Review of M8 Android Kitkat TV Box Powered by Amlogic S802 SoC

Orange Pi Development Boards

A few days ago, I wrote an Unboxing and Specs post about the M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9 processor. The review took a little as I was waiting for a new firmware. I’ve now upgraded this S802 Box, and been able to complete a review. As usual , I’ll start by giving my first impressions, have a look at the user interface and settings, test different king of video files, evaluate Wi-Fi performance, and try to cover most hardware features including Bluetooth, external storage, USB webcam, and so on. The overall user’s experience, is very similar to Tronsmart Vega S89, but there are some notable differences I’ll go through during the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Shenzhen Tomato sent me a sample unit which they call TM8 (Tomato M8?), but I’ll just refer to the device as M8 in the review. The device comes with a simple IR remote comes, but did not include two AAA batteries. I only use the remote shortly, as I prefer using an RF remote with Android, and I used Mele F10 air mouse during testing which includes a QWERTY keyboard, and a gyroscope to easily move the mouse pointer. Beside the IR remote, the sample I received only included a 5V/2A power supply, so i also had to take a spare HDMI cable. Retail versions of the box may included an HDMI cable however. Before connecting the power, I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cables, and the Mele F10 USB RF dongle. There’s no power button on the device, so as soon as you connect the power, a blue LED lits up, and the device boots to the same Windows 8 / Metro-style user’s interface as Tronsmart Vega S89.

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)
M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

At the top of the screen there are status icons (Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Storage), the weather (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), as well as the time and date. There are also six main menus, the same a Vega S89, but with different apps: Online Video (One Chinese app), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, The firmware in M8 as quite a few Chinese apps, which were not present or removed from Vega S89 firmware. There are also shortcuts on the bottom of the screen with 4K player, Music, Chinese IPTV app, and APK installer by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish, and I’ve done this with XBMC and Play Store as you can see from the screenshot. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)
Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

The network settings allow you to select Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the display settings has exactly the same options as Vega S89: autodetect resolution, UHD / 4K output support, hide or show the status bar, adjust the display size, and screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as it’s more more convenient to use that way, and the bar automatically hides when you play videos. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (RemoteIME.apk, adjust CEC controls, set your location (only Chinese cities are available), set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2) and kernel version (3.10.10). There’s also an OTA System Update menu, which does not work. You can access the standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below. If you have already watched Vega S89 UI walk-through video, you may have well skip this one as it’s the same, except from the pre-installed apps which are a little different.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. But If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE.  There’s also an AV output, which is automatically used, if HDMI is not detected. It works fine including stereo audio output. Once you are using AV output, you can go to the setup menu to select between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and select the input on your TV. A reboot is not necessary.

M8_About_MediaboxThere’s 5.75 GB space reserved for the user out of the 8GB NAND flash, and right after firmware upgrade, there’s over 5GB free space on the single partition available. The firmware was rooted. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the model number is  “K200″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… Sixaxis Controller failed to install returning an error in Google Play. It’s the same behavior as Vega S89, and I’ve been told all paid apps won’t install. I’ve also installed the Amazon Play Store, to use one of the free app of the day I previsouly downloaded on another device (Riptide 2).

As mentioned previously there’s no power button on the device, and all you can do is to used the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode. A real power off will require you to disconnect the power.    I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running a 3D game. The top was 55 °C, the bottom 43 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C. This is exactly the opposite of Tronsmart Vega S89 where the top is “cool”, but the bottom is hot.

As expected performance is good, and the system is extremely responsive, but the firmware is not that stable, as I experienced several hangs up / freezes, requiring a power cycle. This happened during benchmarks, gaming and while taking screenshots. In two instance, the device apparently turned itself off automatically (Blue LED off), maybe due to overheating. I also had some text input issues from times to times (double characters) using Mele F10, and it also happened with Vega S89 but I forgot to mention it.

Video Playback

XBMC 13.0-beta 1 is pre-installed on the device, so I’ve used XBMC for video testing. I only used MX Players in case of errors, and to double check Dolby / DTS audio.. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on Ubuntu 13.10 using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some videos with H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard:

  • 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) – Failed. Nothing happens.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p is – OK. (1080p failed in Vega S89)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only then crash,
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK. No audio/video sync issues as in Vega S89.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below, using PCM in XBMC, and I got the same results as with Vega S89:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

MX Player, however, won’t output any audio when playing these files using the H/W decoder.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video.

I’ve tested several 4K Videos in MX Player (XBMC does not work – audio only):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (60 Mbps) – OK
  • Sintel.2010.4K.mkv – Frequent pauses (buffering?) during playback after enabling S/W decode for AC3 5.1 audio. No audio output using the H/W audio decoder.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion video playback in MX Player…

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play, except one FLV which only had audio output. I did not experience the audio/video sync issues I found in Vega S89 in any of the videos.

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

Wi-Fi Performance

Using ES File Explorer, I’ve transferred a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. I’ve tried testing the transfer at different times to avoid the issues I had with Vega S89. But the results were more or less consistent. Wit5h this device there’s a clear difference in performance between transfers between SAMBA to the flash, and vice versa. Transferring the file between flash and SAMBA took between 3:16 and 4:54, but in the reverse direction it took between 5:51 and 7:47.  The transfer times averaged a poor 5:02 (0.92 MB/s), which makes M8 the laggard among devices I’ve tried.

M8_Wi-Fi_PerformanceI’ve tried to play some of the 1080p videos from Linaro samples, and none of them could play without pauses due to buffering.

I’ll add the usual disclaimer about Wi-Fi: “Please bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be greatly different from the ones I’ve gotten here.”

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, and you can enable it only from the standard Android settings, as there’s no option in the Metro style settings. M8 won’t find any devices (I have a Linux PC with a Bluetooth dongle and an Android phone). However I can pair my phone (ThL W200) to M8. Unfortunately it does not seem to work that well, as I failed to transfer any files, as there’s no notifications after sending a picture from either direction. My Ubuntu PC can detect M8, but fails to pair.

I’ve skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Check (free app), as M8 can’t install paid apps, in this case, Sixaxis Controller.

External Storage

I could use both an SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully, and played some MP3 and videos.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could also start a video call in Google Hangouts, something that did not work with Vega S89.

Gaming

I’ve tested  games: Angry Birds Star Wars, Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide 2. The first two are simple games that play fine on all recent dual core or quad core hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. Riptide 2 could run very well too. With the Mali-450MP6 GPU there should not be any problems running the vast majority of Android games with high graphics details.

Since we can’t install paid app, I could not test Sixaxis controller. I found it’s usually difficult to play games on Android TV devices, but I’ve seen SomeCoolTechs video review of the Vega S89 using G910 bluetooth gamepad that works with many games without much hassle, which I may have to check out. You could also use with your smartphone as a controller using Droidmote.

M8 / TM8 Benchmarks

CPU-Z gives bascially the same information for M8 as for Vega S89. The CPU is reported as a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz with an ARM Mali-450 GPU, and the board is also the same: k200. However, the firmware won’t be fully compatible as Vega S89 Elite (8 GB flash) uses AP6220 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz), and Vega S89 (16 GB) and M8 (8GB) uses AP6330 (2.4/5GHz).

M8_CPU_Z

The rest is also exactly the same including pixel resolution (1920 x 1008), “dp” resolution (1280 x 672) 1578 MB RAM (available to Android), and 5.75 GB flash for the user.

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)
Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

M8 gets 24,133 in Antutu from, the play store, against 22,603 for Vega S89 Elite. In Vega S89, Antutu detailed results showed “4x cores @ 1104 MHz”, but in M8 it shows correctly “4x cores @ 1992 MHz”. Firmware is newer in the M8, so this may one reason. Some people have reported reaching 30,000 points in Antutu, with allegedly the same firmware, so I wonder if it’s because of some thermal management, as my room is relatively warm at 28 degree C. Just as with Vega S89, the GPU benchmarks have been run in portrait mode (607×1080), instead of full screen mode, which means other apps are likely to have issues too. I’d like to point out M8 failed to completely run Antutu once or twice, so it may be possible they’ve extracted some more performance as the expense of stability.

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)
Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

With 6536 points, M8 gets a significantly better score than Vega S89 Elite (5363) in Quadrant.

Vellamo failed to run completely in M8.

Conclusion

M8 / TM8 has very performance, unfortunately the firmware is not always stable, and there still quite a few issues that needs to be fix.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Smooth and fast firmware.
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC 13 pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet performance (60 Mbps video playback OK)
    • Good video formats/codecs support
    • USB webcam works with Skype and Google Hangouts
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Stability problems. Not catastrophic, but the device may still hang a few times. Could it be temperature related?
    • Bluetooth not working.
    • Poor Wi-Fi performance.
    • Can’t install paid apps via Google Play.
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to put the device into Standby.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped). Probably not fixable (not supported by hardware, and GPGPU not supported by Mali-450)
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (Can’t be fixed, SoC related)

As with Vega S89, the firmware needs some work. The main problems are the stability of the firmware, and Wi-Fi performance is very poor. Bluetooth does not appear to be working properly either, at least with my phone. Compared to Vega S89, M8 however provides a better video playback experience without any audio/video sync issues, and the USB webcam could be used with both Skype and Google Hangouts. There’s the same need to jungle between XBMC, and MX Player depending on the video codecs or container formats used.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomata for providing a sample, and if you’re planning to buy M8 in quantity you could consider purchasing via the company Alibaba website. Individuals can purchase the box through Aliexpress, DealExtreme, or GeekBuying for about $100.

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Eric
Guest

The a/v sync problem in Tronsmart vega s89 will disappear
After you root the device, it’s strange,but it has been confirmed! For other problem,I think the future firmware update will help!
Anyway,thanks for the review!

deskwizard
Guest
deskwizard

It’s amlogic, it will always have issues that will never be resolved.

onebir
Guest
onebir

Poor wifi (=> streaming) = deal-breaker, they must know that…

mat
Guest
mat

Huff… 24K antutu isn’t that much more than rk3188 and 3288 is behind doors. Still lookin for K1/Jetson which should have:
– good media support (265 through gpgpu but K1 has more than enough gpi)
– good wifi
– good linux support (ok, there are binaries, but better those than the usual crappy code)
– sata
– more or less the same price of odroid-xu (eMMC included, etc.etc.)

my only question is why we have today the same exact kind of issues we had 3 generation of boxes ago (A10 … ): wifi, inconsistent media support, no linux support, etc.etc.

zeevg
Guest
zeevg

I wonder how the MadCatz MOJO and Amazon Fire devices are in comparison to Vega and M8,

and of course Minix 8s

zeevg
Guest
zeevg

Hi friends

Actually I ment in playing big 15-20 giga mkv files like bluray rips ?

Thanks

John
Guest
John

“get up to press the power button”? Huh. This device has no power button. At least mine doesn’t.

Hal
Guest
Hal

@cnxsoft
Thanks for putting together such a review in so little time. I’m pretty new to the site and love it.

I’ve read the specs before and know about the S802/D/DD/H differences, but I fail to understand the “no H/W decode” thing… Is that down-sampling and/or Digital to PCM we are talking about?
In my particular case, I don’t really care about H/W or S/W decoding if that is what is meant here as I have a DD/DTS capable receiver. But I do care about the DD/DTS HDMI passthrough… Have you tested that by any chance or have I missed something?

On the WiFi side of things, I suppose that your unit is a 2G/8G and therefore is 802.11b/g/n only, is that correct?

Another question is about UVC Webcam support… Would you have the opportunity to test one with Skype, see if it is detected and works?

I have a couple of unit on their way with some RC16 BT remote so I know I’ll get some answers by next week, but I’m just too impatient 😉

Again thanks for your review, hoping you’ll get me more answers…

Hal
Guest
Hal

@cnxsoft
@cnxsoft
1. That’s awesome. Thanks for pointing me to the GeekBuying test.
2. No surprise all versions are .11n “only” (with the 2.4 / 2.4+5 variants). I guess ac chipsets are still expensive and not yet integrated.
3. My apologies as I had completely missed out that part of your report. Seeing various reviews, it seems IVC shouldn’t be a problem.

My order should be here in 2 days 🙂

mark
Guest
mark

any chance of a uk link for the firmware as i can not understand chinese on the link provided as the file host is all chinese and it wants you to download a programe to download it through

Gene
Guest
Gene

Got an M8 from aliexpress, too many glitches, firmware not very capable as it is now (did not try to install new one since don’t speak Chinese :)…need an English link and comments if working). The basic function that I got the box for (XBMC), the movie play does not work…sound only with latest XBMC available . Even U Tube is choppy and not really working…must be firmware since box characteristics look decent.
Any solutions to get the XBMC video/movie going?

Lets see what experts are saying. Thanks.

s23
Guest
s23

@Gene
Stay away for the moment from the final release, disable hardware decoding for XBMC. The included RC1 in the later firmware (as in the above comment) already works good enough for me and does feature hardware decoding.
No problems here with youtube playing HD content.

Gene
Guest
Gene

Will do, thanks, hope will work.

Gene
Guest
Gene

More stuff:

link for firmware :
http://pan.baidu.com/s/1sj6lSj7

steps for download (if you don’t speak Chinese…)
http://i00.i.aliimg.com/img/pb/451/548/195/1195548451_508.jpg

I did see in same area a newer file called M8 2014.04.18 (Root, same Chinese characters..).rar , wondering what is it?

Gene
Guest
Gene

s23, if you don’t mind, I did update to latest firmware, yes it has RC1 included but still choppy video within XBMC or outside (UTube or even video within Browser). At least video shows up now under XBMC RC1.
Could not find the “disable hardware decoding” for XBMC….looks like is not available under RC1 version…or just could not find it. Settings-Video..??? Regardless, since even outside XMBC video does not run smooth not sure what to do. I ran the HDMI through amplifier and direct to TV still no difference. Need advice.

Tadej
Guest

http://pan.baidu.com/s/1dDmqUTb

New firmware. Can someone post please the update instructions? Thank you!!

Tadej
Guest

Yes thanks! I figure it out!

Well I remember I saw this post allready, but It seems I forgot!

Thanks again!

espookid
Guest
espookid

@cnxsoft

After days of faffing about and reformatting sd’s I finally got it with this link -although the problem I had before deleting Xbmc is still there -this “swipe down from the top ” message
But up and running again thanks for the link

Tadej
Guest

espookid, use mouse button on remote, to change to mouse pointer, then close “swipre donw form the top” message.

cnx, I am looking for way to transfer a files from Windows machine, to M8 with 64GB SD card, is there any tutorial or way??

Thanks

Tad

Tadej
Guest

Oh and, is this firmware:

New firmware (16th of May) – http://www.mediafire.com/download/ehenzuq1n5vv60q/M8_K200A_ap6330_03282014A_0516

than this one:

http://pan.baidu.com/s/1sj6lSj7

Thanks,

Tad

Tadej
Guest

Yes, thanks again!

Will tip you with LTC in time, cause you helped me alot!!

Thanks again!

Tad

Member
Michal Lazo
espookid
Guest
espookid

@Tadej
Hi
Thanks for the reply but I have tried that
It seems it is not “on my screen ” it is somehow bedded inside
I used the latest download and it is not good as I have no icefilms and others but they work on my mac

Tadej
Guest

Hai cnx!!

I would have another question!

I have 2 3,5 SATA disks samsung spinpoint f3. I am now deciding if I could buy just http://www.raidsonic.de/en/products.php?we_objectID=7671
Icybox dock, put those drives into it and connect it via USB on M8, or is it better to have independent NAS somwhere on network?

What I am asking is that, if the M8 would recognize the disk drives via this Icybox dock USB? It sais it has some JBOD function?

Dmitry
Guest
Dmitry

Do you think that Linux-only build with XBMC will provide better performance for this box? What is the record for AMlogic support for Linux?

john
Guest
john

hi booted my m8 box back to new had to download xmbc only got sound no video on it now HELP

pcast
Guest
pcast

Any option to set analog video output format to NTSC?

Anees
Guest
Anees

I want buy a good performance device for video , XBMC , support webcam and Skype
Which device you advice

Thanks

Wim
Guest
Wim

I have been using the TV Box the last couple of days however the TV Box is very unstable. It just hangs after 15 minutes when watching a movie via XBMC. Also when turning off the device it also stops working while the TV is just black. After that it does not react anymore.

I have been upgrading the firmware and installed a more stable XBMC 13.1 Gotham however still the same issues. I know that Android is very customized (also using it on my S2) however I have never seen this unstable device.

Does anyone have similar experiences?

Wim
Guest
Wim

I did already upgrade the firmware using the k200-ota-20140516.zip (http://www.mediafire.com/download/ehenzuq1n5vv60q/M8_K200A_ap6330_03282014A_0516.zip). Patching was really easy. I also upgraded the XBMC version from 13.0 beta to 13.1 but now I only get audio no video… I did read some issue which are thermical related.

Do you have any suggestion how to resolve these issues?

Wim
Guest
Wim

Btw I installed the firmware Finless you mentioned however still the same issues. In fact Have three crucial issues:
– TV Box is not shutting down properly – it just hangs while TV is black
– When watching a movie in XBMC (mkv or avi) in any format I have not video but do have audio. In youtube I do have video I also noticed that I do have video when playing a .VOB movie. This issue occured since I re-installed XBMC using a new .apk file
– The TV box has stability issues. When XBMC was working propely after about 20 mins it just hangs (same as the first issues) and it is not reacting on anything – need to unplug the power cord.

Does anyone have a suggestion to resolve these issues?

Kamran
Guest
Kamran

If u updated xbmc and getting blank screen with audio but no vid go to xbmc setting uncheck codec accelater You gonna see 3 accelaters check only 2nd one don’t remember name and uncheck others 😉 if any problem call me 6464218611