Kodi 14 Video Playback on Intel Atom Z3735F Computers Running Windows 8.1

I’ve already written a short review of Mele PCG03 mini PC powered by Intel Atom Z3735F processor, with 2GB RAM, and 32GB eMMC flash, where I found out that almost it’s not the fastest device around, it’s still usable for most tasks, albeit you can quickly run out of space with only 32GB storage, so if you really plan to use it as an actual computer using applications such as email clients, web browser and office suites, an external USB hard drive, or connection to a NAS is probably a must, or you’ll probably have to run Disk Cleaner fairly often.  Mele PCG03 also have a valid Windows 8.1 license, and a VGA port, both of which are often missing on many other Bay Trail-T mini PCs.

Kodi 14.1 on Mele PCG03 (Click for Original Size)
Kodi 14.1 on Mele PCG03 (Click for Original Size)

I’ve now installed Kodi 14.1 – downloaded directly from xbmc.org – on this low cost and low power computer, in order to go through my video test files, and see how it performs compared to the many ARM based Android TV boxes I’ve tested in the past. I’ve played the videos over Ethernet from a SAMBA share on an Ubuntu 14.04 machine, unless otherwise noted. I full expect the results to be identical on other Intel Atom Z3735 / Z3736 based mini PCs such as MeegoPad T01 or Pipo X7.

The device was connected to LG 42UB820T, a 4K UltraHD television, but the maximum output resolution supported by the box is 1080p60 (1920×1080), so that’s the output resolution I used for testing.

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

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK. But XBMC reports decoding at 24 fps, instead of the video native 25 fps.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK, but at 720p and 1080p video is played at about 22 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 360p and 720p OK, 1080p video is not really watchable (15 fps), and audio cuts.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

Followed by some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK, but plays at 24 fps instead of 29.970 fps
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (using USB hard drive)

High definition audio codecs below have only been tested using PCM output over HDMI, as I’ll still waiting for Speakers to go with my AV receiver. So HDMI pass-through is still To Be Tested (TBT), and S/PDIF won’t be tested since there’s no S/PDIF output on MeLE’s mini PC. I expect to update the table with HDMI pass-through in about a week. I’ve now tested HDMI audio pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver. I selected WASAPI audio device in Kodi, and enabled all codecs below.

Video’s Audio Codec HDMI PCM Output HDMI Pass-through SPDIF Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No S/PDIF Output on MeLE PCG03
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK Some audio but frequent cuts
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio
DTS HD Master OK No audio
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio

I could play Sintel-Bluray.iso without problem, so Bluray ISO are supported. I’ve been told encrypted ISO might be more problematic, but I don’t have any sample to test. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play.

Intel Atom Z3735F processor does not support 4K video output, however it can still decode some 4K videos (H.264), but both H.265 and VP9 are out of reach:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – XBMC reports playback at about 10 fps, but it looks like 2 to 3 fps to me.
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – XBMC reports playback at about 10 fps, but it looks like 2 to 3 fps to me.
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Won’t play at all (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Slow notion playback, just like other H.265 videos.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Plays at about 10 fps.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play at all (stays in XBMC UI)

I’ve also played some 3D videos:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK (Decoded at 60 fps as it should)
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Plays at about 10 fps, and frequent audio cuts.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Please note that My TV does not support 3D, so I only tested video decoding capability.

All my AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, IFO and MP4 videos could play smmothly, without A/V sync issues, and contrary to XBMC Android, the reported framerate is extremely stable. In most, if not all, Android media players, it’s quite common to see 24 fps videos, being played at  a reported 22 to 25 fps according to XBMC live log window. But in ths test, the vast majority of videos played exactly and constantly at the native framerate.

All the video above where played over Ethernet, but I switched to Wi-Fi, but my reliability test, consisting of playing a full 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB). XBMC reported only 1 skipped frame over the whole movie, while in Android TV boxes I usually get 14,000 skipped frames for the complete movie.

I also wanted to test automatic frame rate switching, so I went to Settings->Video, changed the Settings level to Advanced, and set Adjust display refresh rate to match video to On start/stop. And got the following results using the Info button on the remote control of my TV for the video output:

  • 23.976 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p24
  • 24 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p24
  • 25 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p50
  • 30 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60
  • 50 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p50
  • 59.94 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60
  • 60 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60

So it’s mostly working. If I open Intel HD Graphics Control Panel, the following refresh rate are available: 23p, 24p, 25p, 29p, 30p, 50p, 50i, 59p, 59i, 60p, and 60i, and I can set any of these refresh rates, but for example, when I set 59p, and press the Info button on the remote of my LG TV, I only see 1080p60, so it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on for refresh rates such as 23.976 or 59.94 fps.

Anyway, the conclusion is excluding the lack of H.265 codec and 4K video output support, that’s clearly the best experience I’ve had using XBMC / Kodi on any low cost hardware platform, as all 1080p or lower resolution videos could be played, the vast majority at the native video framerate, H.264 4K videos are playing fine (but outputted to 1080p), and automatic frame rate switching is working. [Update: 4K video are limited to 30 fps, as the system can’t handle 4K 60fps at full rate]

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

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41 Replies to “Kodi 14 Video Playback on Intel Atom Z3735F Computers Running Windows 8.1”

  1. @onebir
    The Android port is quite newer, maybe that’s why. Of course, if there was some standard that everybody followed for video decoding on ARM platform that would help too… But every ARM platform seems to have a different implementation, so it does not help either.

    I also plan to test Kodi 14.1 in Linux on that platform to see if it has the same. I hope it does, then maybe we’ll get Ubuntu (or FreeDOS) Bay Trail mini PC… for $30 less, since I have a feeling the Windows 8.1 Pro Trial version mini PCs won’t last too long…

  2. “Of course, if there was some standard that everybody followed for video decoding on ARM platform that would help too… ”
    Or providing open source drivers, absent such a standard? I know they’re competing, but now the buffaloes have to cross the river, and Intel is the crocodile…

  3. I’ve got a Pipo X7 running Win 8.1 with Bing and has the Z3736F processor which runs slightly faster when in boost.

    Over HDMI in Windows I get DD/DTS/DD+ bitstreamed and PCM 8 channel, so no bitstreaming of HD Audio. Netflix HD in the Win 8.1 app plays back very well with DD+ bitstreamed over HDMI.

    In Kodi in Windows the CPU/GPU can’t cope with high quality 720/50p for long without overheating and throttling (dropping to 40fps or less), and doesn’t appear to cope with 1080/50i at all (20fps or less). However the internal heatsinking in the Pipo is very poor.

    Under Ubuntu 64bit (a challenge to install but entirely doable) with development builds of Kodi you get full 720/50p (even with thermal throttling) and Bob deinterlacing of 1080/50i (occasional skips).

    Like a few others, I’m fitting a heatsink and some heat pads to conduct heat to the aluminium case – which should improve things.

  4. hi from spain, have you try live tv streaming from a backend such tvheadend or similar? Please share the experience. Thanks.

  5. I’m getting VAAPI decoding under Ubuntu on my Baytrail-T Z3736F Pipo X7 already under Ubuntu with the development set-up listed here : http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=165707

    What I don’t have under Linux is any HDMI Audio – as there aren’t currently Baytrail-T Linux drivers for HDMI Audio in the wild AIUI (so I use a USB sound device instead at the moment)

  6. @Steve
    One guys tried Linux Mint on an Intel Bay Trail NUC (https://communities.intel.com/community/itpeernetwork/blog/2014/02/07/the-intel-nuc-different-operating-systems-on-the-bay-trail-nuc). At first he had no HDMI audio, but he seems to have found a fix.

    After it was installed a familiar issue emerged: no HDMI audio. I knew I had the right BIOS settings so this was weird. I started going through the Mint forums and learned that this time the issue wasn’t with the NUC at all. Apparently “HDMI No Sound” is one of the more common search phrases for Linux Mint 16. Fortunately a little more digging revealed the fix. A few commands input at the terminal screen and HDMI audio was working just fine.

    Based on the date, I guess that was a Celeron N2820 NUC, but hopefully, something similar can be done on Z3735F PCs. Don’t all Bay Trail SoCs share the same Intel HD GPU?

    Edit: Maybe something like that? http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=48&t=153108#p796537

  7. Just little English issue I should point out: I’ve could play Sintel-Bluray.iso without problem , the I’ve doesn’t really belong there.
    Not a big issue though and it happens when you write so many articles.

  8. @cnxsoft
    Off topic, but what about adding “sticky articles” to the front page, was just wondering if there were an “video capabilities” table that you would gradually update/add systems into (like comparison of info of this article vs various ARM reviews), that would give bird’s eye view of all reviewed systems?

    And of course similar updated/added pages could be done on various generic things, like benchmarks, hardware problems, etc..

    Just a thought. 😉

  9. @anon
    Possible to do, but hard to keep up-to-date, as with firmware and app updates the boxes tend to improve over time.
    I could be done as “pages” instead of “posts”, just like the “develoment kits” and “how -to and tutorial sections” in the top menu. The downside is that I already have troubles keeping these up-to-date.

    One way to get the review is to use the tag: http://www.cnx-software.com/tag/review/.
    But of course that’s a lot of scrolling, and not really a convenient way to compare devices.

  10. “it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on for refresh rates such as 23.976 or 59.94 fps.”

    Not that difficult if you use the correct test files. I posted these before but here’s the link again:
    http://st7.us/MotionBarsH264.7z (these are preferred since they include AC3 audio).

    If the above fails for some reason, here’s a different set without audio:

    Unlike 99% of Android players, the Intel Baytrail supports 23.976 and 59.940 correctly so all the test files should play perfectly smooth without any micro freezes or jumps in motion using a proper software player.

    Regarding HD Audio – it is not supported on Baytrail-T. It works on Baytrail-D with latest drivers. You don’t need speakers to test this – just plug in headphones and view the status display of your receiver – most will display the audio format they are receiving.

  11. @Mark
    I actually use these files for that part of the test. I should train my eyes to detect the skipped frame when 23.976 or 59.94 are not supported…

    I did not think about using headphones. I’ve just checked out the jack is one of the bigger one… Anyway, my speakers delivery is schedule for tomorrow.

  12. @magnus67
    I’ve just tried Cyberlink PowerDVD with hardware decode on, and the screen is black.
    I’ve tried to set the software to “software decoding”, but each time I play a video it will reset to “Enable hardware decoding…”

  13. To bad. I tried the Strongene cpu decoder on my surface pro and the CPU utilization dropped to half for a 8 bit 10mb/s 1080p HEVC movie.

  14. Is this box “clearly the best experience I’ve had using XBMC / Kodi on any low cost hardware platform, as all 1080p or lower resolution videos could be played, the vast majority at the native video framerate”… really?, i disagree severe here, maybe your expectations were so low and so will you seemed very good. But looking your own review see that mpeg2, rmvb, h265 and hi rate vc1 play in framerate incorrect or inestable. not to mention 4k, that some ARM have.
    So i’ve 3 pc ( i3 hd2500, i3+ hd7750 and lenovo x61), also severe pc & servers at work. In android/arm side 2 galaxy (s, s2) and rk3188 tablet. I use mx player, i can’t say that any of my PCs run better than my androids.
    That’s the problem with subjetives afirmations, its just your feeling. But i don’t find support in that, sorry.
    Maybe the only thing that can make difference with my experience is xmbc, is it so ugly in android?

  15. @klein
    The conclusion is mostly based on objective results:
    1. All my 1080p test files could play, no Android/ARM devices could manage that so far.
    2. I’ve never seen a stable frame rate on any Android TV Boxes. That’s based on the numbers I get from XBMC log, not from my perception.

    Now most people (including myself) might not see much difference between a video played at 22 fps or 25 fps. It also depends on your files. If all you play are H.264 videos, then there won’t be much differences between platforms.

  16. @cnxsoft
    so you only belive because the xmbc log, and don’t feel difference between 22-25fps, well lawer say “Acknowledgement from the parties make discoveries non-essential.”.
    I known intel is very careful in drivers, documentation, etc. is profesional, xmbc ‘ve long time in platform so maybe good adjustment, but your test have other element that make me distrustful, it is Windows, in this platform you don’t have even soft rtos, you can make a correct design & implementation code and final results are unstable… if your test was in linux, well all is understandable.
    I make test in different platforms for a HPC project 2 years ago, and not only process, threads are unstable with standard deviation very high, also the clock is not reliable. I lost time in sync errors that in my log are imposible, but discover in hard way that windows clock was inaccurate. So maybe xmbc log is also cheated because the return of windows function, bad coded or worst, we don’t known windows is code closed.
    Anyway +90% of top 100 HPC are unix/linux, is for performance, yes, but mostly because is reliable and if have problem you can see the code how is working.
    I used unix(hp-ux), linux(some flavors server/desktop/rtos), solaris, windows(many), old 8bits os and msdos, maybe more, and to date the worst is Windows. So i never again buy other hw that come with it, i cant pay for space that immediately recover, formating and installing other os.

  17. @klein
    I still stand by my conclusion that MeLE PCG03 is the best Kodi payer I used to far, and if I was using a box to watch movie that’s the one I would use. That saddens because I don’t like Windows either, and I use Ubuntu daily. But I have to report the truth.

    Some people have tried in Linux too, and it looks better with regards to thermal performance. I plan to test it too, but there’s currently no audio via HDMI. The only option for audio seems to be via a USB sound card.

  18. umm, so bay trail soc is ok, HD graphics is also good… well hdmi is direct output from soc, right?, then all box with z3735 should perform same.
    Now, if problems with xbmc in arm/android are mostly noticeable, which is the cause:
    1- is android itself?
    2- is poor implementation of hw codec in SOC by companies like allwinner, amlogic, rockchip, mstar and also samsung, qualcomm, freescale, etc.?
    3- is somewhat intermediate in the implementation of the firmware of each SOC, which, as is done by each manufacturer for soc (and usually without documentation and open source), becomes ALMOST the same as point 2.
    4- or the xbmc / kodi in android that has bugs.

    Point 1 I doubt it. would the same behavior at different hw, but also could contribute something to that screen refresh is fixed, I think in android unlike linux can not be changed on the fly resolution or refresh. But I doubt that’s the cause of the problems you’ve noticed in your reviews.
    There are a few soc with official versions of Linux: imx6, amlogic, tegra k1, exynos 4/5 … rockchip and allwinner are three party, i think.
    You still have some of these hw, as wandboard, ODROID c1, u3, radxa, firefly, etc. if the answer is yes, could test the XMBC on them to see if the problems go away. Now I see that there is interest in running linux in box that came with android. There are also android for bay trail, but i dont known, if there is source code, I have the impression that it is not very good, but you could also try.
    Anyway thanks for answering. i was looking at the soc of mstar, awaiting your review of zidoo x9, or odroid c1 because kernel source available. But may be i first search a vga cable, to send 1080p from x61, add partition w/android and try xbmc, next xbmc in the current Lubuntu, then xbmc in windows.

  19. You should test on Linux Kodi ex. OPENELEC Kodi on Mele PCG03, and review for us..
    XBMC/Kodi on Windows it will be a little worse work than Linux Kodi compilation.
    Please test OPENELEC on Mele PCG03.

  20. I managed to play 1080p HEVC of a popular movie with no problem on my voyo pad with z3735f. I don´t know the bitrate but the movie was 10Gb+. I used lentoid cpu codec and LAV splitter on 32 bit MPC-HC. The OpenCL codec crashed but played a 720p movie.

  21. the other samples are somewhat jerky and played with dropped frames but i can play both the 4k and 1080p files.

  22. @techguru
    Thanks. koi-sama website is back online, so I think I’ll download thefile from there. Links to torrent sites don’t always stay up for long, and it’s more difficult to find out if the files are free to use.

  23. Well… could you test Hi10p aka h.264 10 bit profile with 1080 files by now ? Or are you still looking for some video samples?

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