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Posts Tagged ‘wifi’

Onion Omega2S and Omega2S+ Linux WiFi Modules Launched for OEMs

July 21st, 2017 2 comments

Onion Omega2 and Omega2+ are tiny WiFi IoT development boards powered by Mediatek MT7688 MIPS processor running LEDE – OpenWrt fork – that sold for just $5 and up in Kickstarter, but are now selling for $7.50 and $9 respectively. The board also support various add-on boards, and a great for evaluation and various projects. But they may not be ideal for people who want to integrate the technology into their products, and that’s why the company have just launched Omega2S and Omega2S+ with about the same specifications, but in a package more suitable to be integrated into products for mass production.

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Onion Omega2S/2S+ specifications:

  • WiSoC – Mediatek MT7688 MIPS processor @ 580 MHz
  • System Memory / Storage
    • Omega2S – 64MB DDR2 / 16MB flash
    • Omega2S+ – 128MB DDR2 / 32 MB flash
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi with u.FL antenna connector
  • Baseboard Interface – Half holes (aka castellated holes) with GPIOs, I2C, I2S, SPI, SDIO, serial, PWM, USB, Ethernet, PCIe, reset, antenna, and power signals: 3.3V VIN, 3.3V VINFLASH, GND)
  • Power Supply – 3.3V
  • Dimensions – 34 x 20 x 2.8mm
  • Certifications – FCC and CE
  • Temperature Range – Operating: -10 to 55 °C; storage: -20 to 80 °C

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Software support will be the same as for the hobbyist boards with mainline LEDE support, the staging tree on Github, and Linux 4.4 kernel. You’ll also find Omega2S datasheet on the product page. Bear in mind that the download is integrated into their store system. so it’s a (free) purchase, and you’ll receive an invoice with the download link… The main differences between the modules and the boards are the smaller dimensions, higher number of I/Os (42 in total), no SD card slot on the plus version, and no WiFi chip antenna.

Since the customers for the module could use any of the interfaces for their product, the company also designed two versions of Omega2S Development Kit which differ only by their storage:

  • OM2S-DK-SD: SD Card Slot version (with 8GB Micro SD Card Included)
  • OM2S-DK-EM: 8GB eMMC Memory version

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The rest of the specification for the devkit are identical:

  • Easy insertion socket for the Omega2S Module
  • Wired Connectivity – Ethernet (RJ45) connector
  • USB – USB and Micro-USB ports
  • Expansion – Headers for all I/Os
  • Misc – Dual Reset Functions
  • Power Supply – Barrel power jack

The development kit will start selling for $249 on August 1st with the baseboard of your choice, two Omega2S modules, two Omega2S+ modules, an SD card (OM2S-DK-SD model only), a u.FL antenna, and various cables.

Pricing and availability for the module themselves have not been made public, so you’d have to contact the company for this type of information.

Flic Hub Controls WiFi, Bluetooth, and IR Devices with Bluetooth LE Buttons (Crowdfunding)

July 10th, 2017 No comments

This week-end, I wrote about 1btn open source WiFi button that can allow you directly control WiFi appliances, and/or set scenes without the need for a smartphone. We also discussed limitations of WiFi due to high power consumption, security issues and the one-way aspect of RF communication, and that Bluetooth 5 may be a better option for range and battery life if possible. Flic Hub is another way to approach the issue, as it combines Bluetooth LE buttons with a gateway supporting WiFi, Bluetooth, and infrared.

Flic Hub gateway specifications:

  • Connectivity – Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth LE, WiFi, Ethernet, IR via optional add-on accessory.
  • Audio – 3.5mm audio out/mic in
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB
  • Power Consumption – 1.5W typ.
  • Security – SPARKE2+ Bluetooth encryption
  • Dimensions – 85 x 50 x 15 mm
  • Weight – 99 grams

Users can configure workflows by setting up Flic with IFTTT, Zapier, Microsoft Flow or even the HTTP request function in their apps. A Flic SDK for iOS and Android is also available, The Flib Hub runs Linux, and they encourage hacking it to fit your project/application.

You can control individual devices with the Hub, but also set scenes such as turning off light, blinds, and aircon, as well as locking with the door when you leaving by pressing once, and cancel this mode with two clicks when you comeback. It can also be used to order items online with one to multiple press, and short and long presses.

The Flic button has actually been around for a little while, as it was launched in 2015 via Indiegogo, and initially relied on your smartphone to act as a gateway. They added to Flic Hub to control more than just Bluetooth devices, and offer a more capable gateway working without smartphone, so for example you can now use up to 60 buttons, instead of just 8 with a smartphone, and anybody in your home can easily use the buttons.

The Flic buttons battery life has also been increased to up to 3 years. You can find reviews of the first Flic buttons without hub on sites like CNET, as well as somewhat mixed customers’ reviews on Amazon.

Flic Hub is now on Indiegogo with 10 days to go, and over $300,000 raised. If you already own some Flic buttons, you can pledge $69 to get the Flic Hub only, and if you plan to control IR devices too, then you’ll want to add the infrared accessory for a total of $79. If you are new to Flic, you may prefer option for Flic Hub with 3 buttons for $109, or $124 with the IR accessory. They also offer glow in the dark buttons for $59 (2 buttons) or $99 (4 buttons) that could be very useful in some situations. Shipping is free to the US, $10 to the European Union, and $15 to the rest of the world. Delivery is scheduled for October 2017.

Thanks to Leon for the tip.

1btn is a Battery Powered Open Source ESP8266 WiFi Button

July 8th, 2017 17 comments

If you have some WiFi power switch like Sonoff TH16 at home, you’d normally control them using a mobile app or a web interface. This is all good, but getting your phone, unlocking it, and launching the app to turn on or off an appliance is not the most efficient way to operate, and in some cases, some people in the household may not know how to use a smartphone. Physical WiFi buttons are the solution, but there aren’t so many for sale. We’ve seen previously it was possible to hack an Amazon Dash, but it’s not really that flexible, and 1btn could potentially be a better option, as it’s open source and based on Espressif ESP8266 WiSoC.

1btn specifications:

  • WiFi Module – ESP-12F based on Espressif ESP8266
  • MCU – Microchip Atmel ATmegaxx8 AVR MCU
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/b WiFi up to ~50 meter range
  • USB – 1x USB port for charging and programming (via on-board USB to Serial chip)
  • Misc – User button, multi-color LED, power on/off switch
  • Expansion –
    • AVR MCU – 2x 8-pin headers with ADC, I2C, SPI, RESET, 3.3V, and GND signals
    • ESP8266 – 1x 8-pin header with GPIO, Tx/Rx signals, 3.3V and GND signals
  • Battery – Rechargeable 3.7V/500mAh battery
  • Dimensions – Around 60 mm side to side
  • Weight – ~50 grams

The hardware design files, mechanical design, and NodeMCU (Lua) based firmware can all be found on Github, releases under an MIT license. The button can be used to send an email, text message (via Twilio SMS), or a tweet, as well as invoke an URL action allowing to use all sort of APIs and services such as IFTTT.


The Atmel MCU is used to keep battery life under check, as the button will only connect to WiFi then you press the button. It takes about 5 to 7 seconds to wake up from sleep, and send the message, after which the button goes back to sleep. The battery will last around 300 presses before it needs to be recharged, or about 5 months if you use the button twice a day.

1btn sells on Tindie for $40 plus shipping. That’s a little more than expected, so tried to look for alternative beside Amazon Dash, and I found “ESP8266 IFTTT WiFI Button Dev Kit” – aka Abutton – on Aliexpress going for $13.43 shipped. The button can be re-programmed with custom firmware, and is based on Apixel  ESP8266 dev board with an ESP8266, but not MCU, so it has to rely on ESP8266 low power mode, so battery life is likely to be quite lower than 1btn. Talking about batteries, there are none, and instead there’s a compartment for 2 AA batteries. The Arduino or NodeMCU source code for Abutton can also be found on Github.

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WiFi is not exactly the ideal wireless solution for this, that’s maybe why Bluetooth buttons are much more common, and quite cheaper, so maybe having a ESP32 wireless power switch with WiFi and Bluetooth, plus a BT button would be both a better and cheaper solution. The only problem is that AFAIK ESP32 wireless switches don’t exist right now, except in board form factor, and not in a neatly packaged product like the Sonoff switch.

Sonoff B1 is an $18 Hackable WiFi RGB LED E27 Light Bulb based on ESP8285 WiSoC

July 4th, 2017 6 comments

Earlier this year, I wrote about an ESP8266 based RGB LED “AI Light” lightbulb that was hacked to run ESPurna open source firmware. That’s all good, except some people tried to get one, and ended with a different hardware. So if you’d like something that’s more of a “sure thing”, ITEAD Studio has designed Sonoff B1 dimmable RGB LED E27 light bulb based on ESP8285 processor, and with a “4 pads” to allow for custom firmware flashing.

Sonoff B1 hardware specifications:

  • Typical Lumen Output – 600lm
  • Beam Angle – 120 degrees typ.
  • Color Temperature –  2800K-6500K & RGB full color
  • Connectivity – WiFi 802.11 b/g/n @ 2.4GHz
  • Power Supply – 90-260V AC 50/60Hz via E27 base
  • Power Consumption – Light off: 0.5W Max; rated power: 6W
  • Temperature Range – Operating: 0ºC~ 40ºC; storage: -20ºC~ 80ºC
  • Operating Humidity – 5%-90% RH

Sonoff B1 with stock firmware can be controlled using the usual eWelink Android / iOS app to turn the light on and off, define timers, select the color, and/or dim the light. The aopp also supports 4 scenes for resting, reading, partying and casual use that you can customize as you wish. The LED bulb is also compatible with Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant services so you can use voice commands to control the light instead. Bear in mind that you may need to wait a little longer to get custom firmware working for it, unless you are willing to get your hands dirty. But this looks so similar to “AI Light”, that I’d expect a port not to be too difficult.

You can purchase Sonoff B1 light bulb for $18 + shipping on ITEAD Studio website.

Orange Pi i96 96Boards IoT Edition WiFi & Bluetooth Development Board Finally Launched for $8.80

July 1st, 2017 30 comments

Orange Pi i96 board was first unveiled at Linaro Connect US 2016 in September of that year, as one of the first boards compliant with 96Boards IoT Edition specification, and expected to sell for just $9.99. The good news is that the board is now finally available for $8.80 plus shipping on Aliexpress ($12.19 in total in my case)

Orange Pi i96 specifications:

  • SoC – RDA Micro 8810PL ARM Cortex A5 processor @ up to 1.0 GHz with 2Gbit (256 MB) on-chip LPDDR2 RAM, 4Gbit (512 MB) on-chip SLC NAND flash , 256KB L2 cache, and Vivante GC860 3D GPU
  • External Storage – micro SD slot
  • Connectivity – WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 2.1/EDR module (RDA5991)
  • Camera – MIPI CSI-2 connector for camera sensor up to 5MP
  • Video – 1080p30 H.264 encoding
  • USB – 1x USB host port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Expansion – 40-pin GPIO header with SPI, I2C, GPIOs, etc…
  • Debugging – 3x pin UART for serial console
  • Misc – 8 selection jumpers, power button, power LED, boot selection header
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port; optional support for battery power
  • Dimensions – 60 x 30 mm as per 96Boards IoT Edition specification
  • Certifications – CE and FCC based on the silkscreen

The hardware is a cost-down version of Orange Pi 2G-IoT board without 2G / GSM support, no display interface, no heaphone jack, and a smaller PCB (60×30 mm vs 68×42 mm). The company claims the board supports Android 4.4, Ubuntu, and Debian, and we already have Android SDK with Linux and u-boot source code. Note that the board is not listed on 96Boards IE page yet, and I’d like to remind readers that while 96Boards specifications target both hardware and software, many companies do not comply with the software part of the specifications, and having a 96Boards compliant board does not mean Linaro engineers themselves are working on it. RDA Micro 8810PL processor on development boards is also pretty new, so you can’t expect everything to mostly work out of the box, like you would on Allwinner H3 boards, and for example booting Linux from NAND (Android is OK), and controlling GPIOs may still be an issue at this stage.

Nevertheless, the price, features, and dimensions of this Linux board could make it an alternative to ESP32 boards such as Wemo LoLin32 for some IoT projects, especially where the RAM and storage might be tight. The board could also be interesting for connected camera applications.

Thanks to theguyuk for the tip.

Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 1200 Platform for Wearables Supports LTE Cat M1 and NB1 (NB-IoT)

June 28th, 2017 No comments

After Snapdragon Wear 2100 and 1100 launched last year , Qualcomm has announced a new Snapdragon Wear 1200 platform still designed for wearables, but with lower power consumption, less processing power, a more compact package, and built-in support for LTE IoT communications standards such as LTE Cat M1 and LTE NB-IoT (Cat NB1).

 

Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 1200 key features and specifications:

  • CPU – ARM Cortex A7 @ 1.3 GHz
  • Memory / Storage – Support for discreet or MCP NAND and LPDDR2
  • Display – Support via SPI for simple UI and displays
  • Modem
    • Global multi-mode supporting Cat-M1 / NB1 / E-GPRS.
    • Supports LTE FDD and TDD for Cat-M1 and E-GRPS and FDD only for Cat-NB1
    • Up to 300 kbps downlink and 350 kbps uplink for Cat-M1
    • 10 kbps download and 60 kbps upload speeds for Cat-NB1
    • Integrated voice support for VoLTE
  • Other Connectivity – Pre-integrated support for Qualcomm 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 / Bluetooth Low Energy
  • Location
    • GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou constellations supported
    • Accurate Wi-Fi and cellular positioning, optimized for Cat-M1/NB1
    • Low power Geo-Fencing
    • Qualcomm Cloud Based Location Services with   day GNSS predicted orbits service, Qualcomm end-to-end Global Terrestrial Positioning (GTP) Wi-Fi
      and cellular service
  • Security
    • Qualcomm Trusted Execution Environment
    • Wireless protocol security
    • Hardware based security with Secure Boot/storage/debug, hardware crypto engine, hardware random number generator, and Trustzone
  • Power Management
    • Ultra-low Rock Bottom Sleep Current (RBSC) for extended standby
    • Power Save Mode (PSM)
    • Extended Discontinuous Receive (eDRX)
    • Charging – Companion charging chipset
  • Package / Process – 79mm2 package; 28nm manufacturing process

The product brief actually mention an ARM Cortex-A1 core, but this must be a mistake, as later on Qualcomm explains the platform is cost-optimized to reduce the BOM and NRE with an ARM Cortex A7 core “eliminating the need for MCUs” . The company also claims the solution is scalable thanks to broad software re-use, and the possibility to add voice, WiFi, and Bluetooth. The solutions is also said to last 10 day on a charge with LTE standy, when paired with 350 mAh battery and using eDRX.

Linux and ThreadX operating systems will be supported, and while Wear 1200 chipset is supposed to target wearables such as kid, pet, elderly, and fitness trackers, I’d assume it might also be useful for some IoT applications like GPS trackers provided it’s cost-effective. Reference designs from Borqs and Quanta are available in order to allow manufacturers to bring products to market quickly. You may be able to find a few more details on Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 1200 product page.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

MXCHIP AZ3166 IoT Developer Kit is Designed to Work with Microsoft Azure

June 25th, 2017 3 comments

MXCHIP is a Shanghai based company designing and manufacturing WiFi IoT modules such as EMW3165, which has now made a development board based on their EMW3166 STM32+ Cypress module – called MXChip AZ3166 – specifically designed for Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.

Click to Enlarge

MXChip AZ3166 board specifications:

  • Wireless Module – EMW3166 WiFi module with STM32F412 ARM Cortex M4F MCU @ 100 MHz with 256KB SRAM,1MB+2MB SPI Flash, Cypress BCM43362 WiFi chip
  • Display – 128×64 OLED display
  • Audio – Audio codec, built-in microphone, and 3.5mm heaphone jack
  • Sensors – Motion sensor,  magnetometer, atmospheric pressure sensor,  temperature and humidity sensor
  • Expansion – Finger extension interface with 25 external I/O pins including GPIOs, I2C, I2S, UART, ADC, Reset, 3.3V, and GND
  • Debugging – DAP Link emulator
  • USB – 1x Micro USB port for power, programming, debugging
  • Misc – 2x user buttons;  1x RGB light; 3x working status indicator; IR emitter; Security encryption chip
  • Power Supply – 3.3V DC, maximum current 1.5A; 5V via micro USB port

The AZ3166 board is Arduino compatible can be used for prototyping IoT and smart device solutions using Visual Studio Code with Arduino Extension. Applications can  integrates with various services like Azure IoT Hub, Logic App and Cognitive Services. You’ll find more technical details on Microsoft’s Azure IoT Devkit and MXCHIP AZ3166 pages.

Visual Studio Code with Arduino Extension – Click to Enlarge

The board is not for sale yet, but you could get a preview board for free, if you can meet Microsoft’s “select criteria”.

Thanks to Freire for the tip.