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Infocus CS1 A83 (C2107) Android Tablet Review

December 16th, 2014 4 comments

I’ve already shown some picture, listed specs and reported Antutu benchmark results for Infocus CS1 A83 Android tablet powered by Allwinner A83T octa core processor. I’ve been using this tablet as my main mobile device for about a week, and for about 3 to 5 hours a day, and I’m now ready to write a full review reporting my experience with this Full HD tablet.

General Impressions

I mainly use a tablet to browse the web, check emails, play some casual games like Candy Crush Saga, watch some YouTube videos, and Skype calls, and I could not really fault the tablet for any of these applications. Having said that, my reference device is only ThL W200 smartphone powered by Mediatek MT6589T processor with a 5″ display @ 1280×720, and for all the tasks listed Infocus tablet is much better because it’s more responsive, the 1920×1200 is crisp, and the cameras are working (for now). I could get a GPS fix quickly too, but GPS is something I tested thoroughly on the tablet.

Battery life is also good for my needs as a charge of the 3,550 mAh battery lasts for well over 24 hours, and takes 2 hours to complete (8% to 98%). They say the first impression is what count, and CS1 A83 (aka C2107) does a good job at that since it boots in about 15 seconds. I’ve only experienced two major annoyances with the volume down button, which requires a strong press to work, and Wi-Fi connectivity does not always work after getting out of standby, requiring a reboot. I worked around the latter issue, but setting Wi-Fi always on in the settings.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMark

Benchmarks are useful as a quick way to evaluate a device’s performance, but they should not be the only reason for your to buy a particular tablet, smaprthone, or any other device.

I’ve already run Antutu last week, but I’ll include it again today, which shows a score (26,000) a little  lower that what you’d get with an Amlogic S802 device (4x Cortex A9 @ 2 GHz + Mali-450MP6 GPU).

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also run two more benchmark to evaluate browser, and multicore performance with Vellamo 3.1 , and 3D graphics with 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme.

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo Score browser score is about the same as LG Nexus 4 smartphone (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro – APQ8064), and at 3,448 points for 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme, InFocus C2107 is certainly not a gaming beast, but as we’ll see below it’s still very much usable.

Internal Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

Internal storage performance is important for overall system responsiveness, as for example while installing apps some system slow down considerably due to I/O activity, and for boot and app loading time. So far, InFocus CS1 A83 is the best device I’ve ever tested with regards to eMMC performance thanks to 58.87 MB/s read speed, and 29.36 MB/s write speed. Benchmark app used: A1 SD Benchmark. Please note that InFocus CS1 A83 us the only tablet in the chart below.

Infocus_C2107_Internal_Storage_Performance

Read & Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also tested the tablet Wi-Fi performance by transferring a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer. I obviously placed the tablet in the same location I normally place TV boxes and development boards.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The tablet transferred the file at 2.72 MB/s (21.76 Mbps) on average which puts it in the middle of the pack. It’s quite possible I should not really compare Wi-Fi performance of a tablet with the one of media player, since these are different form factors. Your environment, including your router firmware, may also greatly impact the relative Wi-Fi performance between devices.

Performance is average, but I never lost Wi-Fi connectivity during active use. The first couple of dauys everything worked fine, but then I started to be unable to connect to my Wi-Fi router when getting out of stack. First I rebooted the tablet to work around the issue, but finally I went to Wi-Fi Settings-> Advanced (Via … green icon on top right),, and set “Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep” to always. This may affect battery life a little bit, but at least this annoying Wi-Fi issue went away.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

The 8MB rear camera does the job, and it clearly delivers better pictures than ThL W200 smartphone, but it struggles in low light conditions for for still pictures and videos, I suppose like most devices. I was also impressed by its ability to take close pictures such as text on books or PCBAs thanks to its autofocus, which at times takes about 1 or 2 seconds to focus. Beside slow focus, and poor quality in low light conditions, the lack of flash may be one of the main downside.

Since photos speak more than words, I’ve include photos samples, as well as video samples at night and day time which I’ve uploaded to YouTube, such make sure you watch them at the max (native resolution).

Video Samples


Other video samples:

Font-facing camera

The 2MP front facing camera is mostly used for selfies, and video conference, so I’ve taken a few close shots of pets and statues.

I’ve also use Skype with the device, and it worked as expected, although the picture is quite dark, and I have not found a way to adjust the front-facing camera brightness, so you’d have to make sure you call in a well lit environment for an optimal visual experience.

Video Playback

In order to test video playback, I simply installed Antutu Video Tester, and run to test to find out Allwinner A83T gets a very good score of 631 points which makes it close to the top of the rankings. This app uses the stock video player test audio/video codecs, and video quality.
Allwinner_A83T_AntutuVideo_Tester_1

Allwinner_A83T_Antutu_Video_Tester_2The device fails to play a realVideo 4 video, and can’t decode ac3 (Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS audio.

As a comparison a device such as Open Hour Chameleon (Rockchip RK3288) can play all video files, but also fails to decode AC3 and DTS (with the stock player), and only gets 263 points due to the poor video quality of Rockchip RK3288 processor (so far, and hopefully firmware upgrades can fix this). To work around the audio issue, you could also install XBMC / Kodi which (most probably illegally) decodes AC3 and DTS by software.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important feature of mobile devices. For my usage, i.e. 3 to 5 hours per day watching YouTube videos, browsing the web, checking emails, some games, and Skype video calls, a full charge is good for over 24 hours.

In order to get a more standardized evaluation of the battery life, I’ve been recommended to use LAB501 Battery Life app which provides ways to test battery life for web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming use cases. I planned to fully charge the tablet, and stop the test when the battery level reached 15%, however for some reasons the browser test stopped at around 50% twice. A full charge sometimes stops at 98%, and won’t go to 100% even after one hour or more. Wi-Fi was on, and brightness set to 50% for all tests.

Here are the results:

  • Browsing (98% to 53%) – 229 minutes (3h50). Extrapolating a linear discharge, it would have last around 7 hours
  • Video (100% to 12%) – 397 minutes (6h37). It should be good enough for 3 to 4 full movies on a charge.
  • Gaming (99% to 15%) – 276 (4h36)

Allwinner_A83T_Dashboard_Power_SavingThe tablet also comes with a Dashboard app showing CPU, memory & Storage usage, as well as battery charge, and option to clean junk, boost memory (by killing apps), and as shown above, set some power savings parameters. I’ve only used the tablet in Normal mode, but if you need extra battery life, or a boost in performance for game, these may be options to consider.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

Both file transfer  and Bluetooth Smart (BLE) worked just fine. The latter was tested with Vidonn X5 smartband.

GPS

I haven’t done much testing with GPS, and at first I thought the tablet may not have GPS, because there are not options for GPS in the Settings. Eventually, Google Maps, Nike running+, and GPS test confirmed the tablet supports GPS, and can get a GPS fix relatively fast, at least when I have an internet connection. I have not tried to roam outside.

Infocus_CS1_A83_GPS_testGaming

I’ve played Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 on the device, and all three games played rather nicely, albeit I noticed a little of sluggishness in Candy Crush Saga. The two racing games played quite well, but it’s probably because they adapt the level of details to the device used.

Others

Multitouch app showed the touchscreen supports five touch points max.

The auto brightness works, but is not really well suited to my eyes / preferences, so most of the time, I set the brightness manually. The good thing is that in the dark, I can set the brightness low enough, so that I don’t need third party apps like Lux Lite. I wish it would be possible to teach the device the level of brightness depending on lighting conditions.

The stereo speakers at the back of the tablet are clear and loud, much louder than my smartphone speakers, but this is probably to be expected.

Video Review

I’ve also shot a video review to show a bit more of different options, benchmark results, gaming (Candy Crush Saga, and Riptide GP2), GPS, PDF reader (Acrobat) performance with a large PDF file (ODROID mazagine), and more. The video has been shot with a sports camera, explaining the lens distortion (fisheye effect).

Conclusion

I really like this tablet, as the screen is sharp, performance is good enough for my need, as well as battery life. The main annoyances for me are the Volume down button not working well, and auto-brightness not configurable.

Here are the list of cons and pros based on my experience.

PROS

  • Clear and crisp 1920×1200 display
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve tested so far
  • Good video playback (based on Antutu Video Tester results)
  • Decent Battery Life – > 24 hours on a charge for my usage
  • Auto focus allows for clear pictures even at close distance (in good light conditions).

CONS

  • Volume down only working when pressing hard (Probably only with my early sample)
  • Wi-Fi may fail to reconnect after getting out of standby (Work around -> Set Wi-Fi always on).
  • Video / still picture quality poor in low light conditions, and lack of flash
  • Some games may feel a little sluggish (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Front-facing camera image is darker than usual in Skype, but this may be a Skype issue, rather than a problem with the tablet’s camera (TBC)
  • Auto-brightness can’t be customized (but it should be fixable via a paid app)

Allwinner and Foxconn sent me an early sample of the tablet, and it’s not available for sale just yet. I’m not even sure of the exact name, maybe it will be sold as InFocus C2107, or maybe InFocus CS1 A83. Price on the invoice was $170. As reference, I’ve checked the price for Amlogic M802 / Mediatek MT6592 tablets with a 7″ display using 1080p or 1920×1200 resolution, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, and other similar specifications which should provide similar performance than the Infocus tablet.  On such model is Chuwi-VX3, which sells for about $180 to $190 but also includes 3G support, so Infocus CS1 A83 should be cheaper than this model, and $150 to $170 including shipping would be a competitive price (IMHO).

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MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Review

December 12th, 2014 18 comments

I posted pictures of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus media player a few days ago, and in this post I will report my impressions and testing results for the box, the first Amlogic S812 device I’ve fully reviewed so far, which adds H.265 video decoding up to 2160p, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the original MINIX NEO X8-H. You can check my previous post for the full specifications of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package includes both MINIX IR remote, and MINIX NEO M1 RF air mouse. I did not use the infrared remote at all, and instead I mostly used the provided air mouse, together with Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse when I needed to input text, or for comparison. NEO M1 comes with a built-in battery, and Off/On button, and can be used as a standard remote control, or as a wireless mouse. In most cases it works fairly well, but inputting text may be a little cumbersome as you need to use the software keyboard, and I’ve noticed when I scroll several times, for example in Google Play going through my list of apps, its behavior becomes erratic, and frustrating to use. I’m tried to charge the NEO M1 again, and re-calibrate it, but it did not help. I’ve also disconnected the other RF dongles to make sure there was no interferences. The Mele F10 (Deluxe) does not have this problem, so overall the “air mouseness” of NEO M1 isnot as good as the one of Mele air mice.

I’ve connected an Ethernet cable to my Gigabit hub, an HDMI cable, an SD card, a USB hard drive, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with three RF dongles for the two air mice, a wireless gamepad, and a USB flash drive. After connecting the power, you need to press the button to start the device. The boot took a massive 1 minute and 54 seconds, which seems really slow for a recent high-end device. So I removed all USB devices, and boot time decreased to one minute, better, but not really a fast booting beast. For refernce some RK3288 devices boot in 20 seconds with all devices connected.

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

The status bar is hidden by default, but you can simply pull it up if you need it. As with other MINIX NEO device you can choose between MINIX Metro launcher, or the default Andrid Home Screen as shown above. If you want to checkout the user interface in more details, read my review of MINIX NEO X6, which includes screenshots of MINIX Metro, and a video walk-through.

The resolution was correctly automatically detected and set to 1080p, and the user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080. Although I connected the box to Ethernet, Wi-Fi was selected in the settings, so I had to go into settings before I get an Internet connection. Small detail.

The Settings menu is very similar to NEO X6 with a MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other, but it adds some extra options highlighted in bold:

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz, or 4k2k 24/25/30Hz/smpte
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Start screen Saver (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control (For Rockchip/MINIX remote app)
    • Google TV Remote (for Google TV remote app)
    • CEC Control
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • No Output to USB Audio
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • Dolby DRC settings – On/Off, and DRC mode selection (LINE or RF)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup; “More Settings”: redirects to standard Android Settings.

4K video output and S/PDIF are extra hardware options supported by MINIX NEO X8-H Plus. DRC stands for Dynamic Range Control, and it aims to improve audio quality in various environments.  Here’s an explanation of what it does (Source: Dolby Metadata Guide):

Different home listening environments present a wide range of requirements for dynamic range. Rather than simply compressing the audio program at the transmission source to work well in the poorest listening environments, Dolby Digital encoders calculate and send Dynamic Range Control (DRC) metadata with the signal.
This metadata can then be applied to the signal by the decoder to reduce the signal’s dynamic range. Through the proper setting of DRC profiles during the mastering process, the content producer can provide the best possible presentation of program content in virtually any listening environment, regardless of the quality of the equipment, number of channels, or ambient noise level in the consumer’s home.
Many Dolby Digital decoders offer the consumer the option of defeating the Dynamic Range Control metadata, but some do not. Decoders with six discrete channel outputs (full 5.1-channel capability) typically offer this option. Decoders with stereo, mono, or RF-remodulated outputs, such as those found on DVD players and set-top boxes, often do not. In these cases, the decoder automatically applies the most appropriate DRC metadata for the decoder’s operating mode.

Most people won’t probably use this, but in case you want to turn it on, I understand you should probably select LINE if you own a 5.1/.1 capable AV receiver, and to RF for other audio receivers / TV. Corrections are welcome.

NEO-X8H-PLUSMINIX NEO X8-H Plus features a 16 GB eMMC flash with a single 12.48 GB partition, with plenty of free space (11.5GB+). In the “About MediaBox” section of Android settings, the model number is “NEO-X8H-PLUS″ , and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I did not try to root it either, but the micro USB OTG port means it should be feasible. At first, I thought NEO X8, NEO X8-H, and NEO X8-H Plus shared the same firmware, and seeing a new release, I tried to update my box, but don’t do that, as a separate firmware is available for NEO X8-H Plus. The latest release is dated November 22, 2014, but since only recovery mode changed, I kept the pre-installed firmware (November 14, 2014). I tried the online OTA update, but after a slow checking on the server, it just reported “no updates available”. MINIX seems to have a two weeks window between the firmware update, and the availability of their OTA server(s) in Hong Kong.

Google Play Store worked pretty well, and I did not need to side-load any apps for this review. The only apk I installed was Amazon AppStore, in order to play Riptide GP2.

The power button on the side of the box cane be used to power on the device, enter and exit standby mode (short press), and call the power menu (long press) showing “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. NEO M1 power button can only be used for standby mode, as a long press does nothing. Mele F10 Deluxe can only be used to enter standby mode, but not exit it, probably because the power key is an Infrared key on NEO M1, and Mele code is different. You can still power on the device with any remote by clicking on the “soft” power button on the task bar to activate the power menu. It’s not possible to turn on the box with the remote control. NEO X8-H Plus does not overheat. After Antutu 5.3 benchmark, the max. temperature was 38°C and 44°C on respectively the top and bottom of the case, and after 4 races in Riptide GP2, the max. measured temperatures went up to 45°C and 55°C.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is fast, and stable. I never experienced slowdowns, freezes, or hang-ups. The only time I felt there may be issue is when doing repeated scroll downs with NEO M1 air mouse, where the mouse pointer did not feel responsive, but this had nothing to do with the device, only the air mouse limitation, as I had no such repeatable issues with Mele F10 Deluxe.

Video Playback

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus came with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, and contrary to my review with MINIX NEO X6, I did not install XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition, which supports automatic refresh rate switching, and better support for .ts files, and just kept using the release version (Built on July 28, 2014). So I installed it to give it a try. XBMC user interface renders at around 35 fps @ 1920×1080. I had no problems connecting to SAMBA shares in Ubuntu 14.04 in either XBMC or ES File Explorer. Most videos have been tested with XBMC, but I also switched to “4K MoviePlayer” app to play some 4K videos.

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

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – Mostly OK, but some people may feel a slowdown @ 1080p. 480p/720p playback at 24 fps (instead of 25 fps), and 1080p at 20 fps.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK, although XBMC reports 720p/1080p video playing at 22 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – Audio only, and the 1080p video makes XBMC exit.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Does not play at all (Stays in XBMC UI).

I wanted to install the “Frequency Switcher” in the Video Add-ons, but all I got was a message saying the platform was not supported. So no automatic refresh rate switching is possible for now, at least with this version of XBMC.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Plays at 15 fps instead of 29.970, and XBMC also reports skipped frames.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

As usually I played high definition audio codec using HDMI PCM output since I don’t have an AV receiver, and all files played perfectly including audio and video:

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

Blu-ray ISO are supported. Tested with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play.

4K videos playback is quite a disaster in XBMC, especially since this version of XBMC does not seem to support HEVC:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Audio only

If you are a regular reader, you may noticed that I added two new videos, one 10-bit HEVC/H.265 sample by NGCodec, and a BT.2020/Rec.2020 sample.

Since most videos did not play, I reverted to 4K MoviePlayer app install in the box which yields to better results:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – “Not supported media”
  • 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) – Fails to play.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Shows the first image, but get stuck at 1 second.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Plays but with several wide horizontal bluish / purplish bands with some transparency in from of the video.

Please note that XBMC-13.3.3 Beta 6 apparently support 4K playback support for X8-H PLUS, but people also report AV sync issues in the beta version. (I’ve seen that after testing).

I’ve also added one SBS (Side-by-Side) 3D videos to Over/Under 3D videos. My Panasonic TV is not a 3D TV according to the specs, so I can only check if video decoding is working. NEO X8-H appears to handle 1080p well, but can play my 3D 4K video:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK, but XBMC reports it playing at 57 fps instead of 60 fps. Hardly noticeable to me.
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Most AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos could play without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. However, I could not play IFO files, only VOB, and I noticed XBMC sometimes report videos are not played at the original frame rate. For example, while playing a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, I noticed the frame rate oscillated between 22 and 26 fps, instead of 23.970 fps of the video. I’m not sure if this is expected, or improvements are needed. Nevertheless, I had no problem to play the movie fully, but over 14,000 frames were skipped as reported in XBMC live debug log.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate network performance of Wi-Fi, repeating the test three times, and averaging results. NEO X8-H Plus support both 802.11n and 801.11ac, so I tested both. The first one with my older TP-Link TL-WR940N, and the second standard with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7). The device averages a disappointing 2.11 MB/s with 802.11n, and a more respectable 3.50 MB/s with 802.11ac.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The actual performance you get may vary depending on the router used, and your environment.

Transferring a 885MB files over Ethernet showed similar performance as other Gigabit Ethernet devices, but this tests is mostly bound by the internal flash performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Transferring a file from a FAT32 partition on a USB hard drive to a SAMBA share (SSD drive) was done at a higher 24.58 MB/s

Checking the raw Ethernet performance with  iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, showed some serious limitations of NEO X8-H Plus (or Amlogic S812), although they can’t really be seen for typical usage:

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.106, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 39357 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.26 GBytes   180 Mbits/sec
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.67 GBytes   239 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is advertised as “bluedroid″, and after pairing, the first transfer failed for some reasons. Subsequent photo transfers worked just fine.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, since I was lazy to root the device.

The AP6335 wireless module used in this device is supposed to support Bluetooth 4.0 BLE. So I tested with protocol with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, and successfully connected using its Smartband app, and retrieved my “fitness” data.

Storage

Both a USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT32 could be recognized and mounted by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but not the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions, as with most devices, the exceptions being Open Hour Chameleon and M-195, which also support EXT-4.

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

A1 SD Bench app can test the read and write performance of any storage device in Android, and that’s what i used to evaluate the eMMC and USB NTFS performance. The read speed was 23.83 MB/s, and the write speed 20.06MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sda1). Good devices with USB 2.0 normally get close to 30MB/s in both directions, so NEO X8-H Plus is a bit of a weak player here. Results well above 30MB/s are only achievable via USB 3.0 ports.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The 8GB eMMC used in the device only achieves 14.27  MB/s (read) and 12.43 MB/s (write), which again is quite disappointing, especially the read speed, for a supposedly high-end device, and this explains the rather slow boot time.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The device are now classified with the total read + write speeds, and NEO X8-H Plus is close to the bottom of the scale.

USB Webcam

I could install both Skype and Google Hangouts, but Skype refused to make any calls (nothing happened), even using Skype “Echo / Sound Test Service”. I could make a call successfully with Google Hangouts but something the image was garbled.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2, and all three games worked very well.  I played Candy Crush Sage with the air mouse and . Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 with  Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and both games were very smooth even with settings maxed out. Riptide GP2 advanced settings set all settings enabled and to high, except Shader Complexity was set to low, and Physicals Wakes & Shadow Details were greyed out. Riptide GP2 usually came to a halt after several minutes of play, but it did not happen in this device. It’s however unclear if it’s because of an updated firmware, or Riptide GP2 developers fixed some of the issues.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus / Amlogic S812 Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports a processor with four ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked between 24 MHz and 1.99 GHz coupled with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is NEO-X8H-PLUS (n200), the resolution 1920×1080 (240dpi) and the system has 1,605 MB available to Android with 12.48 GB internal storage.

Amlogic_S812_NEO_X8-H_Plus_CPU-ZMINIX NEO-X8-H Plus gets 31,204 points which is the highest score I’ve seen for a device based on Amlogic S802/S812 processors so far, probably due to firmware optimizations.
MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Antutu
In Vellamo 3.1, the media player gets 792 points for the Metal benchmark, 1,808 points for the Multicore test, and 1,880 points for the Browser benchmark.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus-VellamoThe device gets 6056 points in 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme, lower than the score obtained in Rockchip RK3288 and Allwinner A80 devices, but it’s expected for a Mali-450MP GPU.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Ice_Storm_ExtremeConclusion

MINIX NEO X8-H firmware is extremely stable, and the user experience is smooth, but when you get into performance of individual components like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC flash, and USB storage the performance is disappointing, especially for an relatively expensive device. XBMC playback is quite good, except for H.265 and 4K, but that’s probably becaue the XBMC version in the current firmware, is not the latest one, and current beta XBMC app looks more promising..

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and fast.
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz), and 4K2K up to 30Hz/SMPTE
  • 3D games play without issues.
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • Air mouse included in package
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with 4K MoviePlayer app
  • USB webcam works with Google Hangouts
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC, and USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing for a device at this price.
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Skype
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Poor 4K support, and H.265 supported in included XBMC version. (Will be fixed in subsequent XBMC apk updates)
  • Relatively slow boot time. 1 minute without USB devices, almost 2 minutes with several USB devices connected.
  • Air mouse is not as good as some other product in the market such as MeLe F10 Deluxe, because in some circumstance it may be difficult to control the mouse pointer.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing the sample for review, and if you are interested in this device you may consider buying from Gearbest for about $160 including shipping. Other shipping options includes Amazon US, DealExtreme, TinyDeals, GeekBuying, and many others. Prices are about the same for every seller.

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Review of Realtek RTD1195 Based M-195 Android Media Player

November 29th, 2014 22 comments

M-195 is one of the new low cost Android media players based on Realtek RTD1195 processor featuring two Cortex A7 cores, and a Mali-400MP2 GPU, but providing high speed interface like USB 3.0, and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as 4K video decoding and output, including the latest H.265 / HEVC video codec. So before testing, I was expecting the box to be mainly interesting as a media player, and even maybe NAS, as Android performance for other tasks would be similar to Allwinner A20. I’ll already taken pictures of M-195 and its “902” board, so today we’ll find out how the device performs.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve used both the provided IR remote control, and Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse in this review, simply because I needed to press the Home button to come back to the Launcher from time to time, and the Home button on my air mouse is not mapped to the actual home button If you use this device mostly to play videos, then the IR remote control will do just fine. I’ve connected an HDMI cable to my TV,  Widicast EZCast dongle to the HDMI input, a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port of the TV box, an Ethernet cable, inserted an SD card, as well as a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and Mars G01 gamepad, a USB webcam, and the USB cable for EZCast dongle power. There’s no power button, and the board boots immediately as you connect the 5V/2A power adapter. The boot takes about 1 minute and 20 seconds to complete, or about 4 times more time that the fastest Android mini PCs available on the market today. Once the user interface shows up, you may be in for a surprise (I thought I saw a monster!).

M-195 Android Launcher (Click for Original Size)

M-195 Android Launcher (Click for Original Size)

The HDMI window on the left is probably reserved for HDMI input, but it actually showed my USB webcam input. Later I disconnected the USB webcam, and restarted the device, hoping to see HDMI input being display there, but all I could see was a black screen. Since the processor is not really fast they decided to go with a 1280×720 user interface. On the top right you can access settings, then from left tor right, top to bottom, you’ve got icon for Music app, a File Manager  that actually browse Videos, Picture, and other files, an upload/download speed widget, a movie icon that show the Video folder in Android (empty for me), an icon for favorites, a Miracast widget use to select “Source” or “Sink” modes, a larger icon for the list of apps, the Miracast Receiver app, and a “Database” icon that simply redirects to the storage settings in Android. Interestingly all audio and video files are added to the library automatically since the system will scan you storage devices in the background. If you move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen, or press the Red shortcut key on the remote, customized notifications will be displayed. Overall, I don’t find the user interface particularly well-though out, and if you want to run Google Play or XBMC, you need to go to the list of apps / or favorites and select the app you want to launch. The main menu can’t be customized either. About five minutes the box became unresponsive (maybe due to background scanning), and I had to turn it off, and back on with the remote.

However, they have some very interesting features in the Android Settings. The Wireless and Networks menu features the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Data Usage, More…, and Ethernet configuration sections, and going to “More” brings some new features with options for DLNA, WPS method, Wireless Display, Miracast Sink, and some NAS Settings.

Realtek_RTD1195_DLNA_NASA few days ago, a commenter complained his MINIX NEO X6 was basically useless because there was no option to use it as a NAS server, so it’s something that may be important to some. Going into NAS settings, you’ll get a few available services namely: AFP Service, DAAP Service, FTP Service, BT Service, Samba Server, and DMS Service. I don’t even know what half of these do, so I just tried FTP and SAMBA. Unfortunately, both services just went back to OFF settings automatically, so it’s not working just yet, or I missed something.

The Sound Settings will let you select HDMI (Auto or RAW), and S/PDIF (LPCM 2Ch or RAW) audio output options, with the RAW option being the equivalent of audio pass-through, but people who have an AV receiver. There’s also a Playback effect selection between “Off”, “Night Mode”, and “Comfort Mode”, but I haven’t tried these, and I’m not sure what they do. The Display settings only have tree sub-menus: wallpaper, font size, and TV System. The latter is for video output selection, and provides the following options: AUTO, NTSC, PAL 480p, 576p,  720p50/60, 1080i50/60 and 1080p50/60. There’s no option for 24Hz, but as we’ll see below the video player will automatically switch to 24 Hz when playing 24 fps videos. 4K options should also be listed if you have a 4K TV.

HDMI Input (Click to Enlarge)

HDMI Input (Click to Enlarge)

The screenshot above is what I got when connecting an EZcast dongle (Similar to Chromecast) to the HDMI input of the device, so there are some HDMI IN issues, that may depend on the device used.  The app is called Source-In.

HDMI CEC Options

HDMI CEC Options

About_Realtek_RTD1195_M-195The 8 eMMC flash has a single 5.96GB partition for app and data, with about 5.58GB free. There’s another “More..” menu in the Device section of Android Settings, which brings HDMI CEC configuration options as shown in the screenshot above.

The “About” section lists the model number as just “realtek”, with Android 4.4 running on top of Linux kernel 3.10.24. The firmware version used for testing is not clearly stated but we have some “Version information” (SDK_Release_140923), and the build number: “rtk_phoniex-eng 4.4 KRT16O eng.tony.2014.1024.09.42.01″, which contains the date of the firmware release (October 24, 2014). The “System Updates” may or may not work, as check for update does not seem to do much. The firmware is not rooted, and I’m not sure if one of the USB ports can be used as an OTG port,  but the firmware is not encrypted, so it should be easy to modify it, add root access, and other optimizations / apps. {Update: there’s already a root method]

If you want to have a better feel about the device performance, and see most options available, watch the video below. I also show the Antutu score, as well as play back a H.265 4K video, and a DTS-HD MA video samples @ 24 fps in XBMC. I’ll also find out about some of the issues I had with the box.

Google Play Store is pre-installed, and works great with most apps, including a paid app like “Sixaxis Controller”. The only app I had to side-load was Vidonn smartband app. I also noticed Real Racing 3, Whatsapp, and a few others can’t be installed. I’ve also downloaded Amazon AppStore using the stock browser, and installed Riptide GP2 from there.

M-195 does not come with a power button, and when you connect the power it will turn on automatically. But if you long-press the power button, you’ll be able to turn it off, and a short press will make it go into standby. Once it’s turned off the LED turns to red, and you can use the IR remote control to turn it on again. So the lack of power button on the unit is not much of any issue. Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse can be used to turn the device off, but it can’t be used to turn it back on, since the IR code must be different. In theory, the AI power button on F10 deluxe can be programmed, but I never managed to make it work. M-195 stays cool in all circumstances. After Antutu, the max top and bottom temperatures measured with an IR thermometer were respectively 37°C and 33°C, and after 20 minutes of playing Riptide GP2: 41°C and 37°C.

M-195 feels definitely a bit sluggish compared to recent devices based on Rockchip RK3288, Amlogic S802, or Allwinner A80, but I still find it to be acceptable, and with XBMC UI the performance is still very good, at least with the default skin. I really like the many options provided in the settings for NAS, HDMI CEC, etc… too bad the NAS options don’t work. However, I got frustrated with various small bugs, where suddenly the current app or system seems to hang, or stop working properly (e.g. XBMC), and I need to press the power key on the more to turn if off, and restart it.

Video Playback

“XBMC 14″ is pre-load in the box, but it’s not playing within XBMC directly, and calling an external player instead, so that means XBMC/Kodi menus are not available while playing video, if you want to check the player interface watch the video above. It supports trick modes, subtitles selection, audio track selection, and two aspect ratios. I could connect to a SAMBA share in XBMC, but each time I would try to play a video, the video player would show the message “loading…” and soon after “can’t play video”. So I guess that player either can’t handle the network path sent from XBMC, or it times out. So I had to revert to play videos from my USB hard drive. At first, XBMC would return “Incorrect path” when I clicked on sda1, but going to “Add Videos->External Storage”, and selecting the path to my hard drive’s NTFS partition (/storage/sda1) fixed the issue.

I played videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus H.265/HEVC video by Elecard, and a low res VP9 sample using this hybrid player:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – Failed. The player specifically outputs “Can’t play video”
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK for video, but no audio
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK and smooth.
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS 360p/720p/1080p – OK (and seeking works!)
  • Vp9 (low re) – OK

Higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – “Can’t play video” message
  • 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 and smooth.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Videos with high definition audio codec using HDMI PCM output (not an AV receiver):

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1- OK
  • Dolby Digital 7.1 – No audio (known problem, and Realtek is working on it)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Blu-Ray ISO are supported, as I played Sintel-Bluray.iso, and I could select among the 10 subtitles languages provided in this video. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could play without issues.

Despite the slow processor, RTD1195 has some great multimedia muscle, as H.265 / 4K UHD video playback is part of its key selling point. So let’s see how it performs with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Feel like slow motion, does not seem to play a few frames (e.g. I-frames).
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Not smooth as above, as if it was played in slow motion or 15 fps.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (3840×2160) – Loads but won’t play (Black screen) with the player timer stuck at 00:00.

I also played several AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO and MP4 videos and the vast majority could play, except some FLV videos. I also played a 1080p H.264 MKV video (1h50), and it played the video smoothly till the end.

When I started playing videos on M-195, I was surprised how the videos felt much better, much more smooth, and enjoyable to watch than on most other boxes, and in this respect, M-195 / Realtek RTD1195 media processor currently put to shame Rockchip RK3288 and Allwinner A80 based mini PCs. It’s too bad that too often, the system suddenly refuses to play videos, and I have to restart the box to make it work again. XBMC is also currently unusable if you store your media files on a NAS.

Finally, I’ve like to address the concern of using a 1280×720 user interface (used for all video output resolution up to 4K) to play 1080p or 4K videos. I have a 4K video test pattern made of a 1-pixel black and white grid, but I don’t have the equivalent fat 1080p, and I’m not sure how to create one easily, so I’ve played GridHD.mpg 1080p mpeg video. I played it on the same Panasonic TV, using my PC (set to 1920×1080), as well as XBMC external player, and MX Player in M-195, and taken a picture with a camera on a tripod. Then I zoomed the pictures on number “2” and compared the output on M-195 and my PC.

M-195_1080p_videoThe three images look pretty similar. When downscaling a video from 1080p to 720p, some loss of details should be introduced, but it’s not visible here, albeit there are differences in terms of sharpness. The image quality looks exactly the same whether Realtek player (via XBMC) or MX Player is used. For reference, I’ve also uploaded the three original pictures for my PC, M-195 + XBMC, and M-195 + MX Player.

M-195_1080p_720p_videoSo to make sure, I set the video output to 720p60 in M-195, and I took another picture to compare, and extrapolation is pretty good, but there does seem to be some loss of details with number 2 “eye” compared to the 1080p images. That should mean that M-195 is indeed capable of handling 1080p video correctly, and most probably 4K videos too.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa to evaluate network performance. I’m using ES File Explorer, and repeat the test three times. The average performance of M-195 is 2.8 MB.s which puts it in the middle of the pack, but strangely the transfer performance was highly asymmetric. From SAMBA to flash (download) the average transfer rate was about 3.7 MB/s on average (with peaks @ 4.6 MB/s), from from flash to SAMBA (upload) the file was copied at only 1.8 MB/s on average.

Throughput in MB/S

Throughput in MB/S

Gigabit Ethernet is working fine on M-195, but yet again the file transfer rate was asymmetrical. While it took just 2m20s to transfer a 885MB file from SAMBA to flash (6.32 MB/s), it took just 1m13s to move it back to the SAMBA share (12.12 MB/s). On average, M-195 is still faster than all Fast Ethernet capable devices, but not quite as fast as devices with much faster internal storage. Since some scanning may happen in the background, performance may also have been affected.

Throughput in MB/S

Throughput in MB/S

However transfer from network to hard drive is what counts, and I had to transfer 77.60 GB of data between my SAMBA share and my USB 3.0 hard drive, and that took one hour, at 22 MB/s, which is equivalent to the speed I got with Tronsmart Draco AW80 Meta.

I also used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC to test raw Ethernet performance, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

This confirmed M-195 Gigabit Ethernet port works in both directions, it’s even faster than Draco AW80 Meta, and not that far from Tronsmart Orion R28 (Meta) network performance. The other two devices (K-R6 and NT-V6) Gigabit Ethernet did not work well during the review. I’ve been told HPH NT-V6 Ethernet issues have been fixed with a firmware update.

iperf output:
Server listening on TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 85.3 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  4] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 41721
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.105, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  144 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 41156 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.28 GBytes   756 Mbits/sec
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  4.47 GBytes   639 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After pairing “Realtek Bluetooth″ to my ThL W200 Android smartphone, I could transfer a few pictures,. But the first time, I could not pull down the notification bar to accept the transfer, so I had to power cycle the device, and it worked fine afterwards.

The device is not rooted, and I was too lazy to root it, so Sixaxis Compatibility Checker app failed to work properly.

Vidonn X5 is an activity tracker using Bluetooth Smart. So I installed their “Smartband” app to try Bluetooth Smart (Low Energy), bu the app filed to find the device, so BLE does not work.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed by the system (in ES File Explorer)
Realtek has a long history with media player, and they know that FAT32 is a problem for 4GB+ files, and NTFS is sometimes slow, so people may prefer using EXT-4, and this is the first and only Android box I’ve tested that properly support EXT-4. So three partitions out of four in my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted, and read/written to, with only the BTRFS partition failing to mount.

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

I installed and ran A1 SD Bench to benchmark performance of the internal flash and USB 3.0 NTFS and EXT-4 partitions. But as I tested the hard drive partition I started to see the HDMI output become black for one second, come back, black again, and so on in cycle, and the test would not just complete, like the partition would unmount themselves during testing. The power supply is just 5V/2A, so I wonder if it could be the same so I used the 5V/8A 12V5A switch mode power supply (SMPS) pictured below, and “magically” all my HDD / HDMI problems went away. (This should make “Mr. Anon”, a frequent “bad power supplies” commenter happy :)). Since there’s live 220V exposed, you would not want to use this type with children running around however, as they may try to press those “shiny buttons”… Anyway, I did most of my testing with the better power supply. The EZCast dongle also contributed to the power consumptin, so USB 3.0 HDD + EZCast was probably too much. Devcies’s power adapter temperature: 70°C.

SMPS_Power_Supply I set the custom located to /storage/sda1 and /storage/sda2 to A1SD respectively to test NTFS and EXT-4. The results are not outstanding (compared to USB 3.0 transfer rates in a PC), but at least it’s faster than any USB 2.0 devices, and much better than Draco AW80 USB 3.0 performance. NTFS read and write speeds are 36.31 MB/s and 44.52 MB/s, and 31.98 MB/s and 36.45 MB/s for EXT-4. So based on A1SD benchmark NTFS is faster than EXT-4, which feels odd.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

NTFS and EXT-4 results on the right of the chart above. For some reasons write speed is faster than read speed. ODROID XU-3 Lite is still the device with the best read performance, but M-195 is the new king of USB 3.0 storage write speed.

Contrary to what I expected, the FORESEE eMMC found on the board has good performance, with read speed at 25.61 MB/s, and write speed at 15.96 MB/s, quite similar to the performance of Probox2 EX.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

USB Webcam

If I attempt to make a call with Skype, it will fail, showing the status at “not connected” when the call stops, yet switching to online status immediately. Chatting works.

When I launched Google Hangouts, all I got was a “Signing in…” message displayed forever.

Gaming

I had low expectation with the dual Mali-400 used in RTD1195 SoC, but I still tried the three usual games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga played smoothly with the air mouse when it comes to graphics, but the audio cut very often. I played the two bike and car racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz was smooth and very playable even with graphics settings set to the maximum “Higher Resolution”. But when I first played the sound was really bad, like saturated. Once I kicked out my HDMI switcher, and connected M-195 directly to my TV, audio was clear. I had already removed the HDMI switcher for Candy Crush, and video playback. Riptide GP2 is normally more challenging, so I was very surprised when I realized the games was quite playable even with maxed out “Higher Resolution” (similar to S802), but I quickly noticed it looked a little different. So I think games will automatically select optimal settings, more or less successful depending on the platform, and if I went to advanced settings, I noticed low resolution textures had been selected, and some other low to mid settings. So comparing game performance between platforms is not as easy as it seems. Nevertheless that means Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 are playable with Realtek RTD1195, but just with lower quality settings and resolution (720p). I could play five races in Riptide GP2 without any problem.

M-195 / Realtek RTD1195 Meta Benchmark

It’s the first time I test a device powered by Realtek RTD1195 SoC, so running CPU-Z is a must.

Realtek_RTD1195_CPU-ZRealtek RTD1195 is a dual core Cortex A7 r0p5 processor up to 1.10 GHz with a Mali-400 MP GPU. There’s only 669 MB total RAM for Android, as the rest of the 1GB RAM is probably used for the VPU buffers. There’s only 251 MB available which can explain some of the issues I’ve had with the box. (Samba server can’t start, XBMC quits, when video player is playing a video, etc…). The screen resolution is 1280x 720, and there’s 5.96 GB internal storage as previously reported.

M-195_Antutu_5.3With standard Android benchmarks, M-195 and the Realtek processor show their weaknesses, scoring 11,174 points in Antutu 5.3. This kind of score is to be expected, but it’s far from the 30,000 to 40,000 points of more recent devices. M-195_VellamoVelloma 3.1 scores are also on the low end of the scale, with scores about 3 times less than recent quad or octa core ARM processors.

Conclusion

Although it makes a sluggish general purpose mini PC, M-195 has some very good potential as a media player, as video playback performance is usually excellent including H.265 and 4K videos, albeit some improvements are needed, and the videos feels much more smooth than with the powerful Rockchip RK3288 and Allwinner A80 SoCs. The device also puts all RK3288, Allwinner A80, and Amlogic S802 devices to shame, at least the ones I’ve tested, when it comes to moving data around, with one of the best Gigabit Ethernet, and USB mass storage performance of the market. Unfortunately this is all wasted due to various small bugs that ruins the user experience.

PRO:

  • Very good video playback performance including 4K, H.265, automatic refresh rate switching, although improvement are still needed with some videos.
  • Good Gigabit Ethernet performance
  • Best USB 3.0 mass storage performance I’ve tested so far on TV boxes
  • Support for NTFS, FAT32, and EXT-4 file systems.
  • Proper power off/standby handling.
  • Device keeps cool (40 C max).
  • True 1080p (and likely 2160p) video outputs appear to be supported, despite 720p UI.
  • Extra options in Android for NAS, Miracast Sink and Source, and HDMI CEC. Unfortunately NAS options (e.g. SAMBA server) don’t work yet
  • HDMI Input

CONS:

  • Various unstability bugs: The system will stop to respond from time to time, video won’t play anymore, until a reboot. Low RAM (656MB for Android) may be the culprit here.
  • Slow processor, so for example the user interface is not as smooth as recent devices.
  • Can’t play videos from a network share (e.g. SAMBA) in XBMC.
  • Current video/audio bugs: Some 4K video are not played correctly, sometimes WMA audio is not decoded properly, Dolby Digital 7.1 is not supported yet (known bug)
  • 5V/2A power adapter can’t be used reliably with a USB 3.0 hard drive + EZCast dongle, so another power adapter may be needed.
  • USB webcam not working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • Bluetooth Low Energy not supported
  • User interface not very user friendly.
  • HDMI input had some color issues with the device I used. (EZcast dongle)

You could buy M-195 for $68 on GeekBuying, the company which kindly provided this sample for review, but it’s also available on Amazon US, Aliexpress, and Ebay.

 

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Zero Devices Z5C Thinko 4K H.265 TV Stick Review

November 26th, 2014 No comments

Zero Devices Z5C Think is one of the rare HDMI TV sitck powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor available on the market. I’ve already take a few pictures of the device and internals, so today I’ll focus on testing the firmware, and performance of this thin and nice looking TV stick.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There was a time when HDMI stick were powered by much slower, but power efficient processor based on Cortex A5 cores. One of these was CX-01 mini PC, and they could be powered by the USB port of the TV without problems. Now the processor are much more powerful, so normally you can’t power the device directly from the TV, but since I’ve seen people claim it was possible to drive RK3288 stick directly from the USB port of some TVs, I gave it a try, connected the stick to my Panasonic TV via the HDMI cable extension, as the two HDMI ports on my TV are too close, connected the micro USB to USB cable to my TV, and the power LED turned on, but the screen would stay black, and the TV display the message “Overcurrent error on USB device occured. Please remove the USB device and switch off the TV by mains power switch”.

Overcurrent_error_panasonic_TVSo that did not work out, but it was expected, and it’s not a problem with the stick, just that the TV can’t handle device with high power requirements.

So instead I used the power supply, and added a RF dongle for the Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Boot time is one of the best on the market so far, as it takes just 25 seconds between the time connecting the power supply, and getting to the Android Home Screen.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

But the very first time, you’ll get through a wizard that let you select simplified Chinese, English or Others languages, scale your display for overscan compensation, and configure Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the first time, it did not find any Wi-Fi access point, so I went to Android Settings to check, and there was no MAC address either, probably meaning the Wi-Fi module was not detected. But everything got back to normal after a reboot, and Wi-Fi worked just fine.

Let’s have a look at the e Android settings. The Wireless & Networks sections comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (for external USB dongle), and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN and Portable Hotspot. The Display settings mainly include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, and HDMI resolution selection between 9 modes: 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720x576p-50 or 720x480p-60. Options for 4K output will be display if you own a 4K UHD TV. You can select the “Sound Output Device” in the “Sound Devices Manager” either “Default Output”, “Spdif Passthough” (which is not available on the stick), and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through).

About_Z5C_ThinkoThe 8GB eMMC is partitioned into two partitions:  a 0.95 GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 658 MB free, and a 8 GB (black magic yet again) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 5.20 GB available space.

The “About Z5C Thinko” section reports the model number is Z5C, and it’s running Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.10.0, and the vendor software version is 1.0.3. There’s also a System updates menu, that appears to properly connect to a server, but no new firmware was available at the time of the review.

Google Play works pretty well, and I could install apps such as ES File Explorer, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…, with the only incompatible apps I’ve noticed being Vidonn Smartband app (as usual), and Real Racing 3. I’ve also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore. However, I quickly ran out of space because of the sub 1GB app partition.

There’s no power button, and not proper power handling with this stick. Pressing the power button on the status bar will come up with a power off menu, but all it will do it reboot the device. Pressing the power button on Mele F10 Deluxe will simply blink the screen for one second, but it’s probably a remote key handling issue, which I’ve seen on another device, so after a fix, standby should be supported. But there’s probably nothing to be done to support power off, since it’s probably the way the hardware has been designed.

One of the biggest problems with Z5C Thinko is that it gets really hot, and sometimes hot enough to have the chip reboot itself. After Antutu, I could measure between 55 to 90°C, with the temperature especially hot on top of the Rockchip SoC, and close to the HDMI connector, since that’s where the heatsink spans.  The maximum temperature I got was 118°C. During idle time (i.e. in the home screen), the temperature is between 45 to 55°C, and in Kodi user interface it goes up to about 70°C. I’d like to point out the temperature varies a lot (-/+ 20°C on one given spot), probably because of the ventilation holes. So sometimes my IR thermometer may point to the plastic case, but sometimes I might measure the temperature directly from the heatsink, at least that’s my theory.

As long as you don’t perform demanding tasks, the firmware is mostly stable and smooth, but there are also various bugs, as I had to reboot to get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work, USB storage connection may not be reliable, and because of the high temperature, it’s basically impossible to play 3D games, and even playing videos for over one hour may cause reboots. The tiny app partition is also annoying, but it’s something that’s easily fixable with a firmware update.

Video Playback

Kodi alpha 14 was pre-installed in the stick,. and it even let me know I should update, but since I don’t know whether the XBMC/Kodi version installed as been customized or not, I’ve tried using that version. Normally I play video from a SAMBA share, but for some reasons Kodi did not manage to find my computer, as it happened frequently in my previous review. So I switched to using my USB hard drive. I tried to connect it via the micro USB OTG port with the OTG adapter, but it was not recognized, and I tried a USB flash drive, but same problem. So instead I attached a USB hub to the single USB host port of the Android dongle, and my hard drive LED went on, but at first I could not see any partition in Kodi or ES File Explorer. I rebooted, and it worked, but since relatively unstable. So instead I installed SPMC from Google Play, and … it did not anything in the Video menu. So I ended playing videos from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer and MX Player:

I played 1080p videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and one extra 1080p H.265/HEVC videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – It’s playing, but not very smooth.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – OK

Some higher bitrate videos had troubles to play because I was over Wi-Fi:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often

Please note that most Android media player won’t be able to play these files smoothly over Wi-Fi + SAMBA, so the results are not really surprising.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in MX Player, but since some of these are high bitrate I had buffering and audio cut issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK (5.1), audio cuts and buffering (7.1)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Black screen only
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR –  Audio cuts and buffering

I tried to play Sintel-Bluray ISO, but it would load forever in MX Player.

4K video playback is about the same as with other RK328 boxes in MX Player, i.e. not that good:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Frequent audio  cut, and video in slow motion. It’s a 60 Mbps video so it can’t be realistically be played over Wi-Fi.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Severe decoding issues with heavily distorted image
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Slow motion
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

This morning I tried again Kodi with SAMBA, and it worked for some reasons, so I tried the 4K videos in Kodi as well:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – First time black screen only, second try: plays but with many skipped frames, and then buffering.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Buffering a lot becasue bitrate is too high for Wi-Fi, but when video plays it’s not smooth either with many dropped and skipped frames.
  • 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.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Kodi reports it plays at 8 to 10 fps, but it feels even slower than that. All four core at at 100% CPU usage.

I skipped the usual AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, FLV and MP4 videos testing, but I still did play a 2-hour video (1080p / mkv / h.264) to test stability. The video did not feel very smooth, so I enabled Kodi debug overlay by pressing the ‘o’ key, and I regularly saw dropped and skipped frames, and the frame rate oscillated between 10 to 26 fps for that 24 fps video. Nevertheless, when I play the 2-hour video, I usually go to do something else, coming to check a few times, and after about one hour, I noticed I got back to the Android home screen. I did not connect the stick to my UPS, and I thought I heard a “micro” power failure (1 or 2 seconds), so I tried again, but it did play for one hour or so, and suddenly I saw the black, and shortly after the boot logo. So I rushed to scan the dongle with my infrared thermometer, and I go an amazing maximum temperature of 118 °C!

So proper video playback does not seem possible yet on Rockchip RK3288, and the small form factor even amplifies the issues, as it can’t play a full movie, at least at my room temperature (28 °C).

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi)

I’m transferring a 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, for three times in ES File Explorer to get an idea of the Wi-Fi performance, and at 2.62 MB/s on average, the performance is decent, but not clearly outstanding. The good thing is that there was very little variation between the tests, so performance is not that great, but it’s reliable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Sixaxis Compatibility Checker indicated the driver in Z5C can handle Sony PS3 controller, but when I used my controller clone, I got the message “Fake controller detected, attempting workaround”, but it just got stuck there.

Right after, sixaxis test, I tried to enable Bluetooth in the Android settings, but it did not work. A reboot fixed that, and I guess is the Sixaxis app may have caused troubles with Bluetooth. I could then pair my phone with Z5c, and transfer pictures.

I install the APK for my Vidonn X5 fitness tracker in order to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE). The smart band could be detected, and the dongle retrieve data from it successfully.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed.
Using my USB 3.0 hard drive was more problematic, as at times, it would just umount itself, or even not be recognized at all. But when it worked, it could detect all four partitions, but only mount the FAT32 and NTFS partition.

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

Due to stability issues, and I believe people are less likely to connect a USB hard drive to their stick than a full box, I skipped USB / NTFS benchmark, but still used A1 SD Bench to check the Samsung eMMC performance.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

The eMMC flash has very good read speed (34.26 MB/s), but the write speed (6..62 MB/s) is not quite as good. Strangely, it’s still faster than the 6MB/s listed in Samsung eMMC product brief.  The fast read speed explained the quick boot time (25s), but I did not notice slowdowns due to the write speed.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 were the three games used for testing. No problem with Candy Crush Sag, as expected. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, which works just fine as usual. Beach Buggy Blitz was ultra-smooth with maxed out graphics settings, but I decided to try to play a few races, and check the temperature with that games. At the second race, the stick rebooted automatically, and I measured up to 105 °C, and I was quite surprised, as it was the first time (I played games, before I played videos) I got a temperature over 100 °C with an Android gadget. I decided to let the stick cool down for about 2 minutes, which I reckon is way too short,  before “playing” Riptide GP2.  As you may gues,s I did not end-up playing very long, as the device rebooted very soon, and I measured a maximum temperature of 110 °C.

Z5C Thinko Benchmarks

I expected the CPU frequency to be lower in a tiny HDMI adapter, compared to the easier to cool down full size TV box, so I ran CPU-Z to check the information, and the maximum CPU frequency is still 1.8 GHz, which at least partially explained the very high temperature I got.Z5C_Thinko_CPU-Z

The CPU is still detected as a Rockchip RK3066 with eight Cortex A12 core clocked between 312 MHz and 1.8 GHz, so it seems CPU-Z developers are not that interested in keeping up to date with Chinese SoCs by Allwinner or Rockchip.The total memory is correctly reported as 2019 MB, and internal storage has 0.95 GB because the app only included the first partition.

Z5C_Thinko_Antutu

Antutu 5.3 score is quite lower than other Rockchip RK3288 devices. Z5C Thinko gets 29,001 points, whereas TV boxes such as Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta get around 37,000 points. If we look into the details of the scores, Z5C takes a hit with UX, RAM, and CPU tests, but the GPU performance is exactly the same. Storage I/O is also weaker probably because of the slower eMMC write speed. So a more aggressive governor must have been implemented, or the 1.8GHz frequency reported by CPU-Z and Antutu is incorrect.

Conclusion

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko is small, looks great, and comes with a powerful Rockchip RK3288 processor. But unfortunately, there are just oo many problem with the firmware right now, include potential unreliable USB hard drive support, poor video playback (mostly common to other RK3288 devices), and most importantly high temperature issues, which makes 3D gaming, continuous video playback, and other tasks that may require a sustained load currently impossible, as the stick will just reboot to “save” itself.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Gook looking, thin, and small. One of the rare TV sticks based on Rockchip RK3288 processor
  • Fast boot (25 seconds)
  • 4K and H.265/HEVC support (although it needs improvement)
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Support for OTA update (server detected, but not tested since no new firmware was available at the time)
  • Bluetooth features seems to all work (File transfer, BLE, and maybe Sixaxis)

CONS:

  • Gets extremely hot (I measured up to 118 °C), leading to reboot, and it might affect the useful life of the device.
  • No power button, or proper power off handling, which can lead to data loss.
  • Many issues with video playback including dropped/skipped frames,  and it failed the 2-hour movie playback, because of issue #1 (temperature).
  • 3D games are unplayable due to temperature issues
  • Potential USB hard drive issue (unreliable)
  • USB OTG adapter does not seem to work, at least with USB mass storage devices.
  • At first boot, Wi-Fi module was not detected. Fixed after reboot, and the problem did not occur again.
  • The internal storage partition is only 0.95 GB, and it can be full after installing a few apps.

So at this stage, Z5C Thinko can probably only be used reliably as a portable mini PC to browse the web, check emails, and interact in social networks. But they’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to video playback, USB support, 3D gaming, and overall bug fixing. The temperature issue may only be fixable by lowering the CPU frequency to 1.2 or 1.4 GHz, and for 3D gaming the GPU may also have to be clocked down, but then you’ll end up with a much less powerful platform than existing RK3288 solutions.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offers a USB + Ethernet Hub for an extra $5.

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DWA8 ESP8266 Wi-Fi Module Features a 10-bit ADC, Up to 8 GPIOs, 4 PWM Outputs, and More (Crowdfunding)

November 19th, 2014 22 comments

Espressif ESP8266 based ESP-01 module may now cost $3, but it’s limited to only two GPIOs, so a Dooao, a Chinese company based in Beijing, has decided to make a new ESP8266 module with more GPIOs, PWM signals, SPI, UART. and a 10-bit ADC.

Dooao_DWA8Dooao DWA8 module specifications:

  • SoC – Espressif Systems ESP8266 32-bit RISC processor @ 80 MHz with 120KB RAM (40KB usable), built-in 802.11 b/g/n support.
  • Wi-Fi – 802.112 b/g/n, STA/AP/STA+AP modes, WEP/WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK security
  • Interfaces:
    • Up to 8x GPIOs
    • Up to 4x PWM
    • SPI (master & slave) up to 40MHz
    • UART with hardware FC up to 4Mbps
    • 1x channel 10bit ADC
  • Power supply – Single 3.3V  (2.8 to 3.6V)
  • Power consumption – Max: 70 mA @ 3.3V (230 mW); typical: 12mA; standby < 200 uA; “soft power off” < 10uA.
  • Dimensions – 27.13 x 17 x 2.3 mm (a bit larger than ESP-01)
  • Temperature Range – Operating: -40 °C to – 85 °C; storage -45 °C to 125 °C

The company will provide an “open SDK platform” (no details), and plans to release the schematics and PCB layout for the mode, but the latter does not also happen based on previous project (from other companies) on crowdfunding platforms. They are also working on Dooao Cloud services, and a corresponding API.

Dooao A8-X Demoboard with DWA8 Module

Dooao A8-X Demoboard with DWA8 Module

They’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise at least $5,000 (fixed funding) for mass production. But before I go to the perks which are not 100% clear, let’s go to their Taoboa website where they are two products: DWA8 module (35 RMB ~ $5.7 US), and A8-X demoboard (58 RMB ~ $9.5 US) pictured above. DWA8 is the module featured in the Indiegogo campaign, and A8-X demoboard is a baseboard including DWA8 module, that’s not mentioned at all on Indiegogo.

Back to the perks… A $10 “Early bird” pledge will get you ” 1 DWA8 module +1 Baseboard and SDK and HDK”, and they have options with different quantities of baseboards and modules, up to $200 for 30 DWA8 modules, and two “free” baseboards. Shipping costs are not even mentioned at all either, and they did not bother talking about the delivery schedule either, so the whole campaign is quite messy. I would expect the $10 pledge to be DWA8 module + A8-X board as shown above, but it could also be A8 Wi-Fi module (squared module) that you’d have to solder to DWA8 board. If it’s indeed $10 for A8-X board, then they’ve probably forgot to include shipping costs. I’ve asked a private question on Indiegogo about the perks and shipping, and hopefully they’ll make things clearer soon. The campaign ends in January 2015, so there’s still plenty of time, and I’d dare to assume delivery should take place in February 2015.

Thanks to Paul for the tip.

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Categories: Hardware Tags: dooao, esp8266, espressif, indiegogo, wifi

MINIX NEO X6 Media Hub Review

November 18th, 2014 8 comments

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

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

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

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Playback

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

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

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time, and audio is cut.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – OK, but it’s not possible to seek in the file.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

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

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped and dropped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Next are some videos with high definition audio codec:

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

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

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

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

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

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

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

MINIX_NEO_X6_SAMBA_Flash_Copy

Throughput in MB/s

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

MINIX_NEO_X6_iPerf

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

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

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

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

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

I used Vidonn X5 fitness band to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE), but the app could NOT locate the smartband.

Storage

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

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

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

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

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

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

USB Webcam

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

Gaming

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

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

MINIX NEO X6 CPU-Z & Antutu Benchmark

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

MINIX_NEO_X6_CPU-Z

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

MINIX_NEO_X6_Antutu

Conclusion

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

PRO:

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

CONS:

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

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

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

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Add Wi-Fi to Arduino Boards for $3 with ESP8266 Wi-Fi Serial Module

November 17th, 2014 12 comments

There has been some buzz around ESP8266 Wi-Fi module, mostly because of its low price, and SDK availability, meaning it could become the Wi-Fi equivalent of ENC28J60 Ethernet module, and that for $5 you could potentially add Wi-Fi to your Arduino board for example. Since then, the price has come down even further, and if you are prepared to buy 5 pieces, you can now get the module for less than $3 / piece shipped, alternatively a single module costs $4, and a complete Wi-Fi + Arduino Uno (clone) kit goes for $15. A community has also been built around the chip, and a several project have been made with Arduino boards and ESP8266 module.

ESP8266_Wi-Fi_Module

The best way to find information is to go to ESP8266 community forum, as well as read the Wiki on github. There’s currently a GCC toolchain for Espressif Systems ESP8266, open source tools for working with the firmware images and serial protocol, but the (leaked) SDK needs to be officially opened, as I understand it still requires an NDA.

ESP8266 does not have to be connected to another MCU board via its serial interface, and it can be used in standalone, as it also provides two GPIOs (version 2 only) so you can use it to control relays for example. The picture above is ESP-01, which is the most common module, but there are also other form factor for example with ESP-07 that’s even smaller but would require some soldering.

There’s been several project published on the web with Arduino + ESP8622, but AFAIK no libraries have been released yet, and people simply send AT commands in their sketches. You can check ESP8266 Wifi Temperature Logger project using Sparkfun Arduino Pro Mini 328, Seeeduino wrote a short tutorial with Seeeduino3 (Arduino UNO), and James Wolf did a short demo using ESP8622 and Arduino Micro board that fetch a URL, and display the HTML code and some of HTTP data in the serial monitor.

The sketch for the demo can be found here, and he also wrote some documentation.

Thanks to onebir for the tip.

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Zsun SD111 Is Now “Officially” an Hackable Wireless Flash Drive

November 16th, 2014 11 comments

Zsun SD11x are Wi-Fi flash drives for 8 to 128 GB eMMC, alternative to Sandisk or Kingston. Yesterday, I soldered the UART pins to Zsun SD111 (8GB) flash drive to access the serial console, but I did not manage to enter the terminal as it was password-protected. I posted my results anyway, as I was convinced I would get some clever ideas from my readers, some of which appeared to be a little time consuming, but Zoobab offered a simple solution that consisted in changing the boot parameters, by replacing /sbin/init by /bin/sh.

Zsun_SD111_UART_Pins

The first step is to interrupt the boot by pressing space or another key, in order to access U-boot.
Now we can check the U-boot environment

ar7240> printenv
bootargs=console=ttyS0,115200 root=31:02 rootfstype=jffs2 rw init=/sbin/init mtdparts=ar7240-nor0:64k(u-boot),64k(u-boot-env),6720k(rootfs),1216k(uImage),64k(NVRAM),64k(ART)
bootcmd=bootm 0x9f6B0000
bootdelay=4
baudrate=115200
ethaddr=0x00:0xaa:0xbb:0xcc:0xdd:0xee
ipaddr=10.168.168.1
serverip=10.168.168.10
stdin=serial
stdout=serial
stderr=serial
ethact=eth0

Environment size: 361/65532 bytes

Let’s keep everything the same, except the init, which can be modified with the command below:

ar7240> setenv bootargs console=ttyS0,115200 root=31:02 rootfstype=jffs2 rw init=/sbin/sh mtdparts=ar7240-nor0:64k(u-boot),64k(u-boot-env),6720k(rootfs),1216k(uImage),64k(NVRAM),64k(ART)

Let’s start Linux:

ar7240> boot

It will end with:

ar7240wdt_init: Registering WDT success
VFS: Mounted root (jffs2 filesystem) on device 31:2.
Freeing unused kernel memory: 128k freed


BusyBox v1.01 (2014.06.20-01:25+0000) Built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built-in commands.

/bin/sh: can't access tty; job control turned off
/ #

Perfect! We’ve got access to the command line. Let’s have look at the users:

~ # cat /etc/passwd 
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/sh
Admin:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/sh
bin:x:1:1:bin:/bin:/bin/sh
daemon:x:2:2:daemon:/usr/sbin:/bin/sh
adm:x:3:4:adm:/adm:/bin/sh
lp:x:4:7:lp:/var/spool/lpd:/bin/sh
sync:x:5:0:sync:/bin:/bin/sync
shutdown:x:6:11:shutdown:/sbin:/sbin/shutdown
halt:x:7:0:halt:/sbin:/sbin/halt
uucp:x:10:14:uucp:/var/spool/uucp:/bin/sh
operator:x:11:0:Operator:/var:/bin/sh
nobody:x:65534:65534:nobody:/home:/bin/sh
ap71:x:500:0:Linux User,,,:/root:/bin/sh

If we look at the shadow file only root and Admin have a password, so you could login with user ap71 without password for example, but that’s not too useful since you would not have root access. So I simply changed the root password with passwd command, but let’s me access the board via the UART console or telnet.

I’ve run some command to find out more about the system.

~ # uname -a
Linux (none) 2.6.31--LSDK-9.2.0_U11.14 #1 Wed Aug 6 13:13:40 HKT 2014 mips unknown
~ # df -h
Filesystem                Size      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/root                 6.6M      5.8M    796.0k  88% /
/dev/sda1                 7.4G     18.8M      7.4G   0% /etc/disk
~ # cat /proc/cpuinfo
system type             : Atheros AR9330 (Hornet)
processor               : 0
cpu model               : MIPS 24Kc V7.4
BogoMIPS                : 266.24
wait instruction        : yes
microsecond timers      : yes
tlb_entries             : 16
extra interrupt vector  : yes
hardware watchpoint     : yes, count: 4, address/irw mask: [0x0000, 0x0ff8, 0x0943, 0x0650]
ASEs implemented        : mips16
shadow register sets    : 1
core                    : 0
VCED exceptions         : not available
VCEI exceptions         : not available

~ # busybox
BusyBox v1.01 (2014.06.20-01:25+0000) multi-call binary

Usage: busybox [function] [arguments]...
or: [function] [arguments]...

BusyBox is a multi-call binary that combines many common Unix
utilities into a single executable.  Most people will create a
link to busybox for each function they wish to use and BusyBox
will act like whatever it was invoked as!

Currently defined functions:
[, arping, ash, awk, brctl, busybox, cat, chgrp, chmod, cp, cut,
date, dd, df, dirname, dmesg, du, echo, egrep, env, ethdebug,
ethreg, expr, factoryreset, false, fgrep, find, getty, grep, httpd,
id, ifconfig, init, insmod, iproute, kill, killall, linuxrc, ln,
login, ls, lsmod, md, md5sum, mkdir, mknod, mktemp, mm, modprobe,
more, mount, mv, passwd, ping, ps, pwd, reboot, rm, rmdir, rmmod,
route, sed, sh, sleep, strings, su, sync, tail, tar, telnet, telnetd,
test, tftp, touch, true, tty, udhcpc, udhcpd, umount, uname, vconfig,
vi, wc, xargs

~ #

The linux kernel contains the string “LSDK-9.2.0″ which appears to be an SDK for Atheros AR93XX, and can be downloaded here (I have not tried/verified the download). So the device is not running OpenWRT. Since telnet is not exactly secure, and want to access the device over the network, you should probably install dropbear, There’s only 796 KB left on the SPI flash, so what you can do is probably limited, although it might be possible to delete unused files to get extra space. Have fun!

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