Archive

Posts Tagged ‘drm’

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.

Click to Enlarge

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

Click for Original Size

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


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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Mostly OK, but a few frames dropped at times
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time; HDD: OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, audio continues (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time, and eventually lost audio; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: 1~2 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK at the beginning, but then not smooth at all
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth

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

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK (24 Hz video output)
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK (24 Hz video output)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, resumes later, and freeze again, resume, and son on. Audio plays at all times (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Black screen first, then video with massive artifacts and/or colored horizontal bands. (Not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK close to perfect, except some scenes (maybe a source problem?); No audio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

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

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

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

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

WiFi download:

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

  • 3rd try:

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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”.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Bqeel MVR9 TV Box Review – Part 1: Specifications, Unboxing and Teardown

July 14th, 2017 7 comments

All Rockchip RK3328 based 4K TV boxes I’ve seen so far come with Fast Ethernet, not Gigabit Ethernet, with the exclusion of Rock64, which is not a TV box, but a development board. But Nagrace sent me Bqeel MVR9 box that comes with Gigabit Ethernet, in order to write a review. I’ll start by having a look at the hardware first, before experimenting with the firmware in several weeks.

Bqeel MVR9 Specifications

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4 @ 1066 MHz
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite video)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264, 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, and AV (stereo audio) ports; optical S/PDIF
  • Audio Features – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD via RKMC
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port), 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, recovery button
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions –  115 x 115 x 23 mm
  • Weight – ~200 grams

The box runs Android 7.1.1, and the company told me YouTube 4K is supported, they added support for DRM (but only Widevine Level 3 for now), and BD ISO  & 3D Blu-ray can be played in RKMC.

Bqeel MVR9 Unboxing

I received the device in a black box reading “Smart Your TV, Color Your life”.

The box comes with a 5V/3A power supply that should be enough even if you connect a USB 3.0 hard drive, a male to male USB cable (for firmware recovery), a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a TV box user manual, and remote control user manual.

Click to Enlarge

The box is made of plastic with the power button on one side, the AV port, recovery pinhole, micro SD card, a USB OTG port, and USB 3.0 port on the other side.

Click to Enlarge

The rear panel includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI 2.0a output port, optical S/PDIF output, and the DC jack.

Bqeel MVR9 Teardown

We’d normally open the box by loosening some screws hidden under rubber pads, but there’s nothing there.

Click to Enlarge

So instead, I just had to unclip the bottom cover. There’s not much to see on that side of the board, except the sticker that reads TRN9-V10 2G+16G. So I loosened four screws to completely take out the board of the case.We can see two methods use to keep the box cool. First a black heatsink on top of Rockchip RK3328 processor, and a thick gray plate on top of the box.

Click to Enlarge

The board appears to have been designed by T-Chip, which should be the same company that makes the Firefly boards. The processor is connected to one 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash that in theory delivers 285/40 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and 8K/10k random R/W IOPS, as well as two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4-2400 SDRAM chips @  (2GB in total). So the company has used some pretty decent storage and memory chip in the design, which should help with performance. They coupled a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver with Mnova MS0860 transformer for Gigabit Ethernet, and use Realtek RTL8723BS module for wireless connectivity (802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 LE).

Other notable chips include Rockchip RK805-1 PMIC, FE1.1s USB 2.0 hub, and TI DRV632 stereo audio line driver. We’ll notice a 3-pin header on the bottom left of the board which should be an alternative location for the IR receiver, and close to it a footprint to connect a fan. The UART debug interface is clearly marked with RX, TX, and GND, but not the most convenient, as you’d need to solder wire to solder pads.

I’d like to thank Nagrace for sending the review unit. There’s no product page, no price info right now.

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

June 26th, 2017 9 comments

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

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Click for Original Size

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

Click to Enlarge

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click for Original Size

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

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

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

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

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

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  SAMBA: Frequent buffering; HDD: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 1 to 2 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not 100% smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – SAMBA: Some audio cuts due to buffering; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: perfect.
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Slideshow
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Lots of artifacts (software decode)

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

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

  • WiFi upload:

  • WiFi download:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A95X R2 TV Box / Rockchip RK3328 Benchmarks and System Info

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

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

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

HiSilicon Hi3796M V200 UHD DVB + H.265 STB SoC Showcased at Broadcast Asia 2017

May 25th, 2017 6 comments

Broadcast Asia international digital multimedia & entertaiment technology exhibition & conference is taking place in Singapore on May 23 – 25, and I’ve been informed that Hisilicon showcased their latest Hi3796M V200 Set-top box SoC with support for 4K DVB, H.265, and high dynamic range technology such as HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision.

Hiliscon Hi3796M V200 Board and DVB Tuner – Click to Enlarge

Key features and specifications of Hi3796M V200 processor:

  • CPU – Quad core ARM Cortex A53
  • GPU – ARM Mali-450MP
  • Memory – DDR3, DDR3L, DDR4
  • Video Output – 1x HDMI 2.0a Tx with HDCP 2.2
  • Video format – HEVC, H.264, MPEG2, MPEG4, VC1, VP9, AVS 2.0
  • HDR – HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, HDR and SDR conversion
  • HiVXE 2.0 VPU – Decoder – 4K60 10-bit; Encoder – HEVC/H.264 1080p30 or 2x 720p30
  • Ethernet – 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x Fast Ethernet
  • USB 2.0 – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • SATA & PCIe & USB 3.0 – USB 3.0, SATA 3.0, PCIe 2.0 host interface (optional); cnxsoft’s note: all ports are likely multiplexed, so only one is usable.
  • Transport Stream I/F – 2x TS In + 2x TS In or Out + 1x Cable IF in
  • SDIO – 2x SDIO 3.0
  • Security – Advanced DRM, and CAS (NOCS3.X), and hardware video watermark. TrustZone

The company can provide Android 7.0 and Linux SDKs with middleware and RDK for the processor and development board. HiVXE 2.0 is also said to support PiP and video transcoding. Hardware video watermark ability allows the processor to meet MovieLabs UHD premium service delivery requirements.

Click to Enlarge

It appears the company will also offer a user-friendly way to watch VR videos / 360° videos on the TV by using a mobile app or remote control to navigate in all directions while the video is playing.

I could not find any information at all on the web about Hi3796M V200 processor, so thanks to Ovi for sending pictures directly from the Broadcast Asia exhibition, and allowing us to discover this new multimedia processor.

Android Play Store Tidbits – Blocking Unlocked/Uncertified/Rooted Devices, Graphics Drivers as an App

May 20th, 2017 10 comments

There’s been at least two or three notable stories about the Play Store this week. It started with Netflix not installing from the Google Play Store anymore on rooted device, with unclocked bootloader, or uncertified devices, and showing as “incompatible”. AndroidPolice contacted Netflix which answered:

With our latest 5.0 release, we now fully rely on the Widevine DRM provided by Google; therefore, many devices that are not Google-certified or have been altered will no longer work with our latest app and those users will no longer see the Netflix app in the Play Store.

So that means you need to  Google Widevine DRM in your device, which mean many Android TV boxes may stop to work with Netflix. You can check whether you device is certified by opening Google Play and click on settings, Scroll to the bottom and check Device Certification to see if it is Certified or Uncertified (H/T jon for the tip).

I tried this in my Chinese phone, and unsurprisingly it is “Uncertified”. AndroidPolice however successfully tested both Netflix 4.16 and Netflix 5.0.4 on an unlocked Galaxy S tab with Level 3 DRM and both worked. So the only drawback right now is that you can’t install Netflix from the Play Store, but it still works normally. Some boxes do not come with any DRM at all, which you can check with DRM info, and they may not work at all (TBC).

We’ve know learned this will not only affect Netflix, as developers will now be able to block installation of apps that fail “SafetyNet” as explained at Google I/O 2017:

Developers will be able to choose from 3 states shown in the top image:

  • not excluding devices based on SafetyNet
  • excluding those that don’t pass integrity
  • excluding the latter plus those that aren’t certified by Google.

That means any dev could potentially block their apps from showing and being directly installable in the Play Store on devices that are rooted and/or running a custom ROM, as well as on emulators and uncertified devices ….. This is exactly what many of you were afraid would happen after the Play Store app started surfacing a Device certification status.

This would mean it might become more complicated to install apps from the Google Play store on some devices, and we may have to start to side-load apps again, or use other app store. That’s provided they don’t start to stop apps running all together. The latter has been possible for year, as for example many mobile banking apps refuse to run on rooted phones.

I’ll end up with a better news, as starting with Android O it will be possible to update Graphics Drivers from the Play Store, just like you would update an app. Usually, a graphics driver update would require an OTA firmware update, or flash a new firmware image manually, and it’s quite possible this new feature has been made possible thanks to Project Treble.

Categories: Android Tags: Android, app, driver, drm, google, gpu, netflix, oreo

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17

March 1st, 2017 37 comments

MINIX NEO U9-H is the successor of MINIX NEO U1 media hub with an upgrade from four to eight cores with Amlogic S912 processor, as well as added support for VP9 and HDR. The company sent me a sample, and I’ve already checked out NEO U9-H hardware in the fist part of the review, so I’ll report by testing results in Android 6.0 and Kodi 17 in the second part. Since the user interface & many of the features have not changed, I’ll refer to MINIX NEO U1 review from time to time.

Click to Enlarge

First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

I connected the MINIX A3 air mouse RF to one of the USB port, a USB 3.0 hard drive to another, and a USB hub to the last one with Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots for the review, and a USB webcam. There’s also micro USB port, which you could use with the provided USB OTG adapter, but I have not used it. Last I also added USB powered speakers to the USB hub, and connected them to the 3.5mm audio jack. I also connected HDMI and optical audio cable to Onky TX-NR636 AV receiver, and an Ethernet cable to a Gigabit Ethernet swtich. Finally, I added the provided 5V/3A power supply, and pressed the power button on to start it all up. A typical boot takes around 30 seconds, and the first time, you’ll be asked to select between MINIX METRO or Launcher3 “Homes”.

I prefer MINIX METRO (below) as it’s more suited to larger screens, especially when you sit several meters from the TV. It’s the same launcher which I already described in MINIX NEO U1, except possibly for the weather indicator in the time/date window, and the mass storage devices ‘ Label is shown on the top right corner. I’d wish the WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth,and VPN icons on the top left were clickable, but they are not.

Click for Original Size

Launcher3 is basically the launcher you’d get with stock Android plus MINIX background image. You’ll also notice the larger mouse pointer which makes it convenient to use several meters away.

Click for Original Size

The box comes with some pre-installed apps like ES File Explorer, Kodi, YouTube, Google Play, AirDroid, MINIX Power Menu & System update apps, YouTube, Skype,  and so on.

MINIX has supported OTA firmware updates in all of their devices, so I tried with System Update app, but I could not test it there was no update to MHC16G20170216 firmware at the time.If you want to get an idea of how long you may expect to get firmware update, you can look at the forum for older products such as MINIX NEO X8-H. Eleven firmware updates have been released with the first “stock” firmware released on November, 2014 and the last (FW011) firmware released in January 2017, so it has been supported for over 2 years so far.

The Settings app is the same as with other Amlogic devices, and similar to MINIX NEO U1, so I’ll focuses on different and/or specific features.

Click to Enlarge

Once you enter the Display menu, you’ll find some typical features as well as  “Force RGB output” which may solve color / pink screen issues with some older TV, and HDR specific to Amlogic S905X/S912 processor.

If you enter the Audio settings, you’ll get options to select PCM, HDMI or SPDIF audio (pass-through), as usual, but there’s  also the Device Manager menu to select audio input and output devices.

In my setup I had three input device to choose from: on-board Mic input (3.5mm mic jack), USB-Audio – SAGE AiR Mouse (MINIX A3), and USB-Audio – Venus USB 2.0 camera, which will be important for voice commands, and video conferencing.

The output devices selection will be less useful for most people, as you can only select Auto or HDMI, as 3.5mm audio jack and S/PDIF are all outputted at the same time, and, only USB devices such as a USB sound card will show up.

You also have the same HDMI CEC, Playback settings and power key definition (standby or power off) as in MINIX NEO U1. There are three options for HDMI self-adaptation (automatic frame rate switching):

  • OFF – no processing
  • Level 1 – 23.976fps videos are processed under 1080p60Hz mode;
  • Level 2 – Switching TV’s output according to source video fps

If you go to Advanced Settings you’ll reach Android Marshmallow settings, and the main difference compared to competing Amlogic TV box, but already present on MINIX NEO U1 are “MCU settings” where you can enable autostart (no need to press power button), RTC alarm, and upgrade the MCU firmware.If we go into the Storage & USB section, we’ll find out a 10.89GB partition is available to the user, with about 1 GB used.

The system could also mount both NTFS and exFAT partitions, but not EXT-4.

If we go into About MediaBox, we’ll see the model number is indeed NEO-U9-H, and that it runs Android 6.01 on top of Linux 3.14.29 with the Android security patch dated on August 1st, 2016. The firmware is not rooted, but if that’s something you need I’m pretty sure a method will show on the forums in due time, although I’d prefer a switch in Android option to root and unroot the box as needed.

I shortly testing MINIX IR remote control and it worked at least for up to 10 meters. However, I really recommend getting MINIX A3, or if you don’t need voice input, MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, as it makes a big difference when using various Android apps. If you already own a box with MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, don’t worry that it will interface with MINIX A3 and control two devices at the same time, as my A2 Lite would not work with my A3 USB dongle. Voice input works fine as tested with Voice Search app. Press the microphone key on the remote to enable it, and you can now use “OK Google”, as you’d do on your smartphone. Just make sure Audio device input is set to the remote control. If you want to turn off the microphone, simply press the microphone key on the remote control. MINIX NEO A2 worked well up to 10 to 12 meters, and I could even see the mouse cursor at that distance.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and the free version of Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground. However, when I tried the free version of Riptide GP: Renegade it to “update your Amazon App to Amazon Underground to start experiencing actually free”. I had already isntall it, but clicked on Update Now anyway, and after update I had the exact same error message.

Click to Enlarge

That’s probably an issue with Amazon itself than with the box.

Power handling appears to be implemented exactly the same way as MINIX NEO U1, so you can go into standby, reboot, or power off the device with the remote control, or the power button. You can also power the device back on using either the IR remote control or MINIX A3 air mouse.

Power consumption is also similar to the previous model, as measured with or without hard drive using a power meter:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 to 1.1 Watts (most of the time on 0.4)
  • Idle – 3.0 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.2 Watts with the HDD LED off. Be patient it may take about one minute to reach this power level with a hard drive connected.
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.0~5.4 Watts

As expected, MINIX NEO U9-H dissipate power well thanks to its large heatsink. I measured 36°C and 37°C respectively on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6.0, and the temperature went up to 44°C and 49°C after playing a 2-hour 1080p H.264 video in Kodi, and 47°C and 54°C after playing and Beach Buggy Racing & Riptide GP2 for around 30 minutes. I quickly went to CPU-Z after exiting the game, and found the CPU temperature was 71°C.

So my first experience with MINIX NEO U9-H was even better than the very good one I had with MINIX NEO U1, since some of the bugs found the first firmware for the previous model, e.g. device stuck in standby mode, video output falling back from 4K @ 60 Hz to 1080p60 from time to time…, could not be reproduced with the new model.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 17.1-RC1, DRM Info

MINIX recommends the use of their XBMC MINIX Edition fork of Kodi for MINIX NEO U1, but with their new model, the company told me Kodi 17 worked well in U9-H, so I just use the pre-installed version: Kodi 17.1-RC1.

Click to Enlarge

I’m tested various video container formats, and video/audio codec playing files from a SAMBA share via (Gigabit Ethernet), unless otherwise noted.

Linaro media samples and some Elecard H.265 samples could also play fine except for VP8 1080p sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p – OK; 1080p: Not perfectly smooth (Note: software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi and Android settings (HDMI Self-adaption level 3), and it worked very well, which I think is a first amond the 8 or 9 Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Not smooth at all
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – First time: image freezes after a few seconds; second try: OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So the Jellyfish video plays better than in MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905), but some other problems have showed up with other videos.

I’ve then checked out audio capabilties of the TV box with PCM (stereo) output, as well as HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi. I also tested PCM (downmix) with MX Player to make sure those DTS and Dolby licenses are indeed valid for any apps. I could configure Kodi to pass-through AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

Click to Enlarge

MINIX NEO U1 did not support DTS-HD when it launched in December 2015 (firmware updates have fixed that), but MINIX NEO U9-H passed most tests just fine.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF, and will show as PCM 2.0 or Dolby D 5.1 depending on whether AC3 transcoding is enabled in Kodi
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Switch to AC3 audio track (beep), as TrueHD is not supported TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK OK (DTS-HD Master) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK (DTS-HD HR) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD Master* OK (DTS 5.1)

* My AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) does not support Atmos nor DTS:X, so the fallback to respectively TrueHD and DTS HD Master is normal. So overall HDMI and optical S/PDIF pass-through is working well with my test samples, downmixing from Dolby Digital and DTS to stereo audio works, and the only problem is the lack of downmixing of Dolby TrueHD / Atmos audio in video apps that respect Dolby & DTS licenses.

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – 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, 24 fps) – Not smooth at all, and the problem gets worse when automatic frame rate switching is enabled.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, but it played for about 2 seconds, then buffered for a few more seconds before resuming playback normally
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 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) – Plays at around 2 fps (as expected since it uses software decode as S912 does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not 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) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

It’s all good, except for one 10-bit H.265 video that won’t play smoothly at all. Other problems are related to limitation of Amlogic S912 processor like the lack of support for 10-bit H.264, and 4K H.264 is limited to 30 fps, and very high bitrate videos (~240 Mbps) cannot be played smoothly.

Sintel and AMAT ISO blu-ray files and 1080i MPEG videos could play just fine. Lower resolution Hi10p (10-bit H.264) could play, but 1080p was not that smooth:

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – OK for audio and susbtitles, but the video was not smooth

While my TV (LG 42UB820T) does not support 3D, but I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decode:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Stays in UI
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Some movies fron my library with various container/codec combination such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV could all play just fine. However, I noticed some micro audio cuts in some videos with AC3 and HDMI audio pass-through enabled. I could not reproduce the issue with all videos, and using optical S/PDIF instead of HDMI solved the issue. Finally, I could play a complete 2-hour video. You’ll be all sample mentioned above here.

I’ve decided not to report Antutu Video Tester in my reviews, since Antutu appears to have stopped development, and the app has been removed from Google Play.

DRM Info results are however quite interesting.

Click to Enlarge

MINIX NEO U9-H supports both Widevine K1 and Microsoft Playready DRM, which means you could get full HD and 4K UHD resolution for some premium apps. However, it is not a certified Netflix device, so if you install Netflix app from Google Play, you’d still be limited to standard definition. However, as previously reported, you should be able to install a Netflix apk that allows HD resolution for any Widevine L1 capable device. I don’t have a Netflix account, so I have not tested myself. YouTube is working fine up to 1080p.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and [email protected] GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming. [Update: WiFI performance is OK, but WiFi + SAMBA performance suffers. That’s likely an Amlogic Android SDK issue. See comments]

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve highlighted both MINIX NEO U1 and NEO U9-H results in the chart above as they make use of the same Ampak module for WiFi, but I got much different results, despite the same testing conditions.

802.11ac performance was 2.3 MB/s on average, and 802.11n achieved 1.5 MB/s both of which are below average, but consistent with the performance I got with other Amlogic S912 devices.  The chart however makes it worse than it really is, because download speed was 5.6 MB/s for 802.11ac, and 2.1 MB/s for 802.11n, with upload transfer rate being much lower, and causing the average to be rather low. Note that WiFi results may vary a lot depending on your setup.

I repeated the same file transfer, but with a 885MB file, for Gigabit Ethernet, and the average performance (10.05 MB/s) is somewhat OK, but I got the same behavior as with MINIX NEO U1 with the transfer much faster for download (16.4MB/s) , and slower for upload (7.64 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Since in most case the eMMC flash is the bottleneck for file transfers over Gigabit Ethernet, I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and it’s not too bad:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U9-H advertises itself properply as NEO U9-H, and not some other funny code, and I had no problems pairing it with Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, and could transfer a few photos. I could also connect X1T bluetooth earbuds and used it while watching some YouTube videos. I skipped Sixaxais app testing (for PS3 gamepads) since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

My USB hard drive has four partitions for NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and BTRFS, and only the NTFS/exFAT partitions could be mounted. A FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted

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

USB storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

The results were very good for the internal storage with 119.86MB/s read speed and 45.99 MB/s write speed. Note that the read speed is cached, meaning it should be faster than if read directly on the storage device itself, but probably not that different considering theoretical read speed is 285 MB/s for the flash, probably lower for the eMMC controller in Amlogic S912.

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

Overall I found that applications started fast, and I had no slowdown or “app not responding” due to I/O access to the eMMC flash.

USB Webcam

I connected the UVC webcam to the box shown in the first picture of this review, logged in to Skype, and successfully run the Echo/Service audio call test, and made a video calls. I had problems last year for MINIX NEO U1 on Google Hangouts, but NEO U9-H works perfectly well with Google Hangouts.

Gaming

Amlogic S912 is know a well known platform, as gaming works just as well as on other devices, if not better since cooling is well implemented.  First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO A2 air mouse, and switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing using maximum graphics settings. Both games played perfectly smoothly. As with other Amlogic S912, Riptide GP2 is a bit more demanding, playing very smoothly with default settings, the framerate felt lower with maximum graphics settings, probably around 25 fps most of the time, with some drops to ~15 fps from time to time.

I also played both 3D racing games for a total of 30 minutes, and performance was constant throughout, meaning the large heatsink is doing its job in preventing CPU and/or GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The model number is NEO-U9-H (q200), with 10.89 GB internal storage, 14790 MB RAM, and a framebuffer resolution set to 1920×1080.

Click to Enlarge

The first time I ran Antutu 6.x, the device achieved about 38,500 points quite lower than 41,000+ points I got in most other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I ran it a short time after boot, so maybe there was background tasks at the time, I retried later, I got a 40,543 points, more in line with other competing TV boxes.

I also ran Vellamo 3.x benchmark to double check for issues.

MINIX NEO U9-H achieved 1,239 points, 912 points and 2,338 points for respectively multicore, metal and Chrome Browser tests, which compares to 1,130, 1,012 points and 2,758 points (Not Chrome Browser, Stock Browser). Multicore results has a yellow mark because it failed one of the test, just like M12N, but not other Amlogic S912 boxes:

Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

Conclusion

MINIX did again a good job with MINIX NEO U9-H thanks to very good hardware, stable & responsive firmware implementation, working smoothly at all times thanks to good thermal design. 4K video playback works well, I think it’s the first time I see automatic frame rate switching work on Amlogic S912 processor,  and audio pass-through is working fine with TrueHD and DTS-HD. The first version of the firmware also has less bugs than the one I reviewed on MINIX NEO U1 media hub, and slightly better performance. NEO U9-H also adds new features such as HDR, 4K VP9 decoding, Dolby & DTS license used for audio downmixing in all apps, and DRM Widevine Level 1 + Microsoft PlayReady. The only real downside compared to NEO U1 is that WiFi performance is not quite as good, despite using the same Ampak wireless module.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 OS
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported; HDR should be supported too (not tested)
  • Very good Kodi 17 support with 4K H.265 (10-bit), VP9 and H.264 video playback,automatic frame rate switching
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS HD and TrueHD audio pass-through working via HDMI and S/PDIF (for supported formats).
  • Dolby & DTS license means those audio formats work in all apps.
  • Well implemented power handling with off/standby/reboot mode, managed via an upgradable MCU, low off and idle power consumption
  • Widevine L1 and MicroSoft PlayReady DRM suppored
  • USB webcam working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware upgrade with frequent update expected (based on previous models history)
  • Active support forums

CONS (and bugs)

  • Some videos with AC3 have micro audio cuts when HDMI pass-through is enabled, at least on my AV receiver. The problem goes away via optical S/PDIF
  • TrueHD dowmixing to stereo audio did not work in MX Player and Video Player apps.
  • WiFi performance is below average for both 802.11n and 802.ac, but similar to other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Your mileage may vary. [Update: See comments’ section. WiFi performances looks, but combining SAMBA + WiFi is problematic. Likely an Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK issue]
  • List of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical
  • A few videos do not play smoothly in Kodi but should: VP8 @ 1080p, one 10-bit HEVC video with no audio, “elephant dream” sample, “HD DVD” sample.
  • Potential buffering issue with some rare videos – Starts fast, plays for 1 or 2 seconds, buffers for 10 seconds then play again normally

If you’re going to spend the money on MINIX NEO U9-H, I really recommend you add NEO A2 Lite or NEO 3 air mouse, with the latter adding microphone input. Both air mice have the same design, feel comfortable in your hand, and work well as remote control, air mouse, and keyboard, as long as it’s for typing short texts like search query, user name / password, etc…

If you already own MINIX NEO U1, there’s probably little reason to upgrade, as performance will feel similar, except if you need 4K VP9, HDR, Widevine L1, or/and Microsoft PlayReady DRM support.

MINIX NEO U9-H media hub + NEO A3 air mouse sell for $159.90 / 149.90 GBP on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and are listed on GeekBuying, GearBest, and other online retailers with sales starting officially on March 3rd outside of Amazon.

Review of MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub & MINIX A3 Air Mouse – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

February 24th, 2017 14 comments

MINIX showcased MINIX NEO U9-H TV box at IFA 2016 last year, but was not ready to launch the product or provide the full details yet. The company has now completed development of their Amlogic S912-H octa-core TV box, and sent a review sample for evaluation on CNX Software together with their latest MINIX A3 air mouse with voice command function. I’ll start by listing the specifications of the TV box, take some pictures, and tear it apart to check out how it’s been designed in the first part of the review, and test the firmware in the second part which I intend to post in a few days.

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub specifications

One of the main difference over other Amlogic S912, is the -H suffix which means Dolby and DTS licenses have been paid for so all apps will handle those audio formats:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912-H octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.0 flash, and micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDMI CEC, and HDR support
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, Kensington Lock
  • Dual DRM Support – Play Ready 3.0 + Google Widevine Level 1
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The device runs Android 6.0.1 with XBMC MINIX Edition. The box does not officially support Netflix, but this apk likely based on a previously reported Netflix hack, should give you better quality than the Netflix app from Google Play.

MINIX NEO U9-H Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box and air mouse in familiar looking packages (if you’ve ever bought anything from MINIX).

Click to Enlarge

The TV box has exactly the same shape as previous model, and ships with a WiFi antenna, a HDMI cable, a USB OTG adapter, a micro USB to USB cable in case you want to connect the box to your computer, a 5V/3A power adapter, a MINIX IR remote control, and a user’s manual in English, German, and Chinese.

Click to Enlarge

The front of the device has a plastic window for the IR receiver, and the power LED, while one of the side includes the power button, three USB 2.0 host ports, a micro SD slot, a micro USB OTG port, and a Kensington lock. The rest of the ports can be found on the rear panel: 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, HDMI 2.0a output, optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power jack.

Click to Enlarge

You’ll also find the recovery pin hole on the bottom of the case, more exactly on the left side on the picture below.

MINIX NEO A3 Air Mouse

NEO A3 air mouse specifications include:

  • Connectivity – 2.4GHz transmission with up to 10 meters range
  • Sensors – 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Remote side and QWERTY keyboard side
  • Built-in microphone for voice input.
  • Power – 2x AAA batteries
  • Support for Android, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows

The remote ships with a user’s manual in English, and an RF dongle located in one of the two battery compartments located on the keyboard side.

Click to Enlarge

It’s actually very similar to MINIX NEO A2 Lite I’ve been using in all of my reviews for about a year.

MINIX NEO A2 Lite (Left and Top) vs NEO A3 (Right and Bottom) – Click to Enlarge

The main difference on the remote side is the microphone & settings button in the new model replacing respectively the “enter button”, which I never use since the Android button does the same, and the mute button. The keyboard side is very similar, except for some adding characters on the arrow keys.

The remote fits well in bigger hands, and I’m overall happy with my experience with A2 Lite, but I wish that space, dot, and enter did not have alternate keys, as I often have to press the Fn button to switch between mode. For example typing an IP address is not that convenient, but one the other side I understand space is limited on such keyboard, and you may have to compromise. The air mouse works well with MINIX devices, and can also be used with other devices, except that you can’t turn on TV boxes from other brands with the remote. This would require some IR learning function which has not been implemented.

MINIX NEO U9-H and NEO A3 Unboxing Video

MINIX NEO U9-H Teardown

Opening NEO U9-H is straightforward, as you just need to remove the four rubber pads on the bottom of the enclosure, and loosen four screws.

Click to Enlarge

The bottom of the board includes two SkHynix H5TQ4G63CFR-RDC DDR3 SDRAM chips (1GB RAM), the recovery switch, and a 3V battery for the real-time clock (RTC).

It’s then very easy to complete take out the board, as you can simply pull it out. MINIX is always serious when it comes to cooling, and again they’ve used a large heatsink in their latest model, which means there should be no CPU or GPU throttling issue. The two wireless antennas are connected to u.FL connector with some glue to keep them in place during transport.

The heatsink has a thermal that fits right on top of Amlogic S912-H SoC, which on the top of the board is connected to two more  SKHynix chip brings the total memory to 2GB, and a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so I/O performance should be very good.

Click to Enlarge

Network connectivity is achieved via a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver, and a RJ45 jack with built-in transformer, as well as the same Ampak AP6356S wireless module found in MINIX NEO U1, and supporting 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi up to 867 Mbps (2×2 MIMO) and Bluetoth 4.1 LE. Other components include Genesys Logic GL852G USB 2.0 hub controller, ES8323 audio codec, and Nuvoton MINI54ZDE ARM Cortex M0 MCU to handle power controls. wjhich were also used in NEO U1 TV box. MINIX also kept the same debug headers with JDEBUG1 with 3.3V/Tx/Rx and GND, ICE1 possibly for Nuvotron MCU, and JUART1 with Tx/Rx/GND. So the hardware looks just as solid as in NEO U1, and the eMMC flash that has been upgraded to a new and faster model, which should help a bit with boot time, apps loading times, and overall performance.

That’s it for the hardware, we’ll have to see if firmware is working as well as on their MINIX NEO U1 model, and I’ll publish a review sometimes next week after completing testing.

MINIX NEO U9-H will be officially released on Friday March 3, with pricing as follows:

  • MINIX NEO U9-H = US$139.90 / 154.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO A3 = US$34.90 / 39.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO U9-H + NEO A3 = US$159.90 / 174.90EURO

GearBest has already listed the device on their site, but it’s currently out of stock, since it will only launch in one week. However, MINIX also told me they had some limited stocks in their Amazon US, Amazon UK, and other Amazon stores.

[Update: the second part of the review is up @ MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17]

Xiaomi Mi Box (US) Android TV TV Box Review

February 12th, 2017 29 comments

Introduction

The Mi Box is the first Xiaomi product I have used. I received it beginning of December and have been using it regularly since then. I have received 3 updates which went through uneventfully. I was very pleased with this box. I ended up getting one for my in-laws and one for my 4 year old sons bedroom. The UI worked as expected. I have an Nvidia Shield Android TV, and the Mi Box complements it very well. Having Plex Server running on the Shield and Plex on the Mi Box is pretty fantastic to easily share content. Not to mention way more cost effective than putting a Shield in every room.

What’s Inside

Click to Enlarge

The build quality is good. The power supply puts out 5.2v which is not typical.

I do wish it had more USB ports. A single USB is inadequate. I found myself swapping USB out frequently during testing. There is optical audio and it has the round form factor. Luckily the cable I had had the adapter attached to the end, and it worked fine. No Ethernet adapter is present either.

Click to Enlarge

Teardown Photos

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Android TV UI

For anyone unfamiliar with Android TV UI I took a few screen shots. Across the top in the first screen capture a recently used/suggestion line appears. The top line will update based on your usage games, TV shows, YouTube, news etc.

Click to Enlarge

 

Not all apps populate this. HBO GO, Plex, Netflix, do update. Immediately below there is a MI Box Recommends section which is static.

Click to Enlarge

I was able to disable it under setting > apps to unclutter the main screen. These screenshots were taken when I first plugged in the box. I personally like the UI of Android TV and appreciate that Google ensures all apps to work with remotes and a mouse/touchpad is not necessary.

 

Click to Enlarge

Casting

Another thing that I was forced to use because DirecTV Now does not have an Android TV app yet, is the casting feature. I had it on the Shield but never really used it. Between casting my screen from my phone to most video apps I found it very easy to use. My son will navigate YouTube Kids on his tablet and cast to the TV. This is a feature you won’t find on most android boxes and I found it very convenient and easy to use.

Voice Search

During my usage and showing my son how to use the voice search I grew to like it a lot. Voice searching that is able to return YouTube, Netflix and other video apps is really convenient. My son is 4 and doesn’t speak very clearly yet but it does a good job of recognizing his voice allowing him to find the video’s he wants. (minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego) 🙂

Passthrough and Auto Framerate

I spent many many hours trying to find a good combination in Kodi/SPMC/TVMC/FTMC and couldn’t get it to work consistently. DTS only worked for me. I hope they resolve this with software in the future.

Benchmarks/Testing

This is not really fair but I performed a side by side comparison of 3DMark: Xiaomi Mi Box vs Nvidia Shield. I thought it would be interesting to see. Fear not, the Mi Box does well with light gaming. I had no problems playing games that didn’t require a controller.

Click to Enlarge

WiFi is fair at about 15Mbps on my busy Unifi 2.4 GHz network. I also have a 5GHz N built into my router and strictly using it for testing. I was able to get about 30 Mbps throughput. I still prefer a wired connection when possible and was able to use a USB to Ethernet adapter on the MI Box. I moved 2 files below one on 2.4ghz and one on 5ghz. I don’t have an AC network to test.

Click to Enlarge

I ran a few other tests and info apps below.

Widevine Level 1 Supported – Click to Enlarge

36,151 points in Antutu – Click to Enlarge

Amlogic @ 2.02 GHz – Click to Enlarge

MIBOX3 board name: once – Click to Enlarge

While reviewing

So not all apps are available due to the restrictions of Android TV and Google necessitating the apps be remote friendly. But you might run into a situation where you want to side load. If you have a air mouse or some other hid device connected it’s not a big deal. In order for to launch them in the past you loaded sideload launcher from the play store, It allows you to see all apps regardless if they are Android TV optimized. It works and is pretty easy. While reviewing I ran across a pretty neat app. TV App Repo. It makes sideloading even better.  What it does is create a small app that is basically a shortcut to your side loaded non Android TV app. Now all the apps can be launched from main screen without navigating to the sideload launcher sub menu. It worked on the few I tested. On the community addition, there are a few apps that it hosts one of which was Amazon Prime video. But I didn’t have luck getting videos to play other than trailers.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t going to perform any benchmarking on this box. I don’t think that it is relevant. But I knew it would be crucified. This box was in my opinion built to consume media and I think it does it very well. All the streaming media apps worked great. The only drawback is that HDMI passthrough and auto framerate switching did not work consistently enough in Kodi or Plex. Streaming from HDHomerun works well even over WiFi. Amazon Prime Video is missing from this box. I did try some other methods to watch and only was able to cast from a web browser successfully.

During testing I didn’t use Kodi much and stuck with the main streaming apps that are optimized for Android TV. I hope Koying, the maintainer of SPMC, a fork of Kodi, brings some love to the Mi Box in the near future or even the Kodi team.

If you’re not an audiophile this will make a great box to stream with and hopefully save some money. If you are an Audiophile the Mi Box complements the Nvidia shield on other TV’s where surrounds sound doesn’t matter.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending a review sample and their patience while I reviewed it. I really like to use the products for a while and get a good feel for them. If you are thinking about getting a Mi Box, it helps CNX by clicking & purchasing through this link.