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Posts Tagged ‘4k’

H96 PRO Plus Amlogic S912 TV Box with 3GB RAM, 32GB Storage Sold for $48.49 (Promo)

September 7th, 2017 12 comments

H96 Pro+ is a Amlogic S912 TV box with 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, that’s similar to R-Box Pro 3G TV box I reviewed, and Banggood has now a promotion for the box for just $48.49 shipped with about 850 pieces left in stock.

H96 Pro+ specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 3 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDR and CEC support up to 4K @ 60 fps, and AV port for composite output
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV (stereo audio), and optical S/PDIF
  • Video codecs – VP9-10 profile 2 up to 4K @ 60 fps, H.265 [email protected] up to 4K 60fps, H.264 AVC up to 4K @ 30 fps, H.264 MVC up to 1080p60, MPEG-4, WMV/VC-1 SP/MP/AP,  AVS-P16(AVS+)/AVS-P2 JiZhun Profile, MPEG-2 MP/HL, MPEG-1 MP/HL, and  RealVIDEO 8/9/10 all up to 1080p60
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, front-panel LCD display, LEDs
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions & weight –  N/A

The box runs Android 6.0, and ships with a remote control, a HDMI Cable, a power adapter, and a user manual.

I double check the prices on GearBest and GeekBuying, and they sell the device in the same 3GB/32GB configuration for $65.99 and $61.99 including shipping respectively, which means the offer on Banggood is about $17.50 and $13.50 cheaper.

Banggood has a site-wide promotion on their store during September 7-9 for their 11th anniversary, where you may find further deals for gadgets and other products.

 

Categories: AMLogic, Android, Hardware Tags: 4k, Android, discount, hevc, TV box, vp9

Zidoo X7 Review – Part 2: Android 7.1 Firmware, ZDMC, WiFi, and More

August 29th, 2017 9 comments

Zidoo X7 is an Android TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328 processor similar to Bqeel MVR9 with 2GB RAM, but instead of provide Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, it comes with Fast Ethernet, and 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, so is better suited to people using WiFi instead of Ethernet for media streaming. You’ll find plenty of photos in the first part of the review entitled “Zidoo X7 TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing & Teardown“, and I’ll report my experience with Android 7.1.2 firmware in this second part.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I connected two RF dongles for  MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad via a USB hub, a USB keyboard to take screenshot, and a Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 port on the box. I perform tests with Ethernet in most reviews, but with Zidoo X7, I’ve decided to use 802.11ac WiFi instead, so I only connected the Ethernet cable when required for some tests. I completed the hardware setup with HDMI, and power cables with the box starting automatically when connecting power.

Click to Enlarge

The boot normally takes around 19 seconds to the new version of the company’s ZIUI launcher, largely inspired from Android Leanback launcher, but I find Zidoo design more pleasing to the eyes.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The notification and status bars will show automatically when you move the mouse pointer to the top of bottom of the screen, and hides automatically when you move away. That’s my favorite way of handling those.

Pre-installed apps include the Play Store, ZDMC (Kodi fork), some settings apps. YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu… apps shown in the main launcher are not installed by default but you can download them if you click on the icons.

The setting app have four main sections, starting with Network to configure WiFi, Ethernet, or Bluetooth…

Click to Enlarge

Display to adjust the screen resolution from 720x480p-60 up to 4096x2160p-60, adjust overscan, and set your own wall paper…

Sound to configure audio output to PCM, or S/PDIF / HDMI audio pass-through, and disable/enable system sounds…

Other to set language, reset to factory settings, switch to “advanced settings” (i.e. Android Nougat settings), or learn more about the system info.

The About section of the advanced settings shows ZIDOO_X7 model runs Android 7.1.2 on top of Linux 3.10.104 with the security patch level dated April 5, 2017.

The device has a 7.28GB internal storage partition with 2.91GB used at the beginning of the review. The system also detected and mounted exFAT, EXT-4 and NTFS partitions on my USB hard drive, but could not handle BTRFS.

I went to the Update app but no new firmware was available ,so I tested Zidoo X7 with firmware v1.2.5.

Google Play worked fine, and I could install most apps I needed for the review, but I did notice Smart Movement app for a Bluetooth LE smartwatch could not be installed via the store, so maybe BLE is not supported. I could also install Riptide GP2 with Amazon Underground, but the first time I launched the latter is crashed. (Riptide GP2 only). I had a funny issues with apps installed from Google Play, not but Amazon Underground,  as they would show twice in the list of apps.

The included IR remote control worked well up to 10 meters, and I could use the IR learning function to record some of my TV remote control buttons like power and volume. I did not use it very long though, as I used a more convenient air mouse most of the time.

A short press on the remote control power button will bring a menu to select between Power off, Standby, or Reboot.


But a long press will allow you to select between showing this menu (Ask me) go to power off and standby mode directly.

So while power handling is nicely implemented, I found power consumption to be rather high in power off mode:

  • Power off – 2.3 to 2.4 Watts (although once I somehow managed 1.0 Watt)
  • Standby – 3.3 Watts
  • Idle – 3.2 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 5.0 to 6.2 Watts (even after 3 hours). The Ethernet port can establish a link if I connect the cable…
  • Standby – 5.0 to 6.4 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 6.4 to 7.0 Watts

So it looks like something is wrong with power off mode.

Zidoo X7 gets a little less hot than MVR9, but I still measured up to 45 and 52ºC max measured on the top and bottom covers after playing a 2-hour 1080p video in ZDMC (Kodi fork), and 47 and 55ºC after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes. CPU-Z reported respectively 74.6°C and 83.9°C after the tests. The ambient temperature was around 28°C, and I did not experience any noticeable slowdowns during the review.

Zidoo X7 works pretty well, and I’m especially pleased with the new ZIUI launcher that’s both beautiful and convenient to use, and attention to details like option for power handling. But not everything is prefect, as power consumption in power off mode is rather high, and apps installed with Google Play show twice in the list of apps.

Video & Audio Playback – ZDMC, MediaCenter, DRM, and YouTube

Zidoo X7 comes with the compan’y own Kodi fork named ZDMC (ZiDoo MediaCenter) based on Kodi 16.1.

Click to Enlarge

For some reasons, “Accelerate VP9” and “Enable fractional HDMI (23.976, 59.67)” were disabled in Settings->Videos->RKMC, so I enabled them, as well as automatic frame rate switching before starting to test videos.

As mentioned in the introduction, I used 802.11ac WiFi for testing with my router about 4 meters away and behind a wall, but since I came across buffering issues in some videos, I tested with three methods in case of problems, stopping at the first successful attempt:

  1. ZDMC + 802.11ac WiFI (WiFi)
  2. ZDMC + 10/100M Ethernet (Ethernet)
  3. ZDMC + USB NTFS partition (HDD)

Those are the results for 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps)

    • WiFi – Some buffering, then video OK, but no audio
    • Ethernet – Video OK, but no audio
    • HDD – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744)
    • WiFi – Frequent buffering
    • Ethernet – OK (24 Hz video output)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK (24 Hz video output)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz)
    • WiFi – Not smooth, no audio
    • Ethernet – Video + Audio OK for a while, then lost audio
    • HDD – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Tested with WiFi only: Not smooth, audio delay (Note: H.264 @ 4K60fps is not supported by RK3328 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps)
    • WiFi – Long buffering after 2 seconds, then some infrequent audio cuts, infrequent short image freezes
    • Ethernet – Mostly OK, but one short audio cut during the first 3 minutes
    • HDD – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC)
    • WiFi – Not smooth at all, no audio (buffer = 0%)
    • Ethernet – Not smooth at all, no audio (buffer = 0%)
    • HDD – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream)
    • WiFi – Not smooth at all, no audio (buffer = 0%)
    • Ethernet – Not smooth at all, no audio (buffer = 0%)
    • HDD – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps)
    • WiFi – Constant buffering (as should be expected)
    • Ethernet – Constant buffering (as should be expected)
    • HDD – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio)
    • WiFi – Frequent buffering, then artifacts starts to show on the whole screen after 10 seconds, and audio lost
    • Ethernet – Some buffering, artifacts after a while, and some apparently AV sync issues
    • HDD – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio)
    • WiFi – Frequent buffering, artifacts on the whole screen for 1 or 2 seconds from time to time
    • Ethernet – Plays OK most of the time, but artifacts on the whole screen appears from time to time (e.g. at 00:50, then 1:20, etc..)
    • HDD – Played OK at the beginning, but then massive artifacts between 1:06 to 1:36, before resuming normally

So finally, I could play most videos with automatic frame rate switching from the hard drive, but 802.11ac WiFi is just not fast enough to play many 4K videos from a SAMBA share. Some of it may be improved by using a UPnP/DLNA server instead of SAMBA. However, I was still it surprised by the number of videos not playing fine over Fast Ethernet, so there may still be some issues here, notably with videos where the buffer suddenly dropped to 0% as reported by Kodi log overlay as shown in the screenshot below.

Click for Original Size

Another oddity is that when I take screenshots on other platform, it will only capture the OSD / user interface, since the video is rendered on a separate 4K video buffer. Could that mean the video is downscaled? Before answering this question, I played the 4K video samples with MediaCenter app from the USB drive:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK with 24 Hz video output, but I could not select the subtitles like I normally do in this video
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK, but 1080p @ 24 Hz video output, instead of 4K @ 24Hz
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth, but audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps is not supported by RK3328 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not 100% smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK, expect for some specific scenes (source issue?).

The results with MediaCenter are very good, except for a few problem for subtitles, automatic frame rate switching for one video using 1080p24 output, and a very high bitrate video not as smooth as it could be.

Click to Enlarge

Coming back to the screenshot concern in ZDMC, I did a screenshot again with MediaCenter, and the video was again included. So it could either be the video is rendered to a 1920×1080 surface, or the system does something clever during the screenshot by copying the video hardware buffer to the framebuffer to include both. let’s find with a 4K resolution test sample, which I used previously on other 4K TV boxes. The sample would not play in MediaCenter, so I played in in ZDMC, and took a picture with my camera, and zoomed in closely on a part of the movie to find out if there was any issues.

Ignore the green line, as it’s a problem with my TV.

The samples is comprised of a grid of black and white dots, and if the video is scaled to a lower resolution we would only see white/greay or black dots, but here we can see black and white dots as expected, so Zidoo X7 indeed supports 4K properly…

So I carried on the review with audio test for both PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) for people who connected the box directly to their TV or other stereo speakers, and HDMI audio pass-through for those with A/V receivers. For the latter test, I enabled pass-through settings in ZDMC and Android, and tested both configuration with ZDMC and MediaCenter using my TV and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(ZDMC 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(ZDMC 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK OK OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK OK OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio TrueHD 7.1* TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS-HD MSTR 7.1 DTS-HD MSTR 7.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK 2x No audio, 1x OK DTS-HD MSTR 7.1* DTS-HD MSTR 7.1*

* My A/V receiver does not support DTS:X nor Dolby Atmos, so it correctly falls to be best option in this case.
Zidoo X7 handles audio much better than Bqeel MVR9 in my case, with the only real issues because the lack of reliable DTS HD MA downsampling support, and DTS-HD HR pass-through is not supported.

I played a 2-hour 1080p movie in ZDMC using WiFi and SAMBA, and I had no problem, however, there was no option to adjust the zoom level, only 3D options.

Click to Enlarge

There’s no support for Widevine or PlayReady DRM, but CENC ClearKey is supported, and actually appears to be supported in all Android TV boxes (TBC).

YouTube is working fine up to 1080p, but you can’t select 2160p.

Networking & Storage Performance

I tested 802.11ac WiFi with SAMBA by copying a 278MB file between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa, with ES File Explorer. The download results are excellent, but for some reasons the upload much weaker:

  1. Server to flash (average): 1 minutes 7 seconds, or around 4.15 MB/s
  2. Flash to server (average): 3 minutes 13 seconds, or around 1.44 MB/s

So if I used the download + upload total average of around 2.14 MB/s, Zidoo X7’s WiFi performance is somewhat disappointing.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

But luckily the upload issue seems to be related to SAMBA, as there’s no such issues with iperf:

  • 802.11ac WiFi Upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi Download:

Zidoo X7 has a performance similar to some other WiFi AC capable devices I’ve reviewed recently.

iperf throughput in Mbps

Switching to storage performance, A1 SDbench app shows good write speed for the internal memory (as expected), but as is often the case the read speed is cached with an invalid result. However, I had no trouble with slow I/O during testing, the box boots rapidly (< 20 seconds), apps are loading fine, and I did not get any “app is not responding” pop-ups.

Click to Enlarge

USB 3.0 performance is acceptable for EXT-4 and NTFS file systems, but exFAT is basically unusable, which may explain why some competitors disabled it.

Gaming

I could play both Beach Buggy Racing (BBR) and Riptide GP2 on the device using Mars G01 game controller. BBR was usable even with max settings, but just like in Bqeel MVR9, Riptide GP2 was only really enjoyable with default settings, while if you set the graphics settings to “max resolution” the frame rate feels like 10 to 25 fps. I played the game for around 15 minutes, and the performance was constant throughout, so there was no apparent throttling due to overheating.

So if you use such RK3328 TV box for gaming, you’ll either have to accept default settings, or decrease quality for better performance, or get a model with 1280×720 user interface, instead of 1920×1080. Ideally, this should be an option in the settings.

Bluetooth

I had no troubles at all with Bluetooth, as I could pair my  Android smartphone, and transfer some photos over Bluetooth, and X1T Bluetooth earbuds to watch and listen to YouTube videos. I did not try Sixaxis since the firmware is not rooted.

Zidoo X7 CPU-Z System Info and Antutu Benchmark

CPU-Z still shows “Rockchip RK3066” for most Rockchip device, but apart from that it properly detected a quad core ARM Cortex A53 r0p4 processor clocked @ 408 MHz to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450MP, as well as 1998 MB total RAM, and 5.27 GB internal storage

Click to Enlarge

The Antutu 6.x score of 33,264 points is comparable to Bqeel MVR9 and A95X R2 scores of respectively 35,994 and 33,117 points. The former slightly higher score may be due to the DDR4 used, as Zidoo X7 relies on DDR3 SDRAM instead.

Conclusion

Overall I find that Zidoo X7 offers a better experience than the other Rockchip RK3328 devices I have tested so far, especially if you rely on WiFi, and HDMI audio pass-through is important to you, and 4K video playback is working decently well as long as you play from a hard drive. I also really like the new ZIUI launcher that’s quite eye pleasing, and similar to Leanback launcher with the “Suggested videos” section replaced by icon for the main apps. Attention to details, like flexibility for power options, and automatic handling of notifications and status bar. But there are also issues with some troubles playing some video over SAMBA due to unusual buffering issues, high power off consumption, lack of DRM, and so on.

PROS

  • Recent, responsive and stable Android 7.1.2 operating system
  • Nicely designed new ZIUI launcher / user interface
  • Good support for 4K videos played from hard drive in both ZDMC 16.1 (Kodi fork) and MediaCenter with automatic frame rate switching support
  • HDMI pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master working in ZDMC and MediaCenter
  • Fast eMMC flash storage allowing for fast boot, short app loading times, and good overall performance (e.g. no “aspp not responding” issues)
  • USB 3.0 performance is good with EXT-4 and NTFS file systems
  • Good 802.11ac WiFi performance (except for SAMBA uploads)
  • Built-in Bluetooth working as expected
  • Small details like notifications & status bars automatically shown/hidden, power options,

CONS (and bugs)

  • ZDMC – Some unusual buffering issues while playing from network/samba (either with WiFi and Ethernet); no zoom option while playing video (only 3D options); artifacts with some VP9 videos, even when played from HDD; No DTS HD High Resolution HR pass-through support (uses DTS 5.1 instead)
  • MediaCenter – Selecting embedded subtitles not working in one video; 1080p24 output selected while playing on 4K24 video; No DTS HD High Resolution HR pass-through support (uses DTS 5.1 instead); DTS HD audio down-mixing not working reliably.
  • High power consumption in power off mode, especially when HDD connected (5.0 to 6.4 Watts).
  • Poor SAMBA upload performance when using WiFi
  • Lack of DRM support
  • Google Play – Apps relying on Bluetooth LE cannot be installed; apps show twice is list of apps after installation
  • 3D gaming frame rate may not be very high on some apps, due to the 1920×1080 resolution (instead of 1280×720 on some other RK3328 models)

I’d like to thank Zidoo for sending a review sample. Resellers and distributors can contact the company via Zidoo X7’s product page, and individuals will find the box for sale online for $65 and up on e-retailers such as GearBest, GeekBuying, Amazon US, or Aliexpress.

MediaTek Helio P23 & P30 Processors Unveiled for “Premium” Mid Range Smartphones

August 29th, 2017 8 comments

MediaTek has introduced two more octa-core Cortex A53 processors with respectively Helio P23 for worldwide markets, and Helio P30 for China. Both processors build upon Helio P20/P25 design, but are upgraded with a faster Mali G71MP2 GPU, LTE Cat 7/13 modem, and in the case of Helio P30 the ability to record 4K videos with H.265 codec, instead of just H.264, and a new “vision processing unit”.

Mediatek Helio P23 & P30 specifications:

  • CPU – 8 core big.LITTLE processor with 4x ARM Cortex A53 @ 2.3 GHz, 4x ARM Cortex A53 @ 1.65 GHz
  • GPU – ARM Mali-G71MP2 GPU clocked @ 770 MHz (P23) or 950 MHz (P30)
  • Memory I/F – 2 x 16-bit @ 1600 MHz LPDDR4X, P23 only: 1 x 32-bit @ 933 MHz LPDDR3
  • Storage I/F – No info
  • Display – Up to 2160 x 1080 resolution
  • Video
    • Encoder – P23: 2160p30 H.264; P30: 2160p30 H.264 & HEVC
    • Decoder – 2160p30 H.264 & HEVC
  • Camera
    • P23 – 24MP single camera; 13 + 13MP dual camera
    • P30 – 25MP single camera; 16 + 16MP dual camera; Vision Processing Unit (Tensilica DSP) used for additional image processing 
  • Modem – LTE Cat 7/13 300/150Mbps; Dual Sim, Dual Standby (DSDS) w/Dual VoLTE
  • Process – TSMC 16nm

MediaTek’s new processors will be found in smartphones in Q4 of this year, with Helio P23 launching globally, and Helio P30 in China, but the latter may eventually expand to other markets if there’s demand. No product pages, nor press releases are available for either SoCs at the time of writing, but in due time, more info should show up on MediaTek Helio P series product page.

Via AnandTech

Embedded Linux Conference & Open Source Summit Europe 2017 Schedule

August 27th, 2017 3 comments

The Embedded Linux Conference & IoT summit 2017 took place in the US earlier this year in February, but there will soon be a similar event with the Embedded Linux Conference *& Open Source Summit Europe 2017 to take up in Europe on October 23 – 25 in Prague, Czech Republic, and the Linux Foundation has just published the schedule. It’s always useful to find out what is being discussed during such events, even if you are not going to attend, so I went through the different sessions, and compose my own virtual schedule with some of the ones I find the most interesting.

Monday, October 23

  • 11:15 – 11:55 – An Introduction to SPI-NOR Subsystem – Vignesh Raghavendra, Texas Instruments India

Modern day embedded systems have dedicated SPI controllers to support NOR flashes. They have many hardware level features to increase the ease and efficiency of accessing SPI NOR flashes and also support different SPI bus widths and speeds.

In order to support such advanced SPI NOR controllers, SPI-NOR framework was introduced under Memory Technology Devices (MTD). This presentation aims at providing an overview of SPI-NOR framework, different types of NOR flashes supported (like SPI/QSPI/OSPI) and interaction with SPI framework. It also provides an overview of how to write a new controller driver or add support for a new flash device.

The presentation then covers generic improvements done and proposed while working on improving QSPI performance on a TI SoC, challenges associated when using DMA with these controllers and other limitations of the framework.

  • 12:05 – 12:45 – Free and Open Source Software Tools for Making Open Source Hardware – Leon Anavi, Konsulko Group

The open source hardware movement is becoming more and more popular. But is it worth making open source hardware if it has been designed with expensive proprietary software? In this presentation, Leon Anavi will share his experience how to use free and open source software for making high-quality entirely open source devices: from the designing the PCB with KiCAD through making a case with OpenSCAD or FreeCAD to slicing with Cura and 3D printing. The talk will also provide information about open source hardware licenses, getting started guidelines, tips for avoiding common pitfalls and mistakes. The challenges of prototyping and low-volume manufacturing with both SMT and THT will be also discussed.

  • 14:20 – 15:00 – Introduction to SoC+FPGA – Marek Vašut, DENX Software Engineering GmbH

In this talk, Marek introduces the increasingly popular single-chip SoC+FPGA solutions. At the beginning, the diverse chip offerings from multiple vendors are introduced, ranging from the smallest IoT-grade solutions all the way to large industrial-level chips with focus on their software support. Mainline U-Boot and Linux support for such chips is quite complete, and already deployed in production. Marek demonstrates how to load and operate the FPGA part in both U-Boot and Linux, which recently gained FPGA manager support. Yet to fully leverage the potential of the FPGA manager in combination with Device Tree (DT) Overlays, patches are still needed. Marek explains how the FPGA manager and the DT Overlays work, how they fit together and how to use them to obtain a great experience on SoC+FPGA, while pointing out various pitfalls.

  • 15:10 – 15:50 – Cheap Complex Cameras – Pavel Machek, DENX Software Engineering GmbH

Cameras in phones are different from webcams: their main purpose is to take high-resolution still pictures. Running preview in high resolution is not feasible, so resolution switch is needed just before taking final picture. There are currently no applications for still photography that work with mainline kernel. (Pavel is working on… two, but both have some limitations). libv4l2 is doing internal processing in 8-bit, which is not enough for digital photography. Cell phones have 10 to 12-bit sensors, some DSLRs do 14-bit depth.

Differences do not end here. Cell phone camera can produce reasonable picture, but it needs complex software support. Auto-exposure / auto-gain is a must for producing anything but completely black or completely white frames. Users expect auto-focus, and it is necessary for reasonable pictures in macro range, requiring real-time processing.

  • 16:20 – 17:00 – Bluetooth Mesh with Zephyr OS and Linux – Johan Hedberg, Open Source Technology Center, Intel

Bluetooth Mesh is a new standard that opens a whole new wave of low-power wireless use cases. It extends the range of communication from a single peer-to-peer connection to a true mesh topology covering large areas, such as an entire building. This paves the way for both home and industrial automation applications. Typical home scenarios include things like controlling the lights in your apartment or adjusting the thermostat. Although Bluetooth 5 was released end of last year, Bluetooth Mesh can be implemented on any device supporting Bluetooth 4.0 or later. This means that we’ll likely see very rapid market adoption of the feature.

The presentation will give an introduction to Bluetooth Mesh, covering how it works and what kind of features it provides. The talk will also give an overview of Bluetooth Mesh support in Zephyr OS and Linux and how to create wireless solutions with them.

  • 17:10 – 17:50 – printk() – The Most Useful Tool is Now Showing its Age – Steven Rostedt, VMware

printk() has been the tool for debugging the Linux kernel and for being the display mechanism for Linux as long as Linux has been around. It’s the first thing one sees as the life of the kernel begins, from the kernel banner and the last message at shutdown. It’s critical as people take pictures of a kernel oops to send to the kernel developers to fix a bug, or to display on social media when that oops happens on the monitor on the back of an airplane seat in front of you.

But printk() is not a trivial utility. It serves many functionalities and some of them can be conflicting. Today with Linux running on machines with hundreds of CPUs, printk() can actually be the cause of live locks. This talk will discuss all the issues that printk() has today, and some of the possible solutions that may be discussed at Kernel Summit.

  • 18:00 – 18:45 – BoF: Embedded Linux Size – Michael Opdenacker, Free Electrons

This “Birds of a Feather” session will start by a quick update on available resources and recent efforts to reduce the size of the Linux kernel and the filesystem it uses.

An ARM based system running the mainline kernel with about 3 MB of RAM will also be demonstrated. If you are interested in the size topic, please join this BoF and share your experience, the resources you have found and your ideas for further size reduction techniques!

Tuesday, October 24

  • 10:55 – 11:35 – Introducing the “Lab in a Box” Concept – Patrick Titiano & Kevin Hilman, BayLibre

Continuous Integration (CI) has been a hot topic for long time. With the growing number of architectures and boards, it becomes impossible for maintainers to validate a patch on all configurations, making it harder and harder to keep the same quality level without leveraging CI and test automation. Recent initiatives like LAVA, KernelCI.org, Fuego, (…) started providing a first answer, however the learning curve remains high, and the HW setup part is not covered.

Baylibre, already involved in KernelCI.org, decided, as part of the AGL project, to go one step further in CI automation and has developed a turnkey solution for developers and companies willing to instantiate a LAVA lab; called “Lab in a Box”, it aims at simplifying the configuration of a board farm (HW, SW).

Motivations, challenges, benefits and results will be discussed, with a demo of a first “Lab in a Box” instantiation.

  • 11:45 – 12:25 – Protecting Your System from the Scum of the Universe – Gilad Ben-Yossef, Arm Holdings

Linux based systems have a plethora of security related mechanisms: DM-Crypt, DM-Verity, Secure Boot, the new TEE sub-system, FScrypt and IMA are just a few examples. This talk will describe these the various systems and provide a practical walk through of how to mix and match these mechanisms and design them into a Linux based embedded system in order to strengthen the system resilience to various nefarious attacks, whether the system discussed is a mobile phone, a tablet, a network attached DVR, a router, or an IOT hub in a way that makes maximum use of the sometime limited hardware resources of such systems.

  • 14:05 – 14:45 – Open Source Neuroimaging: Developing a State-of-the-Art Brain Scanner with Linux and FPGAs – Danny Abukalam, Codethink

Neuroimaging is an established medical field which is helping us to learn more about how the human brain works, the most complex human organ. This talk aims to cover neuroimaging systems, from hobbyist to professional, and how open source has been used to build state-of-the-art systems. We’ll have a look the general problem area, why open source was a good fit, and some examples of solutions including a commercial effort that we have been involved in bringing to market. Typically these solutions consist of specialist hardware, a bespoke software solutions stack, and a suite to manage and process the vast amounts of data generated during the scan. Other points of interest include how we approached building a maintainable and upgradeable system from the outset. We’ll also talk about future plans for neuroimaging, future ideas for hardware & discuss areas lacking good open source solutions.

  • 14:55 – 15:35 – More Robust I2C Designs with a New Fault-Injection Driver – Wolfram Sang, Renesas

It has its challenges to write code for certain error paths for I2C bus drivers because these errors usually don’t happen on the bus. And special I2C bus testers are expensive. In this talk, a new GPIO based driver will be presented which acts on the same bus as the bus master driver under inspection. A live demonstration will be given as well as hints how to handle bugs which might have been found. The scope and limitations of this driver will be discussed. Since it will also be analyzed what actually happens on the wires, this talk also serves as a case study how to snoop busses with only Free Software and OpenHardware (i.e. sigrok).

  • 16:05 – 16:45 – GStreamer for Tiny Devices – Olivier Crête, Collabora

GStreamer is a complete Open Source multimedia framework, and it includes hundreds of plugins, including modern formats like DASH, HLS or the first ever RTSP 2.0 implementation. The whole framework is almost 150MB on my computer, but what if you only have 5 megs of flash available? Is it a viable choice? Yes it is, and I will show you how.

Starting with simple tricks like only including the necessary plugins, all the way to statically compiling only the functions that are actually used to produce the smaller possible footprint.

  • 16:55 – 17:35 – Maintaining a Linux Kernel for 13 Years? You Must be Kidding Me. We Need at Least 30? – Agustin Benito Bethencourt, Codethink Ltd

Industrial grade solutions have a life expectancy of 30+ years. Maintaining a Linux kernel for such a long time in the open has not been done. Many claim that is not sustainable, but corporations that build power plants, railway systems, etc. are willing to tackle this challenge. This talk will describe the work done so far on the kernel maintenance and testing front at the CIP initiative.

During the talk it will be explained how we decide which parts of the kernel to cover – reducing the amount of work to be done and the risk of being unable to maintain the claimed support. The process of reviewing and backporting fixes that might be needed on an older branch will be briefly described. CIP is taking a different approach from many other projects when it comes to testing the kernel. The talk will go over it as well as the coming steps. and the future steps.

Wednesday, October 24

  • 11:05 – 11:45 – HDMI 4k Video: Lessons Learned – Hans Verkuil, Cisco Systems Norway

So you want to support HDMI 4k (3840×2160) video output and/or video capture for your new product? Then this is the presentation for you! I will describe the challenges involved in 4k video from the hardware level, the HDMI protocol level and up to the kernel driver level. Special attention will be given to what to watch out for when buying 4k capable equipment and accessories such as cables and adapters since it is a Wild, Wild West out there.

  • 11:55 – 12:35 – Linux Powered Autonomous Arctic Buoys – Satish Chetty, Hera Systems 

In my talk/presentation, I cover the technical, and design challenges in developing an autonomous Linux powered Arctic buoy. This system is a low cost, COTS based, extreme/harsh environment, autonomous sensor data gathering platform. It measures albedo, weather, water temperature and other parameters. It runs on a custom embedded Linux and is optimized for efficient use of solar & battery power. It uses a variety of low cost, high accuracy/precision sensors and satellite/terrestrial wireless communications.

I talk about using Linux in this embedded environment, and how I address and solve various issues including building a custom kernel, Linux drivers, frame grabbing issues and results from cameras, limited power challenges, clock drifts due to low temperature, summer melt challenges, failure of sensors, intermittent communication issues and various other h/w & s/w challenges.

  • 14:15 – 14:55 – Linux Storage System Bottleneck for eMMC/UFS – Bean Huo & Zoltan Szubbocsev, Micron

The storage device is considered a bottleneck to the system I/O performance. This thinking drives the need for faster storage device interfaces. Commonly used flash based storage interfaces support high throughputs, eg. eMMC 400MB/s, UFS 1GB/s. Traditionally, advanced embedded systems were focusing on CPU and memory speeds and these outpaced advances in storage speed improvements. In this presentation, we explore the parameters that impact I/O performance. We describe at a high level how Linux manages I/O requests coming from user space. Specifically, we look into system performance limitations in the Linux eMMC/UFS subsystem and expose bottlenecks caused by the software through Ftrace. We show existing challenges in getting maximum performance of flash-based high-speed storage device. by this presentation, we want to motivate future optimization work on the existing storage stack.

  • 15:05 – 15:45 – New GPIO Interface for User Space – Bartosz Golaszewski

Since Linux 4.8 the GPIO sysfs interface is deprecated. Due to its many drawbacks and bad design decisions a new user space interface has been implemented in the form of the GPIO character device which is now the preferred method of interaction with GPIOs which can’t otherwise be serviced by a kernel driver. The character device brings in many new interesting features such as: polling for line events, finding GPIO chips and lines by name, changing & reading the values of multiple lines with a single ioctl (one context switch) and many more. In this presentation, Bartosz will showcase the new features of the GPIO UAPI, discuss the current state of libgpiod (user space tools for using the character device) and tell you why it’s beneficial to switch to the new interface.

  • 16:15 – 16:55 – Replace Your Exploit-Ridden Firmware with Linux – Ronald Minnich, Google

With the WikiLeaks release of the vault7 material, the security of the UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) firmware used in most PCs and laptops is once again a concern. UEFI is a proprietary and closed-source operating system, with a codebase almost as large as the Linux kernel, that runs when the system is powered on and continues to run after it boots the OS (hence its designation as a “Ring -2 hypervisor”). It is a great place to hide exploits since it never stops running, and these exploits are undetectable by kernels and programs.

Our answer to this is NERF (Non-Extensible Reduced Firmware), an open source software system developed at Google to replace almost all of UEFI firmware with a tiny Linux kernel and initramfs. The initramfs file system contains an init and command line utilities from the u-root project, which are written in the Go language.

  • 17:05 – 17:45 – Unikernelized Real Time Linux & IoT – Tiejun Chen, Vmware

Unikernel is a novel software technology that links an application with OS in the form of a library and packages them into a specialized image that facilitates direct deployment on a hypervisor. But why these existing unikernels have yet to gain large popularity broadly? I’ll talk what challenges Unikernels are facing, and discuss exploration of if-how we could convert Linux as Unikernel, and IoT could be a valuable one of use cases because the feature of smaller size & footprint are good for those resource-strained IoT platforms. Those existing unikernels are not designed to address those IoT characters like power consumption and real time requirement, and they also doesn’t support versatile architectures. Most existing Unikernels just focus on X86/ARM. As a paravirtualized unikenelized Linux, especially Unikernelized Real Time Linux, really makes Unikernels to succeed.


If you’d like to attend the real thing, you’ll need to register and pay a registration fee:

  • Early Registration Fee: US$800 (through August 27, 2017)
  • Standard Registration Fee: US$950 (August 28, 2017 – September 17, 2017)
  • Late Registration Fee: US$1100 (September 18, 2017 – Event)
  • Academic Registration Fee: US$200 (Student/Faculty attendees will be required to show a valid student/faculty ID at registration.)
  • Hobbyist Registration Fee: US$200 (only if you are paying for yourself to attend this event and are currently active in the community)

There’s also another option with the Hall Pass Registration ($150) if you just want to network on visit with sponsors onsite, but do not plan to attend any sessions or keynotes.

X96 Mini Amlogic S905W Android TV Box Sells for $25 and Up

August 24th, 2017 17 comments

Last week, we discovered Amlogic S905W processor through Tanix TX3 Mini TV box, with the processor maxing out at 4K @ 30 Hz in order to provide cost-competitive solutions, for example against Rockchip RK3229 TV boxes. However, at the time, the price was not that attractive. Prices have come down quickly, as Tanix TX3 Mini can be purchased for about $29 with 1GB RAM /16GB flash, and $32 with 2GB RAM/ 16 GB flash using coupon PYNNHDAH. X96 Mini is an even cheaper option as the Amlogic S905W is sold for as low as $24.99 shipped on Banggood.

X96 mini TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S905W quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a output with HDR, AV port (composite + stereo audio)
  • Video Codecs – [email protected] H.265 [email protected], [email protected] VP9 Profile-2, MPEG1/2/4, H.264, HD AVC/VC-1, RM/RMVB, Xvid/DivX3/4/5/6 , RealVideo8/9/10
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (No Bluetooth)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports: 1x host, 1x device (OTG?)
  • Misc – IR receiver, IR expansion port
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 82 x 82 x 17mm

 

X96 Mini can be cheaper than Tanix TX3 because it comes with less internal storage (8GB vs 16GB), they’ve done without optical S/PDIF audio output, and the device is smaller. The box runs Android 7.1.2, and ships with an HDMI cable, a remote control, an IR remote control, a power adapter, user’s manual, and just like the older X96 TV box,  some mounting kit with “magic tape” in order to hook the device behind the TV. A photo of the board has also been provided, sop we can look a more details about the design:

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  1. The IR port is marked IR/COAX, so I suspect it can also be used as a coaxial S/PDIF output port
  2. An 8GB Samsung KLM8G1GEME-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash is used which means they’ve used the best 8GB Samsung flash available with 185/40 MB/s sequential R/W speed, and 5.2K/2.5K R/W IOPS, meaning performance should be decent at all times. The 16GB should be even faster, if they’ve used the same eMMC 5.1 family.
  3. The WiFi chipset reads something like 5V6051P… I have no idea what brand or model that is…

The 2GB/16GB version of X96 mini is sold for $34.99, that’s about $2 more than the equivalent Tanix TX3 price. You’ll also find both X96 Mini models on Aliexpress.

As a side note, Banggood is organizing a promotion for their 11th Anniversary, and while I have not been able to find any big discount myself, but just around 5% off compared to normal price, you may be luckier.

As a second side note, Amlogic S805X – 4x Cortex A53 limited to 1080p – is also coming, as I learned via Stane1983’s rant about the latest Amlogic Android SDK…

Via AndroidPC.es

Khadas VIM2 Amlogic S912 Development Board Sells for $75 and Up

August 21st, 2017 21 comments

Khadas VIM2 is the only low cost development board powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor that I know of, but when we first wrote about the board it was not available yet. The three versions of the boards are now being sold on GearBest with the Basic version going for $74.99, the Pro version for $94.99, and the Max version for $109.99. [Update: You can get VIM2 Max for $99.99 by using GBVIM2MAX coupon code for the first 100 boards daily, and the five first boards are sold for $49.99 daily at 9:00 UTC until August 28th. Details on promotion page.]

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Khadas VIM2 Basic/Pro/Max specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S912 octa core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP GPU
  • System Memory
    • Basic – 2 GB DDR4
    • Pro/Max – 3 GB DDR4
  • Storage
    • micro SD card and 2MB SPI flash
    • eMMC Flash – Basic: 16GB; Pro: 32GB; Max: 64GB
  • Video & Audio  Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with CEC support
  • Connectivity
    • Basic – Gigabit Ethernet with WoL support, 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1 via Ampak AP6356S module
    • Pro/Max – Gigabit Ethernet with WoL support, 802.11 b/g/n/ac with RSDB and Bluetooth 4.2 via Ampak AP6359SA module
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports supporting 900mA and 500mA loads, 1x USB 2.0 type C port supporting power and data only
  • Expansion header
    • 40-pin 2.54mm pitch header with USB, UART, I2C, ADC, PWM, I2S, SPDIF, and ISO7816
    • 10-pin FPC connector with I2C and IOs
    • 8 “pin” pogo pads array with USB, I2C, DVB bus, and I/Os
  • Misc – Blue LED, white LED, dual channel IR, power/function/reset buttons, header for RTC battery, fan header
  • Power Supply –  5V to 9V via USB type C, 4-pin VIN 1.25mm pitch header, or pogo pads for VIN (5V recommended for better efficiency); programmable current limit switch up to 4A (Set to 3A by default)
  • Dimensions – 82.0 x 57.5 x 11.5 mm (4x M2 mounting holes)

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SZWesion has a single Wiki for both Khadas VIM (S905X) and VIM2 (S912) boards, so it may be a little confusing, but you’ll find Android Nougat, Ubuntu 16.04.2 and Dual OS (Android + Ubuntu) images in the firmware page, as well as more technical information (e.g. schematics, build instructions…) in the documentation page. The board should work well in Android 7.1 with hardware video decoding and GPU acceleration working since they’ve been so many Amlogic S912 Android devices on the market. For Linux, the board will likely work well for headless applications, or applications that do not require multimedia features, but for example, 4K video decoding may not work that well – at least for now -,  as I was told kszaq work on LibreELEC using 32-bit Android libraries and libhybris would only work up to 1080p60. If you have any specific question, you should be able to get your answer in the support forum.

Bqeel MVR9 (NT-N9) TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Nougat Firmware, RKMC, YouTube 4K, and More

August 18th, 2017 No comments

Bqeel MVR9 is another TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328, but that model comes with Gigabit Ethernet and 2GB RAM contrary to the cheaper A95X R2 TV box I previously reviewed. If you want to check thsee some pictures read “Bqeel MVR9 TV Box Review – Part 1: Specifications, Unboxing and Teardown“, as in this second part I’ll focus on the firmware, and we’ll see if the claims of better 4K video playback thanks to DDR4, optimized RKMC with HD audio pass-through, YouTube 4K, and DRM support are true.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

One good thing about Bqeel MVR9 is that it comes four 4 USB port, so I did not need to use a USB hub to connect my two RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, a Seagate USB 3.0 hard drive, and a USB keyboard I normally use to take screenshots. I completed the hardware setup with Ethernet, HDMI, and power cable with the device booting as soon as I applied power.

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A typical boot takes around 18 seconds from power on to the Android launcher below, one of the fastest boot I’ve experienced in TV boxes.

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Browser, Music and Player icons link to a list of apps such as Chrome, RKMC, or Media Center, while MyDevice is a file manager. I was unable to find a way to enable the status bar and notification bar.

Pre-installed apps include the Play Store, Hulu, and HappyCast.

The setupWizard app will guide though the main settings namely Language, TimeZone, ScreenScale, and Network (Ethernet/WiFi). I used it to adjust overscan to none, but this can also be done in the settings. The settings will show on the right side of the screen as with other Android Nougat firmware I played with.

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Those are pretty standard, except USB mode that I may have missed in other boxes, and that allows you to switch between Host and Device modes. The about section shows the device name is actually NT-N9 – Nagrace made devices usually start with NT – and it runs Android 7.1.2 on top of Linux 3.10.104. The firmware is not rooted, and I was unable to find out if OTA firmware update works since I did not get a new firmware during the review.

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I had no problem settings the display resolution to 3840x2160p60(YCbCr420), and Audio device can be set to default, SPDIF pass-through, or HDMI bitstream. I could not see any HDR settings. The More Settings option will bring you to a full screen Settings app that looks to be made for phones with lock screen, and adaptive brightness option.

One interesting option in the Display settings was Display size in order to make items smaller or larger on the screen.

Storage settings shows 2.61GB of the 14.56GB eMMC flash partition are used, and EXT-4 and NTFS partitions of my USB hard drive are supported but not the exFAT and BTRFS ones.

I could install all apps I needed for the review via Google Play and Amazon Underground (Riptide GP2 only).The basic IR remote control included worked fine up to 8 meters, but as usual I mostly controlled the device with my air mouse.

Power handling is all good, as I could use the power button on the unit or the remote control to turn on and off the device cleanly, with a short press on the power key on the remote entering standby/sleep mode automatically, and a long press showing a menu with reboot, sleep, or shutdown.

I measured power consumption with a kill-a-watt clone, and with or without USB drive connected:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 2.4 Watts
  • Idle – 3.2 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 4.4 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.2 Watts

So everything is done right here.

The box gets a little hot during use with 47 and 61ºC max measured on the top and bottom sides of the box after playing a 2-hour 1080p video in RKMC (Kodi fork), and 40 and 57ºC after spending 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2. Going to CPU-Z to check the temperature sensor after each test showed respectively 92.1°C and 86.5°C, both values clearly on the high side if the reported temperature is correct. Note that the ambient temperature was slightly above 30°C, and that I could not notice slowdown, but if you push the box to its limit, I’d expect a drop in performance at some point.

So far, I’m very satisfied with the box with features working as they should, and a responsive firmware. The only downsides are the lack of option to enable the status and notifications bar, and potential issues due to the high temperature, but as just mentioned it did not noticeably affect me even with a fairly high room temperature.

Video & Audio Playback – RKMC, DRM, and YouTube

RKMC 16.1 is installed with a purple skin.

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As I went to the settings to enable automatic frame rate switching, I also noticed some RKCodec specific settings, with most enable, except fractional HDMI (23.976/59.97) which I manually enabled for the review.

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Once this was done I started playing some videos over SAMBA and Gigabit Ethernet starting with 4K samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK (24 Hz video output)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK (24 Hz video output)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth, but big audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps is not supported by RK3328 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth all the way through; Chinese fonts not supported in the filename
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK at the beginning, then gray screen with lots of artifacts at 2:50 for a few seconds, then normal. However, I could not reproduce it after going back to the 2:40 mark, and playing again.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK, but not smooth for every scenes.

Automatic frame rate switching worked just fine, and most videos played well. The box is using DDR4 so it may help with some 4K videos, especially, if you are using 4K HDR, sometimes that I can not test since I don’t have the TV for it. Another problem is that I can’t change the zoom level, it will only show 3D settings while playing videos. I also quickly tested some Blu-Ray ISO (amat.iso and sintel.iso) and again no problem in RKMC. I had less luck with my 1080p Hi10p 16-ref video, as it would only show the first frame.

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I switched to audio testing both using my TV speakers (PCM 2.0), and HDMI audio pass-through to my Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver using RKMC and MediaCenter.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(RKMC 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(RKMC 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
OK Audio OK,
Video 1:1 aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK Video won’t fully play -> can’t test OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK TrueHD 5.1, but several audio cuts TrueHD 5.1, but several audio cuts
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK TrueHD 7.1, but several audio cuts TrueHD 7.1, but several audio cuts
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Beep / no audio ** TrueHD 7.1*, but several audio cuts TrueHD 7.1*, but several audio cuts
DTS HD Master OK OK DTS-HD MA, but some audio cuts DTS-HD MA, but some audio cuts
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK DTS-HD HR, but some audio cuts DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD MA* DTS-HD MA*

* The sample comes with two audio tracks: Dolby Atmos (normal audio), and AC3 (beep) only, so AC3 was selected by default, and switching to the other track failed to product audio
** My AV receiver does not support Dolby Atmos nor DTS:X, so falling back to respectively TrueHD 7.1 and DTS HS Master is normal.

So the good news is that RKMC and MediaCenter pass-through all HD audio codec properly, except DTS HD HR for the latter, but there’s some timing or compatibility issues, as I’d get audio cuts with the receiver often reporting “UNKNOWN” codec for  short times instead of TrueHD or DTS HD. That’s a problem similar to what I got when I reviewed Zidoo X6 Pro, and at the time others reported no problem at all, so I’m assuming the audio pass-through issue may only affect some AV receivers models including mine.

Finally, I tested different video codec in RKMC with 1080p videos from Linaro media samples and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

No problem at all here, with all codec handled by hardware (RKCodec).

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DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported.

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The company also told me YouTube 1080p/4K is supported by the device, and at first glance it works, as I could select 2160p for 4K video. However, I quickly realized I could take screenshot of the video playing, a bad sign on this type of hardware, since videos are supposed to play on a separate hardware buffer.

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So I enabled Stats for Nerds in YouTube, and I can indeed play 3840×2160 videos, but they are rendered to a 1920×1080 viewport, so what we are actually watching is a 4K video downscaled to 1080p. So it’s better to just watch the 1080p version of the videos, especially I noticed some slowdowns at times while watching 4K streams.

Networking & Storage Performance

As usual, I tested WiFi with SAMBA by copying a 278MB file with ES File Explorer between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa. The results are not very good for this part:

  1. Server to flash: 3 minutes 5 seconds, or around 1.5 MB/s; included one short stall period
  2. Flash to server: 2 minutes 33 seconds, or around 1.81 MB/s
  3. Server to flash: Failed after 90% transfer

If I use the first two transfers to add to my comparison chart, it shows the device around the bottom.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

It’s actually fairly similar to many other devices with 802.11n WiFi only, and in the past we’ve seen some devices, especially the one based on Amlogic + Android 6.0 did not perform well at all with SAMBA, so let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n upload:

  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n download:

The performance looks better here, and should be good enough for most video streaming (although maybe not 4K ones).

Gigabit Ethernet works fine, and if you buy this device, is the recommended network interface to use anyway.

  • Gigabit Ethernet full duplex test with iperf:

Switching to storage performance, I used A1SD bench to test storage performance of the eMMC flash, and USB 3.0 hard drive.

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Please ignore the read speed of the eMMC flash since a “cached” read occur, but the write speed at 38.90 MB/s is valid, and looks good to me and close to the 40MB/s limit for the part used. The high random IO performance listed by Samsung 8K/10k R/W IOPS, certainly helps with fast boot times, app loading times, and overall system performance. USB 3.0 performance is as expected, and you’ll get good performance from both EXT-4 and NTFS, but if you want to optimize write performance, EXT-4 is the way to go. Just a quick word about the RAM test, with RAM copy done at 3397.21 MB/s (with DDR4 memory) against 3008.39 MB/s with DDR3 memory  on A95X R2 TV box, so it looks like DDR4 may improve performance a little bit on RK3328 devices.

Gaming

I played two games with my wireless controller: Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2. The first game played very smoothly with default settings, and at max settings it was still perfectly playable, but not 60fps smooth. Riptide GP2 felt good with default settings, but game play was really affected after switching to max resolution in the games settings, with frame rate decreasing to probably 10 to 25 fps during the game. The frame rate was however constant through the game, as I played for 15 minutes.

This differs with my experience with A95X R2, which felt similar to Amlogic S905 based device, with a higher frame rate in both games whatever the settings. This can be easily explained however, as A95X R2 framebuffer is configured to 1280×720, while MVR9 is set to 1920×1080. 1280×720 is better for some games, but 1920×1080 is better while watching YouTube videos (I does not affect videos played in Kodi or MediaCenter since they are rendered on a separate hardware buffer).

Bluetooth

I also tested the built-in Bluetooth function in side the device I could transfer photos with my phone, and watched a YouTube video using Bluetooth headphone.

Benchmarks and System Info

CPU-Z shows a quad core ARM Cortex A53 r0p4 processor clocked @ 408 MHz to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450MP as expected, as well as 1982 MB total RAM, and 12.40 GB internal storage

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I just ran a single benchmark to check performance is normal, and MVR9 achieved 35,994 points in Antutu 6.x, which compares to 33,117 points in A95X R2, and 34,811 points in ROCK64 development board (without heatsink).

Conclusion

Overall I was impressed by Bqeel MVR9 TV box with excellent 4K video playback with automatic frame rate switching, and fast internal storage leading to good overall performance, fast boot times and app loading times. However, if you want to use WiFi with SAMBA, you may prefer another device as I found performance to be below average, and unreliable, although raw performance number (iperf) look better, and in my case, while all HD codec were properly detected, I had many audio cuts when connected to my A/V receiver. The company also told me, the box would support YouTube 4K, but while it can stream 4K YouTube videos, it will actually downscale them 1920×1080 during playback.

PROS

  • Recent, responsive and stable Android 7.1.2 operating systems
  • Excellent supports for 4K videos in RKMC 16.1 (Kodi fork) with automatic frame rate switching support
  • HD audio codec such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD are detected with HDMI pass-through in RKMC, and
  • High performance internal storage leading to fast booting and app loading times, and good overall performance (no waiting for app windows…)
  • USB 3.0 performance is good with EXT-4, and to a lesser extend with NTFS
  • Good power handling with reboot/standby/power off mode, and low power consumption
  • Built-in Bluetooth is working well

CONS

  • Frequent micro audio cuts in most videos with HDMI audio passthrough using Onkyo TX-NR636 (When cuts happen the display on the receiver cycle between  TrueHD -> UNKNOWN -> TrueHD). Same results in RKMC and MediaCenter. The results may be different with other A/V receiver models.
  • 3D gaming frame rate may not be very high on some apps, due to the 1920×1080 resolution (instead of 1280×720 on competing models)
  • The device tends to get fairly hot. However, I did not notice any shutdown drops in performance during use myself.
  • WiFi SAMBA performance is rather poor, and connection unreliable.
  • Lack of zoom option in RKMC (only shows 3D settings)
  • Lack of option to show status or notification bars

I’d like to thank Nagrace for sending a review sample. I cannot find Bqeel MVR9 or NT-N9 TV box for sale anywhere, and the Nagrace has not setup a product page on their website yet, but if you are interested in purchasing in quantities, you may contact the company.

Tanix TX3 Mini TV Box is Powered by Amlogic S905W SoC

August 14th, 2017 2 comments

So it looks like Amlogic has outed another SoC with Amlogic S905W processor that appears to be a cost down version of Amlogic S905X limited to 4K @ 30 fps video decoding. One of the first device to used the new processor is Tanix TX3 mini TV box that should be priced similarly to Rockchip RK3229 devices.

Tanix TX3 mini specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S905W quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • System Memory – 1GB/2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 output, AV port (composite)
  • Audio – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Video Codecs – [email protected] H.265, MPEG1/2/4, H.264, HD AVC/VC-1, RM/RMVB, Xvid/DivX3/4/5/6 , RealVideo8/9/10
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel LCD display
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 105 x 105 x 15mm
  • Weight – 150g

VP9 codec support also appears to be gone. The devices runs Android 7.1 with Kodi 17.3, and ships with a power adapter, a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, and a user’s manual. It’s interesting that they’ve allegedly kept HDMI 2.0 since video decoding is limited to 4K @ 30 fps.

We don’t have pricing info, but since it’s supposed to compete against Rockchip RK3229, prices should be similar to the ones for Tanix R2 TV box that is around $28 with 1GB RAM/16GB flash, and $30 in 2GB/16GB configuration based on the prices listed in GearBest. More details may be found in the manufacturer’s product page.

[Update: Tanix TX3 mini is listed on Aliexpress, but at prices that are not very competitive
Update 2: It’s also on GeekBuying for $31.99 with PYNNHDAH coupon]

Via AndroidTVBox.eu

Categories: AMLogic, Android, Hardware Tags: 4k, Android, hevc, nougat, tanix, TV box