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Xiaomi Mi A1 Smartphone Review – Part 2: Android 7.1.2 Firmware

November 15th, 2017 9 comments

Google recently announced several Android One smartphones, which are supposed to get 2 years of firmware updates, including to the latest version of Android, such as HTC U11 Life and Android One Moto X4. Many of those phones are limited to some specific countries, but Xiaomi Mi A1 will be launched in over 40 countries, and thanks to Chinese online shops is really available worldwide. GearBest sent me the latter last month, and in the first part of Xiaomi Mi A1 review I simply went through unboxing, booted the phone, perform an OTA update, and ran Antutu 6.x on the phone for a quick estimate of performance.

Since then, I’ve had around four weeks to play with the smartphone running Android 7.1.2 (still), so I’m ready to report my experience in the second part of the review.

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General Impressions

In the past year, I used Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone powered by Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core SoC, which in theory is quite faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 used in Mi A1, but in practise, I did not feel much difference in performance for example while browsing the web or checking email, and in some games, performance of Xiaomi Mi A1 was actually much better than on Apollo Lite, as I reported in the post entitled “Mediatek Helio X20 vs Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 – 3D Graphics Benchmarks and CSR 2 Game“.

Some of my wishes in Vernee Apollo Lite included a better camera, and improved GPS accuracy, and Mi A1 is a big improvement for both as we’ll see in more details later on in the review. The build quality of the phone is good, and the design looks more stylish and thinner than my previous phone. The display is clear, and I like the wide brightness range, that is low enough not to hurt eyes in the dark, and high enough to use the phone in sunlight. It’s quite glossy though, so you’ll have reflect especially with black background, and it’s possibly to use it as a mirror without turning it on… I seldom call with my phone, but the couple of times I made or received actual calls, the sound was loud and clear. I spend most of my time browsing the web, checking emails, watching YouTube video, and playing games (mostly CSR 2) on my phone, and do so over WiFi connection, and the phone just works flawlessly for this with good performance, and no overheating (that I could notice) contrary to Vernee Apollo Lite, which does get hot in some cases, and slows down considerably.

I’m also happy about battery life, and with my use case of hour 4 to 5 hours use a day, I can still get around 30 hours on a charge. One of the downside is the lack of fast charging, so I can’t quickly top of the battery for 5 minutes before going out. A full charge takes around 1h30, so still not too bad, and since the battery lasts more than 24 hours, it would be possible to charge every day at the same time to avoid low battery charge while on the go.

The main selling of the phone is being part of Android One program, as you’ll get security updated once or twice a month, as well as bigger Android version updates for two years hopefully up to Android 9 / P.  You do pay a premium for this, so if regular security/firmware updates are not important to you, you’ll get better value with other smartphones.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, I could not find any major flaws so far, so I can safely recommend it especially if having up-to-date firmware (for the next two years) is important to you.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMarks

Here are Antutu 6.x benchmark results for people who have yet to read the first part of the review.

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60,000 points is a decent score for a mid-range phone, but for example quite lower than the 85,840 points I got on Vernee Apollo Lite.

Next up… Vellamo 3.x benchmark. Comparisons are against older phone / Android version, so I should probably drop that benchmark in future reviews…

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Note that I could not run Vellamo with Chrome browser, since it would hang during CSS 3D animation. Firefox mostly worked, except for Pixel Bender test timing out… The number are all much lower than my Vellamo results on Vernee Apollo Lite.

So I also ran GeekBench 4. AFAIK, It’s however limited to CPU performance so it does not really give real world indication like Vellamo’s Browser test for example.

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We can see the single core performance is quite lower than more powerful Cortex A72 “class” processors, but multicore performance is close enough. You can find the full details here.

I also ran 3DMark Ice Store Extreme for evaluation 3D performance further. Vernee Apollo Lite would max out the test, but Xiaomi Mi A1 scored “only” 8,045 points.

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The interested part is that my real-life experience does not match the benchmarks at all, as I found Mi A1 to perform just as well as if not much better in many apps. We’ll find out one potential reason just below.

Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

I ran A1 SD Benchmark app to estimate storage performance of 64 GB eMMC flash, and Xiaomi Mi A1 has by far the best storage I’ve used on any devices.

With sequential read speed of 198.94 MB/s, and a write speed of 192.45 MB/s, the device is in a class of its down. Ideally, random I/O performance should be tested too, but it still gives an indication.

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

Time for some WiFi testing. I did not have any issues, and felt web pages were always loading fast, and YouTube videos played smoothly even at 1080p. But let’s have some numbers to play using SAMBA file copy (278MB) over 802.11ac WiFi  with ES File Explorer, and placing the phone is the same test location as the other DUTs. Just like many recent devices SAMBA “download” is much faster than “upload”:

  • File copy SAMBA to Flash – 47.5s on average (5.85 MB/s)
  • File copy Flash to SAMBA – 2m10s on average (2.13 MB/s)

When we average both numbers, Xiaomi WiFi SAMBA performance is only slightly above average, but still outperformed by some 802.11n devices.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Maybe that’s an Android Nougat bug… In order to have raw numbers, I also used  iperf for both upload and download

  • 802.11ac WiFi upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi download:

Assymetry is gone, and Mi A1 is the best device in that test, but we have less data for comparison…

Throughput in Mbps

The main takeaway is that WiFi is working well, and performance is very good.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Beside being part of Android One program, another key feature of Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone is the dual rear camera with optical zoom.

Rear Camera

So I’ve taken a few shots with the camera, starting with an easy cat shot… The thing that surprised me the most at first was the speed at which the photo is taken. It just happens instantaneously. With older devices, I often had to wait around one second after pressing the button while it was doing the auto-focus and take photos. You can launch the camera app very quickly – without having to unlock your phone – by pressing the power button twice.

“What do you want?” Cat – Click for Original Size

Clear enough for a camera phone. Close up shots are sometimes problematic with phone, but I had pretty good results. The text book shot is close to perfect.

I used to Read that Stuff – Click for Original Size

Development board can be tricky to photograph because the camera can focus on the wrong part (e.g. top of Ethernet/USB connector), But Orange Pi One photo below is fairly good. I had to try a few times to get the right focus.

 

Best.Board.Ever? – Click for Original Size

You can press on the live view to set the focus point. It will help.

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Flower photos were also good with color matching reality.

Local Angel – Click for Original Size

Photos taken with good lighting are always good.

What year is this? Morning Shot – Click for Original Size

The photo above was taken in the morning with the sun in my back.

Dirt Road Genocide at Sunset – Click for Original Size

When it get a little dark, or in shots with different lighting conditions for foreground and background it helps to enable HDR function.

HDR Works in Temples Too – Click for Original Size

Night shots can be a little grainy, but I find they are still pretty good…

Smoking Bear with Pig and Hedgehog overlooked by Confused Panda at Night – Click for Original Size

Now some video testing, starting with the easiest of all 1080p30 day time video.

The video looks fine, but if you’ve watched it with audio, you may have noticed may not be quite right with the microphone/audio.

4K video can be recorded at 30 fps, but it does feel as smooth as the 1080p one while panning.

All videos are recorded using MP4 Quicktime container, H.264 video codec @ 30 fps, and MPEG-4 AAC stereo audio. If you plan to watch 4K videos from the phone on TV, you’ll have to make sure the player supports 4K H.264 @ 30 fps, as some 4K TV boxes are limited to 24 fps.

Slow motion recording is something that I did not have in my previous phone, and it’s working fairly well up to 720p30 (recorded at 120 fps).

Night time videos are the most difficult, and even at 1080p the results are quite poor with the video frame rate at 14 fps, auto focus being seriously confused, and and audio has a metallic component to it, even more than for the video I recorded during day time.

So I tried again to shot a video will taking to myself, and audio was just fine. So I guess the issue may be specific to far field audio or traffic noise.

Font-facing camera

The front-facing camera works pretty well for selfies.

Angel with Bra – Click for Original Size

Golden Necklace Beauty – Click for Original Size

Black “The Boss” – Click for Original Size

I also used it with a one hour long Skype call.

Camera App Settings

Let’s have a look at the camera app interface. In the preview window we have three icons at the top to change flash settings, enable/disable portrait mode (if enabled it will bur the background), and enable/disable HDR.

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If we tap on Options we’ll have the choice to play with Panorama mode, adjust timer and audio settings, set manual camera settings for white balance, exposure time, focus, ISO, lens selection (wide/tele), and more. Tapping the Settings icon on the top right corner will bring further camera settings.

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If you plan to share photos with strangers you may want to disable “Save location info” as otherwise your GPS location will be embedded into the photos’s EXIF info. Face detection is nice, but you may consider disabling “Age & gender”, as it will automatically detect whether a person is male or female, and estimate their age while taking a photo (although it won’t show on the photo itself). I’ve seen the phone misgender people, and age can always be a contentious subject 🙂

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If we switch to video capture we have much fewer options, mostly time-lapse or slow-motion, and we can select video quality (4K, FULL HD, HD, SD).

Battery Life

Xiaomi Mi A1’s ~3,000 mAh baterry provides enough juice for over 30 hours in my use cases (Web browsing / YouTube / Gaming 4 to 5 hours a day). I also like to turn off my phone automatically at night between 22:00 and 7:00, so it adds a little to the battery life too. A typical cycle for charge to charge looks as the one below.

I normally use LAB501 Battery Life app to test battery life from 100% to 15% for browsing, video and gaming cases, with brightness to 50%, WiFi and Cellular (no data) enabled, but for some reasons I cannot explain, the tests would always stop after a few hours – despite several attempts -, not drawing the battery down to 15%.

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However, the battery discharge on this phone, and Vernee Apollo Lite looks linear…

…so I’ll use linear approximation to estimate the actual battery life..

  • Browsing (100% to 15%) – 740 minutes (12h20)
  • Video (100% to 15%) –  598 minutes (9h58)
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) –  389 minutes (6h29)

…and compare it to the other battery powered mobile devices I’ve tested so far.

Battery Life in Minutes

Xiaomi Mi A1 wins hands down against the other (older) devices I’ve tested when it comes to battery life. The good news is that battery life seems to improve over the years, as the older devices fare the worse. So a few more years, and we can get a week of charge on our phones?

Charging is not as fast as on Vernee Apollo Lite since there’s no Quick Charge, and it takes 1h30 to 1h50 to fully charge the phone from 15% to 100%. Topping the battery from a low of 8% to 27% took me 23 minutes. For comparison, I could do a full charge in one hour on Apollo Lite with Quick Pump 3.0, and a 20 minute charge would add about 40% to the battery.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

No problems here. I could transfer photos between the phone and Zidoo H6 Pro Android TV box over Bluetooth, connect two different Bluetooth headsets to the phone, and pair with, and retrieve data from a fitness tracker using Smart Movement app.

GPS

GPS is also an improvement over all the other Mediatek phones I’ve had. GPS fix is super fast like on Vernee Apollo Lite, but while using Nike+ Running, GPS accuracy is much better on the Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, as you can see from the two screenshots below.

Xiaomi Mi A1 (left) vs Vernee Apollo Lite (Right) – Click to Enlarge

I ran two laps with the Xiaomi phone, and they almost exactly overlap. The downside is that I have to run a little longer to achieve the same distance on the app 🙂

Gaming

I tried four games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, Riptide GP2, and CSR Racing 2. All played very smoothly, to my surprise CSR 2 performed much better than on Vernee Apollo Lite, despite the latter having a more powerful ARM Mali-T880 GPU in Helio X20 SoC. As mentioned in a aforelinked post, I can see 3 potential reasons for the difference in that game: more optimization on Qualcomm SoCs than Mediatek SoCs, slightly lower level of details shown in the Qualcomm phone, better cooling for Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, which stays cool at all times, contrary to the Vernee phone which may require a cool pack to run smoothly…

IR Transmitter / Remote Control App

An infrared transmitter is built into Xiaomi Mi A1  smartphone, and can be control with Mi Remote app. I tried with LG 4K UHD TV, and it worked well.

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Air conditioners are always more challenging. So first I had to go through a process to detect which Haier aircon model I had, pressing poweroff button, and then other buttons, to find the right model among 158 options.

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It finally found mine, I gave it a name “Bedroom Haier AC” and realized on some functions would work, and some temperatures are not supported. So not so useful in that case.

Others

Multitouch app reports the touchscreen supports 10 touch points. The smartphone has a single speaker with mediocre quality when listening to music, but that’s not that big of an issue as Bluetooth speakers are now rather inexpensive, and in my daily life I mostly use wired or Bluetooth audio headsets. It’s good to have a 3.5mm audio jack, but I normally prefer when it’s placed on the top of the phone, rather than the bottom left, which can be an issue when using an armband, or while holding the phone.

Video Review

I’ve also shot a video review mostly summarizing the points above, showing the camera in action, playing Riptide GP2, a YouTube video up to 1080p, opening a large PDF files, etc…

Long Term Review / History

Since I’ve very satisfied with the phone, I’m going to retire Vernee Apollo Lite, and make Mi A1 my main phone. Since it’s also supposed to be upgraded for two years, I’ll keep this section to report the history of the phone, like a long term review, and report important events like firmware updates, or if something stops working. I got 3 firmware updates since I received the phone less than a month ago.

  • September 5, 2017 – Xiaomi Mi A1 announcement
  • September 12, 2017 – Official launch in India
  • October 16, 2017 –  Unboxing and September 2017 security update (1059.6 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • October 21, 2017 – October 2017 security update (118 MB), Android 7.1.2 / Linux 3.18.31
  • November 3, 2017 – October 2017 security update (75.7 MB), Android 7.12 / Linux 3.18.31

Conclusion

I’m really pleased with my experience with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, and to my surprise it’s an improvement over Vernee Apollo Lake with most features, except for fast charging that’s missing from the phone.

PROS

  • Stable and relatively recent Android 7.1.2 firmware
  • Part of Android One program with promise of regular security and firmware updates for 2 years (including Android 8.x and 9.x).
  • Good & sharp 1920 x 1080 display; wide brightness range
  • Excellent Wi-Fi 802.11ac performance
  • Excellent eMMC flash performance (Best I’ve tested so far)
  • Long battery life (about 30 hours per charge for 4 to 5 hours active use per day)
  • Good front-facing camera and rear dual cameras for depth effect
  • Overall better app performance compared to my previous Helio X20 based smartphone, especially for some games
  • Support forums

CONS

  • Quick Charge (Fast charging) not available
  • Videos shot with the rear camera are not smooth in dark scenes, and audio is poor in some videos (metal sound)
  • SAMBA WiFi performance is average for transfer from phone to server
  • Mi Remote  app (infrared remote) is not working well with my aircon (Haier)
  • Display is quite glossy / reflective
  • Built-in speaker not really good to listen to music
  • Android One support may add about $30 to $40 to the price of the phone
  • GPL source code not released yet, but an article suggests Mi A1 Linux kernel source code may be released within three months.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing a review sample. Xiaomi Mi A1 (Black) can be purchased on their shop for $219.99 shipped with coupon A1HS. Other shopping options include GeekBuying, Banggood, eBay, and others online shops.

Some people noticed that Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 smartphone has very similar specifications with a Snapdragon 625 processor, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage, the same 5.5″ Full HD display, but no dual rear camera, and a bigger battery (4,100 mAh). It’s sold for on Aliexpress for about $190 (Black version) and around $180 (Other colors), so if we assume the battery / camera features cancel out (in terms of price) that means Android One support adds about $30 to $40. One way to look at it is that you pay a little less than $2 per month for 2-year support with regular security & firmware updates.

Zidoo H6 Pro (Allwinner H6) TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.0 Firmware

November 10th, 2017 5 comments

Zidoo H6 Pro is the very first Allwinner H6 based 4K TV box. The Android 7.0 device support H.265, H.264 and VP6 4K video decoding, comes with fast interfaces such as USB 3.0, and network connectivity with Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi.

I’ve already checkout the hardware in the first part of the review entitled “Zidoo H6 Pro (Allwinner H6) TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing & Teardown“, and since then, I’ve had time to play with the TV box, and report my experience with Android 7.0 in this second part of the review.

First Boot and OTA Firmware Update

I’ve connected a USB keyboard and a USB dongle with RF dongles for an air mouse and gamepad on the two USB ports, a USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 ports, as well as HDMI and Ethernet cables before powering up the TV box. I also added two AAA batteries to the IR/Bluetooth remote control.

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Boot to the background image takes around 20 seconds, but to reach the actual launched it normally takes around one minute and 25 seconds when I have the hard drive connected (with 4 partitions and many files). If I remove the hard drive, the full boot can complete within 23 seconds. Not that much of an issue, but it still may be something Zidoo wants to optimize.

On the very first boot, a few seconds after the launcher showed up, I also had a pop-up window informing me that Firmware v1.0.11 update was available, with a neat changelog listing the main changes including support for Netflix 1080p playback, and YouTube 2K/4K playback.

Click for Original Size

I clicked on the Update button to start downloading the new firmware…

… an cliked Update again after downloading, to complete the firmware update with MD5 check and installation to the eMMC flash.

The system will then reboot, and we can get access the Zidoo ZIUI launcher.

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The launcher is identical to the one in Zidoo X7 except for two extra icons on the bottom for BT remote, and “Box RC” app, but more on that later.


Beside those two new remote apps, we’ll also notice HappyCast app used by Airplay/Miracast, and the lack of ZDMC (Zidoo’s Kodi fork), as we are told to use Kodi from Google Play instead.

Settings & Google Play

The settings section looks the same as Zidoo X7 settings, so I will only go through it quickly.

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We have four main section with Network, Display, Sound and Other. I could connect to WiFI and Ethernet with no issues, and Bluetooth worked with my smartphone and a pair of headphones. Display can be set up to a resolution / framerate of 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz, and PCM 2.0 output, HDMI & S/PDIF audio pass-through options are available. Looking at the Other section, About tab, and Android Settings about TV box reveals ZIDOO_H6 Pro is running Android 7.0 on top of Linux 3.10.65, and the firmware I tested for the review is v1.0.11, as we’ve seen from the OTA firmware update part of this review.

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Android security patch level is dated November 5, 2016. Not the most recent, and you won’t get monthly to bi-monthly security updates like in Android One phones such as Xiaomi Mi A1. The firmware is rooted by default.

Looking into storage options, I had 418MB free out of 10.22GB internal storage partition at the very beginning of the review, and NTFS and exFAT partitions of my USB hard drive could be mounted, but not the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions.

I could install all apps I needed for review using Google Play, and I also installed Riptide GP2 game with Amazon Appstore since I got it for free there.

Remote Control – IR/Bluetooth, and Box RC Android App

One way Zidoo H6 Pro differs from most competitors is that it comes with a Bluetooth remote control. By default it works with the IR transmitter, and Bluetooth is disable, but you can enable Bluetooth by launching Bluetooth Remote app, or selecting BT Remote icon on the launcher.

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Hold the back and menu keys for a few seconds until the LED on the remote start flashing. The app will then show the Bluetooth remote is connected, and the battery level. Bluetooth does not enable air mouse function, and you’d still need to use the arrow keys to move the cursor in mouse mode, so the main advantage of Bluetooth over infrared is that it does not require line of sight. You can hide the box being the TV, or inside a furniture, and the remote would work. You do not need to point the remote control towards the TV box either, it works in any directions. I successfully tested the remote control up to a distance of 10 meters. Once I lost control of the OK and Back keys, but they came back later on after a reboot, and could not reproduce the issue.

I also tested MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse / keyboard / remote control, and again no problem. It’s my favorite way to control an Android TV boxes, since it works with all sort of user interfaces and most apps, excluding some games that require touch support.

Another way to control the TV box is to install Box RC  Android app in your smartphone. Launch Box RC app in the TV box, and you should see the QR Code below.

It redirects to RC Box apk file. +  Screenshots of smartphone app.

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After installation, you’ll be presented with the “key mode” pad. Tap on “My Device” and select ZIDOO_H6 Pro to connect to the TV box. Clicking on the icon in the top left corner will give you a few more remote modes, including “Handle model” for gaming…… as well as mouse and gesture mode – both of which look like the left screenshot below -, and an Applications with a complete list of apps installed in the TV box. Simply select the app you want to launch in the TV box.

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Finally, you’ll have an About section showing the version number, and checking for app updates, and a Screenshot option to remotely take screenshots. Everything worked well. I’m just not quite sure how to use the gesture mode.

Power Consumption & Temperature

Power control is just like on Zidoo X7 with a short press on the remote control power button bringing a menu to select between Power off, Standby, or Reboot. A long press will allow you to configure the behavior of the power button: Off, Standby, or Ask (default).

I measured power consumption in various mode, and here it works better than X7:

  • Power off – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 3.2 Watts
  • Idle – 4.0 ~ 4.4 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 Watt
  • Standby – 6.0 to 6.4 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 6.0 to 6.4 Watts

With regards to temperature, the box itself stays fairly as after playing a 2-hour video in Kodi, I measured 45 and 43ºC max measured on the top and bottom with an IR thermometer, and 47ºC on both sides after playing Beach Buggy Racing & Riptide GP2 for about 30 minutes. However, right after playing, CPU-Z reported respectively 86°C and 80°C CPU & GPU temperatures, which should be close to limit of the SoC. The ambient temperature was around 28°C, and 3D performance was contant while playing.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi, Media Center and YouTube, DRM Info

Some people reported that Kodi installed from Google Play is working well in the box, so I installed Kodi 17.5 from Google Play, enabled automatic frame rate switching, setup the connection to my SAMBA share over Ethernet, and started playing my 4K video samples:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – Not smooth, and some parts of the picture are very red
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Plays fine, but woman face is more red than usual
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Not perfectly smooth
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Not perfectly smooth
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 2 to 3 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not super smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not very smooth, audio delay (OK, as not supported by Allwinner H6)
  • 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) – Plays OK, but red parts are over-saturated?
  • 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) – ~2 fps (software decode – OK, as not supported by hardware)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – 2 to 3 fps (software decode), lots of buffering
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – 2 to 3 fps (software decode), lots of buffering

Automatic frame rate switching is not working, but that’s only a small issue compared to the disastrous results above. As shown in the screenshot above, H.265 is hardware decoded, but for some videos the CPU usage is really high, close to 100% on all four cores, so something is clearly wrong. H.265 / H.264 1080p videos fare better, so maybe that’s why other people think Kodi works well. Maybe ZDMC, Zidoo’s fork of Kodi is coming soon.

In the meantime, I switched to Media Center, and it’s night and day compared to my experience with Kodi, also played from the same SAMBA share:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK most of the time, but the end is a bit choppy
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) – 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) – 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 – Plays but not smoothly, plus audio delay (OK, as not supported by Allwinner H6)
  • 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) – Massive artifacts  (OK, as not supported by Allwinner H6)
  • 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) – Not too bad, but not 100% smooth in all scenes. (Note: Most TV boxes struggle with this video).

I’m pretty happy with the results, and automatic frame rate switching works, it just need to be enabled in Advanced menu.
Switching audio tracks and subtitles are supported by the app, and work well. SmartColor engine is specific to Allwinner processors, and may help improve the video quality, or adjust the image to your taste.


Let’s carry on testing with PCM 2.0 (stereo) output to my TV, and HDMI audio pass-through to Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver, with some advanced audio codec in Media Player.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK
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 TrueHD 7.1 (OK)
DTS HD Master OK DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK DTS 5.1

Audio works pretty well with the only downside being a lack of support for DTS HD MA/HR which all fallback to DTS 5.1. My receiver does not support Atmos, so the box outputs TrueHD 7.1 as it should.

I’ve also tested HD videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – OK (except running scene that is not smooth)
  • 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

Most Linaro media and H.265 elecard samples are playing fine in Media Center:

  • 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 – Media Center app returns “Can’t play video”
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

The full HD Blu-ray ISO files I tested (Sintel-Bluray.iso and amat.iso) played fine, so were 1080i MPEG-2 samples. I had the usual artifacts with Hi10p videos, but audio and subtitles were displayed correctly.

I also tested a bunch of 720p/1080p movies with various codecs/containers such as H.264, Xvid, DivX, VOB / IFO, FLV, AVI, MKV, MP4, etc… Most could play, except some of my FLV video samples, and DVD Rips would show the “This is a Blu-ray folder” pop-up…

… but the app would also report “Can’t play video”. If I browse to the folder, and select the IFO, it does not work, and the only way to start is to select a VOB file. However, it does not automatically switch to the next file. So there’s a problem with DVD rips in Media Center app.

YouTube app could play videos up to 1440p, but 4K (2160p) is not an option.

I’ve shot a video to show issues in Kodi, as well as Media Center app which work pretty well, and YouTube playback up to 1440p.

DRM Info app shows Widevine DRM L1 is supported, meaning one of the requirements for Full HD Netflix is fulfilled.

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The company – as we’ve seen in the firmware changelog – claims support for Netflix 1080p, but since I don’t have an account I could not confirm that. It’s also unclear whether this has been achieved through a hack, or a partnership with Netflix. The latter would be permanent, while the former may not work in a few months. Based on info gathered on Zidoo forums, I can see other boxes like Mecool M8S Pro Plus TV box can play Netflix 1080p through a “3rd party Android TV Firmware”, so it’s likely something similar has been implemented for H6 Pro.

Network & Storage Performance

Zidoo X7 had a somewhat asymmetrical performance while copying a 278 MB file over 802.11ac + SAMBA, and Zidoo H6 Pro appears to have the same issues:

  1. Server to flash (average): 51, or around 5.45 MB/s
  2. Flash to server (average): 3 minutes 22 seconds, or around 1.37 MB/s

So excellent download performance, but weak upload performance with SAMBA. The average is around 2.24 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

It’s probably a SAMBA configuration/implementation issue, as testing with iperf shows good performance in both directions:

  • 802.11ac download:

  • 802.11ac upload:

Throughput in Mbps

I also tested Gigabit Ethernet with iperf:

  • Full duplex:

  • Upload only:

  • Download only:

That’s pretty good, and fairly close to the results I got with ROCK64 Board (RK3328).

Switching to store benchmarks with A1 SD Bench.

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The cached read is due to the incredibly low exFAT write performance (1.52 MB/s). Read speed is quite weak to at 16.37 MB/s with this file system, but poor exFAT performance is a common to most Android TV boxes. NTFS is much better at 59.07MB/s read, and 42.12 MB/s but still far from the ~100MB/s R/W, I achieved with the same hard drive on ROCK64 board. Nevertheless the performance will be good enough for TV box use case. However, if you need hardware with fast storage (through USB 3.0) and Ethernet, RK3328 processor looks to be better.

Internal performance is good, and helps explain relatively fast boot (when no HDD is connected), fast app loading, and the lack of “app not responding” issues.

Gaming

I installed three games: Candy Crush Sage, Beach Buggy Racing (BBR) and Riptide GP2. I played Candy Crush with my air mouse, and no problem here. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 game controller, and BBR played very smoothly even with max graphics settings. Riptide GP2 was quite playable with max “resolution”, maybe at 25 to 30 fps, but not quite close to 60 fps. I feel Allwinner H6 might be a little better at playing games than Rockchip RK3328, and somewhat comparable to Amlogic S905/S905X. I played both games for around 30 minutes in total, and I did not notice any drop in performance over time, so no obvious throttling/overheating, despite the rather high CPU/GPU temperatures reported by CPU-Z.

Bluetooth

I’ve used Bluetooth more than on any other TV boxes simply because of the Bluetooth remote control. But I could also pair the TV box (seen as petrel-p1) with Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone, and transfer a few photos over Bluetooth, watch some YouTube video using X1T Bluetooth earbuds, but while I was able to see and pair my BLE fitness tracker in the Bluetooth settings, I was never able to locate the smart band from within “Smart Movement” app.

Zidoo H6 Pro (Allwinner H6) System Info and Benchmarks

CPU-Z still shows a quad core Cortex A53 r0p4 processor clocked between 480 MHz and 1.80 GHz, and a Mali-T720 GPU. Note that I never saw the frequency goes over 1488 MHz, so that 1.80 GHz may only occur during short bursts if at all.

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1906 MB total memory was reported, and 10.22 GB storage. Screen resolution was 1920×1080. As with most Allwinner platform you’ll never get a recent kernel (Linux 3.10.65).

The device achieved 40,467 points in Antutu 6.x, or about 5,000+ more compared to competitors based on RK3328 or S905X.

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One of the big jump is with 3D graphics, but there’s an easy explanation: Rockchip RK3328 and Amlogic S905X SoCs rely on Mali-450MP GPU which does not support OpenGL ES 3.1 used by “Marooned” benchmark, meaning Allwinner H6 just gets 3,510 points extra just for supporting OpenGL ES 3.1… So in reality, there’s not so much performance difference between the performance.

Vellamo 3.x confirms Allwinner H6 is that much faster with the following scores: Browser: 2,546 points, Metal: 930 points, and Multicore (836 points). I’ll put aside Multicore as on the test failed because of an issue with sysbench: “issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode”. But when comparing the metal score result against Amlogic S905X (910) and Rockchip RK3328 (937), the differences are minor.

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The Ice Storm Extreme score (3,951 points) is about the same as Amlogic S905X (4,183 points), but quite better than Rockchip RK3328 (2,252 points). We can also see the CPU frequency never surpassed around 1.5 GHz, so I’m wondering whether the 1.8 GHZ reported by CPU-Z might just be for show/marketing…

Conclusion

Despite Allwinner H6 SoC being pretty new, I have not found any really critical bugs in Zidoo H6 Pro TV Box. 4K video playback is working well in Media Center app with automatic frame rate switching, and HD audio pass-through, and overall performance is good, including for Wifi, Ethernet and storage.Widevine Level 1 DRM is installed, and the device is also supposed to support Netflix HD playback (not tested). 3D graphics performance is closer to the one of Amlogic S905X ,and quite better than on Rockchip RK3328 SoC.

The biggest issues I’ve found is poor support for Kodi with most 4K videos I’ve tried not playing well, and red color is over-statured in many videos. Media Center app also have a few limitations such as no support for DTS HD HR/MA pass-through (fallbacks to DTS 5.1), and IFO (DVD Rip) & Real Media video files are not supported. Other issues include poor exFAT performance, and WiFi SAMBA upload speed.

PROS

  • Android 7.0 operating system – Stable and responsive
  • Eye-pleasing ZIUI launcher / user interface
  • Very good support for 4K videos played in Media Center app with automatic frame rate switching support; Smart Color Engine for post-processing
  • HDMI pass-through for Dolby, DTS, and Dolby TrueHD working in Media Center app
  • Relatively fast eMMC flash storage (fast boot/app loading)
  • Very good networking performance for Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac WiFi (except for SAMBA uploads)
  • Bluetooth remote control
  • Decent 3D graphics performance
  • Widevine Level 1 DRM; Netflix HD support (not tested)

CONS (and bugs)

  • Kodi 17.5 from Google Play struggles to play 4K videos and color issues (too much red)
  • MediaCenter – No DTS HD pass-through support (DTS 5.1 instead); IFO (DVD rip) and Real Media (RM) videos not supported, some FLV files can’t play.
  • YouTube limited to 1440p (no 2160p option for me)
  • Poor SAMBA upload performance when using WiFi
  • exFAT file system performance poor -> use NTFS instead on external hard drive
  • Slow boot time (~1 minute 30 seconds) when hard drive with many files connected
  • “OK” button stopped to work on the Bluetooth remote control once (despite still working on the air mouse). Reboot fixed the issue.

Zidoo kindly sent the review sample from a local distributor. Resellers can contact the company via H6 Pro’s product page. GeekBuying currently has a promotion for the device where you can get it for as low as $79.99 (only for the first 50 orders), but it’s also sold on other websites for about $85 to 100 including GearBest, Amazon, or Aliexpress.

Mediatek Helio X20 vs Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 – 3D Graphics Benchmarks and CSR2 Game

October 17th, 2017 4 comments

I’ve been using Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone with a Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core ARM Cortex A72/A53 processor coupled with an ARM for a little over a year. Recently, I’ve received Xiaomi Mi A1 smartphone for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC featuring eight ARM Cortex A53 cores and an Adreno 506 GPU.

In theory, the latter is a downgrade, and the Xiaomi phone is indeed quite slower in Antutu with overall score of 60,161 points against 85,840 points in the Mediatek phone. 3D graphics performance is also lower with 12,849 vs 17,828 points. Both smartphone have the same resolution (1920×1080), so it’s a little confusing to be told you’d “better to play games in low quality mode” for the Mediatek phone, and “game performance is mid-level” for the Snapdragon one.

But anyway Helio 20 should work better in 3D games than Snapdragon 625 if we are to believe the numbers. Most apps run fine on Vernee Apollo Lite, but one game I play is sometimes extremely sluggish, especially in a specific section of the user interface. That game is CSR Racing 2 (aka CSR2), and the section is called “Rare import” where the game will sometimes freeze for a few seconds apparently while rendering some animations. The phone may also overheat while playing, and I’ve used Boots hot & cold pack a few times to keep it cool and make the game playable, but that’s another story 🙂

So I was interesting to find out if CSR2 would also freeze in Xiaomi Mi 2, and see how it performs while actually playing, so I placed both phones side-by-side to check it out.

The video above does not actually show the worst case for the Mediatek processor, as sometimes the animations in “rare imports” would freeze for 3 to 4 seconds and several times during the process. So far, Xiaomi Mi A1 has been working very well in that section. In the video I mentioned that I could not see much difference between the two phones during playback, but after playing further I found the Xiaomi Mi A1 is also smoother to play. After also double-checking the video, it’s also clear there are less texture details and fewer objects shown in the Snapdragon 625 phone, as shown in the photo below with trees shown in Vernee Apollo Lite, but not the Xiaomi phone.

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The app is likely auto-detecting the phone performance, and it works well for one, and not quite as well for the other. It’s also possible the developers focus on the most popular phones from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and other brands which are usually equipped with Exynos or Snapdragon processors, rather than Mediatek ones. I could not find an option to manually adjust the image quality/resolution in the game.

The conclusion is that you can’t simply look at benchmarks to find out if a particular game will work well on your phone. In this case Helio X20 is closed to 40% faster in Antutu 3D GPU benchmark, but the user experience is much better with the Snapdragon 625 phone, albeit at the cost of a little less graphics details. Other games will likely differ depending on the implementation.

Xiaomi Mi A1 Review – Part 1: Unboxing, First Boot, Firmware Update, and Benchmarks

October 16th, 2017 14 comments

Xiaomi Mi A1 hardware specifications are pretty much standard for a mid-range smartphone, except possibly for its dual rear camera, and what makes it stand apart is really Android One program that promises regular firmware update, including to the latest “pure” Android version, during a 2-year period from launch.

In my case, the phone is also interesting because so far I had only used smartphones with Mediatek SoCs, and Mi A1 is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor. SD625 should be slower than the Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core processor I’ve been using in Vernee Apollo Lite, but I’m curious to find out if some apps have been better optimized for Qualcomm processors. I’ll soon find out as GearBest sent me a review sample.I’ll start with an unboxing and first boot post, before writing the second part of the review in a couple of weeks once I’ve finished testing the phone.

Xiaomi Mi A1 Unboxing

I took a while to go through customs because local authorities did not know that model/brand, and at one point I understood there was no hope and I had to abandon the smartphone, since I could not provide the required paper work. So I was quite surprised when DHL showed up with the phone this afternoon.

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The exact model I got is called MDG2. It comes with 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage as all other Mi A1 models, but there may be differences in network bands since the device will be officially sold in around 40 countries.

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The phone comes with a short user manual in English, a 5V/2A power supply (no quick charge?), a USB to USB type C cable, and a SIM slot tool.

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One side of the manual has some useful information, including how to use the SIM card tray, but the other side is mostly useless legalese, except maybe for the frequency bands and power info.

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The front of the phone has the 5.5″ full HD display, camera, LED, and 3 Android buttons. The latter are a bit confusing to me, as the back and menu keys are inverted compared to my current phone.

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The back of the phone featuring the dual camera and LED flash, as well as the fingerprint scanner. Build quality looks good, and the phone feels a little lighter than Vernee Apollo Lite.

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Power and volume buttons are located on the right side,

The SIM card + micro SD slot on the left side,

and speaker, USB type C, and 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom side of the phone.

You can check the unboxing and first boot video below.

Xiaomi Mi A1 SIM Card / micro SD card installation

Today, I also learned how to use the SIM card tool… With my previous phone I insert the tool with an angle and pulled the slot. I found it was not very convenient, but it worked. But finally, I realized you had to insert the tool right inside the hole, push, and the SIM card adapter would just pop out… Facepalm…

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Xiaomi Mi A1 has a single slot that supports either two Nano SIM card, or one Nano SIM card with an optional micro SD card. It’s not really obvious you are supposed to do but just looking at the adapter, so for once, it pays to read the manual. I could install a micro SD card and a NanoSIM card as shown below.

Both were properly recognized in the phone.

Xiaomi Mi A1 First Boot, Firmware Update

The very first boot makes go go through a wizard asking for permissions, setup WiFi, Google Account, and so on. I did not take screenshot, but if you are interested you can watch the video above.

Some Xiaomi phones comes with MIUI launcher, but since the phone is part of Android One program it comes with a stock launcher. We have a folder for Google specific apps, and one for three XiaoMi apps.

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I logged into Google Play and install Antutu and CPU-Z, before taking the sscreen shot for the list of pre-installed apps. The phone has a 58.24GB internal storage partition with 9.46 GB used (48.96GB free), so I doubt I’ll use a micro SD card over the long term.The phone runs Android 7.1.2 on top of Linux 3.18.31. Also notice the Android security patch level is dated August 1, 2017. Soon after I could see a notifications about “Android System Update (Sep 2017).

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Clicking on it reveal it’s a security update from Google. Rather a large 1GB download, but no problem over WiFi. Once it is installed, you’ll be ask to reboot, and we can verify the Android security patch level is now dated September 1, 2017, the kernel is still 3.18.31 but has been updated too. That’s a nice change compared to my current Vernee phone. It was sold with Android 6.0, with a promise of Android Nougat update that never came. I still got 3 or 4 OTA updates, but nothing since January, and the Android security patch level is dated July 5, 2016, over one year old. That’s where Android One phones have a clear advantage, as I’m expecting updates until end of 2019 at least, and maybe even later for security updates.

Xiaomi Mi A1 System Info, Antutu Benchmark

CPU-Z reports the phine is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 SoC with eight Cortex A53 cores @ up to 2.02 GHz, and an Adreno 506 GPU. There’s only 3593 MB shown out of the 4GB RAM, probably because of some hardware buffers, and 50.38GB internal storage. The phone – codenamed “tissot” – has a 5.52″ display with 1080×1920 resolution.

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I also included screenshots about battery, thermal sensors, and other sensors (partial).

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Finally I ran Antutu 6.x, and Xiaomi Mi A1 scored 60,161 points. Vernee Apollo Lite got a much higher score with 81,623 points. I’ll have to see of I can notice any differences between the two during use.

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I’d like to thank GearBest who kindly provided the smartphone for review, and if you’re interested you could get one for $233.90 including shipping. Coupon XMA1GJ and MI5A1FS should bring the price down to respectively $229.90 (golden version only) and $218.90 (Rose Gold). Other options includes GeekBuying, Banggood, eBay, and others online shops, as well as your local shops if the phone has launched in your country.

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.

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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…

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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.

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

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

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

Those are the results for 4K videos:

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

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

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

Click for Original Size

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

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

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

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

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

  • 802.11ac WiFi Upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi Download:

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

iperf throughput in Mbps

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

Click to Enlarge

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

Gaming

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

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

Bluetooth

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

Zidoo X7 CPU-Z System Info and Antutu Benchmark

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

Click to Enlarge

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

Conclusion

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

PROS

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

CONS (and bugs)

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

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

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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).

Click to Enlarge

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.

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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.

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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.

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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/