MINIX NEO Z83-4U Review – Ubuntu 18.04, Kodi 18, and Xibo Digital Signage

MINIX NEO Z83-4U is a Cherry Trail mini PC pre-loaded with Ubuntu 18.04. I received a sample a little while ago, and in the first part of NEO Z83-4U review I checked out the specifications and hardware that appears to be exactly the same a MINIX NEO Z83-4 Pro mini PC, except for the eMMC flash capacity that has increased from 32GB to 64GB.

Since the mini PC comes with an older Atom X5-Z8350 processor, and is designed for commercial applications, I’ve decided to make a slightly different review. We already now how the system is supposed to perform thanks to benchmarks with NEO Z83-4 mini PC running Windows 10 Pro, so I’ll just check the main features are working as expected in Ubuntu 18.04, test audio & video support in Kodi 18.1, and try out Xibo Linux open source digital signage CMS and player on the mini PC.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Review
Vertical lines are issues with my LG 4K TV – Click to Enlarge

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Initial Setup

I connected various USB peripherals, an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, and power before pressing the power button to get started. You’ll be greeted by the usual Ubuntu login screen, and you can enter using username: minix and password: 123456.

Click to Enlarge

The first thin you want to do is probably to open a terminal to change the password:

or alternatively create a new user, and delete minix user.

SSH server is not installed by default in Ubuntu 18.04, and since it’s more convenient to access the mini PC for review, I had to install it first in using a terminal using the TV connected via HDMI:

I could then login from my laptop using the mini PC’s default username, hostname, and password:

If you don’t use Ethernet, you’ll have to setup WiFi by clicking on the top right icons in the menu bar, then Select Network.

Ubuntu 18.04 WiFi Network Configuration

Time will be wrong until you select the Time Zone in Date & Time.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Timezone

My USB drive comes with four partitions using NTFS, EXT-4, BTRFS and exFAT, and I noticed the exFAT would not mount because the exFAT packages are not installed by default:

I’m not using the Amazon thing in Ubuntu 18.04, so I just remove the icon, but you can also just remove it if you want to make sure there’s no tracking:

If you plan on getting several mini PC running in your network, you may also consider changing the hostname, e.g. to call it xibo-ds:

That’s basically all I had to do to get the system working to my needs.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U System Information and Hardware Features Testing

My system shipped with Ubuntu 18.04.1 LTS, but the operating system will automatically upgrade and soon enough I was running Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTS. Here are some of the main system information after the upgrade and a reboot:

The /dev/sda* partitions from my USB drive are not mounted because they only get mounted after I login through the user interface, and I got the details above from an SSH terminal.

I tested most of the main hardware features to make sure drivers are working as expected (or not):

  • HDMI output – OK (4K @ 30 Hz and 1080p60 tested)
MINIX NEO Z83-4U 4K 3840x2160 Resolution
Click to open 3840×2160 Resolution Screenshot
  • mini DisplayPort – Untested (no adapter)
  • Audio output – HDMI: OK, 3.5mm audio jack: OK; Bluetooth: massive audio cuts
  • 3x USB 2.0 ports – OK with keyboard, mouse, and Tronsmart Mars G01 RF dongle
  • 1x USB 3.0 port  – OK (Tested with USB 3.0 HDD at 95MB/s read, 91 MB/s write)
  • Gigabit Ethernet – OK (iperf download: 941 Mbps, upload: 937 Mbps)
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi – OK but performance on the low side (iperf download: 111 Mbps, upload: 106 Mbps)
  • Bluetooth – Somewhat OK tested with Bluetooth headphones (see Audio) and Android smartphone (file transfer works but is really slow)
  • micro SD Card – OK

So no problem detected here, except there may be issues with Bluetooth throughput that may also affect audio.

Audio & Video Testing with Kodi 18.1

Let’s go through audio & video testing since the platform could be used as an HTPC and video playback is one important feature for digital signage.

To do so, I installed the latest Kodi 18 media center:

I tested a few H.264, H.265, VP8 and VP9 video files at various resolution and frame rates:

  • H.264
    • Big Buck Bunny with H.264 codec / MP4 container (1080p60) – OK
    • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv (1080p24, 10-bit H.264) – OK with software decode
    • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
    • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – OK
    • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) – OK
    • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (4K, H.264, 29.97 fps) – OK
    • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps; 24 fps) – Not smooth (ff-h264 software decode)
  • H.265 / HEVC
    • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (4K, H.265, 30 fps) – OK
    • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (4K, 10-bit HEVC, 24fps) – Not smooth (ff-hevc software decode)
    • BT.2020.20140602.ts (4K, 10-bit Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not smooth (ff-hevc software decode)
    • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
    • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (4K, 10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC, 24 fps) – Not smooth (ff-hevc software decode)
  • VP8/VP9
    • big_buck_bunny_1080p_VP8_VORBIS_25fps_7800K.WebM (1080p25, VP8) – OK
    • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (4K, VP9, 25 fps, no audio) – Not smooth (ff-vp9 software decode)
    • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Not smooth (ff-vp9 software decode)
    • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Not smooth (ff-vp9 software decode)

So 4K 8-bit H.264 and H.265 videos can be played, but make sure you don’t play 4K 10-bit H.264/H.265 videos, nor 4K VP9 videos on this system. All 1080p videos I tried could be play with either software or hardware video decoding, and automatic frame rate switching is working fine. I double-checked with Totem and VLC video players, and they do not work as well as Kodi when it comes to 4K video playback.

I wanted to try audio pass-through, but there’s no option for Audio passthrough. I followed the instructions for PulseAudio in Kodi wiki, but it looks like an HDMI digital audio pass-through device is missing from the output options: I can only see digital multichannel output or analog output.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Audio Settings
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Xibo Digital Signage on MINIX NEO Z83-4U Mini PC

Xibo open source digital signage is comprised of a CMS (Content Management System) and a client. The CMS part has been running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS for many years, but the Python client available 9 years ago is gone, and the company only restarted Linux client development last year or so, and what I’ve tried below is Xibo Player client for Linux that’s only at the alpha stage of development.

I already explained how to install Xibo CMS on Ubuntu 16.04 a few years ago, but  docker is now recommended for installation, so I followed the updated instructions instead.

I had to install docker and docker compose first:

We can now install the latest Xibo CMS release (Xibo 2.0.0):

Copy the template config file to config.env:

Open the file, and set MYSQL_PASSWORD value to whatever password you’d like to use with Xibo database.

Now we bring the CMS up inside the installation directory (/opt/xibo):

Output of a successful installation:

I had to restart the mini PC, and run the command again to be able to access the Xibo CMS dashboard from my laptop:Xibo LoginYou’ll need to use the default credentials for the very first time: xibo_admin and password.

Xibo Dashboard
Click to Enlarge

You’ll want to change the password before going further by clicking on the person icon on the top right of the interface, and selecting “Change Password”.

Now we can install the client. I went with Xibo Linux Player 0.5 Alpha since that was the latest release at the time of the review. Note that alpha software can be considered fairly unstable, even worse than beta. Installation is really easy now since a snap is provided:

Before we launch the client in the terminal, we’ll need to copy the CMS Secret Key in Xibo CMS in Settings->Configuration:

Xibo Secret Key

Now let’s create a working directory where the client will download resources (~/xibo-data), and register the player:

Replace <CMS_Secret_Key> with the key we’ve just copied from the CMS, and the hardware key can be any random string for now. The output should look as follows:

Xibo Authorise Display
Click to Enlarge

Back to the CMS, we can go to Displays and approve our “test” device as shown in the screenshot above. I also exited the xibo-player app in the terminal at this point, but it’s probably not needed.

The next step is to create a layout in Xibo CMS, and schedule it. I published a Xibo tutorial many years ago, and while the interface has been completely revamped, the workflow is basically the same now, so I could still follow those old instructions to create a layout with embedded HTML (CNX Software Blog), an H.264 1080p60 video, a picture zone, and a scrolling text zone with CNX Software RSS feeds. I restarted the player with the same command as above, and scheduled the layout to run now. Shortly after the Xibo Player would start to download content, and display it as expected.

Xibo Player Ubuntu 18.04
Click to Enlarge

It looks OK, but why is it in windowed mode? That’s because the software is still alpha and full screen has not been enabled, since it’s not supposed to be deployed in the field just yet. That’s understandable.

I shot a video to show how it runs on MINIX NEO Z83-4U.
The scrolling text is now super smooth because text is displayed, and in the past I found out the only way to have smooth scrolling text was to implement it through offscreen pixmaps. But that’s not an option with Xibo right now.

I had plans to let the layout run a few days to evaluate the stability, but the program will usually crash after around one or two minutes with a segmentation fault:

Full log available here.

That may be specific for my layout, and those things are supposed to happen with alpha software. So I was unable to test the “long run” part.

However, I never had to turn off MINIX NEO Z83-4U mini PC during my review, and it has an uptime of over 7 days.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Uptime
Click to Enlarge

So the operating system, Linux kernel, and drivers all appear to be very stable. I have not looked into the thermal design and stress tested the plaform, as I already did this with NEO Z83-4 PRO which never exceeded 69°C under load in a room with an ambient temperature of about 30°C.

MINIX NEO Z83-4U Ubuntu mini PC can be purchased for $169.90 and up on  GeekBuying, or  Aliexpress, but for some reasons the company has not listed it on their Amazon store just yet.

Disclosure: Ian Morrison (Linuxium) who regularly publishes mini PC reviews on CNX Software was involved in the development of the Ubuntu 18.04 image for MINIX NEO Z83-4U mini PC

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