The app in only moderately convenient, because – unless I missed something – you can play/schedule one song at a time, and it won’t automatically play all music from your smartphone, so you have to select music again once the current has stopped. I also tried photos, and in my case it listed close to 10,000 “photos”, starting with hundreds or thousands of sprites from a game (CSR2) I play on my mobile phone, so it was not exactly usable. It would be better the interface was similar to Android’s Gallery app with photos sorted in folders.

Next up was HiRemote, and while I could find and connect to HiMedia Q30 TV box…… the app would also crash after I tapped OK.


There are just two power modes in this box: on and off, and you can switch between the two with the remote control or the button on the unit. Reboot and standby are not available.

Power consumption numbers with and without a USB 3.0 hard drive are shown below:

  • Power off – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 Watts

The idle power consumption must be the lowest I’ve seen in a while.

The box stayed cool at all times during the review, with top and bottom covers temperature being 39ºC on both sides after successfully playing a 2-hour 1080p video in Kodi, and 36 and 37ºC after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes. 3D graphics performance is similar to the one of Amlogic S905/S905X boxes in that game with max resolution settings, meaning it’s playable but not a perfect 60 fps smooth, and the user experience was constant over time, so no noticeable CPU or GPU throttling either.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather good. The firmware works well, very responsive, and most of the things I tried worked as they should. The only two issues I had in this earlier part of my tests were HDMI video output changing between reboot, and Google Play exited two or three times for no reasons. The HiRemote app did not work on my Android phone (Vernee Apollo Lite) either.

Video & Audio Playback – Kodi, MediaCenter, DRM, and YouTube

Kodi was installed, and when I was in Google Play, I noticed it automatically updated to Kodi 17.3, so the version I tried was mainline Kodi, not a custom version.

I played the videos from  SAMBA share over 100 Mbps Ethernet, unless otherwise stated, starting with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Mostly OK, but a few frames dropped at times
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time; HDD: OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, audio continues (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time, and eventually lost audio; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: 1~2 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK at the beginning, but then not smooth at all
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth

Not catastrophic but some VP9 videos don’t play well, other videos will buffer over Ethernet (which they don’t in most other platforms even with Fast Ethernet), and some videos don’t play as smoothly as the hardware is capable of. Automatic frame rate switching is not working, and nor is HDMI audio pass-through, as we’ll see below. So I switched to MediaCenter, and played the 4K videos again:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK (24 Hz video output)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK (24 Hz video output)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, resumes later, and freeze again, resume, and son on. Audio plays at all times (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Black screen first, then video with massive artifacts and/or colored horizontal bands. (Not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK close to perfect, except some scenes (maybe a source problem?); No audio.

The hardware capabilities of Hi3798MV200’s VPU are fully utilized in MediaCenter, and automatic frame rate switching is working too. The only issue I could find is the lack of support for OPUS audio codec.

Let’s move on to test HD audio codec with (downsampled) PCM 2.0 stereo output with audio from the TV speakers, and HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17.3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17.3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Beep** No audio TrueHD 7.1 (OK*)
DTS HD Master OK OK No audio OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio OK
DTS:X OK OK No audio DTS HD Master (OK*)

* My A/V receiver does not support Atmos not DTS:X, so the box fell back to the best alternative.
** The sample comes with Dolby Atmos 7.1 and AC3 track, with the later producing a continuous beep sound. However, I could only select one audio track in MediaCenter shown as “TRUEHD 7.1Ch 48000Hz”.

Except for a few small issues, MediaCenter on HiMedia Q30 is the best TV box I’ve seen so far when it comes to support various 4K videos, and HDMI audio pass-through. Note that you need to use the included IR remote control with MediaCenter app, as some keys on the air moue would not work properly in this app, and you cannot access to extra settings.

If you care about managing every aspects of the picture like contrast, brightness, …, enabling/disabled video post-processing features, subtitles, and more, the app offers a range of options which I show in the video below. At the time I shot the video I did not know how to hide the status bar, but you simply need to use the mouse  pointer a little above the status and pull it down or up to hide or show it. There’s no icon for doing so like in so many other boxes.

Another pleasant surprise is that the device support Widevine Level 1 DRM, which means you should be able to use premium apps at higher resolution. For example, it should be possible to use Netflix up to 720p on this device. Not tested since I don’t have nor need a Netflix account.

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The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

I can play videos up to 1080p rendering to the framebuffer.
If for some reasons you prefer the mobile Youtube app, I installed it too with the same results.

Networking & Storage Performance

HiMedia Q30 supports Fast Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity. I tested WiFi + SAMBA by copying a 278MB file with ES File Explorer between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. Results speak for themselves:

  1. Server to flash: 26 minutes 15 seconds, or around 180 Kb/s. That transfer rate was roughly constant during the whole file transfer
  2. Flash to server: 3 minutes 35 seconds, or around 1.29 MB/s
  3. Server to flash: stalled after a while, and eventually failed

I stopped the SAMBA WiFi test there. I won’t draw chart, but if I did, it would be dead last among other TV boxes. I tried to play some videos over WiFi + SAMBA from Kodi, and 720p and 1080p videos downloaded from the Internet could surprisingly play just fine, but as soon as you get to 5 Mbps or greater, buffering occurs all the time.

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

So performance is not quite constant, and even with the second faster try, there were many fluctuations during the transfer, as shown from the Conky screenshot on the right with spikes, instead of seeing a nice rectangular shape.

WiFi download:

  • 1st try: stuck, no results.
  • 2nd try:

  • 3rd try:

Performance looks better here, except of course for the first stalled results. So it looks like WiFi may not be as stable as it could be, as least with my setup and router.

A1SD bench app  was used to test storage performance. The eMMC flash does not have so good write speed (7.31 MB/s), and read speed (78.66MB/s) is invalid due to Cached read. This could lead to really slow performance when background tasks perform I/Os such as during automatic app updates.I’ve just been lucky not to notice it during testing.

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One the other hand USB 3.0 performance is all good, even for exFAT that usually exhibit very poor write performance in Android TV boxes.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s -Click to Enlarge

From a practical standpoint, you will probably not see much differences between the three file systems, especially Ethernet is limited to 100 Mbps. If you’d like more performance and Gigabit Ethernet, you may consider HiMedia Q5 Pro instead.

Himedia Q30 System info and Benchmarks

CPU-Z reports a quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is called “Q30 (Hi3798MV200”, and the board “bigfish”.

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The device achieved 34,880 points in Antutu 6.2.x, not a surprised as it’s similar to what we’d get from other quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor such as Amlogic S905X or Realtek RTD1295.

Vellamo 3.x results show a similar performance too. So no problems here.

Conclusion

HiMedia Q30 has a lot going for it. A well working Android 7.0 firmware, the best video and audio I’ve seen in any TV boxes when using MediaCenter app including 4K video decoding, automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for all HD codecs supported by my A/V receiver, Widevine Level 1 DRM, and good support and performance for USB 3.0 storage. As all devices, it’s not perfect though, as I found WiFi to be somewhat slow and/or unrelaible with my router, the lack of Bluetooth may be a problem for some people, and there are few bugs here and there such as HDMI video output selection not always kept during reboots, Google Play randomly exiting, and HiRemote app crashing and unusable in my phone. Kodi lovers may not be statified with the lack of automatic frame rate switching and audio pass-through.

PROS

  • Recent, stable and responsive Android 7.0 Nougat firmware
  • Best 4K H.265/H.264/VP9 playback I’ve seen in any TV boxes with MediaCenter App, including automatic frame rate switching
  • HDMI audio pass-through for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in MediaCenter App
  • Picture is highly customizable in MediaCenter app with various option, including post-processing tuning in MediaCenter App
  • Built-in SAMBA server support
  • Good external storage support with excellent USB 3.0 performance for NTFS and EXT-4, and good for exFAT file system.
  • Widevine Level 1 DRM
  • Solid hardware design with good cooling
  • IR remote control working well with good range (>= 10 meters) and IR learning function (the remote is a must to use MediaCenter app to its fullest)
  • OTA firmware update (not tested, since no new firmware during review)

CONS and bugs

  • WiFi found to have low performance (especially with SAMBA), or unstable
  • While Kodi 17.3 “mainline” is supported and plays some 4K videos fairly well, it’s not working as well as MediaCenter app, and does not support automatic frame rate switching, not HDMI audio pass-through
  • User set HDMI video output, not always remembered at next reboot
  • Google Play may crash (not too often, still usable most of the time)
  • Low end eMMC flash may lead to poor performance in case when I/Os occur in the background, e.g. during app updates.
  • Lack of Bluetooth support
  • HiRemote Android app crashes on my smartphone

I’d like to thank HiMedia for providing a review sample. You can purchase HiMedia Q30 on Aliexpress for $109 including shipping. Distributors may want to contact the company via the product page.

Rockchip RK3328 based MXR PRO TV Box Boasts 4GB RAM, 32GB Flash

July 24th, 2017 3 comments

Most users of TV boxes will do just fine with 2 GB RAM, especially with lower end ARM Cortex A53 systems, but if you have somewhat low processing needs, but high memory requirements, MXR Pro TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor, and running Android 7.1 comes with 4GB RAM, and 32GB storage.

MXR PRO 4K TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264. 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio – Via HDMI, AV port (stereo audio), and 3.5mm coaxial S/PDIF jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, single band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, blue/red LED for power status
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 12 x 12 x 2.4 cm

Maybe one use case of the extra memory could have been TV BOX + NAS via the USB 3.0 port, but while they decided to spent extra for memory and storage, they kept the cheapest networking options possible with Fast Ethernet, and 2.4GHz WiFi. So that’s not ideal for that use case. That means the only option – that I know of – with RK3328, 4GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0 is still ROCK64 development board.

MXR PRO TV box is sold on DHGate for $67.98 with shipping by DHL. That website also offers wholesale discount, with the price dropping to $49.09 per unit for orders of 100 devices or more. Note that the title on DHgate mentions RK3228 processor, but in the description it’s mostly RK3328, and a listing on Alibaba confirms the specs.

Via AndroidPC.es

PROBOX2 AVA 4K TV Box, NAS, and HDMI IN DVR Sells with an Optional Air Mouse

July 18th, 2017 2 comments

We’ve recently come across several TV boxes based on Realtek RTD1295 SoC which offers not only typical 4K Android TV box features like H.265 & VP9 video playback, and HDR support, but acts like a NAS function thanks to a SATA interface and OpenWrt, and provides an HDMI input port that allows for DVR, PiP, and UDP broadcasting functions. PROBOX2 AVA is another one of those device with the hardware extremely similar to Beelink SEA I model, but with an external antenna, and a different user interface. The box can also ship with an optional Remote+ air mouse, which could allow you to turn on the device without using the IR remote control (TBC), as I have to do with other boxes.

PROBOX2 AVA specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295DD quad core ARM Cortex-A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz with ARM Mali-T820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash, SD card slot, and 2.5″ SATA III bay
  • Video I/F
    • HDMI 2.0a output with HDR, CEC, and HDCP 2.2 support up to 4K @ 60 Hz (23.976 and 29.94Hz frame rates are also supported)
    • HDMI 2.0 input with HDCP 2.2 support for PVR, PiP, and UDP broadcasting
  • Audio I/F – HDMI with support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – Power LED, RTC + battery, IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  12V/1.5A
  • Dimensions – 200 x 125 x 21 mm

While many of the ports are placed in the same position as Beelink SEA I, the box is larger due to the external WiFi antenna. By default, the box ships with a power adapter, an IR remote control, a HDMI cable, and a user guide. The optional PROBOX2 Remote+ air mouse can be used as a game controller, an audio input for voice control, and of course an air mouse over a 2.4 GHz connection. The company (W2COMP) has sold TV boxes with Remote+ remote control for several years, and I used it during my review of PROBOX2 EX TV box in 2014.

Probox2 Remote+ with RF Dongle and User guide (Click to Enlarge)

At the time I liked the air mouse, including gaming and voice input modes, but missed the QWERTY keyboard on the back, and play/pause and trick modes keys that are useful in media players like XBMC (now Kodi). At the time, I could not turn on the device with the air mouse, so hopefully it’s something that has been addressed since then.

The device runs Android 6.0 and OpenWrt with support for Samba server, iTunes (DAAP) server, DLNA (UPnP) server, FTP server, AFP function (for Apple TimeMachine) and BitTorrent download functions as in most other RTD1295 devices. The change is the company’s APEX UI / launcher.

Click to Enlarge

PROBOX2 AVA is now up for pre-order on W2COMP for $135.00, or with Remote+ air mouse for $149.99. Amazon and eBay purchase links will be up on July 28th. More details may be found on the product page.

Bqeel MVR9 TV Box Review – Part 1: Specifications, Unboxing and Teardown

July 14th, 2017 7 comments

All Rockchip RK3328 based 4K TV boxes I’ve seen so far come with Fast Ethernet, not Gigabit Ethernet, with the exclusion of Rock64, which is not a TV box, but a development board. But Nagrace sent me Bqeel MVR9 box that comes with Gigabit Ethernet, in order to write a review. I’ll start by having a look at the hardware first, before experimenting with the firmware in several weeks.

Bqeel MVR9 Specifications

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4 @ 1066 MHz
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite video)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264, 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, and AV (stereo audio) ports; optical S/PDIF
  • Audio Features – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD via RKMC
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port), 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, recovery button
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions –  115 x 115 x 23 mm
  • Weight – ~200 grams

The box runs Android 7.1.1, and the company told me YouTube 4K is supported, they added support for DRM (but only Widevine Level 3 for now), and BD ISO  & 3D Blu-ray can be played in RKMC.

Bqeel MVR9 Unboxing

I received the device in a black box reading “Smart Your TV, Color Your life”.

The box comes with a 5V/3A power supply that should be enough even if you connect a USB 3.0 hard drive, a male to male USB cable (for firmware recovery), a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a TV box user manual, and remote control user manual.

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The box is made of plastic with the power button on one side, the AV port, recovery pinhole, micro SD card, a USB OTG port, and USB 3.0 port on the other side.

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The rear panel includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI 2.0a output port, optical S/PDIF output, and the DC jack.

Bqeel MVR9 Teardown

We’d normally open the box by loosening some screws hidden under rubber pads, but there’s nothing there.

Click to Enlarge

So instead, I just had to unclip the bottom cover. There’s not much to see on that side of the board, except the sticker that reads TRN9-V10 2G+16G. So I loosened four screws to completely take out the board of the case.We can see two methods use to keep the box cool. First a black heatsink on top of Rockchip RK3328 processor, and a thick gray plate on top of the box.

Click to Enlarge

The board appears to have been designed by T-Chip, which should be the same company that makes the Firefly boards. The processor is connected to one 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash that in theory delivers 285/40 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and 8K/10k random R/W IOPS, as well as two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4-2400 SDRAM chips @  (2GB in total). So the company has used some pretty decent storage and memory chip in the design, which should help with performance. They coupled a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver with Mnova MS0860 transformer for Gigabit Ethernet, and use Realtek RTL8723BS module for wireless connectivity (802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 LE).

Other notable chips include Rockchip RK805-1 PMIC, FE1.1s USB 2.0 hub, and TI DRV632 stereo audio line driver. We’ll notice a 3-pin header on the bottom left of the board which should be an alternative location for the IR receiver, and close to it a footprint to connect a fan. The UART debug interface is clearly marked with RX, TX, and GND, but not the most convenient, as you’d need to solder wire to solder pads.

I’d like to thank Nagrace for sending the review unit. There’s no product page, no price info right now.

H96 Pro Octa Core TV Dongle Runs Android 7.1.1 on Amlogic S912 Processor

July 13th, 2017 11 comments

That one will be confusing as H96 Pro is already a TV box, but somebody must have thought that model number was so good, it had to be re-used in another products. So I present to your H96 Pro TV dongle powered by the same Amlogic S912 processor running Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s not the first octa-core HDMI TV stick, as we’ve seen MeegoPad A02 (Allwinner A83T) and NEXBOX 809VI (Rockchip RK3368) in the past, but AFAICR I have not come across Amlogic S912 sticks before.

H96 Pro HDMI TV stick specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash, micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a male connector with HDR support
  • Video Codec – 4K H.265 and VP9 @ 60 fps, 4K H.264 @ 30 fps
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi (2.4GHz), and Bluetooth 4.1 + EDR
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port
  • Dimensions – TBD
  • Weight –  200g (TBC, probably a bit lighter than that)

As mentioned previously the stick runs Android 7.1.1, and ships with a micro USB cable for power, and a user manual in English. I’m a bit sad they somewhat crippled a 4K TV stick by not using a 802.11ac WiFi module. The product page claims that you can power it from your TV or projector USB port, but that may not always work, as such USB port may not deliver enough power for the stick to work reliably at all times. In the past, I could not even boot using that method with other TV sticks. So plan for an external USB power support to make sure. I would have thought by now that MHL would be a more common features in such TV dongle since many TVs now support MHL. Thermal management may also be an issue in such tight package.

I first found H96 Pro TV dongle GearBest where it is sold for $53.15 including shipping, but Aliexpress has better deals, including one seller offering it for $46.99 shipped.

Xnano X5 4K TV Box with Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI Input, USB 3.0, and SATA Goes for $68 and Up

July 12th, 2017 10 comments

Realtek RTD1295 processor allows for 4K TV boxes with DVR and PiP function through HDMI input, and USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 storage interfaces. I previously reviewed Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus based on the solution, and I especially liked support with NAS function through OpenWrt running side-by-side with Android 6.0. Those are high-end devices that cost well over $100, but we’ve recently seen cheaper models, likely with less refined firmware, no metal case, and possibly lacking OpenWrt that go as low as $78 shipped with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box. We can now get an even cheaper model, albeit with just 1GB RAM and 8GB flash, thanks to Xano X5 sold for $68.32 including shipping on Aliexpress. There’s also a 2GB/16GB version on the same page going for $82.76.

Xnano X5 Smart Box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash, SATA 3.0 connector for external drives, micro SD card slot up to 64GB
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output with HDR support, AV output (composite), and HDMI input
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV out (stereo audio), 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with one 5dB external antenna
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 85 x 19 mm

Based on the documentation on the Aliexpress page, the box appears to run both Android 6.0 and OpenWrt, and ships with a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a user’s manual, a high gain WiFi antenna, and a power adapter. HDMI input support DVR, Broadcasting over UDP, and PiP functions.

The company also published a picture of the board, and for people who want to develop U-boot or Linux on the board (mainline for RTD1295 is in progress), the 4-pin header on the right between the USB 3.0 port and micro SD slot could the UART header to access the serial console. We’ve previously seen USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet performance is excellent on such box, so it could also make an interesting Linux device/board if more people work on it.

Other Aliexpress sellers offer the box for a few dollars higher, GearBest is not quite as competitive here, as it sells the device for $78 including worldwide shipping [Update: GBCNA coupon brings that down to $67.19].  If you do a group buy of at least five, DHGate sells it for  $62.29 per unit including DHL shipping.

Thanks to Danman for the tip.

Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 6th, 2017 11 comments

Vorke Z3 is another mini PC / TV box powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with two Cortex A72 cores, and two Cortex A53 cores making it theoretically one of the fastest TV boxes on the market, excluding NVIDIA Shield Android TV which is well ahead of the competition, albeit with poor worldwide availability. I’ve have already shown Vorke Z3 hardware inside out, so in the second part of the review, I’ll focus on testing the firmware including video playback, and the system performance, and see how it compares to the similar Yundoo Y8, which I reviewed last month.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

One the selling point of Vorke Z3 is its SATA connector, so I connected a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive first, as well as Seagate USB 3.0 drive (1TB) to the USB 3.0 port, I also added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard, as well as two USB RF dongles for Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse. I did not use the USC type C port at that point, but we’ll see later that it can be used for firmware update, remote storage access, and video output.  I completed the hardware setup by plugging in Ethernet, HDMI, and power cables.

Click to Enlarge

Press the mechanical power switch on the rear panel in order to start the box, with a typical boot taking around 30 seconds. That’s acceptable, but I was expecting a faster boot with the high end eMMC flash used together with the powerful processor. The first time, you may be asked to choose between Launcher3 (Stock Android Home screen similar to what you get on your phone) better if you are close to the screen using the box as a mini PC,

or the familiar MediaBox Launcher better suited to TV use, if you are seated a few meters from the screen.

Click for Original Size

Below are the pre-installed app (minus RKMC which I installed manually) in the stock firmware.

YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix are installed, but you’ll notice Kodi is missing, and there’s a good reason for this as we’ll find out below…

Click to Enlarge

The Settings are pretty much standard, but when you go to Display Output, you’ll see HDMI and HDMI1 output, because the mini PC can handle two display if you connect a compatible USB type C to HDMI dock to the device, and you can either mirror the displays, or extend the desktop. I don’t have such dock, and GeekBuying did not seem interested in sending me one, so I did not test that part, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I could still go to the HDMI section, and configure video output up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz. What I found out is that the system will not keep the setting, and it will just jump aroud 4K @ 30 Hz, 1080p60 or 720p60 between reboots. The Sound & Notification section does not include “Sound Devices Manager”, so you can’t enable audio pass-through, so if you want to do that you’d have to use the blue “Settings” app instead. The settings do not have any options for CEC or HDR, with the latter not supported by the hardware.

The screenshot above was taken at the end of the review, and I still had plenty of space out of the 26.74GB partition. USB3_NTFS is the NTFS partition of my four partitions USB drive, meaning exFAT, EXT-4 and BTRFS file systems are not supported. “USB Drive” is actually the SATA drive, and is a misnomer as the hardware implementation relies on a PCIe to SATA bridge. In case you planed to use the device as a mini PC connected to your printer, you may want to know Printing settings are missing.

The About section shows the device name is indeed VORKE Z3, and it runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.4.166 with the Android security patch dated August 2016. The build machine’s hostname is sunchip-CS24-TY, so it’s quite possible Sunchip is being the software and hardware design. Two versions of the firmware are available with either root or no root, so you could install the one you prefer using AndroidTool (Windows) or upgrade_tool (Linux).

The IR remote control is pretty basic, and I assume most people will used the own input device be it a an air mouse or the smartphone app. It did the job but only up to 4 meters, farther than this, and some key presses will be missed. I had no troubles installing apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground stores.

It’s not possible to cleanly power off the device with the remote control, only the mechanical switch on the back can do this, so instead you can only go in or out of standby.  I measured the power consumption with or without SATA and/or USB hard drive(s) attached in power off, standby, and idle modes:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 5.1 Watts
  • Idle – 5.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 8.1 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 9.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 10.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 11.2 Watts

After playing a 2-hour H.264 video in Kodi, I measured maximum temperatures of 37 and 40°C on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer, but the temperature felt a little higher than that when touching the surface with my hand, maybe it’s made of a material that interferes with measurements. After playing Riptide GP2 for around 15 minutes, the temperatures went up a little to 39 and 42°C, and gameplay was OK overtime, but only similar to what I experience on Yundoo Y8 or Amlogic S912 TV Boxes, and not as smooth as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. CPU-Z always reports 26 °C, so it’s not usable as an alternative temperature measure. I also noticed the box got quite hot (44 °C with IR thermometer) when I turned off the display, and let the UI in the launcher doing nothing. I did not notice any sharp drop in performance during use, but thermal throttling is happening as we’ll see in the Benchmark section.

I like the SATA port and USB type C port supporting data and video in Vorke Z3, and I found the firmware to be rather stable and very responsive. However, there are many small issues like no clean power off, HDMI setting is not remembered properly, so settings like Printing, CEC, Audio device, and automatic frame rate switching are missing from the main Setting app. The IR remote control does not feel very good either, and range was rather short.

Kodi & RKMC Video Playback, DRM Info, and YouTube

Kodi is not installed so I went to the Google Play store to install Kodi 17.3, and naively expected most videos to play fine. Those are my results for 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Stays in UI
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – First try: Kodi hangs; Second try: ~2fps + artifacts (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

Wow… I don’t think I can remember any platform that failed that badly. But I usually use the pre-installed Kodi app, which in this case was missing, so maybe that’s why. I’ll give up on Kodi 17.3 for now, but I remember somebody mentioned RKMC 16.1 would work better on Rockchip device. I did some research, and installed RKMC in the box. I made some mistake doing so, reinstalled the firmware and lost all my screenshots in the process. So maybe sure you backup any files before messing with the system partition or config files.

But what about the results with RKMC and my 4K videos samples?:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Crash
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Crash
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI + hang
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Crash
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI + hang
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Crash
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI + audio
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI + audio
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK (hardware decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

So H.265 video won’t play, VP9 will, but are unwatchable with software decode, and only H.264 videos are playing relatively well.

I got more insights in my RKMC post with Superceleron commenting:

Well don’t expect miracles, besides that is a old kodi fork dont have python 2.7 and it have subtitles security flaw.
On my tests, on A7 version of rk sdk use kodi 18 nightly it will play ok almost all codecs. (i just made a custom rom for A95X-R2 so i know it plays it ok)
On A6 forget it, i had to make some mix custom roms to make it work with FTMC.. it now plays almost all codecs (it crashes with RKCodec on H264 10bits, but mediacodec play ok but max 720p)
Rockchip never learns….

and

Yes need to wait for it, or simple try one of my roms for 3399 like for the Yundoo Y8 or H96 Max.
It will work lot better than stock, i fixed the play of VP9 in Hw in FTMC but still crash in H264 10bits, and cant play Youtube 4k due to codec issue!

So at this stage, I’d recommend not to buy any Rockchip RK3399 TV box if you want to play videos in Kodi, and wait for Android 7.1 firmware which is expected sometimes in the next few weeks or months. If you already have one, and/or are ready to waste some time, you could try TVMC that works somewhat in Yundoo Y8, or use one of the aforementioned ROMs on Freaktab.

I’ll skip video testing in this review, and if time permits perform tests again once Android 7.1 firmware and Kodi 18.0 are released.

Click to Enlarge

I still checked DRM info, and there’s no DRM support at all, except for something called CENC ClearKey.

YouTube worked well for me up to 1080p. Video is rendered to the framebuffer (I can take screenshot of it), which should explain the resolution limitation, and mean that it’s likely using software decode.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

As I connected to my 802.11ac router, I noticed the Link Speed was 526 Mbps when I checked, so better than the usual 433 Mbps you get on most other devices.

I first tested WiFi 802.11ac throughput by transferring a 278MB file beetween SAMBA and the internal flash and vice versa using ES File Explorer. There’s again a serious problem with SAMBA implementation, as download speed was fairly good @ 3.00 MB/s, but upload speed drop to 1.06 MB/s only, leading to a well below average average speed.

Throughput in MB/s

But iperf tests below show 802.11ac performance is actually quite good in both directions, so the real problem is with SAMBA implementation/configuration in the firmware.

WiFi 802.11ac upload:

WiFi 802.11ac download:

I repeated the SAMBA test with a larger 885 MB file over Gigabit Ethernet, and I confirmed the same issue as it took 49 seconds to upload the file from the server, and 1 minute and 52 seconds to upload the file.

I also run iperf again for Gigabit Ethernet using full duplex option:

I was expecting higher numbers, but those values will be good enough for most people.

Storage Performance

I used A1SD Bench to evaluate sequential performance of internal storage, USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces.

Click to Enlarge

In theory, the Samsung eMMC flash used is very good, and results from the benchmark confirm this with 157.63 MB/s read speed, and 124.80 MB/s write speed. That’s the best performance I’ve ever gotten from an Android device.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Sure enough, I never had troubles with “app is not responding” or app beings slow to load.

USB 3.0 and SATA performance is also pretty solid, especially sequential read speed. Write speed was actually 100 MB/s the first time I tried with SATA, but after I had to reinstall the firmware, I never managed to get back to that result with the speed limited to around 72 MB/s.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Nevertheless, results are fairly good, and SATA should provide a little more performance than USB 3.0.

Vorke Z3 Benchmark & System Info

CPU-Z reports a dual cluster “RK3066” processor with two Cortex A72 cores @ 1.99 GHz, and four Cortex A53 cores @ 1.51 GHz, and an ARM Mali-T860 GPU.

Click to Enlarge

VORKE Z3 (rk3399_box) uses a 1920×1080 framebuffer resolution, comes with 3878MB total RAM (the rest being used by hardware buffers), and 26.74 GB interface storage.

Antutu 6.x score varies a lot between 69k and 78k due to thermal throttling. But if I run the benchmark right after boot, I get the result below, roughly the same as Yundoo Y8 one (76,819 points).

Vellamo 2.x results would also varies due to thermal throttling, but also because for some reasons SunSpider test would fail to run from time to time, as shown by the yellow mark on the first Chrome Browser test.
For some reasons, Chrome Browser result is much lower (4,512) compared to the 5,275 points I got with Yundoo Y8, but Multicore (2,587 vs 2,492) and Metal (2,311 vs 2,332) results are roughly the same.

3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme results was also slightly lower with 9,726 points compared to 9,906 points for Yundoo Y8.

Click to Enlarge

At one point I only got 6,7xx points, but it was not because of overheating, and was instead due to the system randomly changing resolution and refresh rate, with the video output set to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz at the time, limiting the framerate to 30 fps max.

Conclusion

I did not have the best experience with Vorke Z3 due to my struggle with Kodi and RKMC, and various smaller issues like HDMI output resolution & framerate randomly changing between reboots, lack of proper power off mode, some overheating, etc… But there are also some positives like excellent internal storage performance, good USB 3.0 and SATA performance, a USB type C port supporting data, and video output, and very good WiFi performance, so I’m hoping the upcoming Android 7.1 Nougat firmware will greatly improve the device usefulness.

PROS

  • Good overall performance and stable firmware
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV box
  • Fast USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces for external storage
  • Very good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • USB type C port with support for data and video output (via an external dock).
  • OTA firmware update appears to be supported

CONS

  • The device is unusable with Kodi 17.3, or RKMC with most videos failing to play properly
  • Overheating leading to CPU / GPU throttling (The performance degradation is noticeable in benchmarks, but I have not really experienced it during normal use after playing a 2-hour video, or playing games for 15 minutes)
  • HDMI video output setting is not properly remembered, and it may be 720p, 4K30, 1080p60 at next boot.
  • No clean power off mode (mechanical switch only)
  • Only NTFS and FAT32 files systems are supported, no EXT-4, no exFAT
  • Lack of DRM support
  • Poor upload speed to SAMBA server

GeekBuying sent the device for review, and in case you are interested you could buy Vorke Z3 for $149.99 shipped with VORKEZ3F coupon on their website. You’ll also find the device from various sellers on Aliexpress.

A95X R2 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.1, Video & Audio Tests, and Benchmarks

June 26th, 2017 6 comments

In the first part of A95X R2 Rockchip RK3328 TV box review, I listed the specifications of the device, took a few photos, and reported about the chip used in the PCBA. I’ve now had time to play with the box, so I can report about my experience with Android 7.1, video & audio capabilities, and the performance of the device in the second part of the review.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port of the box, a USB keyboard to one of the USB port to take screenshots, and a USB hub with the RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad in the remaining USB 2.0 port. I completed the hardware setup with Ethernet and HDMI cables, as well as the power supply.

Click to Enlarge

I then pressed the power button on the unit to start it up, the front panel display showed a “Boot” string, and the box booted to recovery mode automatically.

I remember I had a “update.zip” file  for U5 PVR Deluxe in my USB hard drive, so maybe that was the issue. So I deleted it, and it can boot normally now most of the time, as sometimes it will still go into recovery mode, maybe a power issue since the 5V/2A adapter is just on the limit… So the only way to reliable boot the device is to remove the USB hard drive during boot. A typical boot is very fast, as it only takes about 19 seconds, faster than all devices I’ve reviewed so far.

Click for Original Size

It’s the first time I see this launcher, but the features are pretty standard with status icons, weather, date & time on the top, some shortcuts to the Play Store, web Browser, File Explorer, App list…., and a bottom row with customizable shortcuts. The HELP icon redirects to www.tvboxceo.com with a Q&A and Solutions sections explaining how to solve some common problems (e.g. how to install adult add-ons….), and download apps like TVMC (Kodi fork), Add-ons, Plex, Netflix, etc… Note that the resolution is only 1280×720, instead of 1920×1080 on most devices.

Click to Enlarge

Clicking on Settings will bring a right panels with various options, instead of starting it full screen. The settings are pretty standard with Network for WiFi and Ethernet, Sound including Audio device to select Default Output, Spdif passthrough, or HDMI bitstream, Display to select resolution from 720x480p-60 to 4096x2160p-60(YCbCr420), and other typical settings you’d normally find in Android.  What’s missing however are settings for HDMI CEC, HDR, and automatic frame rate switching that you’d normally find in (Amlogic) TV boxes.

Click to Enlarge

The box could detect EXT-4 and NTFS partitions in my hard drive, albeit with a wrong 32GB total size instead of around 250 MB, meaning BTRFS and exFAT are not supported. The Internal storage is reported to be 8.0 GB, but the actual available space is 4.7 GB before installing apps. The About Section shows A95x_R2 device runs Android 7.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.104 with the latest Android security patch level dated February 5, 2017. The device is rooted, and OTA firmware appears to be working, but I could not confirm since I did not get any firmware update.

The box comes with Google Play for TVs, but search is not working as the search field will disappear about 2 seconds after you enable it, so I could only install some apps from the Top Free section like ES File Explorer File Manager, and Beach Buggy Blitz.

Instead I reverted to APKPure to install most apps, including Amazon Underground, which I then used to install the free version of Riptide GP2.

Click to Enlarge

The screenshot above is after I installed APKPure, Antutu and CPU-Z, but it shows few apps are pre-installed, and Kodi is even missing from the list. However, when I tried to install Kodi from APKPure, it showed it was already installed, and I could only open it with started TVMC 16.1, but more on that latter.

The Setup Wizard app will allow you to run some basic configuration like language, overscan adjustment, and networking. It was not triggered during the first boot for me.

The status bar can be hidden or shown are you prefer, and includes volume, Android buttons, and a screenshot button.

I tested the IR remote control, which worked reliably up to 7 meters, and further than that I started to experience key misses. IR learning function is also working. As usual, I spent most of the time using MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse instead since it’s so much more convenient in Android.

Power handling works a little differently than most TV boxes. The only way to turn on the device after you connect the power is to press the power button on the unit, but if your turn off the box with the remote control, it’s possible to turn it back on with either the remote control or the power button on the device. A short press on the remote control’s power button will put the box in standby mode, while a long press will show a menu to either power off or restart the device.

I’ve measured power consumption with and without USB 3.0 hard drive , and differentiated between “hard” power off (connected power supply, but not started), and soft power off (power off from remote control):

  • Hard power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Soft power off – 1.0 Watt
  • Standby – 1.0 Watt
  • Idle – ~4.0 Watts
  • Hard power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Soft power off + USB HDD – ~4.0 Watts
  • Standby + USB HDD – ~4.0 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – ~5.3 Watts

Soft power off mode is pretty much useless, as it consumes just as much as standby mode, and you need to go through the full boot sequence. If you want to properly turn off the device, you’ll need to press the button on the unit for about five seconds, release it, and you’ll see the “power off” sequence like you would on your phone. Power consumption will be zero watt in that case.

A95X R2 box is not super cool during use, but I have not noticed obvious CPU throttling during use. After playing a 2-hour video in Kodi / TVMC, the temperature measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device was 49 and 54 °C respectively, and after playing Riptide GP2 for over 15 minutes, it went up to 50 and 57 °C. I also checked the temperature reported by CPU-Z after both test: 82.3 and 89.2 °C, so it looks to be on the limit. Gamin performance in Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 was very good, even with maximum settings, but it was certainly helped with the 1280×720 resolution.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather mixed as beside the first boot into recovery, a 720p user interface, and an unusable Google Play, I also had many “App isn’t responding window” due to the slow storage. The box basically comes to a halt when an app is being installed/updated in the background, so that’s certainly a major downside for the box, especially when it does so in the background while you are using another program.

Video & Audio Playback in TVMC, DRM Info, and YouTube

TVMC 16.1, a fork of Kodi 16.1, is installed the box. However, by default, no icon is shown. I first found the app via APKPure, as when I search for Kodi, I could not install it, instead I was offered to Open it, and TVMC was launched.

Click for Original Size

If you want easy access to TVMC icon, install it via the HELP section of the main launched. I enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi/TVMC, before trying a few videos (Linaro Media Samples) played from a SAMBA share over Ethernet:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

All good, and to my surprise, automatic frame rate switching also worked just fine, so I played a few more videos, still from SAMBA, unless other stated (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – OK
  • 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
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

Still very good, so let’s switch to some 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  SAMBA: Frequent buffering; HDD: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 1 to 2 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not 100% smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – SAMBA: Some audio cuts due to buffering; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: perfect.
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Slideshow
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Lots of artifacts (software decode)

We can start to see some “cracks” here, with some 50 to 60 Mbps videos failing to play smoothly over Ethernet + SAMBA, and VP9 hardware decoding not implemented in TVMC despite being supported by the processor (in theory). So I tried again the VP9 videos in FileExplorer, but I was not able to login to the SAMBA share, so I played them from the hard drive instead. It worked, but with large black bars on the bottom, left and right on the screen, and rendered on the framebuffer, meaning 720p instead of 4K.

The option to adjust Zoom/Aspect Ratio is also not available while playing videos in Kodi either.

Click to Enlarge

TVMC has option for audio pass-through for AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS HD, so I tested those over HDMI with Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, as well as stereo output (PCM 2.0) downsampling.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK,
video: 1:1 aspect ratio
Audio OK,
video: 1:1 aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Dolby True HD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X OK DTS HD MSTR 7.1ch B

My AV receiver does not support Dolby Atmos, nor DTS:X, so it correctly falls back to Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master. I’m pleasantly surprise here again. Note that the first time, I had some background noise for all pass-through options, but once I enabled HDMI BitStream in Android settings, and restarted TVMC, everything worked fine.

Playing Blu-Ray ISOs would often results in TVMC crashing, and when working AMAT.iso would play very very slowly, while Sintel.iso would play just fine. MPEG2 1080i videos & 720p/1080p Hi10p videos played perfectly well. That makes A95X R2 the very first TV box I own capable of handling all three Hi10p (10-bit H.264) videos samples I own at 720p, 1080p, and 4K resolution with video, audio, and subtitles working.

The box could also decode SBS and over/under 3D videos, but I could not confirm whether 3D is supported since my TV is not 3D capable. Various MKV, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, VOB/IFO, and FLV videos could play, and the TV box passed the reliability test with a 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie played over a SAMBA share. So while the Android performance is quite poor due to the slow storage, the video & audio capabilities are not too bad. The only problem is that at the end of the review, TVMC started crashing each time I played a video, and I could not fix it even after clearing cache and data….

Click to Enlarge

DRM Info app shows Google Widevine Level 3 is supported, meaning premium apps like Netflix won’t be able to support HD or UHD video playback.

YouTube works, but can only play videos up to 720p (1280×720) resolution likely before the framebuffer is set to that resolution. The video are also rendered to the framebuffer, instead of the hardware video buffer, as I could take screenshots with the video, something that is not supposed to be possible when playing video on the hardware video buffer.

Networking & Storage Performance

A95X R2 is limited to 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, so that’s what I tested by copying a 278MB file between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. I could transfer that file at 3.2MB/s on average, a very good results on this type of connection.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I also used iperf -t 60 -c ip_server to test raw speeds.

  • WiFi upload:

  • WiFi download:

and results are again pretty good. I also quickly tested Fast Ethernet using full duplex transfer, and the bandwidth was maxed out in both directions:

I won’t test Bluetooth with this device, simply because it does not support it.

Switching to A1SD bench app for storage performance, I can confirm the cheap Samsung eMMC flash used in the device has poor write speed (6.46 MB/s), and read speed (71.14MB/s) should be ignored due to cached read. That flash is the reason of some of the very poor performance with the TV box at times, especially when write operation (e.g. installing/updating app) occur in the background.

USB 3.0 performance is however impressive with 100.25 MB/s and 80.21 MB/s read and write speed on the NTFS partition, and 94.52 MB/s and 90.73 MB/s on the EXT-4 partition.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The performance is excellent, and is close to the performance I got on my main computer with that drive. That’s very promising for other RK3328 hardware platforms, as sadly A95X R2 is bottlenecked by the Fast Ethernet connection.

A95X R2 TV Box / Rockchip RK3328 Benchmarks and System Info

CPU-Z reports a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 408 MHz to 1.51 GHz with an ARM Mali-450MP GPU. The model is A95x_R2 (A95x_R2_8189), probably meaning there may be other models with a different WiFi module, and as mentioned previously the “screen resolution” is limited to 1280×720. 990 MB of total RAM is available to the system, and 5.27 GB of internal storage.

Click to Enlarge

A95X R2 scores 33,117 points in Antutu 6.x , or about the same as TV boxes with Amlogic S905X, which should be expected, as both processors have similar features, except RK3328 has one less GPU cores. This is mitigated by the 1280×720 UI instead of 1920×1080. If the developer had chosen the latter, the score should have been a little lower.

Vellamo 3.x also reports similar scores with 1,943 point for Chrome Browser test, 1,464 points for Multicore (one test failed), and 937 for the Metal score, against 1,855 points for Browser test (note: not Chrome), 1,491 points for multicore, and 910 for Metal for an Amlogic S905X TV box

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme v1.2 reveals the weakness of the CPU with just 2,252 points, against 4,183 points on Amlogic S905X processor.

Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

My review of A95X R2 did not start so well with boot problems when connecting a USB hard drive (using a beefier power supply may help), and frequent sluggishness and app is not responding pop-up windows appearing. However, video and audio playback are quite well support with automatic frame rate switching and HD audio pass-through working well. USB 3.0 performance is excellent, and I was also pleased with WiFi performance.

PROS

  • Latest Android 7.1.1 Nougat firmware
  • Good 4K video & audio support in TVMC (Kodi’s fork) with automatic frame rate switching and HD audio pass-through working for DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD
  • Very good WiFi performance and stability (for a device limited to 802.11n)
  • Excellent USB 3.0 storage performance similar to what I get on my main computer
  • NTFS, EXT-4, and FAT32 file systems supported
  • Pretty design with compact box and front panel LCD display
  • Fast boot (< 20 seconds)
  • OTA firmware update likely supported (but not tested, since no new firmware)

CONS

  • Slow eMMC flash leading to sluggishness, and poor performance at times
  • Connecting a USB 3.0 hard drive may lead to booting into recovery (random issue)
  • Google Play is not usable, due to non-accessible search function
  • TVMC/Kodi issues – no zoom option during playback, VP9 hardware decoding not working, random crash when starting to play Blu-ray ISO’s, failed to play any videos at the end of review
  • YouTube limited to 720p (due to 1280×720 UI)
  • No visible options for HDR, HDMI CEC, Deep Color, etc…
  • No Bluetooth support
  • DRM limited to Widevine Level 3

It’s hard to recommend A95X R2 TV box due to the serious cons, but I find Rockchip RK3328 good be a good base on hardware with a faster eMMC flash, and Gigabit Ethernet, even potentially suitable for a NAS + TV Box combo due to the excellent USB 3.0 storage performance.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing a sample for review. If you are still interested, you could purchase A95X R2 for $32.99 including shipping using GBA95XR2 coupon. The TV box can also be found on Banggood, GeekBuying, and Aliexpress for just under $40.