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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.

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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

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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.

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.

Click for Original Size

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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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Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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

Click to Enlarge

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.

HiMedia Q30 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.0 Nougat Firmware

July 25th, 2017 4 comments

HiMedia Q30 is an Android Nougat TV box powered by Hisilicon Hi3798MV200 processor, a cost-down version of Hi3798C V200 processor with the same CPU, a lower-end Mali-450MP GPU, about the same media capabilities, and less I/Os. I’ve taken pictures of the device and board if the first part of the review entitled “HiMedia Q30 (Hisilicon Hi3798MV200) Android TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so today, I’ll report about my experience with the device while running Android 7.0.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I’ve connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 port, and filled the two other USB 2.0 ports with a USB keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad. I added Ethernet, HDMI, and power cable to start the device.

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A typical boot takes around 25 seconds to the Android launcher below.

Click for Original Size

That’s your typical TV launcher with date and connection status on the top, shortcuts to app in the center, and shortcuts at the bottom.


Above is the list of pre-installed apps such as Kodi, MediaCenter, Facebook, Netflix… I’ve never seen HappyCast before, so I clicked on it, but I still could not understand how to use it. That’s no issue since we have other ways to do “casting”.

The Settings App allows you to change Network, and Playback settings. The Display section does not do anything apart from showing the currently selected video output. You can also upgrade firmware locally or from the network (not tried since no new firmware), and find more info about the device.
Playback settings let you change HDMI and SPDIF output, HBR output, aspect ratio, and whether to switch to 24 Hz when needed.

The box runs Android 7.0 on top of Linux kernel 3.18.24. The firmware is not rooted.

The More button redirects to Android Nougat settings, where we’ll find some interesting options too.

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Note that while there’s a Bluetooth option, it won’t work as there’s no such hardware.

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Storage settings show we have 4.06GB space in the internal storage available to the user, with 821 MB used by pre-installed apps, and the box support EXT4, NTFS and exFAT file systems.

The Display section offers options like HDMI auto adaptation and HDCP 2.2 switch, with the latter possible helping go around some DRM issues. Custom display format is what you’d use to select video output such as 2160p 60 Hz, or 1080p 60 Hz. I found that the system would not remember my settings between reboot, often switching back to 1080i60, or other output modes, even with HDMI auto adaptation disabled.
Video output allows you to enable Output format adaption for 2D stream (how does that differ from HDMI auto adaptation?), and “enforce 3D framepacking ouput”

The SAMBA service is quite interesting as it will let you start a SAMBA server on the device with or without username and  password.

I enabled it and got access to the complete file system on the device immediately. I could navigate to the three mounted partitions on my hard drive by going to media_rw directory. That’s quite a convenient feature.

The Standby menu is used to enable/disable HDMI suspend, and set the suspend time.

Finally Advance options will allow to adjust color space with settings like YCbCr420 8bit or RGB444 10Bit, which can be useful in case you have funny colors or a pink screen, as well as TV HDR mode which can be set to SDR, HDR10, or AUTO.

I had (almost) no trouble installating extra apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground, but the former exited two or three times for no apparent reasons.

The IR remote control worked as expected with good range (tested up to 10 meters), and a working IR learning function. However, I mostly used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since mouse and keyboard function are a must in Android. The user manual lists two mobile apps: HiShare and HiRemote, so I tried both.

HiShare will allow you to cast photos, music, and videos in your smartphone to the TV. Once you select a media type, the app will list all corresponding media files, and once you click to play a file, it will show a list of renderers, I selected TV [email protected](HIMEDIA), and the music started to play in my TV.

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

That’s what the TV output looks like when music is playing.

The app in only moderately convenient, because – unless I missed something – you can play/schedule one song at a time, and it won’t automatically play all music from your smartphone, so you have to select music again once the current has stopped. I also tried photos, and in my case it listed close to 10,000 “photos”, starting with hundreds or thousands of sprites from a game (CSR2) I play on my mobile phone, so it was not exactly usable. It would be better the interface was similar to Android’s Gallery app with photos sorted in folders.

Next up was HiRemote, and while I could find and connect to HiMedia Q30 TV box…… the app would also crash after I tapped OK.


There are just two power modes in this box: on and off, and you can switch between the two with the remote control or the button on the unit. Reboot and standby are not available.

Power consumption numbers with and without a USB 3.0 hard drive are shown below:

  • Power off – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 Watts

The idle power consumption must be the lowest I’ve seen in a while.

The box stayed cool at all times during the review, with top and bottom covers temperature being 39ºC on both sides after successfully playing a 2-hour 1080p video in Kodi, and 36 and 37ºC after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes. 3D graphics performance is similar to the one of Amlogic S905/S905X boxes in that game with max resolution settings, meaning it’s playable but not a perfect 60 fps smooth, and the user experience was constant over time, so no noticeable CPU or GPU throttling either.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather good. The firmware works well, very responsive, and most of the things I tried worked as they should. The only two issues I had in this earlier part of my tests were HDMI video output changing between reboot, and Google Play exited two or three times for no reasons. The HiRemote app did not work on my Android phone (Vernee Apollo Lite) either.

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

Kodi was installed, and when I was in Google Play, I noticed it automatically updated to Kodi 17.3, so the version I tried was mainline Kodi, not a custom version.

I played the videos from  SAMBA share over 100 Mbps Ethernet, unless otherwise stated, starting with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Mostly OK, but a few frames dropped at times
  • 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
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time; HDD: OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, audio continues (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time, and eventually lost audio; HDD: 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: 1~2 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK at the beginning, but then not smooth at all
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth

Not catastrophic but some VP9 videos don’t play well, other videos will buffer over Ethernet (which they don’t in most other platforms even with Fast Ethernet), and some videos don’t play as smoothly as the hardware is capable of. Automatic frame rate switching is not working, and nor is HDMI audio pass-through, as we’ll see below. So I switched to MediaCenter, and played the 4K videos again:

  • 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 – Freeze after a few seconds, resumes later, and freeze again, resume, and son on. Audio plays at all times (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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: Black screen first, then video with massive artifacts and/or colored horizontal bands. (Not supported by VPU)
  • 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
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK close to perfect, except some scenes (maybe a source problem?); No audio.

The hardware capabilities of Hi3798MV200’s VPU are fully utilized in MediaCenter, and automatic frame rate switching is working too. The only issue I could find is the lack of support for OPUS audio codec.

Let’s move on to test HD audio codec with (downsampled) PCM 2.0 stereo output with audio from the TV speakers, and HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17.3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17.3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Beep** No audio TrueHD 7.1 (OK*)
DTS HD Master OK OK No audio OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio OK
DTS:X OK OK No audio DTS HD Master (OK*)

* My A/V receiver does not support Atmos not DTS:X, so the box fell back to the best alternative.
** The sample comes with Dolby Atmos 7.1 and AC3 track, with the later producing a continuous beep sound. However, I could only select one audio track in MediaCenter shown as “TRUEHD 7.1Ch 48000Hz”.

Except for a few small issues, MediaCenter on HiMedia Q30 is the best TV box I’ve seen so far when it comes to support various 4K videos, and HDMI audio pass-through. Note that you need to use the included IR remote control with MediaCenter app, as some keys on the air moue would not work properly in this app, and you cannot access to extra settings.

If you care about managing every aspects of the picture like contrast, brightness, …, enabling/disabled video post-processing features, subtitles, and more, the app offers a range of options which I show in the video below. At the time I shot the video I did not know how to hide the status bar, but you simply need to use the mouse  pointer a little above the status and pull it down or up to hide or show it. There’s no icon for doing so like in so many other boxes.

Another pleasant surprise is that the device support Widevine Level 1 DRM, which means you should be able to use premium apps at higher resolution. For example, it should be possible to use Netflix up to 720p on this device. Not tested since I don’t have nor need a Netflix account.

Click to Enlarge

The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

I can play videos up to 1080p rendering to the framebuffer.
If for some reasons you prefer the mobile Youtube app, I installed it too with the same results.

Networking & Storage Performance

HiMedia Q30 supports Fast Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity. I tested WiFi + SAMBA by copying a 278MB file with ES File Explorer between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. Results speak for themselves:

  1. Server to flash: 26 minutes 15 seconds, or around 180 Kb/s. That transfer rate was roughly constant during the whole file transfer
  2. Flash to server: 3 minutes 35 seconds, or around 1.29 MB/s
  3. Server to flash: stalled after a while, and eventually failed

I stopped the SAMBA WiFi test there. I won’t draw chart, but if I did, it would be dead last among other TV boxes. I tried to play some videos over WiFi + SAMBA from Kodi, and 720p and 1080p videos downloaded from the Internet could surprisingly play just fine, but as soon as you get to 5 Mbps or greater, buffering occurs all the time.

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

So performance is not quite constant, and even with the second faster try, there were many fluctuations during the transfer, as shown from the Conky screenshot on the right with spikes, instead of seeing a nice rectangular shape.

WiFi download:

  • 1st try: stuck, no results.
  • 2nd try:

  • 3rd try:

Performance looks better here, except of course for the first stalled results. So it looks like WiFi may not be as stable as it could be, as least with my setup and router.

A1SD bench app  was used to test storage performance. The eMMC flash does not have so good write speed (7.31 MB/s), and read speed (78.66MB/s) is invalid due to Cached read. This could lead to really slow performance when background tasks perform I/Os such as during automatic app updates.I’ve just been lucky not to notice it during testing.

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One the other hand USB 3.0 performance is all good, even for exFAT that usually exhibit very poor write performance in Android TV boxes.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s -Click to Enlarge

From a practical standpoint, you will probably not see much differences between the three file systems, especially Ethernet is limited to 100 Mbps. If you’d like more performance and Gigabit Ethernet, you may consider HiMedia Q5 Pro instead.

Himedia Q30 System info and Benchmarks

CPU-Z reports a quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is called “Q30 (Hi3798MV200”, and the board “bigfish”.

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The device achieved 34,880 points in Antutu 6.2.x, not a surprised as it’s similar to what we’d get from other quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor such as Amlogic S905X or Realtek RTD1295.

Vellamo 3.x results show a similar performance too. So no problems here.

Conclusion

HiMedia Q30 has a lot going for it. A well working Android 7.0 firmware, the best video and audio I’ve seen in any TV boxes when using MediaCenter app including 4K video decoding, automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for all HD codecs supported by my A/V receiver, Widevine Level 1 DRM, and good support and performance for USB 3.0 storage. As all devices, it’s not perfect though, as I found WiFi to be somewhat slow and/or unrelaible with my router, the lack of Bluetooth may be a problem for some people, and there are few bugs here and there such as HDMI video output selection not always kept during reboots, Google Play randomly exiting, and HiRemote app crashing and unusable in my phone. Kodi lovers may not be statified with the lack of automatic frame rate switching and audio pass-through.

PROS

  • Recent, stable and responsive Android 7.0 Nougat firmware
  • Best 4K H.265/H.264/VP9 playback I’ve seen in any TV boxes with MediaCenter App, including automatic frame rate switching
  • HDMI audio pass-through for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in MediaCenter App
  • Picture is highly customizable in MediaCenter app with various option, including post-processing tuning in MediaCenter App
  • Built-in SAMBA server support
  • Good external storage support with excellent USB 3.0 performance for NTFS and EXT-4, and good for exFAT file system.
  • Widevine Level 1 DRM
  • Solid hardware design with good cooling
  • IR remote control working well with good range (>= 10 meters) and IR learning function (the remote is a must to use MediaCenter app to its fullest)
  • OTA firmware update (not tested, since no new firmware during review)

CONS and bugs

  • WiFi found to have low performance (especially with SAMBA), or unstable
  • While Kodi 17.3 “mainline” is supported and plays some 4K videos fairly well, it’s not working as well as MediaCenter app, and does not support automatic frame rate switching, not HDMI audio pass-through
  • User set HDMI video output, not always remembered at next reboot
  • Google Play may crash (not too often, still usable most of the time)
  • Low end eMMC flash may lead to poor performance in case when I/Os occur in the background, e.g. during app updates.
  • Lack of Bluetooth support
  • HiRemote Android app crashes on my smartphone

I’d like to thank HiMedia for providing a review sample. You can purchase HiMedia Q30 on Aliexpress for $109 including shipping. Distributors may want to contact the company via the product page.

Getting Started with MediaTek X20 Android Development Board

July 17th, 2017 No comments

Thanks to CNX for helping me get a hand on the 96Boards compliant Mediatek X20 board that was generously donated by Seeed Studio. In this article, I will walk through the steps to get the board up and running and also compile Android from the source code. The current Android is version 6.

Unboxing the Beast

Figure-1 : DHL Packet

Figure-2 : MediaTek X20 Box

Figure-3 : Standoff, board and instructions

Figure-4 : Front Facing

Figure-5 : Powerful tiny MediateTek chip

Figure-6 : Side Shot

Figure-7 : Backside Shot

Figure-8 : Multiple Antenna

First Boot Up

The board boots up from the eMMC, and the first time you boot up you will get Android screen as shown in Figure-9. This is the default Android image from the factory, which surprisingly looks like it was setup for a phone screen mode, which is not sufficient for a HDMI monitor. It would be better to install the images that are made available at Linaro website or build your own. See the other section to flash the board with different images.

Figure-9 : Out-of-the-box Android

Figure-10 : Partition mount information

Switching to Fastboot Mode

Flashing image files are done using fastboot tool in bootloader mode. There are 2 ways to switch to bootloader mode. To prepare the board to be flashed it will need pin 3 (USB Host Set) located at the back of the board as shown in Figure-11 to be set to OFF

Figure-11 : Switch OFF pin 3

Method 1

The first method requires that you boot your board into Android. Power the board and let it boot to Android. Once it boots to Android you can switch to bootloader mode by typing

Once it switch to bootloader mode you can use the fastboot to flash the image

Method 2

The 2nd method require the xflash tool which can be downloaded from the following link http://builds.96boards.org/releases/helio-x20/mediatek/aosp/16.10/mediatek-x20-aosp-16.10.tar.xz. Unzip the file and you will see something like Figure-12.

Figure-12 : Tools and Image files

Extract xflash.tar.gz and you will see something like Figure-13.

Figure-13 : Inside xflash.tar.gz

Unplug the power supply, and plug your computer USB cable to the micro USB cable of the board and run the xflash tool as follow

The location of MT6797_Android_scatter.txt can be found inside the <your_unzip_mediatek>/Images/Normal Image/ as shown in Figure-14

Figure-14: Scatter File

Power up your board after running the xflash tool. You will see print out on the screen as shown below.

Once you see the text ‘END’ the board has been switched to bootloader mode, and is ready to be flashed.

Flashing Android Image

Before flashing the new Android image make sure your board is indeed in bootloader mode by running the following command

You know that you are in bootloader mode, once you get a reply like the following

You can either flash using the image files provided by Linaro or build your own custom image. You can download a ready made image file from http://builds.96boards.org/releases/helio-x20/mediatek/aosp/16.10/mediatek-x20-aosp-16.10.tar.xz (the image file are inside the <directory>/Images/Normal Image).

The extracted mediatek-x20-aosp-16.10.tar.xz wil look like Figure-15.

Figure-15: All image files

Copy all the different files inside /Normal Image and /Special Image to a separate folder and flash the files using the fastboot command as follows:

Building From Source

Android 6.0 is supported on the X20 board. Use the following command to checkout the AOSP source code

You will need to download the binary drivers from Linaro website. The driver binary can be downloaded from https://builds.96boards.org/releases/helio-x20/mediatek/aosp/latest/. Download the file called sla.tar.gz and unzip it. You will see something like Figure-16.

Figure-16 : Content of sla.tar.gz

Copy the contents of device/, prebuilts/ and vendor/ into the AOSP directory. After completing the copy steps follow the steps below to start compiling

  1. source build/envsetup.sh
  2. lunch
  3. You will be shown the selection like Figure-17

    Figure-17 : Lunch menu

  4. Select 8 (or even 9)
  5. make -j10

Once the build process is complete, you will see list of files as shown in Figure-18.

Figure-18 : Local image files

The image files are now ready to be flashed to the board. Use the same flashboot commands as above to flash the new compiled image.

Mediatek X20 Board Info and Antutu Benchmark

I’ll complete this guide by showing the info provided by CPU-Z and Antutu benchmark for the board for people wanting such details.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

If you’re interested in the board, you can purchase it for $199 plus shipping on Seeed Studio.

References:

  1. http://builds.96boards.org/releases/helio-x20/mediatek/aosp/16.10/
  2. http://www.96boards.org/documentation/ConsumerEdition/MediaTekX20/Downloads/ThirdParty/AOSP/LinuxFastboot.md/

Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 6th, 2017 11 comments

Vorke Z3 is another mini PC / TV box powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with two Cortex A72 cores, and two Cortex A53 cores making it theoretically one of the fastest TV boxes on the market, excluding NVIDIA Shield Android TV which is well ahead of the competition, albeit with poor worldwide availability. I’ve have already shown Vorke Z3 hardware inside out, so in the second part of the review, I’ll focus on testing the firmware including video playback, and the system performance, and see how it compares to the similar Yundoo Y8, which I reviewed last month.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

One the selling point of Vorke Z3 is its SATA connector, so I connected a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive first, as well as Seagate USB 3.0 drive (1TB) to the USB 3.0 port, I also added a USB hub to connect a USB keyboard, as well as two USB RF dongles for Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad. and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse. I did not use the USC type C port at that point, but we’ll see later that it can be used for firmware update, remote storage access, and video output.  I completed the hardware setup by plugging in Ethernet, HDMI, and power cables.

Click to Enlarge

Press the mechanical power switch on the rear panel in order to start the box, with a typical boot taking around 30 seconds. That’s acceptable, but I was expecting a faster boot with the high end eMMC flash used together with the powerful processor. The first time, you may be asked to choose between Launcher3 (Stock Android Home screen similar to what you get on your phone) better if you are close to the screen using the box as a mini PC,

or the familiar MediaBox Launcher better suited to TV use, if you are seated a few meters from the screen.

Click for Original Size

Below are the pre-installed app (minus RKMC which I installed manually) in the stock firmware.

YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix are installed, but you’ll notice Kodi is missing, and there’s a good reason for this as we’ll find out below…

Click to Enlarge

The Settings are pretty much standard, but when you go to Display Output, you’ll see HDMI and HDMI1 output, because the mini PC can handle two display if you connect a compatible USB type C to HDMI dock to the device, and you can either mirror the displays, or extend the desktop. I don’t have such dock, and GeekBuying did not seem interested in sending me one, so I did not test that part, but it’s something to keep in mind. [Update: I’ve tested it with Dodocool DC30S USB Type C work, and it works, except for “display different content for double screen”, it will just mirror the screen]

I could still go to the HDMI section, and configure video output up to 4096×2160 @ 60 Hz. What I found out is that the system will not keep the setting, and it will just jump aroud 4K @ 30 Hz, 1080p60 or 720p60 between reboots. The Sound & Notification section does not include “Sound Devices Manager”, so you can’t enable audio pass-through, so if you want to do that you’d have to use the blue “Settings” app instead. The settings do not have any options for CEC or HDR, with the latter not supported by the hardware.

The screenshot above was taken at the end of the review, and I still had plenty of space out of the 26.74GB partition. USB3_NTFS is the NTFS partition of my four partitions USB drive, meaning exFAT, EXT-4 and BTRFS file systems are not supported. “USB Drive” is actually the SATA drive, and is a misnomer as the hardware implementation relies on a PCIe to SATA bridge. In case you planed to use the device as a mini PC connected to your printer, you may want to know Printing settings are missing.

The About section shows the device name is indeed VORKE Z3, and it runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.4.166 with the Android security patch dated August 2016. The build machine’s hostname is sunchip-CS24-TY, so it’s quite possible Sunchip is being the software and hardware design. Two versions of the firmware are available with either root or no root, so you could install the one you prefer using AndroidTool (Windows) or upgrade_tool (Linux).

The IR remote control is pretty basic, and I assume most people will used the own input device be it a an air mouse or the smartphone app. It did the job but only up to 4 meters, farther than this, and some key presses will be missed. I had no troubles installing apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground stores.

It’s not possible to cleanly power off the device with the remote control, only the mechanical switch on the back can do this, so instead you can only go in or out of standby.  I measured the power consumption with or without SATA and/or USB hard drive(s) attached in power off, standby, and idle modes:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 5.1 Watts
  • Idle – 5.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 8.1 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 9.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 10.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 11.2 Watts

After playing a 2-hour H.264 video in Kodi, I measured maximum temperatures of 37 and 40°C on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer, but the temperature felt a little higher than that when touching the surface with my hand, maybe it’s made of a material that interferes with measurements. After playing Riptide GP2 for around 15 minutes, the temperatures went up a little to 39 and 42°C, and gameplay was OK overtime, but only similar to what I experience on Yundoo Y8 or Amlogic S912 TV Boxes, and not as smooth as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. CPU-Z always reports 26 °C, so it’s not usable as an alternative temperature measure. I also noticed the box got quite hot (44 °C with IR thermometer) when I turned off the display, and let the UI in the launcher doing nothing. I did not notice any sharp drop in performance during use, but thermal throttling is happening as we’ll see in the Benchmark section.

I like the SATA port and USB type C port supporting data and video in Vorke Z3, and I found the firmware to be rather stable and very responsive. However, there are many small issues like no clean power off, HDMI setting is not remembered properly, so settings like Printing, CEC, Audio device, and automatic frame rate switching are missing from the main Setting app. The IR remote control does not feel very good either, and range was rather short.

Kodi & RKMC Video Playback, DRM Info, and YouTube

Kodi is not installed so I went to the Google Play store to install Kodi 17.3, and naively expected most videos to play fine. Those are my results for 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Stays in UI
  • 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) – Stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • 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) – Stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – First try: Kodi hangs; Second try: ~2fps + artifacts (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

Wow… I don’t think I can remember any platform that failed that badly. But I usually use the pre-installed Kodi app, which in this case was missing, so maybe that’s why. I’ll give up on Kodi 17.3 for now, but I remember somebody mentioned RKMC 16.1 would work better on Rockchip device. I did some research, and installed RKMC in the box. I made some mistake doing so, reinstalled the firmware and lost all my screenshots in the process. So maybe sure you backup any files before messing with the system partition or config files.

But what about the results with RKMC and my 4K videos samples?:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  Crash
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Crash
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI + hang
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Crash
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI + hang
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Crash
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI + audio
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI + audio
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK (hardware decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

So H.265 video won’t play, VP9 will, but are unwatchable with software decode, and only H.264 videos are playing relatively well.

I got more insights in my RKMC post with Superceleron commenting:

Well don’t expect miracles, besides that is a old kodi fork dont have python 2.7 and it have subtitles security flaw.
On my tests, on A7 version of rk sdk use kodi 18 nightly it will play ok almost all codecs. (i just made a custom rom for A95X-R2 so i know it plays it ok)
On A6 forget it, i had to make some mix custom roms to make it work with FTMC.. it now plays almost all codecs (it crashes with RKCodec on H264 10bits, but mediacodec play ok but max 720p)
Rockchip never learns….

and

Yes need to wait for it, or simple try one of my roms for 3399 like for the Yundoo Y8 or H96 Max.
It will work lot better than stock, i fixed the play of VP9 in Hw in FTMC but still crash in H264 10bits, and cant play Youtube 4k due to codec issue!

So at this stage, I’d recommend not to buy any Rockchip RK3399 TV box if you want to play videos in Kodi, and wait for Android 7.1 firmware which is expected sometimes in the next few weeks or months. If you already have one, and/or are ready to waste some time, you could try TVMC that works somewhat in Yundoo Y8, or use one of the aforementioned ROMs on Freaktab.

I’ll skip video testing in this review, and if time permits perform tests again once Android 7.1 firmware and Kodi 18.0 are released.

Click to Enlarge

I still checked DRM info, and there’s no DRM support at all, except for something called CENC ClearKey.

YouTube worked well for me up to 1080p. Video is rendered to the framebuffer (I can take screenshot of it), which should explain the resolution limitation, and mean that it’s likely using software decode.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

As I connected to my 802.11ac router, I noticed the Link Speed was 526 Mbps when I checked, so better than the usual 433 Mbps you get on most other devices.

I first tested WiFi 802.11ac throughput by transferring a 278MB file beetween SAMBA and the internal flash and vice versa using ES File Explorer. There’s again a serious problem with SAMBA implementation, as download speed was fairly good @ 3.00 MB/s, but upload speed drop to 1.06 MB/s only, leading to a well below average average speed.

Throughput in MB/s

But iperf tests below show 802.11ac performance is actually quite good in both directions, so the real problem is with SAMBA implementation/configuration in the firmware.

WiFi 802.11ac upload:

WiFi 802.11ac download:

I repeated the SAMBA test with a larger 885 MB file over Gigabit Ethernet, and I confirmed the same issue as it took 49 seconds to upload the file from the server, and 1 minute and 52 seconds to upload the file.

I also run iperf again for Gigabit Ethernet using full duplex option:

I was expecting higher numbers, but those values will be good enough for most people.

Storage Performance

I used A1SD Bench to evaluate sequential performance of internal storage, USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces.

Click to Enlarge

In theory, the Samsung eMMC flash used is very good, and results from the benchmark confirm this with 157.63 MB/s read speed, and 124.80 MB/s write speed. That’s the best performance I’ve ever gotten from an Android device.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Sure enough, I never had troubles with “app is not responding” or app beings slow to load.

USB 3.0 and SATA performance is also pretty solid, especially sequential read speed. Write speed was actually 100 MB/s the first time I tried with SATA, but after I had to reinstall the firmware, I never managed to get back to that result with the speed limited to around 72 MB/s.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Nevertheless, results are fairly good, and SATA should provide a little more performance than USB 3.0.

Vorke Z3 Benchmark & System Info

CPU-Z reports a dual cluster “RK3066” processor with two Cortex A72 cores @ 1.99 GHz, and four Cortex A53 cores @ 1.51 GHz, and an ARM Mali-T860 GPU.

Click to Enlarge

VORKE Z3 (rk3399_box) uses a 1920×1080 framebuffer resolution, comes with 3878MB total RAM (the rest being used by hardware buffers), and 26.74 GB interface storage.

Antutu 6.x score varies a lot between 69k and 78k due to thermal throttling. But if I run the benchmark right after boot, I get the result below, roughly the same as Yundoo Y8 one (76,819 points).

Vellamo 2.x results would also varies due to thermal throttling, but also because for some reasons SunSpider test would fail to run from time to time, as shown by the yellow mark on the first Chrome Browser test.
For some reasons, Chrome Browser result is much lower (4,512) compared to the 5,275 points I got with Yundoo Y8, but Multicore (2,587 vs 2,492) and Metal (2,311 vs 2,332) results are roughly the same.

3DMark’s Ice Storm Extreme results was also slightly lower with 9,726 points compared to 9,906 points for Yundoo Y8.

Click to Enlarge

At one point I only got 6,7xx points, but it was not because of overheating, and was instead due to the system randomly changing resolution and refresh rate, with the video output set to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz at the time, limiting the framerate to 30 fps max.

Conclusion

I did not have the best experience with Vorke Z3 due to my struggle with Kodi and RKMC, and various smaller issues like HDMI output resolution & framerate randomly changing between reboots, lack of proper power off mode, some overheating, etc… But there are also some positives like excellent internal storage performance, good USB 3.0 and SATA performance, a USB type C port supporting data, and video output, and very good WiFi performance, so I’m hoping the upcoming Android 7.1 Nougat firmware will greatly improve the device usefulness.

PROS

  • Good overall performance and stable firmware
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV box
  • Fast USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces for external storage
  • Very good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • USB type C port with support for data and video output (via an external dock).
  • OTA firmware update appears to be supported

CONS

  • The device is unusable with Kodi 17.3, or RKMC with most videos failing to play properly
  • Overheating leading to CPU / GPU throttling (The performance degradation is noticeable in benchmarks, but I have not really experienced it during normal use after playing a 2-hour video, or playing games for 15 minutes)
  • HDMI video output setting is not properly remembered, and it may be 720p, 4K30, 1080p60 at next boot.
  • No clean power off mode (mechanical switch only)
  • Only NTFS and FAT32 files systems are supported, no EXT-4, no exFAT
  • Lack of DRM support
  • Poor upload speed to SAMBA server

GeekBuying sent the device for review, and in case you are interested you could buy Vorke Z3 for $149.99 shipped with VORKEZ3F coupon on their website. You’ll also find the device from various sellers on Aliexpress.

A95X R2 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.1, Video & Audio Tests, and Benchmarks

June 26th, 2017 9 comments

In the first part of A95X R2 Rockchip RK3328 TV box review, I listed the specifications of the device, took a few photos, and reported about the chip used in the PCBA. I’ve now had time to play with the box, so I can report about my experience with Android 7.1, video & audio capabilities, and the performance of the device in the second part of the review.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port of the box, a USB keyboard to one of the USB port to take screenshots, and a USB hub with the RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad in the remaining USB 2.0 port. I completed the hardware setup with Ethernet and HDMI cables, as well as the power supply.

Click to Enlarge

I then pressed the power button on the unit to start it up, the front panel display showed a “Boot” string, and the box booted to recovery mode automatically.

I remember I had a “update.zip” file  for U5 PVR Deluxe in my USB hard drive, so maybe that was the issue. So I deleted it, and it can boot normally now most of the time, as sometimes it will still go into recovery mode, maybe a power issue since the 5V/2A adapter is just on the limit… So the only way to reliable boot the device is to remove the USB hard drive during boot. A typical boot is very fast, as it only takes about 19 seconds, faster than all devices I’ve reviewed so far.

Click for Original Size

It’s the first time I see this launcher, but the features are pretty standard with status icons, weather, date & time on the top, some shortcuts to the Play Store, web Browser, File Explorer, App list…., and a bottom row with customizable shortcuts. The HELP icon redirects to www.tvboxceo.com with a Q&A and Solutions sections explaining how to solve some common problems (e.g. how to install adult add-ons….), and download apps like TVMC (Kodi fork), Add-ons, Plex, Netflix, etc… Note that the resolution is only 1280×720, instead of 1920×1080 on most devices.

Click to Enlarge

Clicking on Settings will bring a right panels with various options, instead of starting it full screen. The settings are pretty standard with Network for WiFi and Ethernet, Sound including Audio device to select Default Output, Spdif passthrough, or HDMI bitstream, Display to select resolution from 720x480p-60 to 4096x2160p-60(YCbCr420), and other typical settings you’d normally find in Android.  What’s missing however are settings for HDMI CEC, HDR, and automatic frame rate switching that you’d normally find in (Amlogic) TV boxes.

Click to Enlarge

The box could detect EXT-4 and NTFS partitions in my hard drive, albeit with a wrong 32GB total size instead of around 250 MB, meaning BTRFS and exFAT are not supported. The Internal storage is reported to be 8.0 GB, but the actual available space is 4.7 GB before installing apps. The About Section shows A95x_R2 device runs Android 7.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.104 with the latest Android security patch level dated February 5, 2017. The device is rooted, and OTA firmware appears to be working, but I could not confirm since I did not get any firmware update.

The box comes with Google Play for TVs, but search is not working as the search field will disappear about 2 seconds after you enable it, so I could only install some apps from the Top Free section like ES File Explorer File Manager, and Beach Buggy Blitz.

Instead I reverted to APKPure to install most apps, including Amazon Underground, which I then used to install the free version of Riptide GP2.

Click to Enlarge

The screenshot above is after I installed APKPure, Antutu and CPU-Z, but it shows few apps are pre-installed, and Kodi is even missing from the list. However, when I tried to install Kodi from APKPure, it showed it was already installed, and I could only open it with started TVMC 16.1, but more on that latter.

The Setup Wizard app will allow you to run some basic configuration like language, overscan adjustment, and networking. It was not triggered during the first boot for me.

The status bar can be hidden or shown are you prefer, and includes volume, Android buttons, and a screenshot button.

I tested the IR remote control, which worked reliably up to 7 meters, and further than that I started to experience key misses. IR learning function is also working. As usual, I spent most of the time using MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse instead since it’s so much more convenient in Android.

Power handling works a little differently than most TV boxes. The only way to turn on the device after you connect the power is to press the power button on the unit, but if your turn off the box with the remote control, it’s possible to turn it back on with either the remote control or the power button on the device. A short press on the remote control’s power button will put the box in standby mode, while a long press will show a menu to either power off or restart the device.

I’ve measured power consumption with and without USB 3.0 hard drive , and differentiated between “hard” power off (connected power supply, but not started), and soft power off (power off from remote control):

  • Hard power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Soft power off – 1.0 Watt
  • Standby – 1.0 Watt
  • Idle – ~4.0 Watts
  • Hard power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Soft power off + USB HDD – ~4.0 Watts
  • Standby + USB HDD – ~4.0 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – ~5.3 Watts

Soft power off mode is pretty much useless, as it consumes just as much as standby mode, and you need to go through the full boot sequence. If you want to properly turn off the device, you’ll need to press the button on the unit for about five seconds, release it, and you’ll see the “power off” sequence like you would on your phone. Power consumption will be zero watt in that case.

A95X R2 box is not super cool during use, but I have not noticed obvious CPU throttling during use. After playing a 2-hour video in Kodi / TVMC, the temperature measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device was 49 and 54 °C respectively, and after playing Riptide GP2 for over 15 minutes, it went up to 50 and 57 °C. I also checked the temperature reported by CPU-Z after both test: 82.3 and 89.2 °C, so it looks to be on the limit. Gamin performance in Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 was very good, even with maximum settings, but it was certainly helped with the 1280×720 resolution.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather mixed as beside the first boot into recovery, a 720p user interface, and an unusable Google Play, I also had many “App isn’t responding window” due to the slow storage. The box basically comes to a halt when an app is being installed/updated in the background, so that’s certainly a major downside for the box, especially when it does so in the background while you are using another program.

Video & Audio Playback in TVMC, DRM Info, and YouTube

TVMC 16.1, a fork of Kodi 16.1, is installed the box. However, by default, no icon is shown. I first found the app via APKPure, as when I search for Kodi, I could not install it, instead I was offered to Open it, and TVMC was launched.

Click for Original Size

If you want easy access to TVMC icon, install it via the HELP section of the main launched. I enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi/TVMC, before trying a few videos (Linaro Media Samples) played from a SAMBA share over Ethernet:

  • 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

All good, and to my surprise, automatic frame rate switching also worked just fine, so I played a few more videos, still from SAMBA, unless other stated (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

Still very good, so let’s switch to some 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  SAMBA: Frequent buffering; HDD: OK
  • 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
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 1 to 2 fps (software decode)
  • 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 – Not 100% smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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) – SAMBA: Some audio cuts due to buffering; HDD: 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: perfect.
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Slideshow
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Lots of artifacts (software decode)

We can start to see some “cracks” here, with some 50 to 60 Mbps videos failing to play smoothly over Ethernet + SAMBA, and VP9 hardware decoding not implemented in TVMC despite being supported by the processor (in theory). So I tried again the VP9 videos in FileExplorer, but I was not able to login to the SAMBA share, so I played them from the hard drive instead. It worked, but with large black bars on the bottom, left and right on the screen, and rendered on the framebuffer, meaning 720p instead of 4K.

The option to adjust Zoom/Aspect Ratio is also not available while playing videos in Kodi either.

Click to Enlarge

TVMC has option for audio pass-through for AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS HD, so I tested those over HDMI with Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, as well as stereo output (PCM 2.0) downsampling.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK,
video: 1:1 aspect ratio
Audio OK,
video: 1:1 aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Dolby True HD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X OK DTS HD MSTR 7.1ch B

My AV receiver does not support Dolby Atmos, nor DTS:X, so it correctly falls back to Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master. I’m pleasantly surprise here again. Note that the first time, I had some background noise for all pass-through options, but once I enabled HDMI BitStream in Android settings, and restarted TVMC, everything worked fine.

Playing Blu-Ray ISOs would often results in TVMC crashing, and when working AMAT.iso would play very very slowly, while Sintel.iso would play just fine. MPEG2 1080i videos & 720p/1080p Hi10p videos played perfectly well. That makes A95X R2 the very first TV box I own capable of handling all three Hi10p (10-bit H.264) videos samples I own at 720p, 1080p, and 4K resolution with video, audio, and subtitles working.

The box could also decode SBS and over/under 3D videos, but I could not confirm whether 3D is supported since my TV is not 3D capable. Various MKV, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, VOB/IFO, and FLV videos could play, and the TV box passed the reliability test with a 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie played over a SAMBA share. So while the Android performance is quite poor due to the slow storage, the video & audio capabilities are not too bad. The only problem is that at the end of the review, TVMC started crashing each time I played a video, and I could not fix it even after clearing cache and data….

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DRM Info app shows Google Widevine Level 3 is supported, meaning premium apps like Netflix won’t be able to support HD or UHD video playback.

YouTube works, but can only play videos up to 720p (1280×720) resolution likely before the framebuffer is set to that resolution. The video are also rendered to the framebuffer, instead of the hardware video buffer, as I could take screenshots with the video, something that is not supposed to be possible when playing video on the hardware video buffer.

Networking & Storage Performance

A95X R2 is limited to 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, so that’s what I tested by copying a 278MB file between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. I could transfer that file at 3.2MB/s on average, a very good results on this type of connection.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I also used iperf -t 60 -c ip_server to test raw speeds.

  • WiFi upload:

  • WiFi download:

and results are again pretty good. I also quickly tested Fast Ethernet using full duplex transfer, and the bandwidth was maxed out in both directions:

I won’t test Bluetooth with this device, simply because it does not support it.

Switching to A1SD bench app for storage performance, I can confirm the cheap Samsung eMMC flash used in the device has poor write speed (6.46 MB/s), and read speed (71.14MB/s) should be ignored due to cached read. That flash is the reason of some of the very poor performance with the TV box at times, especially when write operation (e.g. installing/updating app) occur in the background.

USB 3.0 performance is however impressive with 100.25 MB/s and 80.21 MB/s read and write speed on the NTFS partition, and 94.52 MB/s and 90.73 MB/s on the EXT-4 partition.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The performance is excellent, and is close to the performance I got on my main computer with that drive. That’s very promising for other RK3328 hardware platforms, as sadly A95X R2 is bottlenecked by the Fast Ethernet connection.

A95X R2 TV Box / Rockchip RK3328 Benchmarks and System Info

CPU-Z reports a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 408 MHz to 1.51 GHz with an ARM Mali-450MP GPU. The model is A95x_R2 (A95x_R2_8189), probably meaning there may be other models with a different WiFi module, and as mentioned previously the “screen resolution” is limited to 1280×720. 990 MB of total RAM is available to the system, and 5.27 GB of internal storage.

Click to Enlarge

A95X R2 scores 33,117 points in Antutu 6.x , or about the same as TV boxes with Amlogic S905X, which should be expected, as both processors have similar features, except RK3328 has one less GPU cores. This is mitigated by the 1280×720 UI instead of 1920×1080. If the developer had chosen the latter, the score should have been a little lower.

Vellamo 3.x also reports similar scores with 1,943 point for Chrome Browser test, 1,464 points for Multicore (one test failed), and 937 for the Metal score, against 1,855 points for Browser test (note: not Chrome), 1,491 points for multicore, and 910 for Metal for an Amlogic S905X TV box

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme v1.2 reveals the weakness of the CPU with just 2,252 points, against 4,183 points on Amlogic S905X processor.

Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

My review of A95X R2 did not start so well with boot problems when connecting a USB hard drive (using a beefier power supply may help), and frequent sluggishness and app is not responding pop-up windows appearing. However, video and audio playback are quite well support with automatic frame rate switching and HD audio pass-through working well. USB 3.0 performance is excellent, and I was also pleased with WiFi performance.

PROS

  • Latest Android 7.1.1 Nougat firmware
  • Good 4K video & audio support in TVMC (Kodi’s fork) with automatic frame rate switching and HD audio pass-through working for DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD
  • Very good WiFi performance and stability (for a device limited to 802.11n)
  • Excellent USB 3.0 storage performance similar to what I get on my main computer
  • NTFS, EXT-4, and FAT32 file systems supported
  • Pretty design with compact box and front panel LCD display
  • Fast boot (< 20 seconds)
  • OTA firmware update likely supported (but not tested, since no new firmware)

CONS

  • Slow eMMC flash leading to sluggishness, and poor performance at times
  • Connecting a USB 3.0 hard drive may lead to booting into recovery (random issue)
  • Google Play is not usable, due to non-accessible search function
  • TVMC/Kodi issues – no zoom option during playback, VP9 hardware decoding not working, random crash when starting to play Blu-ray ISO’s, failed to play any videos at the end of review
  • YouTube limited to 720p (due to 1280×720 UI)
  • No visible options for HDR, HDMI CEC, Deep Color, etc…
  • No Bluetooth support
  • DRM limited to Widevine Level 3

It’s hard to recommend A95X R2 TV box due to the serious cons, but I find Rockchip RK3328 good be a good base on hardware with a faster eMMC flash, and Gigabit Ethernet, even potentially suitable for a NAS + TV Box combo due to the excellent USB 3.0 storage performance.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing a sample for review. If you are still interested, you could purchase A95X R2 for $32.99 including shipping using GBA95XR2 coupon. The TV box can also be found on Banggood, GeekBuying, and Aliexpress for just under $40.

Imagination PowerVR “Furian” Series8XT GT8525 GPU Targets High-end Smartphones, Virtual Reality and Automotive Products

May 11th, 2017 No comments

Imagination Technologies has unveiled their first GPU based on PowerVR Furian architecture with Series8XT GT8525 GPU equipped with two clusters and designed for SoCs going to into products such as high-end smartphones and tablets, mid-range dedicated VR and AR devices, and mid- to high-end automotive infotainment and ADAS systems.

Block Diagram for PowerVR Furian GT8525 GPU – Click to Enlarge

The Furian architecture is said to allow for improvements in performance density, GPU efficiency, and system efficiency, features a new 32-wide ALU cluster design, and can be manufactured using sub-14nm (e.g. 7nm process once available). PowerVR GT8525 GPU supports compute APIs such as OpenCL 2.0, Vulkan 1.0 and OpenVX 1.1.

Compared to the previous Series7XT GPU family, Series8XT GT8525 GPU delivers 80% higher fps in Trex benchmark, an extra 50% fps in GFXbench Manhattan benchmark, 50% higher fps in Antutu, doubles the fillrate throughput for GUI, and increases GFLOPs for compute applications by over 50%.

GT8525 GPU is available for licensing now, and has already been delivered to lead customers. More details should eventually surface on PowerVR Series8XT Core page.

Yundoo Y8 Rockchip RK3399 mini PC Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, Audio & Video Playback in Kodi

May 2nd, 2017 14 comments

Yundoo Y8 is one of the first Android TV boxes / mini PCs powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor to be launched. GearBest sent me a review sample, and since I’ve already taken it apart in the first part of the review, I’ll report my experience with the firmware in terms of stability and performance, as well as audio & video capabilities with TVMC (Kodi fork), and more.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I’ve first connected a few peripherals Seagate USB 3.0 drive to the USB port, a USB keyboard to one of the USB 2.0 port, and a USB hub to the other one with two USB RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad.

After adding Ethernet and HDMI cable, I pressed the power button on the unit to start it up. Please note that the remote control cannot turn on the box, so if you are comfortably seated in your sofa or lying down on your bed, you’d need to get to turn it on. The remote control can still be used to enter and get out of standby mode. A typical boot takes just around 20 seconds, and it’s one of the fastest boot I’ve seen on TV boxes.

Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The launcher shows the time, networking and USB status icon, and weather forecast on the very top, and includes 5 sections with Home, Recommend, Online, Local, And Settings. The Home section has eight icon: TVMC media center (for of Kodi), YouTube (TV version), File Manager, Browser, TV store, K-Addons, Netflix, and Apps. The other three sections lists some pre-installed apps.

I’ve quickly tried the TV Store, and beside apps that can be found in Google Play, it also comes with some other extra apps, notably some IPTV apps that may or may not be legal in your country.

Click to Enlarge

I clicked on the Video icon to get a list of 44 apps as shown below.

The Settings section in the launcher gives access to four icons: “Settings”, “Weather” allowing you to input your city name, “Others” to change the “Theme ” (launcher colors) / enable touch sound, and Systeminfo.

The latter shows YUNDOO-Y8 model runs Android 6.0.1, and comes with 4GB memory, 32GB storage. The MAC address starts with “ac:83:f3” which looks up to “AMPAK Technology, Inc.”, so that’s the WiFi module MAC address….
The Settings menu looks familiar, as it’s just a colorized version of the Settings app found in Amlogic TV boxes.

Click to Enlarge

Some of the settings include:

  • Network – WiFi or Ethernet configuration
  • Bluetooth
  • Display – Day Dream, Calibration, and More Settings. Not that none of those allow you to change video output resolution.
  • System sounds – On/Off
  • Date & Time
  • Language
  • More Settings – Access to Android Marshmallow

Apart from Network to configure Ethernet or WiFi, Date & Time, and potentially Language, the rest of the settings are not really useful, or redirect to Android Marshmallow Settings.

Click to Enlarge

Notably, you’ll to select Display Output option there to change the HDMI resolution. My box was setup to 720p60 by default, but I had no problems changing it to 3840x2160p-60 (YCbCr420).

Click to Enlarge

Here’s the full list of options per resolution:

  • Auto
  • 4096x2160p 60 (YCbCr420)/ 50 (YCbCr420) / 30 / 25 / 24
  • 3840x2160p 60 (YCbCr420)/ 50 (YCbCr420) / 30 / 25 / 24
  • 1920x1080p 60/50/25/24
  • 1920x1080i 60/50
  • 1360x768p 60
  • 1280x720p 60/50
  • 1024x768p-60
  • 800x600p-60
  • 720x576p-50, 720x576i-50
  • 720x480p-60

My TV does not support YCrCr444 @ 50/60 using 4K resolutions, but if your TV does, you may have a few extra options (TBC).

PCM audio output, and HDMI / optical S/PDIF audio pass-through can be configured by going to Sound & notifications, and scrolling down there until Sound Devices Manager.

But I would not even bother since it does not work at all, as we’ll see in the audio & video section of the review.

Other options found in most other recent TV boxes but missing in Yundoo Y8 are “HDR” (normal as not supported by hardware), automatic frame rate switching, and Printing.

Click to Enlarge

The TV box has plenty of storage with 27.50 GB partition. The system could only recognize the NTFS partition in my hardware, no exFAT, no EXT-4 support.

The About section shows the Android firmware relies on Linux 4.4.16, and the Android security patch level is dated August 5, 2016. The firmware is rooted by default. Wireless Update app appears to connect to an update server, but I could not verify if it is working, as the company did not provide an update to “yundoo_y8-userdebug 6.0.1 MXC89L user:arron.20170328.133704 test-keys” firmware I’ve been using for the review. The “firmware update” crashes several times again while running in the background, which pops up a window from time to time.

I tested the IR remote control up to 10 meters away, and it worked without issues. I also no trouble using the IR learning function to register my TV remote control’s power button. The big downside has mentioned previously is that you can’t turn on the box with the remote control, only with the power button.

I could install all apps I needed for review via Google Play and Amazon Underground stores.

Beside not being able to turn on the device with the remote control, power handling is implemented properly. You can go into and out of standby with a short press of the remote control’s power key, and a long press will show a menu with Power off and reboot options. I measured power consumption with or without a USB hard drive attached in power off, standby, and idle modes:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 3.0 Watts
  • Idle – 4 to 4.3 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 5.2 Watts with HDD LED on.
  • Idle + USB HDD – 6.0 Watts

I did not notice any obvious throttling during use, and after playing a 2-hour video in TVMC, I measured maximum temperatures of 52 and 51°C on the top and bottom of the case respectively with an IR thermometer. After playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes, the temperatures were 49 and 55°C. CPU-Z did not report a realistic value for the thermal sensor (26 °C).

Overall Yundoo Y8 left me with a positive impression at first with very good performance, fast boot times, and good stability. The main disappointment was the inability to turn on the box with the remote control, and to a lesser extend, I found the firmware update app crashing a few times a day a bit annoying, and the settings are not user-friendly, and missing a few parts that you’d normally take for granted like Printing support, and automatic frame rate switching.

Audio & Video Playback in TVMC (Kodi fork), DRM Info

TVMC media center is a fork of Kodi 16.1.

Click for Original Size

I played all videos from a SAMBA share over Gigabit Ethernet, unless otherwise noted.

Starting with some Linaro media samples and Elecard H.265 samples :

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Not bad, and all videos were played with RKCodec, meaning hardware video decoding. Automatic frame rate switching is not working, so you can’t expect perfectly fluid videos for 24 fps videos unless you manually change the resolution.

I tested videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MSMPEG4vs – 10 Mbps) – OK (software decode)
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Audio supports looks promising when we look at Audio output settings in TVMC with TrueHD and DTS-HD part of the options.

Click for Original Size

However, the actual results clearly show the mini PC is not capable of leveraging any AV receiver or amplifier you may have, and now it’s only suitable for stereo audio.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(TVMC)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Video & Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
HDMI Pass-through
(Video & Video Player app)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, video 1:1 aspect ratio Audio OK, video 1:1 aspect ratio No audio, video 1:1 aspect ratio. No audio, video 1:1 aspect ratio.
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK No audio No audio
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK No audio Loud noise (like helicopter)
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK No audio Loud noise
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio Loud noise
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio No audio Loud noise
DTS HD Master OK OK No audio Loud noise
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio No audio
DTS:X OK OK No audio Loud noise (never ending flatulence)

4K videos fare better, although more work is needed:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Watchable, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but could be a little smoother
  • 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, 24 fps) – Plays, but not that smooth
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Very low frame rate (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video somewhat plays but with a large audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by RK3399 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 (hardware decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – SAMBA: Not 100% smooth; USB hard drive playback: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Not smooth at all, massive artifacts
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Not smooth at all, massive artifacts

Several videos are not quite as fluid as they could be, but a good point if 4K H.264 Hi10p video support, that the vast majority of other hardware platforms cannot handle. TVMC does not support VP9 hardware decoding, so I played the videos in Video Player instead:

  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • 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, and one of the best playback experience I’ve had with that video, although I’ve still noticed a few tiny slowdowns at times.

Sintel Blu-Ray ISO file could play fairly well. AMAT ISO blu-ray file started in the menu, and I could start playing the video, but for whatever reason audio switches quickly and repeatedly between the AC3 and TrueHD audio track, so I did not get any audio at all. Other videos with multiple audio tracks did not have this issue.

Two 1080i MPEG-2 video could play just fine. Since I was pleasantly surprised to see 4K 10-bit H.264 video playback working, I was hopefully with lower resolution videos, but I did not turn out that way.

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Crashes TVMC app (tried 3 times).

I’m assuming RK3399 VPU does not like “16 ref” in the 1080p video.  I tried to disable hardware acceleration in the settings, but RKcodec seems to be hard-coded in the app, so it did not change anything. If I play Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu video with “Video Player” app, all I get is a still image with the audio playing in the background for a while. I installed MX Player to work around the issue. I enabled the SW decoder in the app, and Rockchip RK3399 CPU was powerful enough to play the 1080p hi10p video smoothly with video, audio, and subtitles. In an ideal world, TVMC should detect if a video has a problem, and automatically fallback to software decoding…

I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decoded as LG 42UB820T – the TV I use for review – does not support 3D:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Playing with lots of artifact (No dual 4K decoder required for 3D 4K in RK3399).
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

I completed TVMC/Kodi testing by playing full length movies with various container/codec combinations such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, and DivX, and all played. The 2-hour video test also completed with any issues. You’ll find all samples mentioned above in the video samples post.

Both YouTube TV and YouTube Mobile apps are installed, and both work very well, as long as you close your eyes. If you happen to open your eyes by mistake, you’ll find out videos are all played at around 10 to 15 fps. So YouTube is not really usable to play videos with the current firmware..

DRM Info shows no DRM is supported whatsoever.

Click to Enlarge

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve already tested Gigabit Ethernet in RK3399 benchmarks post with iperf, and performance is excellent (881 Mbps upload, 939 Mbps download). But I’ve repeated the test to copy a 885 MB file from SAMBA to the flash and vice versa. The average file copy transfer rate is 11.57 MB/s, but there’s a big difference between download speed (18.06 MB/s) and upload speed (8.5 MB/s). So I guess there may be a problem with SAMBA in Android 6.0 since it happens with other boxes with this operating system too.

Throughput in MB/S – Click to Enlarge

I repeated the test with a a 278MB file using ES File Explorer to test 802.11ac WiFi performance. Average: 1.6 MB/s; download:  3.2 MB/s; upload: 1.09 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

It does not look too good on the chart, but the main problem here appears to be related to SAMBA performance, and iperf shows about the same 802.11 WiFi performance in either direction.

WiFi download:

WiFi upload:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I manage to pair Yundoo Y8, shown as “TV Box”, with my Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, but only from the smartphone, as originating pairing from  the TV box would lead to an “Invalid key” error. Once pairing was successful, I could transfer three photos from my phone to the box over Bluetooth. I used  X1T bluetooth earbuds to listen to audio while watching some YouTube videos (@ 10 fps), and managed to get my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone working with Sixaxis app.

Storage

As we’ve previously seen, file systems support is limited to NTFS, and FAT32.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT Not mounted Not mounted
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

Storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and performance on the NTFS partition of my USB 3.0 hard drive was very good @ about 95 MB/s for sequential reads, and 54 MB/s for sequential writes.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The internal storage did not work so well because of a cache read, but for reference the values were: 147.17 MB/s for seq. read, and 49.32 MB/s for seq. write. Nevertheless, the 32GB used in the TV box has pretty good performance  – despite being the lowest end 32GB eMMC flash from Samsung -, and I did not notice any slowdowns and the dreaded “app is not responding” window during use. If you purchase Yundoo Y8 with a 16GB flash expect lower storage performance, but I’m not convinced it would lower the performance much.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I still included the device in the chart above, but keep in mind that the blue (Read) should be shorter than on the chart.

Gaming

Beside getting two fast ARM Cortex A72 cores, Rockchip RK3399 SoC also comes with Mali-T760MP4 GPU that’s almost twice as fast as the most popular TV box solutions such as Amlogic S912. I’ve started with easy game to check there was no bug in that early hardware, and Candy Crush Saga & Beach Buggy Racing easily passed the test, with the latter playing very smoothly even with maximum graphics settings. But even other platforms can manage that. So I switched to Riptide GP2, and to my surprise performance, in terms of frame per second, did not feel any better than on lower end TV boxes, although I could see a few more details, like crowds, in the game. That’s a different result compared to Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced with Mediatek MT8693 Cortex A72/A53 processor + PowerVR GX6250 GPU, where I experienced both better quality/more details, and a much higher frame rate. 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme benchmark results are quite similar in both platforms (9,xxx points), so I wonder if this could be software problems, or possibly to game added too many details on that processor. I also switched video output from 4K to 1080p, but it did not make any difference.

I played Riptide GP2 for over 15 minutes, and performance was stable and constant throughout.

Yundoo Y8 Benchmarks

I’ve already run several benchmarks, and invite you to read “Yundoo Y8 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box System Info and Benchmarks” for details.

Conclusion

Yundoo Y8 mini PC works reasonably well, and you’ll get a boost in performance while doing tasks like web browsing. 3D graphics performance looks very good in benchmark, but somehow it did not translate into better performance in the games I’ve tried. Storage (both USB 3.0 + internal), and networking performance (WiFi + Gigabit Ethernet) are all very good, so we have a good hardware base here. People mostly wanting a TV box to play videos may be disappointed, as it may not be worth to pay extra, as while most videos are playing in TVMC (Kodi 16.1 fork), features like automatic frame rate switching and audio pass-through are not working at all, and the hardware does not come with HDR support.

PROS

  • Powerful hardware with firmware relatively stable and responsive at this early stage
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4096x2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported
  • 10-bit H.265 and 10-bit H.264 (hi10p) video supported in TVMC up to 4K resolutions. 4K VP9 well supported in Video Player app.
  • Excellent networking performance for Gigabit Ethernet, and good 802.11ac WiFi performance
  • USB 3.0 storage delivers the expected performance
  • Fast internal storage (32GB version) lead to fast boot and app loading times
  • Good 3D graphics performance as reported in benchmarks
  • Power implementation is OK: 0 watt in power off mode; off/reboot/standby selection possible.
  • OTA firmware update appears to have been implemented (but not used in the first released of the firmware on March 28th)

CONS (and bugs)

  • TVMC/Kodi issues
    • no support for automatic frame rate switching
    • audio pass-through does not work at all
    • VP9 HW decode is not supported
    • Some videos are not as smooth as usual
    • no zoom option while playing videos.
  • Audio pass-through does not work in other video apps either (after enabling HDMI bitstream)
  • YouTube (TV & Mobile) apps can not play any video smoothly (maybe ~10 fps)
  • The remote control cannot be used to turn on the TV box
  • 3D graphics performance in games not as good as expected (compared to Mi Box 3 Enhanced).
  • System Update app crashes several times a time
  • Settings – Settings App lacks options, so we need to go to Android Settings to set HDMI output, Audio device, etc… Printing option is also gone.
  • Some potential issues with SAMBA performance, especially upload.

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending a sample for review, and you could purchase the mini PC on their website for $109.99 with coupon GBYDY8, or $90 with coupon GBYDY816 for the 2GB/16GB version. I could not find other websites with the device.