$79 HiSilicon Poplar is the First 96Boards TV Platform Compliant Board

At the end of last month I wrote about 96Boards TV Platform specifications, and noticed Hisilicon had one such boards, but details were sparse. Linaro has now officially unveiled HiSilicon Poplar board, the first 96Boards TV Platform board, sold for $79 + shipping on Aliexpress.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

Poplar board specifications:

  • SoC – HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 CPU up to 2.0 GHz per core with ARM Mali-T720 GPU supporting OpenGL ES 3.1/3.0/2.0/1.1/1.0, OpenVG 1.1, OpenCL 1.2/1.1 Full Profile, RenderScript, and Microsoft DirectX 11 FL9_3
  • Memory – 1 or 2 GB DDR3 (Specs are conflicting depending where you look)
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 up to 4K @ 60Hz
  • Video Decoding – H.265/HEVC Main/Main10 and VP9 up to 4K @ 60 fps
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 2xUSB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG port for console
  • Expansion
    • 40-pin Low Speed (LS) connector with UART, SPI, I2S, 2x I2C, 12x GPIO
    • 1x PCIe 2.0 interface
    • 12-pin Smart Card connector (unpopulated)
    • 24-pin connector for tuner (unpopulated)
  • Debugging – 1x JTAG port, 1x UART connector
  • Misc – IR receiver, boot selection jumper, LEDs, power button
  • Security – ARM Trustzone, trusted execution environment, secure boot, secure storage, secure video path, DRM, DCAS
  • Power Supply – 12V / 2A
  • Dimensions – 160 x 120 mm (96Boards TV platform specs)
  • Temperature Range – 0°C to +70°C

Hisilicon Hi3798C V200 is quite an interesting processor with many high speed and media interfaces, and while they used most of them, they did not leverage support for SATA. Luckily, there’s still USB 3.0 and PCIe if you need faster storage.

Hi3798C V200 Block Diagram - Click to Enlarge
Hi3798C V200 Block Diagram – Click to Enlarge

The board is sold with Android 5.1.1, but it will be the main development platform of Linaro Digital Home Group which aims “to continue creating optimized, high-performance secure media solutions for ARM on both Linux- and Android-based platforms. Licensees of the RDK (Linux) will be able to create Open Embedded/Yocto RDK builds for Poplar. The Poplar board will also serve as a common development platform for Android TV (AOSP) as well as for TVOS-based STB solutions used in China.”

In the meantime, you may find some information on Tocoding Poplar page, or access directly the hardware user manual. Eventually, 96Boards Poplar page will be a good place to look.

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38 Replies to “$79 HiSilicon Poplar is the First 96Boards TV Platform Compliant Board”

  1. Since this board uses the same CPU as Amlogic S905,S905X & S912 it would be interesting to know if it can achieve real 2Ghz or also suffer from the same speed limits of only 1.5Ghz.

  2. mo123 :
    Since this board uses the same CPU as Amlogic S905,S905X & S912

    whaaat ? You meant “It uses the same A53 cores”, right ? They are far from being the same CPUs, from that point, it’s hard to compare them as ARM doesn’t specify a speed to set…
    That said, HiSilicon is I suppose a tad more seasoned in fabless semi design despite their respective age, being a sub of Huawei. (my personnal opinion)
    But, well, plenty of little TV boxes and SBCs lack decent heatsinks/cooling anyways.

  3. @mo123
    It uses an entirely different SoC – HiSilicon Hi3798C V200. As per A53’s clock in general – yes, it can do 2GHz at the proper nm. Qualcomm et al have been doing it for a while.

  4. BTW, this board, if they manage to produce it to quantities at that price, can be _the_ hobbyist board of choice – it craps all over the ‘consumer’ 96 boards so far, featuring usb3, Gb eth and pcie2. Also, the SoC does sata3, but where’s the connector, 96boards?

  5. according to the hardware manual :
    – you can extend the pcie connector for sata, ethernet or wireless
    – there is 2 GB ram
    – there is a button to boot from usb
    – the provided ethernet connector is capped to 100M

  6. @mo123
    While they are not the same Soc as mentioned but same A53 cores.

    It is a fair and valid question can we any longer trust ARM licences products specs. When two venders have been accused of cheating.

    ARM products are becoming like the Olympics full of cheats stealing awards.

  7. @blu

    Discussions in the LHG Steering Committee resulted in not making the SATA connector mandatory in the 96Boards TV Platform specification, but leaving it as an option. The decision to include a SATA connector is made by the SoC vendor. As noted, both USB3 and PCIe 2.0 are available to provide high-speed connectivity.

  8. Where we find tuner for ts connector? (Dvbs2x dvbs2 dvbc or ?) Does hisilicone 3798c Support linux hw accelaration ?

  9. With no sign of the AMD Huskyboard or the LeMaker Cello in the market yet, this may be the only low cost option to gain access to an ARM64 board with a PCIe slot.

  10. @miniNodes
    And then? What do I gain from combining an Android device with a PCIe slot? Does Android contain already the drivers for all sorts of cards I might want to insert there? How does Android deal with a SAS PCIe adapter with 8 SATA disks connected?

  11. @Mark Gregotski

    Another alternative (albeit more expensive) is the RolidRun 8040 board. I’ll share impressions once mine arrives.

    I know that’s what it’s been designated for, but limiting that board to an android TV box would be a shame. HiSilicon have at least some interests in server/compute with their high-end server chips, so it could be beneficial to them to promote awareness in the oss dev/hobbyist circles via a full-fledged linux 96board. They already have the hw, they just need to better support it.

  12. @blu
    Fair enough, let’s wait another two years and see what happened regarding Linux support and what we can then do with this PCIe slot (2 years are roughly the time we wait for availability of stuff like Huskyboard or LeMaker’s clone now?).

    Apart from that: Having interfaces present on a board with an Android SoC (read as: for tablet/OTT box use) is one thing, the other is how they perform. If I compare any of the pretty fast boards lying here around with an ‘ultra-slow’ Clearfog Base for example (only dual-core A9!) the latter performs magnitudes faster since this SoC is not made for TV boxes but different use cases. Let’s wait and see 🙂

    And in the meantime I might pre-order an ARMADA 8040 just like you 😉

  13. What about the vpu?, is it anything that could be suported in kodi?

    this board would make a sweet media center then

  14. On Linaro page: “Support for PCIe interface is expected to be provided in future operating system versions.” (Emphasis by me). So we have a single lane PCIe 2.0 slot without any software support while increasing the consumption requirements by 25W (or 10W if only low-profile cards are allowed)?

    BTW: USB3.0 reminds me on the few boards I had that were equipped with such a port: LeMaker’s Guitar and Roseapple Pi. Didn’t get USB 3.0 working at least once 🙂

  15. I think ARMs extremely closed nature and clear lack of focus and interest in enabling proper Linux support is hurting this communty.

    Hobbyists and other parties have been left either boucing back and forth between ARM and its partners for years or working on hacks, making the end user experience unpleasant and limiting it to hackers and devs.

    Its become clear without ARMs support for GPUs and other hardware required for desktop and server it’s going to be a long struggle as we have seen over the last 2-3 years.

    Given this is a clear opportunity for ARM itself beyond its Android mobile business the lack of focus is mysterious at best and since it doesn’t make much sense I have more or less given up.

    In the end I think the Rasberry Pi is the best shot at getting proper Linux support. The rest of the boards are either stuck with old Linux kernels, spotty support or are hobbed by other limitations, dependent on the hard work of open source developers.

  16. I have seen multiple boards from HiSillicon with SDK, and I can say all of them had USB3 working. One of them had PCIe, however I did not have the connector to test with a real device, but the kernel driver was there.

    Probably in the beginning might not exist support for kodi (not sure), libcec and so on… however, I expect the kodi part to be resolved pretty quickly…

    But for linux the USB3 and PCIe might be a nice addition …

  17. @Catalin
    Thanks for the update. Since you seem to know HiSilicon and I stumbled accross their Kirin 620 days ago searching for ARMv8 SoCs supporting ARM’s crypto extensions… do you know whether Hi3798C V200 also supports the crypto extensions?

  18. @tkaiser
    Re that crypto extension, MT8163 supports the full set (aes sha1 sha2 crc32), and so does RK3368. Amlogic’s offerings support just crc32, and so does Snapdragon 410. Actions Semi S900 is an unknown.

  19. @tkaiser – Correct, PCIe for Android doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…Was looking more at the proposed Linux support. 😉

    BTW, the Kirin 620 is the SoC used on the 96Boards HiKey as well, so, if you have any of those laying around you could test on that.

  20. A odd solution for some of the hardware drivers in Android, is if a strong case is made for PCI equipped, USB 3 equipped, Android TV boxes.

    Why you might ask. PCI for expansion like in Intel PC. A faster Harddrive controller, faster Graphics card, Tuner sat, aerial, cable. Higher speed storage on USB, DVD, Blueray.

    The next level of Android TV box will be casual games player as well as TV.

    Now cloud connected games or networked, need a faster internet port.. 4k TV, HD games use more memory and storage.

    All just guesses by me but that is what I see beyond smart TV. Just needs Google to want to beat Amazon, Apple and Chinese TV.

    Nvidia has gone in to high price IMHO.

  21. WTF?

    “Licensees of the RDK (Linux) will be able to create Open Embedded/Yocto RDK builds for Poplar.”

    Well done linaro for opening up the ARM linux ecosystem! Three cheers for linaro!

  22. @tkaiser, I did not see the SDK or the docs for V200 yet, I was talking just about previous boards I had access to.

  23. Luc Verhaegen :
    “Licensees of the RDK (Linux) will be able to create Open Embedded/Yocto RDK builds for Poplar.”
    Well done linaro for opening up the ARM linux ecosystem! Three cheers for linaro!

    Yeah this should have been a no-brainer even if the GPU was closed since you could just use the pci-e… But ARM screwed us up again 🙁

    It’s really sad too. A lot of the linux people, including myself, changed their minds over the last 2-3 years and have been more open to small blobs that just kickstart or update the firmware to the point everyone lined up to AMD’s “our blobs are part of the hardware design”. And despite this, ARM is just giving us the finger and refusing to push for proper licenses and open-source mainlining.

    Sad times 🙁

  24. Mark,

    Because of their position towards binary drivers, linaro has a pretty bad standing as it is. Linaros unwillingness or inability to take a stance against them undermines everything that linaro tries to publicly stand for. And now linaro is working together with partners which pull tricks like this. This might be an internal oversight, and should require better partner coordination in future, but it only underlines the massive moral debt that the linaro consortium has built up.

    This is the headline: “Linaro Announces First Development Board Compliant with 96Boards TV Platform Specification”, and then it turns out that the board provider gives only restricted access to the source code, the delivery is full of binary blobs, and only android is supposedly supported.

    If that is what linaro is bringing to the world, then why do we have linaro again?

  25. I thought that linaro was about solving the technical issues around software, namely the linux support on ARM based systems. Instead we see an industry consortium, which condones bad software practices (and even markets them, apparently, if the background of this press release is looked at), which will be remembered for a set of board formats that only a few obscure manufacturers cared about…. Oh, and for which the ratio of announcements and the actual availability of the hardware is just as poor as everywhere else.

    I know, this is of course an exaggeration of the actual situation, but it is not totally unfair, now is it?

  26. So, a couple months have gone by, and the hardware is available, but still no sign of the chip docs/firmware source/etc.

    So, basically this board has potential, but like most of the other linaro/96boards releases should be treated as proof of concept hardware that may not work, and is likely to be abandoned before it actually works. AKA the firmware/kernel drivers will never be up-streamed. Which means the chances of it ever running a real debian/fedora/android that hasn’t been hacked up by linaro are close to 0.

  27. More than half a year… A clear sign of what linaro truly is worth to open source and free software.

    This here is another nice sign: https://marcin.juszkiewicz.com.pl/2016/09/01/powervr-is-other-way-to-say-headless/
    Marcin also posted this: http://libv.livejournal.com/27461.html?thread=321861#t321861
    And then there’s the “hiding behind linaro” paragraph in this blog of mine: http://libv.livejournal.com/26635.html

    “Linaro membership does not absolve from limited open source involvement or downright license violation, but for many members, this is exactly how it is used. Linaro seems to be a get-out-of-jail-free card for several of its members. Linaro membership does not need to prove anything, linaro membership even seems to have the opposite effect in several cases.”

  28. @Theguyuk
    @Luc Verhaegen
    There’s a longish tread about (non-existent) source code for the board @ https://github.com/96boards/documentation/issues/39
    An update will be provided in April apparently, but even then no guarantee when source code will be release:

    Linaro is working with HiSilicon and ToCoding to provide a source code release for Poplar as soon as possible. This is not yet ready for release but will provide ports of ARM TF, UEFI, and U-Boot to Poplar along with an upstream based kernel and AOSP support. We will be providing another update at the end of April 2017 based on current progress but we do not yet have a final release date yet. This is a high priority for us, and we will keep this list updated.

    Dr. Yang Zhang
    Director of 96Boards and Technologies Group

    Scott Bambrough
    Technical Director, Linaro Services Group

  29. Can this board support a PCIe GPU since it supports OpenGL and DirectX ? Also does it come with the WiFi card or the TS expansion board? And is the expansion board a TV tuner of some sort? Can anyone answer these questions?

  30. @Jester
    Reply from Mark Gregotski, Director, Linaro Digital Home Group:

    The Poplar can support a PCIe graphics card; however, the support provided is only for one lane. It would have to be a lower end GPU.
    The Poplar has WiFi on the board. The Transport Stream cards are separately sold tuner cards. These tuner cards can be for terrestrial/satellite/cable.
    At one time Tocoding was advertising DVB-T tuner cards for Poplar, but I don’t see that on their site.
    It is also possible to use USB-based tuning cards made by companies such as Hauppauge.

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