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Unboxing of Rippl-TV XBMC Android Media Player

November 1st, 2014 No comments

Half year ago, I reviewed Shenzhen Tomato M8 / TM8 Android TV Box. It was the first hardware I received based on Amlogic S802, and although I found overall performance and video playback in XBMC was very good, the firmware was not always stable, and Wi-Fi performance was poor. Shenzhen Tomato has now sent me another model based on Amlogic S802 called Rippl-TV (click for full specs), with an hardware very similar to M8 as we’ll see below, but a completely different firmware that relies on XBMC as the Android launcher.

Rippl-TV Unboxing

I received the TV Box by Fedex in the following package that reads “Rippl-TV a drop of perfection brings out the best in media…”

Rippl-TV_PackageThe package lists the key features of the TV with 4K UHD video playback, XBMC Rippl-TV Edition, Android 4.4 OS (called UtilOS), dual band Wi-Fi, a quad core Cortex A9 CPU coupled with an octa core Mali-450 GPU, 2GB RAM, and 8GB flash. There’s also a QR code linking to rippl-tv.com, but there’s nothing to download from the website, just some information about the box, and ODM/OEM services.

Rippl-TV_Accessories

Rippl-TV and Accessories

The device comes with an HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power adapter, an IR remote control, and a tiny and mostly useless user’s manual in English.

Rippl-TV Ports (Click to Enlarge)

Rippl-TV Ports (Click to Enlarge)

The top of the enclosure looks like ripples from a water drop, hence the name Rippl-TV. On the front panel, there’s a “drop” acting as a window for the IR receiver and blue power LED,  and one of the sides, an SD card slot can be found, while most connectors are located on the rear panel: 2x USB 2.0 host ports, an HDMI port, Ethernet RJ45 connector, 3.5 mm AV jack, optical S/PDIF,. and a power barrel. On the bottom of the enclosure, we can read “designed in Philadelphia, assembled in China”, which could give credence to rumours the device has been designed with the team that made Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2.

I’ve also shot a video for those who prefer a more visual unboxing.

Rippl-TV Board

Before getting the device, I assumed the hardware would be very similar to M8 / TM8 TV box, so let’s open it to find out. First remove four sticky rubber pads on the bottom of the case, and untighten four screws in order to open  the device.

Rippl-TV Opened (Click to Enlarge)

Rippl-TV Opened (Click to Enlarge)

There’s a metallic plate screwed on the enclosure’s bottom for cooling, and a largish heatsink on top of the CPU and RAM chips, and you’ll clearly notice a striking resemblance M8 TV box.  Four more screws need to be remove to completely take the board out of the case.

Bottom of PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom of PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

We’ll find AP6330 wireless module for dual band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, and notice four pins for serial console on the top right of the picture.

Rippl-TV M8&M9 Board (Click to Enlarge)

Rippl-TV M8&M9 Board (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve removed the heatsink to have a better look at the PCBA, and it’s now 100% clear it’s the same design as M8 box, but a different revision called M9&M8_V1.0 (2014/07/07) instead of M9_V0.91 (2013/12/12) found in my M8 sample. They have also chosen to use different, and maybe better, components, for example by replacing NANYA SDRAM chips with Samsung K4B4G1646Q DDR3L SDRAM chips.  The recovery button is located right behind the AV port as usual.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomato for sending a sample, and if you buy in quantity, you can purchase from them. Individuals can purchase Rippl-TV for $139.90 on Amazon and Aliexpress plus shipping, which is over $40 more expensive than M8 TV box including shipping, so the firmware is better worth it, but it’s something we’ll find out in the full review.

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SPMC 13.3.3 Release Adds H.265 Video Playback and Android TV Support

November 1st, 2014 1 comment

SPMC (Semper Media Center) is a fork of XBMC for Android with some modifications, that you can easily install from Google Play or Amazon AppStore. The latest version is particularly interested as it adds H.265/HEVC codec support for platforms such as Rockchip RK3288, and Amlogic S805/S812, and other SoCs making use of MediaCodec API and libstagefright should also work, including Realtek RTD1195 and Hisilicon K3V2. This version is also the first to support Android TV based on Android 5.0 Lollipop.

SPMCSMPC 13.3.3 Changelog:

  • Preliminary support for h265 (including RK3288)
  • Preliminary support for Android TV
  • Allow sleep and Daydream to kick in (e.g. on Amazon Fire TV)
  • Add setting to scrape all videos, even if they failed
  • Add “sd” & “hd” to the advanced settings of libstagefright (and mediacodec) for fine tuning
  • Allow fullscreen on Jelly Bean
  • Hide irrelevant video & audio settings
  • Another possible fix for start crash
  • Make the “no launcher” version default

There’s also SPMC launcher version (APK), which, If I understand correctly, can be used as the default home screen / launcher in Android.

Thanks to Harley for the tip.

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Banana Pro Allwinner A20 Development Board Looks Similar to Raspberry Pi Model B+

October 30th, 2014 No comments

Banana Pi development board was launched about half year ago with Raspberry Pi model B form factor, but with more powerful Allwinner A20 dual core processor, and extra interfaces such as SATA. A few months later, the Raspberry Pi foundation launched Raspberry Pi Model B+  with pretty much the same specifications, but a different board layout and connector placement, and LeMaker has now designed a new version of the AllWinner A20 development board called “Banana Pro” that’s somewhat similar to R-Pi B+ board layout, with a 40-pin header, and similar connector placement, minus a few differences, such as using two USB ports instead of four, and the addition of a Wi-Fi module.

Raspberry Pi Model B+ vs Banana PRO

Raspberry Pi Model B+ vs Banana PRO

Banana Pro specifications with differences against Banana Pi highlighted in bold:

  • SoC- Allwinner A20 dual core Cortex A7 processor @ 1 GHz with Mali-400MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 GB DDR3
  • Storage – micro SD card slot, SATA 2.0 connector
  • Video output – HDMI 1.4, 3.5mm jack for composite + stereo audio (AV), and MIPI DSI connector
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, AV jack, and on-board microphone
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8211E/D) + 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (Realtek RTL8189ES)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG, 1x micro USB for power
  • Debugging – 3-pin UART console
  • Expansion – Raspberry Pi B+ compatible headers (40-pin header), Camera connector (CSI), and LCD connector (DSI).
  • Misc – 3x on-board buttons for reset, power, and u-boot (FEL mode), 3x LEDs (power, Ethernet, and user), and IR receiver
  • Power – 5V/2A via micro USB port. AXP209 PMIC.
  • Dimensions – 92 x 60 mm
  • Weight – 45 g

Banana_PROCompared to Banana Pi, Banana pro adds a Wi-Fi module, and a micro USB OTG port, replaces a full size SD card slot with a micro SD card slot, the RCA port and stereo audio port by a single AV port, and the 26-pin header by a 40-pin header compatible with Raspberry Pi Model B+.

The company provides firmware images for various Linux distributions including Lubuntu, Rasbpian, Android Jelly Bean, Bananian, LeMedia (XBMC in Debian), ArchLinux for ARM, Scratch, etc… These are the images for Banana Pi, but they most likely also run on the Banana PRO, although Wi-Fi support is probably not guaranteed (yet) with all of these images, some of which dates from May. Banana PRO BSP can be retrieved from github.

The board can be pre-ordered on Aliexpress for $68.88 including shipping, with actual shipping scheduled within 30 days, or I misunderstood and they expect the parcel to be delivered within 30 days. A few more details can be found on LeMaker homepage, and a forum thread.

Via Banana Pi Google+ Community and Nanik.

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MXQ S85 Android TV Box (Amlogic S805) Review

October 11th, 2014 20 comments

MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ are two main Full HD H.265 Android media players based on Amlogic S805 currently selling on Chinese online stores. I’m lucky enough to have received both, and I’ve already completed the review for EM6Q-MXQ, so today I’ll complete MXQ S85 review and compare both devices. I’ve already taken picture of the device, accessories, and checked out the board’s components in my unboxing post, so in this post, I’ll focus on the user interface, evaluate performance, and test most hardware features of this media player.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve started by a quick test of the IR remote control, and it works as expected after inserting two AAA batteries, before switching to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected all ports of the device except the S/PDIF output: Ethernet cable, HDMI and AV cables, micro SD card, USB hard drive, USB webcam, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad.  I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button opn the top of the box, a Blue LED turns off, “Google TV” icon appears on TV and in a little more than 40 seconds the boot completes. It’s not quite as fast as higher RK3288 TV boxes (20s), but it’s much better than the boot time on EM6Q-MXQ (1m 50s), so the flash must be faster.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

The user interface is the Android Home screen, but you can also switch the MediaBox launcher with a Metro-style user interface found in many Amlogic S80X TV boxes, by going to the “Home” section in Android settings. The box automatically selected 1080p60 Hz video output, and the user interface resolution is 1920×1080 as you can infer from the screenshot above. 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 “Setting” menu is based on the same Metro-style interface as EM6Q-MXQ with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted difference 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, 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 (app)
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (not working), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

So it’s exactly the same as EM6Q-MXQ, except the current firmware also supports 1080p @ 24 Hz.

I’ve also tested composite output, and both 480 CVBS and 576 CVBS settings worked fine. There’s no component (YPbPr) output in this box.

I have not made a video for MXQ S85, because it’s very similar to EM6Q-MXQ, except you have the option to switch between the Android home screen or MediaBox launcher, 1080p24 is supported, and S85 is a little more responsive. But you can watch the video I shot for EM6Q-MXQ if you haven’t already where I walk through the user interface and settings, XBMC user interface (1920×1080 UI rendered at 30 fps), and show H.265 video playback in MX Player.

About_MXQ_S85MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB NAND flash with a single partition (8.00 GB – black magic again…), and at the end of the review I still had 4.01 GB free. Looking into “About MediaBox” section, we can find out that the model number is “S85″, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is rooted, and after I started the review I found firmware 106k4 (an updated to version 105k4 used for the review), which you can probably flash with Amlogic USB flash tool, but I have not tried.

All apps I needed for the review could be installed with Google Play Store including Antutu, 3D Mark, ES File Explorer, MX Player, Beach Buggy Blitz, A1SD benchmark, Sixaxis Controller, etc… However, as I scrolled through the list of apps installed on other Android devices, there were a few incompatible apps notably some messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp), Instagram, Google Translate, and a few others. But you can usually work around these issues by spoofing your device name with an app (paid), or changing build.prop. I’ve also downloaded and installed Amazon AppStore, in order to play Riptide GP2.

Albeit the box features a power button, power handling is not perfect, as a clean power off is not possible. You can either use the remote control power button to enter and exit standby, and the power button on the unit, can be used to achieve real power off, and to turn the device on, but it’s and hardware power off which powers off the device immediately, Android does not cleanly shuts down. The device temperature is pretty cool: 40°C and 46°C measured with an infrared thermometer respectively on the top and bottom of the box, right after running Android 5 benchmark. And after playing Riptide GP2 for about 10 minutes (at which stage the game froze), the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 42°C and 46°C…

The system very pretty stable, but just like with EM6Q-MXQ, attempting to play a 4K video in XBMC will freeze the system requiring a hard reboot. However, the flash is fast enough no to experience various slowdowns, or making apps randomly exit. Android did pop up the “app not responding” windows at load time for some games, so it’s not perfect, but answering “wait” will start the games normally. Nevertheless, although it’s clearly not as snappy as the latest Amlogic S802 or Rockchip RK3288 based mini PCs, I did not find MXQ S85 frustrating to use, unlike EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Videos were playing from SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04 over Ethernet using XBMC 13.1 pre-installed in the system, switching to MX Player for videos that failed to play. I had no problems connect to SAMBA with XBMC and ES File Explorer.

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, H.265/HEVC videos by Elecard, as well as 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 OK, 720p some rare parts in slowmo, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode), but seeking does not work properly. It will switch to S/W decode, and the video becomes unwatchable.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video)
    • XBMC – Won’t even start
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode).

Then I played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – XBMC: audio only; MX Player: black screen only, no audio.
  • 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 frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Videos with high definition audio codec could be played in XBMC (with performance issues), but not in MX Player (except AC3):

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – SAMBA: Audio completely cuts after a few seconds. USB: No problem with audio, but video feels slow.

A Blu-ray ISO video (Sintel-Bluray.iso) played perfectly in XBMC.

I tested over a dozen other videos from my library (AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 containers), and they could all play with any A/V sync issues. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB), so no problem with stability either.

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 between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is still pretty good @ 2.95 MB/s on average, although not quite as fast as EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Wi-Fi Transfer Rate in MB/s

Wi-Fi Transfer Rate in MB/s

Ethernet worked at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance similar its competitor. Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta is way ahead, simply because it’s the only box I have that actually supports Gigabit Ethernet.

Ethernet Transfer Rate in MB/s

Ethernet Transfer Rate in MB/s

For a raw benchmark of Ethernet performance, I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line. It does not quite maxes out Fast Ethernet bandwidth like Rockchip RK3288, but results are similar to EM6Q-MXQ just like with the test above.

TCP window size: 136 KByte (default)
————————————————————
[ 6] local 192.168.0.104 port 57781 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
[ ID] Interval Transfer Bandwidth
[ 4] 0.0-60.0 sec 476 MBytes 66.5 Mbits/sec
[ 6] 0.0-60.0 sec 566 MBytes 79.1 Mbits/sec

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Contrary to the version of EM6Q-MXQ I reviewed, MXQ S85 comes with Bluetooth.

I could transfer pictures from my Android phone to the box over Bluetooth, Sixaxis Compatibility Checker appeared to support PS3 wireless gamepads, but my controller was not recognized.

Bluetooth LE (Smart) was tested with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, but unfortunately the app could not locate the device over BLE.

Storage

FAT32 formatted micro SD card and USB flash drive could be recognized and properly mounted by the system
Only NTFS and FAT32 partition on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed. That’s common to all Android mini PCs I tested, except A80 OptimusBoard which could mount the EXT-4 partition too (but in read-only mode).

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

A1 SD Bench was used to benchmark USB hard drive and internal flash performance. The read speed was 16.92 MB/s, and the write speed of 21.87MB/s fore NTFS partition in /storage/external_storage/sda1, both results being weak.

MXQ_S85_USB_NTFS_Benchmark

USB HDD (NTFS) Read and Write Speeds

The NAND flash speed is clearly not outstanding at 15.8 MB/s (read) and 6.83 MB/s (write), but still better than EM6Q-MXQ, and apparently good enough for a smooth operation of the device most of the time.

MXQ_S85_NAND_Flash_BenchmarkUSB Webcam

I had troubles with both Skype and Google Hangouts with my USB webcam. I did manage to see the image in Skype once, but never long enough to make a phone call. The camera is not detected at all in Hangouts.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 could run on the box. I played Candy Crush Saga with my air mouse, and switched to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. For each game, the system showed up pop up with “App XXX is not responding. Do you want to close it?”, but selecting “Wait” could load the games just fine. Beach Buggy Blitz framerate felt good using the default settings (low res), but I did notice some very short freezes (<1s) from time to time. Riptide GP2 is not really enjoyable with default settings (high resolution), but lowering the resolution makes it relatively enjoyable to play. Riptide GP2 freezing I encountered on other Amlogic s802/S805 devices, and Allwinner A80 development board occurred yet again, after just around 10 minutes of play time. I’m not sure if the game itself is buggy, or the GPU drivers/libraries are. I checked the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the device at that time, and I got 42°C and 46°C.

Even if games can run, the gaming experience is not great, and you should really consider spending more to get a Rockchip RK3288, or not as good, Amlogic S802 devices if you are really interested in playing games. Nvidia Tegra K1 devices should even be better but in a completely different price category.

MXQ S85 Benchmarks

CPU-Z shows the device is indeed powered a quad ARM Cortex A5 processor clocked between 24 MHz and 1.49 GHz, but instead of using a performance governor, MXQ S85 is using a hotplug (on-demand). The board is m201, which can be a useful thing to know in case you download firmware files. FYR, EM6Q-MXQ is based on hd18t board.

Amlogic_S805_CPU-Z_MXQ_S85

The devices gets 16,448 points in Antutu 5.1 which is consistent with the score I got with EM6Q-MXQ (16,647).

MXQ_S85_Antutu_5.1

There are some differences in Vellamo 3 however, with a lower Browser score (812 vs 1061), a higher multicore score (1319 vs 1139). The metal score is about the same.

Vellamo_3_MXQ_S85

Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark is about the same with 2,308 points (vs 2,325 for EM6Q-MXQ), and clearly shows the relatively low performance of the quad core Mali-450MP GPU used in S805 compared to high-end SoC with better GPUs.

S85_3D_Mark_Ice_Storm_Extreme

Conclusion

MXQ S85 is actually a pretty good device and performance considering the price (<$50). Wi-Fi and Ethernet are pretty decent, video codecs/containers is quite good in XBMC, and H.265 can be played in MX Player, but not yet in XBMC. The firmware is pretty stable, and I did not come across massive slowdowns like in EM6Q-MXQ.

PRO:

  • The firmware is stable, relatively smooth to operate, and only hung when trying to play 4K videos
  • Good XBMC support.
  • HEVC/H.265 hardware video decoding support. Working in MX Player, but not with XBMC (yet)
  • Very good price/performance ratio.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and decent Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but no 25/30 Hz), and composite output (NTSC/PAL).

CONS:

  • Despite having a power button, power off is not perfect (no clean power off)
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (mostly used for wearables) is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade is not working
  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • USB webcam did not work reliably for me in either Skype and Hangouts.
  • “App xxx not responding” message may appear while loading large apps such as games.

Gearbest provided the sample for review, so if you are interested in purchasing you could do so on their site for $47.99 (with MXQBCM coupon), or for $45.99 (with MXQCM coupon) for the version without Bluetooth. Coupons are valid until November 30, 2014. MXQ-S85 can also be found on other stores including DealExtreme, Amazon US, Dealsmachines, and Aliexpress.

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Review of Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta 4K/H.265 Android TV Box

October 3rd, 2014 4 comments

It’s been a little while since I unboxed Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta Android TV box, but since the product was still consider “beta” by GeekBuying, I wanted to wait for a OTA firmware update (109k4), which was released at the beginning of the week. Since I’ve already listed the technical specifications, and showed pictures of the board and device, I’ll focus on feature tests and benchmarks results in the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I quickly tried the basic infrared remote control, inserting two AAA batteries, and it does the job, but for Android, you really need a pointing device, so I switched to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse during testing. I’ve connected a whole bunch of cable, and peripherals to the box including an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, an Ethernet cable, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and USB flash drive. When you connect the power, it won’t start immediately, and just need to press the power button on the device to boot it up. The remote can not turn the box on. Boot time is about 35 seconds, a bit longer than the 20 seconds boot time I experienced in some other Rockchip RK3288 powered media player.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Orion R28 TV boxes only coem with the standard Android home screen, so if you prefer a TV friendly launcher, you’d have to install one from Google Play. The task bar can be shown or hidden with the double arrows icon on the right. The user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080.

The Android settings are pretty standard. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN, Portable Hotspot, etc… can be accessed in Wireless and Networks section. Display settings include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, video output selection (HDMI /  YPbPr / TV), and resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. If you own a 4K UHD TV, you should also get some extra options up to 4K 60Hz. “TV” mode is composite output, and you can select PAL or NTSC, whereas YPbPr will only support 480p and 720p (no 1080p). “Default Output” (PCM), “Spdif Passthough”, and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through) options are available in the Sound settings (pass-though not tested). The review was done using HDMI output, but I’ve also tried composite and component (YPbPr). Composite output works for PAL and NTSC, but there was the usual green bar at the bottom with NTSC. For once, I managed to make YPbPr work, but only in greyscale (Luminance Y), with the Chrominance signals apparently not outputted..

NTSC (Click to Enlarge)

Composite – NTSC (Click to Enlarge)

PAL (Click to Enlarge)

Composite – PAL (Click to Enlarge)

Component - YPrPb 720p (Click to Enlarge)

Component – YPrPb  (Click to Enlarge)

There are three version for Orion R28: Pro with 8GB flash, Meta for 16GB flash, and the upcoming Telos with 32GB flash. My model is R28 Meta with a 16GB eMMC partitioned into a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps, and a 16 GB (black magic alert!) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 11.6 GB available space. I have not checked the free space in the “Internal Storage” partition before thr review, but after installing the applications required for the review, I had just 564 MB available, so some people will want to install custom ROMs to tweak the partition allocation.

The “About device” section includes to OTA updates option: “system updates”, and “wireless update”. You’ll need to click on Wireless Update to install new firmware updated. I’ve done so with upgrading 108k4 firmware to 109k4 firmware. The OTA update did not delete my existing apps and account settings.

Wireless Update In Progress (Click to Enlarge)

Wireless Update In Progress (Click to Enlarge)

Other information include the model number: Tronsmart Orion R28, the Android version: 4.4.2, the kernel version: 3.10.0, and the vendor software version: 109k4. The firmware is already rooted.

I’ll skip the user interface / settings video here, because it’s just the same as other RK3288 TV boxes, minus a custom launcher.

I managed to install most apps via Google Play such as ES File Explorer, MX Player, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…  Some incompatible apps include Vidonn, Fruit Ninja, and a few others. I’ll also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore.

Power Off/standby handling is mostly OK. A short press on the remote/box power button will put the device into standby mode, and by pressing the power button again will make it active. A long press on the power button (remote/box) will pop-up the Android menu with Power Off/Silent Mode, for a proper power off. One annoyance is that you can’t power the device with the remote control, and you need to press the power button on the box itself. If you use Mele F10 Deluxe the power button is the same, and power off work, but I could not go into standby, as the screen would just turn off for one or two seconds before becoming active again. Tronsmart Meta R28 becomes pretty hot, but it’s a common “feature” for all RK3288 boxes. The maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 52°C and 59°C after Antutu, and 57°C and 67°C after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes.

The firmware is stable and smooth, and I only had one freeze while playing an FLV video in XBMC. I never experienced slowdowns, but boot time, and to a lesser extend app loading is not quite as fast as on HPH NT-V6 or Kingnovel R6, because the eMMC flash read throughput is not quite as high on R28, as we’ll see below.

Video Playback

All other RK3288 devices I tested came either without XBMC, or with XBMC 13 (custom version) pre-install, but Kodi 14-alpha4 came with 109k4 firmware, so it’s interested to see if there are any improvements. The test environment includes an Ubuntu 14.04 server with a SAMBA from which I play videos from Kodi/XBMC, or MX Player in case of issues, over Ethernet.

Let’s start with some videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, to which I added H.265/HEVC and VP9 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK. Some hardly noticeable blinking effect in scenes with grass/trees, but it also happens on my PC, so it could be the original video.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK and relatively smooth, but not as perfect as on PC (VideoLAN)
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – 360p and 720p – OK, except seeking does not work. 1080p – many scenes are not smooth, and all 4 CPU cores are maxed out due to software decode.
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • VP9 (low resolution) – OK.

This version of Kodi can handle H.265 decode by software up to 720p, MPEG-2 playback seems better, but VC1 videos are still not supported.

Next are some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • 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) – Audio only (That’s the VC1 codec issue in Kodi).
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

I usually play Jeelyfish-120-Mbps.mkv from a USB hard drive because of the high bitrate, but since Gigabit Ethernet is working fine, that’s the first device that can play it over SAMBA.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in XBMC and MX Player:

  • AC3 – OK (but aspect ratio set to 1:1 is Kodi)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

Kodi handled a Blu-ray ISO file (Sintel-Bluray.iso) properly.

Yet again none of my 4K video samples could play successfully in Kodi, with somewhat better results in MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4

    • Kodi – OK most of the time, but skips about 60 frames at the end of the video (The image will freeze before the end of the video).
    • MX Player – Not so smooth, and audio stops well before the video is complete (audio/sync issue?)
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv
    • Kodi – Many frames dropped.
    • MX Player – Severe decoding issues. Like I see the garbled video in five small screens.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265)
    • Kodi – Slow motion.
    • MX Player – Plays with S/W decode in slow motion.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9)
    • Kodi – Won’t start.
    • MX Player – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

Finally, I went through my video library with AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos. Some FLV video would make the system freeze, requiring an hard reset. At least one video suffered from audio/video sync issues. I could play a  complete 1080p video (1h50) in Kodi, so at least the system appear to be stable, even if many videos can’t be played smoothly. This is not unique to Tronsmart Orion R28 by the way, as other RK3288 boxes are also pretty poor when it comes to video playback.

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’ve now testing both 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi with TP-Link TL-WR940N router, and 5GHz (802.11n/ac) with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) router. The test consists in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa. ES File Explorer is used for this purpose, and the test is repeated three times. But before going through the test results, here’s an interesting image…

Tronsmart_Orion_R28_Meta_WiFi_SignalWhereas I get about -49 dB on my phone, the Wi-Fi signal strength in Orion R28 is much lower (-68 dB). As an experiment, I’ve also removed the Wi-Fi antenna in case it was just a bad contact, but it drops to about -82 dB, so there’s another problem somewhere else. That means in Android I only get a “fair” signal, instead of the “excellent” I normally get with other devices in my office, behind just 6 meters (+wall) from the router.

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s

Wi-Fi Throughput in MB/s

The weak signal did not seem to affect 802.11n transfer rate, bt may have impacted 802.11ac which ended up being slower than 802.11n… However, I’d expect it to affect range quite a bit, as normally I get signal that weak when I’m in the garden about 15 meters from the router.

At last! An Android mini PC where Gigabit Ethernet works for me! I could transfer a 885 MB file between the internal flash and SAMBA @ about 14 MB/s on average.

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet Throughput in MB/s

Although this test usually works well with Fast Ethernet, the internal storage’s read/write speed will be the bottleneck with Gigabit Ethernet transfer, so transferring from SAMBA to flash is significantly slower (11.8MB/s) than from flash to SAMBA (19.66 MB/s), and even more so from USB HDD to SAMBA (28.5 MB/s), yet it gives an idea of actual file transfer performance between the network on the device.

In order to  get a true estimate of Gigabit Ethernet performance,  I used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android. Gigabit Ethernet first, followed by Fast Ethernet:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.110, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  425 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 58157 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.22 GBytes   747 Mbits/sec
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  5.74 GBytes   822 Mbits/sec
 [  5] local 192.168.0.104 port 5001 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 37834
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.110, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 58259 connected with 192.168.0.110 port 5001
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   655 MBytes  91.6 Mbits/sec
 [  5]  0.0-60.1 sec   661 MBytes  92.4 Mbits/sec

Fast Ethernet performance is excellent, very close to the theoretical 100 Mbps achievable, and I’d assume Gigabit Ethernet performance will please most people with 747 Mbps and 822 Mbps.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth transfer from phone to Android media player is working fine.

The device is rooted, and I could confirm my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone is properly recognized with Sixazis Compatibility Checker.

However, I failed to connect to my Vidonn X5 activity tracker, so it could mean Bluetooth Low Energy (Smart) is not working.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be automatically mounted and accessed by the systems.
For once, I could see four partitions in ES File Explorer (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2 directory), but as usual only the FAT32 and NTFS partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted.

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

I benchmarked the NTFS partition (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS) with A1 SD Bench. Read transfer rate: 27.50 MB/s, write transfer rate: 22.68 MB/s. Both numbers are not that great, but I suppose still acceptable. Orion R28 is on the right on the chart.

Orion_R28_USB_Harddrive

The eMMC flash has a decent write speed (13.58 MB/s), but the read speed (20.19 MB/s) is over half of other competing products based on Rockchip RK3288. The latter will mostly affect boot time, and app loading time during normal use.

Tronsmart_Orion_R28_eMMC_Performance

USB Webcam

I could make a video call with my UVC USB webcam in Skype with both audio and video working, but I had to make a few tries, and Skype hung a few times with Android asking me to kill or wait for Skype to respond.

Google Hangout recognized my webcam, and could make a video call, unfortunately all I got was a black screen. Audio worked however.

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. As usual ran very nicely on RK3288 thanks to the Mali-T764 GPU. I played Candy Crush Saga with Mele F10 Deluxe, and the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Both Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 were smooth with maxed out graphics settings, although the latter would benefit from an even faster GPU at times. Temperature measurements after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes: 57°C (top) and 67°C (bottom).

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta Benchmark

No surprise here with 36,865 points in Antutu 5.1. It’s slightly faster than NT-V6 because the processor is clocked at 1.8 GHz instead of just 1.6 GHz.

Orion_R28_Meta_Anutut_5.1

Vellamo 3.x scores are just as expected, and comparable to other Rockchip RK3288 mini PCs.

Orion_R28_Meta_Vellamo

Ice Storm Extreme benchmark score (7,513) is about the same as other RK3288 TV boxes, even in the higher range, as these report scores between 7,000 and 7,500+.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta comes with a fast processor, excellent 3D graphics performance, and a decent, although not outstanding eMMC. The firmware feels smooth, and I only experience one system freeze in XBMC/Kodi while playing an unsupported video file. It’s also the only Android mini PC where Gigabit Ethernet actually works for me, so this is a big plus, although issue with other models maybe only be due to interoperability problems with my   Gigabit switch. There are also some downside like weak Wi-Fi signal, yet with above average Wi-Fi performance, and video playback needs improvement, especially in XBMC/Kodi, but other Rockchip RK3288 media players have the exact same issues.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Good platform for games with excellent 3D graphics performance, and support for RF and Bluetooth (PS3) gamepads.
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • First and only box with working Gigabit Ethernet so far (for me).
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested). Composite is working.
  • Support for OTA update
  • Support forums
  • Proper power off/standby handling.

CONS:

  • Kodi/XBMC has too many issues: VC1 not supported, H.265 only supported by software, audio/video sync issue, few 4K videos could play properly, may hang system, etc…
  • Weak Wi-Fi signal, although performance is OK.
  • Video output – Component does not fully work  (grayscale only)
  • Webcam not working properly (black screen) in Google Hangouts. OK in Skype but the app does not seem very stable.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy may not be working

Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta can be purchased for $119.99 on GeekBuying or Aliexpress, You can also get a cheaper model without 802.11ac support (just 802.11 n/g/n) and only 8GB eMMC, called Orion R28 Pro, for $99.99 on GeekBuying or Aliexpress.

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Review of Nagrace HPH NT-V6 Android Mini PC Powered by RK3288 with 4GB RAM, 32GB Internal Storage

September 30th, 2014 8 comments

Last week-end, I finally received TP-Link TL-WDR7500 router (Chinese variant of Arched C7) router, so I could complete my review of Nagrace HPH NT-V6 including 802.11ac Wi-Fi. I’ve already listed the specifications, and taken a few pictures of the device and the board, and today I’ll focus on the test results. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the user interface and settings, before testing video playback, as well as benchmarking networking, storage and overall system performance, playing some games, and testing most hardware features of this mini PC.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

A simple infrared remote control is provided with the device, and I’ve quickly tried it by inserting two AAA batteries, and it works fine, but for the rest of testing I switched to Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse to control the device, as it’s much more user friendly than any IR remote. Before booting up the device, I’ve connected an HDMI cable, a USB hard drive, an Ethernet cable, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and USB flash drive. Finally connect the power supply to boot the device in about 20 seconds.

NT-V6 User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

NT-V6 User Interface (Click to Enlarge)

The company has made their user interface, but in a similar style than the one common found in Amlogic S802 devices. On the top right, you’ve network status (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth). The status bar won’t show in the main menu, but in some other apps and settings, you’ll be able to access it. A large section with 9 folders can be found on the left with Movie (Videoplayer), XBMC (yes a folder too containing XBMC, so you have to click twice), Music, Game, Browser, Stream (Youtube and Netflix), Screencast, Social and Market. On the right, you’ve got the time, and weather (that does not work), and four more icons: “My Device” (Actually a file manager), “All Apps”, “Settings”, and “All Tasks Killer”. The user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080.

The Android settings are very similar to other RK3288 TV box. The Wireless and Networks menu comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and Data Usage sections, as well as a “More” section with VPN, Portable Hotspot, etc… Display settings let you set the font size, adjust the screen size, select between HDMI, YPbPr (Component), and “TV” (Composite) video outputs, and the resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. I don’t own a 4K UHD TV, but if I did, there should also be some 4K options. You can choose between “Default Output” (PCM), “Spdif Passthough”, and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through) in the Sound settings. HDMI video output is working, but composite and component (YPbPr) video outputs failed to work. An AV cable was not included, so I used some other cables, and I could only see a black screen. Audio (L/R) works fine.

What about HDMI In? I’ve connected Orino R28 meta to the HDMI input port of the NT-V6, clicked on HDMI IN app, and I could see R28 user interface, but apart from that I could not do much. Things like Android notifications of the “host” won’t show up, as as it stands the HDMI In function is just like a cheap HDMI switcher. To go back to main user interface, simply press the back key on the remote.

The version of HPH NT-V6 I got comes with a 32GB eMMC, other options includes 8, 16 or 64 GB, which is partitioned into a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps, and a 25.99 GB “NAND FLASH” partition for data. After I installed all applications I needed for this review, I was left with 568 MB available. It would have been preferable to design the system with a single flash partition, or make the “Internal Storage” a bit bigger. Nevertheless with 26 GB for data, there’s plenty of data, even to download and place movies directly from eMMC flash.

The “About device” section only lists the model number (HPH-F0-N6) and the Android version (4.4.2). It’s running on top of Linux kernel 3.10.0, but it’s not indicated in this section. The firmware is not rooted, and NT-V6 is another device with a USB A receptacle, instead of a micro USB port, and I could not root it via the OTG port since I don’t have a proper cable. There’s a System Update app for OTA firmware upgrades, and the firmware version is currently 1.1.9 in my device. I’m not 100% sure it works, because I have not received a firmware upgrade yet.

In the video below, I boot the device, and go though the user interface, and system settings.

Google Play Store mostly works. I could install most apps, install a paid app, such as ES File Explorer, MX Player, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…  Vidonn activity tracker app was reported as “incompatible with your device”. I discover an easy way to quickly scan through compatible apps that you’ve installed in other devices previously with the same account. Go to My Apps->All in the Play Store, and you can scroll down to see which apps are already installed, or incompatible. You can also select multiple apps, and click Install for bulk installation. Since I got Riptide GP2 as a “free app of the day”, I installed Amazon AppStore to install the game.

Power control work as it should. A short press on the remote will put the device in standby mode, and you start it again but pressing the remote button again. A long press on the power button will pop-up the Android menu with Power Off/Airplane Mode/Silent Mode, in order to achieve true power off. A press on the box button will have the same effect. When the device is powered off, you can press the remote power button, or the power button on the media player, although I’ve found the latter does not always work… It takes 3 to 4 second for power LED to run blue after pressing the power button, so it’s a bit confusing at times. and you need to wait 4 seconds to make sure you’ve really powered the device on. Both the included remote control and Mele F10 Deluxe could power on/off NT-V6. As with other RK3288 devices, the case may become hot. After Antutu benchmark, the maximum temperatures measured with an infrared thermometer on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 58°C and 64°C, and 58°C and 66°C after playing Riptide GP2 for over 20 minutes.

HPH NT-V6 mini PC is very stable, and I never had a reboot and hang up during my 6-8 hours testing. Boot time (20s) and XBMC load time (2s) are very similar to Kingnovel R6 as both integrate a fast eMMC flash.

Video Playback

Video playback results are the same as Kingnovel R6 (previously known as K-R68), so I invite you to visit R6 review for video testing. To summarize, a version of XMBC 13 alpha12 is pre-installed, and suffers from not-so-smooth MPEG2 playback (in some files), lack of support for VC1, some 4K videos are not smooth at all, as well as audio/sync issues.

What’s different however is that I could play some HEVC/H.265 videos in XBMC:

  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (Elecard 360p / 720p / 1080p) – Audio only
  • 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 – Won’t start to play

I’ve also test some VP9 videos. They can’t be played in XBMC, but can in MX Player:

  • out9.webm (low resolution) – OK. H/W decode according to MX Player.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (3840×2160) – Maybe 1 or 2 frames per second, still with H/W decode according to MX Player, but internally it’s certainly using S/W decode.

I also played a complete FullHD video (1h50) with XBMC to test stability. I had the same slow XBMC exit as with other boxes, which does not happen all the time, and apparently only during scanning or other background tasks.

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)

To evaluate network performance, I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer, and repeating the test three times. I now have two routers, but I’ll keep testing 2.4GHz Wi-Fi with my old TP-Link TL-WR940N router, and test 5GHz Wi-Fi with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7) which also support 802.11ac. I already tested NT-V6 in TL-WDR7500 review, and found the connected with NT-V6 to be unstable, and not that fast. That was on Sunday… But on Monday I tested it again, and the performance and stability was much better. I have no idea why. The only differences are: it was raining on Monday, and I was the only  one using Wi-Fi, whereas on week-ends, TL-WR940N may get 4 to 5 connected clients. So it went from 1.92 MB/s to 3.91 MB/s average speed with 802.11n, and 3.02MB/s  to 4.85 MB/s with 802.11ac, the best performance I ever got with Wi-Fi.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The top line is with 802.11ac, and the second line with 802.11n @ 2.4GHz. But as I said this chart may overestimate the actual Wi-Fi capabilities of NT-V6, and performance seem irregular… Using “sunday” results, 802.11ac would have been in third position in the chart, and 802.11n between Vega S89 and VidOn.me AV200.

And now Ethernet…. I had rather disappointing performance with Fast Ethernet, and still more problems with Gigabit Ethernet… I should really buy another Gigabit switch to make sure that’s not the root cause.

Fast Ethernet Performance in MB/s

Fast Ethernet Performance in MB/s

I could actually get a Gigabit Ethernet connection, but I got a transfer rate of 250 KB/s from network to flash, and 1.8MB/s from flash to network…

In order to get a “pure” network test, I also used iPerf app and iperf in my Ubuntu PC, using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line in Android. It clearly show some issues with both Fast and Gigabit Ethernet, and whereas one direction has good performance, the other is problematic (100Mbps first, then Gigabit):

Client connecting to 192.168.0.108, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 35429 connected with 192.168.0.108 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   672 MBytes  93.8 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.1 sec  81.0 MBytes  11.3 Mbits/sec
Client connecting to 192.168.0.108, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 35764 connected with 192.168.0.108 port 5001
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  6.16 GBytes   882 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.9 sec  16.5 MBytes  2.27 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

File transfer over Bluetooth works fine. I use ThL W200 Android smartphone to send a picture to NT-V6.

I skipped Sixaxis test for PS3 Bluetooth Gamepad support, because the firmware is not rooted, and I’m not sure how to root it without OTG cable.

Vidonn X5 activity tracker was used to test Bluetooth 4.0 LE. I could not install Vidonn app from Google Play (incompatible), so I instead installed vidonn.apk, and successfully connected to my wristband to get the data. Note-to-self: make sure to set the time on the mini PC before making the connection to the wristband, or it will mess with the data…

Storage

The system could detect and mounted a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32.
It seems nobody is interested in having EXT-3/4 working for external storage in Android, and as usual only the NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted.

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

I benchmarked the eMMC and the NTFS partition on my hard drive with A1 SD Bench. There does not seem to be a standard for mount points in Android, and firmware from various (SoC) vendors, have different mount points. In this firmware, the NTFS partition is located in /mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS. The read speed was 35.62MB/s, and the write speed of 15.08MB/s, so NT-V6 gets both the best read speed, and the worst write speed of all devices I tested.

MB/s

USB NTFS Performance in MB/s

Hopefully, the only solution is some optimization for NTFS writing speed.

The Samsung eMMC found on the board has very good performance, reading at 55 MB/s, and writing at 18 MB/s.

MB/s

MB/s

Beside fast loading times, a product with a fast eMMC is much less likely to experience slowdowns.

USB Webcam

I could test audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, but unfortunately although my webcam appeared to be detected in both Skype and Google Hangouts, I could only see a black screen during video calls.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 all worked pretty well. I played Candy Crush Saga with Mele F10 Deluxe, and the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz is super smooth all the time, even after maxing out graphics settings. Riptide GP2 is very playable as well, but not optimal all the time, but clearly mini PCs based on Rockchip RK3288, and much better than the rest of Chinese Android mini PCs thanks to its Mali T-764 GPU. I played the latter game for over 20 minutes to test stability, and I did not encounter any specific issues. Temperature measurements after game: 58°C (top) and 66°C (bottom).

Nagrace HPH NT-V6 Benchmark

CPU-Z app returns similar data as other TV boxes with Rockchip RK3288 processor being a four Cortex A12r0p1 core processor with a Mali-T764 GPU, except this time, the CPU frequency is between 312 MHz and 1.61 GHz, instead of topping at 1.8GHz for other devices.. I could also check there’s indeed 4GB RAM installed with over 2700 MB free.HPH_NT-V6_CPU-Z

NT-V6 could achieve G1H got 35,321 points in Antutu 5.1, a bit lower than Kingnovel R6 score (37,428), most probably because of the lower CPU frequency.

HPH_NT-V6_Antutu

I had not run Vellamo 3.x  test in R6 media player, but the scores in NT-V6 are better than the ones for Uyesee G1H.

HPH_NT-V6_Vellamo_3

Ice Storm Extreme benchmark score (7,056) in 3DMark is however a bit lower than the two other RK3288 box I tested (7,278 and 7,531).

Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Ice Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

Nagrace HPH NT-V6 is a pretty good hardware with a fast processor, excellent 3D and eMMC storage performance. The firmware is stable, and provides a smooth user experience, without slowdowns. Wi-Fi can be excellent too, but stability may be an issue. As with other Rockchip RK3288 devices I’ve tested,  video playback in XBMC is rather disappointing, but at least there’s partial HEVC/H.265 codec support. partial, nbecause only some caontainers appear to be supported.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Excellent 3D graphics performance for games
  • Stable and fast firmware.
  • Memory and Storage capacity (4GB / 32GB)
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance, when it works
  • Fast eMMC, both for reading and writing speeds.
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Partial HEVC/H.265 video decoding support in XBMC.
  • OTA update appear to be support
  • Proper power off/standby handling.
  • HDMI In

CONS:

  • XBMC has too many issues: VC1 not supported, H.265 support only partial, audio/video sync issue, some MPEG-2 and XVID videos are skipping frames, some of the 4K videos I used could play properly, etc…
  • Some MPEG-2 file won’t play smooth in either XBMC or MX Player
  • Potential Ethernet issues, confirmed with my Gigabit switch (D-Link DSG-1005A) and 10/100Mbps D-Link router (configured as a switch).
  • Video output – Component and composite do not work atall (black screen)
  • Webcam not working properly (black screen) in Skype and Hangouts
  • Relatively slow write speed on NTFS/USB partition.
  • Wi-Fi may be unstable at times
  • HDMI In support is quite basic (only as HDMI switcher)

HPH NT-V6 with 4 GB RAM and 32 GB eMMC (as reviewed in this post) purchased for $189 including shipping by DHL or EMS, but there’s also a 2GB RAM/16GB eMMC available on Aliexpress for $129 + shipping. I’ve also been told Ugoos UT3 is based on the same board (TRN6A), but should have a different firmware. It is listed on Chinavasion for $149.99, and DealsPrime for $134.99 (bot 2GB/16GB versions). Resellers and distributors can check out Nagrace NT-V6 product page to order in quantities.

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Review of EM6Q-MXQ Android Quad Core Media Player

September 23rd, 2014 7 comments

After taking a few pictures of Eny EM6Q-MXQ Android media player, it’s time for a full review. I’ll first give my first impressions and go through the user interface, test video playback, test the system, network, and storage performance, try a few games, and check various hardware ports are working as they are supposed to do.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve inserted two AAA batteries in the provided infrared remote control to check it’s working, and it’s usable in the main user interface and XBMC, but once you start using most Android apps it’s useless, so I quickly switched to  Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Before powering up the device, I’ve connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, and made with use of the 4 USB ports by connecting two RF dongles (Air mouse and gamepad), a USB hard drive, and a UVC USB webcam. The box lacks a power button, so it starts as soon as you connect the power supply. The boot is pretty slow as it completes in about 1 minute 50 seconds…

EM6Q-MXQ Launcher (Click for Original Size)

EM6Q-MXQ Launcher (Click for Original Size)

The user interface is exactly the same as found in Amlogic S802 TV boxes such as M8 and Vega S89. With some big icons that are folders for apps, and a link to a custom Setting menu, and there’s a customizable shortcut bar at the bottom with smaller icons. The status bar is disabled by default, but I prefer to have it when using it with an air mouse, so I restored it via the Setting menu. The first boot, the resolution was automatically detected to 720p, but I changed that to 1080p60, and the resolution is indeed 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu provides access a Metro-style interface for settings with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

  • 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 @ 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 (app)
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather(Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (not working), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard  Android Settings.

I’ve tested the device using HDMI set to 1080p60 most of the time, but there’s also an AV port for connect to the composite input and RCA stereo audio port of older TVs, and it worked just fine for 480 CVBS and 576 CVBS settings.. Component (YPbPr) output however is not supported.

You can watch a video with the user interface walk-through, XBMC user interface, and H.265 video playback in MX Player.

In the standard Android Settings, About_MediaBox_hd18qEM6Q-MXQ’s 8GB NAND flash has a single partition (5.26 GB) with 4.95 GB free for both apps and data. The “About MediaBox” section indicates the model number as “hd18q″, that happens to be the name of the board, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. Root Checker confirmed the firmware is rooted. which can be convenient if you don’t have the right cable for the full-size USB OTG port on the device. The company gave me a link to the firmware (September 3), which brings peace of mind in case something goes wrong.

I could install all apps I tried with Google Play Store including Antutu, 3D Marks, ES File Explorer, MX Player, Beach Buggy Blitz, etc…  I did not try paid apps, as the only one I have requires Bluetooth, that’s not built-in into the device. I could also install Riptide GP2 via Amazon AppStore.

There’s no power button on the device, and the remote control only allows you to enter and leave standby mode, so the only way to actually power off the device is to disconnect the power adapter. The latest ARM based mini PCs powered by Amlogic S802 and Rockchip RK3288 get pretty hot, but as expected with a Cortex A5 processor, the temperature is pretty much under control. I measured 39°C and 51°C with an infrared thermometer respectively on the top and bottom of the box, right after running Android 5 benchmark. After playing Riptide GP2 for 20 minutes at 1080p, and a few hours of usage previously,  the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 42°C and 65°C…

The system itself is very stable, and it only freezes when I try to play a 4K video in XBMC (100% reproducible). However, apps often exit for no obvious reasons. which in theory, could be some bugs within the apps themselves, but it happens a bit too often to my liking… Amlogic S805 is not designed to be the fastest processor around, but while the box runs smoothly most of the times, at other times the box is really sluggish, and becomes frustrating to use. It’s probably not because of the processor, but rather the NAND flash with poor performance, resulting on slow loading times (Close to 2 minutes boot time, XBMC loads in 12 seconds), and in a few instances, I’ve experience very high CPU usage (e.g. 10) with the blue bar (I/O interrupt time) taking most of the load. This compares to 20 seconds boot time, and 2 seconds XBMC start time on recent RK3288 devices with an eMMC. During high load, it may take over 5 seconds to reach the launcher after pressing the Home key of the remote, compared to virtually instantaneous access when there’s no I/O activity.

Video Playback

I played videos from a SAMBA share over Ethernet using XBMC, only switching to MX Player in case of issues. At first, I had some permissions issues connecting to a specific shared folder in XBMC, but eventually I could connect to SAMBA with both XBMC and ES File Explorer,

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, H.265/HEVC videos by Elecard, as well as a new VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK, but there’s a regular blinking effect (about 1sec) in  some scenes, especially visible with the grass and trees. The same issue happens in many devices.
  • 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
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – Audio only
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode), but if you jump to another time in the video it will switch to S/W decode. Probably a bug in MX Player.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video)
    • XBMC – Won’t even start
    • MX Player – OK (H/W decode).

Once I mostly lost control with the keys in XBMC, and I could only use the mouse pointer and the OK button. Same result with Mele F10 Deluxe or the included IR remote control. Restarting XBMC fixed the issue.

Now some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – XBMC: audio only; MX Player: black screen only, no audio.
  • 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 frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Play from USB hard drive)

High definition audio codec could be decoded (PCM output) in XBMC, but performance could be better:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 – OK &
  • True HD 7.1 – Some audio cuts playing from SAMBA, OK from USB hard drive
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – SAMBA: Audio completely cuts after a few seconds. USB: No problem with audio, but video feels slow.

Sintel-Bluray.iso video could play in XBMC, meaning Blu-ray ISO files are supported.

I also played some AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB and MP4 videos in my library. They could all play, and I did not notice any A/V sync issues, or other obvious problems with playback. I also tested XBMC stability by playing a complete 1080p video (1h50). Sometimes XBMC refuses to exit immediately, and I need to press the “Home” button to get the the main menu. This must be an XBMC issue, as I’ve had this problem in some other devices previously.

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)

In order to test network performance, I simply transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. I left the Ethernet connected when I first tested Wi-Fi performance, and with the numbers I got during transfer, I decided to disconnect the Ethernet cable to make it was not done over Ethernet, as throughput peaked at up 5.0MB/s, whereas I’m usually lucky to see 3MB/s for most other devices. But this was all real, and when it comes with Wi-Fi performance, EM6Q-MXQ is truly amazing, and crushes the competition with an average throughput of 3.84 MB/s.

EM6Q-MXQ_Wi-Fi_Performance

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s

I wonder if the internal Wi-Fi antenna connection to a stainless steel plate inside the case has anything to do with it.

Ethernet worked fine @ 100Mbps even connected to my pesky Gigabit switch.

EM6Q-MXQ_Ethernet_PerformanceI’ve also tested Ethernet performance with iPerf app to get a raw number using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line. It does not max out the Ethernet bandwidth but I suppose the results are still decent, even though not outstanding. As reference, Kingnovel R6 achieved over 90 Mbits/sec in both directions via a Fast Ethernet switch.

Client connecting to 192.168.0.102, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 47764 connected with 192.168.0.102 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   570 MBytes  79.7 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   484 MBytes  67.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

EM6Q-MXQ does not support Bluetooth, at least the model I have, does not.

Storage

FAT32 formatted micro SD card and USB flash drive could be recognized and properly mounted by the system
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive, and only NTFS and FAT32 could be mounted automatically, as for some reasons EXT-4 does not seems to be supported by Android.

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

I’ve run A1 SD Bench  to benchmark performance of the USB hard drive and internal flash, starting with the NTFS partition in /storage/external_storage/sda1. The read speed was 30.35MB/s, and the write speed of 31.79MB/s, both of which are the best readings I’ve ever got, but only marginally better than the competition. We should probably expect very little variability between devices using USB 2.0, and see some performance boost and more variability with devices that support USB 3.0.

USB Hard Drive Throughput in MB/s

USB Hard Drive Throughput in MB/s

A slow internal storage can make a device behave very poorly, especially during write operation, and unfortunately the NAND flash used cripples a device that would otherwise be a pretty decent product.

Internal Storage Read and Write Speed (MB/s)

Internal Storage Read and Write Speed (MB/s)

This confirms the NAND flash is the likely cause of slow boot time, and apps loading times, as well as temporary, but annoying, slowdowns when flash is written to, for example while installing apps.

USB Webcam

My USB webcam with built-in microphone worked with Skype. I could test audio successfully with the Echo service in Skype, and I could see the video from the camera while making a call. Google Hangouts could detect the webcam, I could start a video call (ringing), and the webcam image was displayed albeit at a very slow framerate (1 or 2 fps), but after a few seconds massive colorful artifacts started to show up.

The Android camera is pre-installed, and I could take a few shots, and record a video.

Gaming

As usual, I’ve tested Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. I played Candy Crush Saga with my air mouse, and at the beginning audio cut due to I/O interrupts (kswapd0, irq/60-sdio processes), and logging into Facebook was sluggish as hell, but once actually playing the game, everything worked pretty well, and smoothly.

I played the two other games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad. Beach Buggy Blitz just as smooth as more recent processors (S802, RK3288) with default setting,s but when I maxed out the graphics settings, it was still very playable, but the framerate was impacted. Riptide GP2 was playable, but not perfectly smooth, actually not that much different from Amlogic S802. Decreasing the graphics quality improves playability (frame rate). I’ve raced on several circuits, and after the third circuits, I noticed the 3D image froze once. Playing a fourth games, it was clear I had the same problem as with Amlogic S802 (Probox2 EX), where the 3D image with just stop for a few seconds, before resuming, stop again and so on, but the 2D graphics (position on track) will still render properly and continuously.  So I checked the temperature and I got 42°C and 65°C on the top and bottom of the enclosure. I could be Mali-450MP GPU overheats due to the workload of this specific game, and does not work properly.

EM6Q-MXQ / Amlogic S805 Benchmarks

Since it’s the first device with Amlogic S802, I had to run CPU-Z.

Amlogic_S802_CPU-ZThe app correctly detect a quad core Cortex A5 @ 1.49 GHz with a Mali-450 MP GPU. The scaling governor is set to performance which explains why the cores’ frequency is set to 1488 MHz, as the developers preferred to give full performance to the system, since there’s no overheating issues. The screen resolution is set to 1920×1008 (not 1080 because I enabled the status bar on) with 1280×672 resolution in dp. 825 MB RAM is available to the system, and 5.26 GB internal storage as mentioned previously.

EM6Q-MXQ_Antutu_5.1

The device gets 16,647 points in Antutu 5.1, and is right at the bottom of the scale in the graphics chart. For reference RK3188 based device usually have a score just above 20,000, so I suppose this score is to be expected because of the slower CPU cores, and despite the faster GPU.  I’ll make a side-by-side comparison with Amlogic S802 in a separate post.

EM6Q-MXQ got 3985 points in Quadrant, close to the score of Asus Transformer Pad (TF201) tablet based on Nvidia Tegra 3.

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant Score (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also run Vellamo 3.x which shows a performance similar to Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone (Exynos 4).

Vellamo_Amlogic_S805_EM6Q-MXQFor comparison with other devices, you can download Metal, Multicore, and Browser comparison charts.

Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark really shows the lower performance of the quad core Mali-450MP GPU used in S805 (Mali-450 MP2?) against something like Mali-T764 found in RK3288 SoC that gets a score three times higher. I haven’t tested Amlogic S802 with an eight core Mali-450 MP6 GPU yet.

3DMarks ICE Storm  Ultimate (Click to Enlarge)

3DMarks ICE Storm Ultimate (Click to Enlarge)

Conclusion

EM6Q-MXQ could really have been a low cost device with pretty good performance, where it not for the subpar NAND flash used in this hardware. Wi-Fi is the best I’ve ever seen, and by a large margin, video decoding is pretty good, although H.265 is still not supported in XBMC, and the firmware is stable, despite apps exiting randomly at times, but I wonder if it’s related to the I/O performance, and the app are just killed because the system does not respond fast enough.

PRO:

  • Best Wi-Fi performance I’ve ever experienced in a TV box, and by a wide margin.
  • The system is rather stable, and only hung once when trying to play a 4K video
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Decent video playback capabilities.
  • HEVC hardware video decoding support. Working in MX Player, but not with XBMC (yet)
  • Webcam supported in Skype (but the image was garbled in Google Hangouts)
  • 4x USB 2.0 host port available

CONS:

  • Very slow internal storage, leading to severe slowdowns especially while installing apps, or other write operations.
  • Apps may exit suddenly for no reason, maybe related to first point above.
  • Slow boot time, and apps loading times, most probably related to first point above
  • No proper power off (standby only)
  • Lack of Bluetooth support (No Bluetooth module)
  • No option for 24Hz, 25Hz, 30Hz video output

Eny Technology EM6Q-MXQ can be purchased on Aliexpress for about $70 including shipping. In that link, bothEM6Q-MXQ and MXQ S85 are listed so you’ll need to check the USB port (4x port with EM6Q-MXQ only), and/or the Red MX stripe found in S85 version. Resellers can visit EM6Q-MXQ product page to contact the company for larger orders.

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