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Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

Rockchip RK3288 To Be Phased Out Soon? GPD XD+ Android Console To Get Mediatek MT8176 SoC, 4GB RAM Upgrade

December 7th, 2017 22 comments

[Update: I have now seen an email exchange with ASUS replying that Rockchip RK3288 will still be in production for 5 years, so GPD claims that manufacturing will stop for RK3288 may be incorrect, or misunderstood

Update 2: Rockchip has now confirmed RK3288 will not be phased out. So I’m guessing there may have been info lost in translation with GPD simply not manufacturing their own RK3288 board anymore]

Rockchip RK3288 32-bit Arm processor was first spotted in a company presentation in the summer of 2013, before being announced – with some confusion (Cortex A12 vs A17) – at CES 2014 in January. The quad core Cortex A17 processor had then its moments of glory with inclusion in products such as Chromebooks (2015), and ASUS Tinker board SBC earlier this year.

Another product based on the processor is GPD XD Android game console, but according to a report on reddit, GPD will soon launch an upgraded version call XD+ powered by Mediatek MT8176 Hexa-core Cortex A72/A53 processor with 4GB RAM, mainly because “Rockchip are phasing out sales of the RK3288”. If true, it means most products based on the chip will soon be phased out or upgraded to another solution. How long each product will keep selling will depend on the stocks held by the manufacturer.

GPD XD+ console preliminary specifications:

  • SoC – Mediatek MT8176 hexa-core processor with 2x Cortex A72 cores @ 2.1 GHz, 4x Cortex A53 cores @ 1.7 GHz, and Imagination PowerVR GX6250 GPU (as used in Xiaomi Mi Pad 3 tablet)
  • System Memory – 4GB RAM
  • Storage – 32GB and up internal storage, micro SD slot
  • Display – 5″ 720p capacitive touch display
  • Video Output – 1x mini HDMI
  • Audio – Dual speaker, via HDMI output, 1x 3.5mm audio jack
  • Connectivity – Dual band WiFi, Bluetooth
  • USB – 1x micro USB port
  • Buttons – Power button, cross button, dual-character button(A/B/X/Y;△/○/×/□), L1/L2/L3/R1/R2/R3, joysticks, Start/Select button, Volume +/-, Back,Android function, Home, Keymapper button
  • Sensor – 3-axis gravity sensor
  • Battery – TBD
  • Power Supply – TBD
  • Dimensions – 155 x 89 x 24 mm
  • Weight – ~300 grams

The device will run Android 7.x, and as you’ll see from the video below some people already got prototypes, with the device achieving 74,500 points in Antutu 6, and a the following Geekbench scores: Single core: 1375; multi core 3529.

The physical aspect of XD+ looks exactly the same as XD, but performance should be quite better with the Cortex A72 cores and PowerVR GPU in the Mediatek SoC, and some games did run better on the new model in the video above. Some games also only work with 64-bit Arm, so more games will be supported.

GPD XD+ is expected to start selling in Q1 2018 with some resellers mentioning January, while other telling the February-March timeframe is more likely. It will all depend on results of testing of the beta units, and other potential production delays.

I contacted Rockchip to try to get more information about the timeline of RK3288 end-of-life status, but I did not get an answer in time for this article. I’ll update it if I get an answer.

Via Liliputing

Sega Genesis Flashback Retro Game Console is Powered by “Monkey King 3.6” Processor, Runs Android

December 3rd, 2017 No comments

Retro gaming is cool again with products like Nintendo NES Classic / SNES Classic, DIY solutions based on firmware like RetrOrangePi, and the upcoming Atari console  among others.

Another model is AtGames Sega Genesis Flashback, a smaller replica of Sega Model 1 Genesis with 85 pre-loaded games including the Sonic series, Mortal Kombat series, Phantasy Star series, and Shining Force series games.

 

The console ships with two wireless controllers, connect to your TV via HDMI with 720p resolution, and includes a cartridge slot that works with Sega Genesis and Mega Drive cartridges. The console has been out for several months, and it would be an understatement to say reviews are not very positive with titles / bylines such as “do not buy” (partially because the console requires a power adapter….), This Genesis does not do what Nintendoes, or “More like Trashback“.

But what caught my eyes is ETA Prime’s Sega Genesis Flashback HD Teardown And Review (embedded below), which reveals the board is powered by Monkey King 3.6 processor.

Click to Enlarge

A new silicon vendor? My search attempts were unfruitful, but as we continue watching the video and ETA prime connects the box to his PC via USB we find the answer. Monkey King 3.6 processor is actually a re-branded Rockchip RK3036 SoC with a dual core Cortex A7  processor and Mali-400MP GPU, and the system runs Android 4.4. So eventually it could be feasible to add your own game. The actual review is fairly positive except for some specific games (frame skipping), contrary the gaming sites linked above.

Thanks to theguyuk for the tip.

RetrOrangePi 4.0 Released

November 6th, 2017 9 comments

RetrOrangePi is a retro gaming & media center firmware based on Armbian Debian image and working on Allwinner H3/H2+ based Orange Pi boards, Banana Pi M2+, and NanoPi M1, as well as Beelink X2 TV Box.

Right at the end of last year, I reviewed RetrOrangePi 3.0 on Orange Pi One board to which I connected Mars G01 gamepad, and I could play some games like Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, and watch videos on OpenELEC/Kodi 16. The firmware also comes with various emulators, but you’d have to load the ROMs yourself due to intellectual property / license issues. The developers have now released RetrOrangePi 4.0.

RetrOrangePi 4.0 changelog:

  • Latest Armbian v5.32 (Debian Jessie kernel 3.4.113)
  • RetroPie-Setup v4.3.3 (unofficial fork, upgradeable)
  • New RetrOrangePi repository for easy updates and fixes
  • EmulationStation v2.6.5 with video and game collection support, Desktop/OpenELEC shorcuts from main menu
  • New ROPi “Attract-Mode”-like theme (based on Cosmos theme)
  • Retroarch 1.6.7 – Retroachievements tested
  • Kodi Krypton 17.4 (hardware acceleration provided by MPV + VDPAU): IPTVsimple included, quit button fixed
  • OpenELEC (Kodi Jarvis 16.1) with CEC support by Jernej Skrabec (optional installation)
  • Slim and Full versions for all compatible boards
  • All Libretro cores updated
  • All RetroPie themes available for installation
  • Experimental new libretro cores: DOSBox, MAME2014, VICE, X68000, Amiga PUAE
  • PPSSPP latest v1.42
  • Mupen64Plus standalone emulator (with hires textures support)
  • AdvanceMAME 3.5
  • AdvanceMENU frontend integrated
  • AdvanceMESS (support for ancient platforms, tested OK: Bally Astrocade, BBC Micro, Channel F, Colecovision etc.
  • New Quake 2 port (Yamagi Quake)
  • New Streets of Rage Remake port (needs BennuGD engine downloaded to home folder)
  • Improved Amiga emulation – fullscreen UAE4ARM with JIT support, optional WHDLoad
  • Hatari 2.0 (SDL2) – atariST emulator
  • Vice 3.1 (SDL2) – Commodore emulator
  • Boot selection – from Desktop (EmulationStation, Kodi, AdvanceMENU, RetroArch, Desktop)
  • Onscreen keyboard (Florence)
  • Overscan fix in AV outputs (Allwinner_TVOUT_manipulator)
  • New Desktop wallpaper, wifi config, ES, Kodi, Donate and Support icons
  • Customized Retroarch configuration (optimal settings, appearance tweaks, original aspect ratio)
  • New HDMI/Analog AV configuration tool (thanks Jose Rios) + our overscan fix
  • New exclusive ROPi Radio beta version
  • Scraper by Sselph update
  • Universal XML Scraper integration and tutorials
  • Binary cores updates
  • GPIO driver can be installed from driver section.
  • RetroPie services tested: USBROMSERVICE – create a retropie-mount folder in your FAT32 flash drive, Virtual gamepad
  • Custom ES splashscreen by Francois Lebel @MagicFranky – the number 4 was on us :p (great skills!)
  • Custom MOTD with ROPi invader + Armbian info
  • Improved filesystem support: FAT32 automount, ExFAT support

The full images are not yet available, but if you are an existing users with ROPi 3.0.1 instead, you can upgrade to version 4.0 by running ropi4.sh script in your board/device as pi user:

The images for new users will be coming later once one of the developers involved get more free time. In the meantime, you’d have to download & install RetroOrange Pi 3.0.1, and run the script to upgrade to 4.0.

You’ll find more details about the release in the forums, where you can also ask for support questions. The source code can be found on github.

Orange Pi Lite Based Seedi Retro Gaming Console Takes Your Old DVDs or CD-ROMs (Crowdfunding)

October 6th, 2017 4 comments

Shenzhen Xunlong’s Orange Pi family is a nice collection of low costs ARM Linux development boards that can be used in all sort of projects, just like Raspberry Pi boards, but cheaper at the cost of requiring more skills, and/or efforts to complete a project. One popular use for Orange Pi boards is retro gaming thanks to community supported images like RetrOrange Pi supporting games for Atari, Amiga, DreamCast, and other consoles.

The implementation looks good enough for startups to sell their own products based on Orange Pi  hardware and RetrOrangePi software, as we’ve already seen with RetroEngine Sigma Retro Game Console which had a very successful Indiegogo campaign with $629,368 USD raised. “Seedi Team” has now launched their own game console apparently based on Orange Pi Lite, but it’s a little different as instead of copying “ROMs” , you can simply insert your old CD-ROMs or DVDs.

Seedi game console hardware specifications:

  • SoC – Quad core ARM processor
  • System Memory – N/A
  • Storage – 32GB micro SD cards, CD/DVD reader / CD burner
  • Video Output – HDMI up to 1080p60
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth
  • USB – 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Case – Horizontal or vertical orientation

The CD/DVD drive can play PSX, TurboGrafx, Neo Geo, and Sega CDs, but you can also read any other CD or DVD disks, as the drive is allegedly region-free. A separate Retrode adapter will allow you to use cartridges to play games from Sega Genesis, Game Boy, etc… For other platforms, including NES, MAME (arcade), Atari 2600, or TurboGrafx 16 you can always load the ROMs in other ways. Ports of Doom, Quake, or other DOS games are also available.

Beside the specifications above, the developers only mention it’s been developed using open source hardware and software, but based on various photo of the device and screenshot, it’s pretty clear the console is powered by Orange Pi Lite board with an Allwinner H3 processor and 512MB RAM, and runs RetrOrangePi with Kodi [Update: The list of software used is here. Not based on RetrOrangePi, but still based on Retroarch + Libretro]

The console launched on Indiegogo a few weeks ago, and raised a little over $20,000 out of its $50,000 target. A Seedi System with a vertical stand, a Bluetooth game controller, a controller charging/pairing cable, and power adapter requires a $125 pledge, and they also have other rewards  with a retro green case, or multiple controllers. The cartridge reader is not sold in the crowdfunding campaign. Shipping adds $10 to the US, $15 to the rest of the world, and delivery is scheduled for March 2018. They’ve sent early prototype to reviewers, and I included one of those video reviews below.

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

June 26th, 2017 10 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

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

  • WiFi upload:

  • WiFi download:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A95X R2 TV Box / Rockchip RK3328 Benchmarks and System Info

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

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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.

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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.

No Case for Orange Pi Zero or Other Tiny Development Boards? No problem: Use an Old Mouse

April 11th, 2017 1 comment

There now plenty of tiny ARM Linux boards, which are normally sold without case, but usually it’s not to hard to find a 3D printed case. But if you have small board, and don’t feel to purchase a case for it, there’s an other solution: use an old mouse. That’s exactly what Slider2732 has done with his Orange Pi Zero board to convert it to a mini PC running Armbian, or a game console running RetroOrangePi. So after the keyboard PC, here comes the mouse PC!

So what did he exactly use for the mouse PC?

  1. Orange Pi Zero board
  2. An old Logitech mouse for the case and cable
  3. An 8GB micro SD card to flash the operating system
  4. A 4.3″ car reversing monitor (optional) acting as the display with composite input
  5. An Rii wireless keyboard/mouse, as the mouse function is not included with the mouse PC…
  6. A PAM8403 based 3W audio amplifier
  7. A 0.25W speaker
  8. Salvaged fan from an ATI graphics card + 32 Ohm resistor

You’ll have to find an old mouse with sufficient height, and cut plastic parts that get in the way. The mouse cable is used to carry power, audio and composite video in his setup, but you could customize it as you see fit. Note that you should get 6 wires in a PS/2 mouse, and only 4 wires in a USB mouse, so the older the better 🙂

You can find more details about the build in the video.

Via Hackaday.

Kingnovel R8 Android TV Box Review (VLC Edition)

October 25th, 2015 7 comments

Kingnovel R8 is one of the many Rockchip RK3368 based TV boxes on the market, and since I’ve already provided the specs, as well as pictures of the device and board, I’ll carry on with the review today. While I’m usually testing video playback in Kodi, I’ve only spent a short time with Kodi 15.2 on this box, and instead switched to VLC (aka VideoLAN), an another open source media player, and my favorite program to watch videos in my Ubuntu computer. Of course, I’ve also tested most hardware features and performance of the device.

First Boot, and First Impressions

Since I like to test worst case scenarios, I also make sure I use all the ports of the devices, and connected a USB hard drive, USB RF dongles, USB webcam, and relevant cables to the device before powering it up. Once you connect the power, I recommend you have some tea while waiting for the boot to complete, as it will usually take around 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Carbon_Metro_Launcher

Click for Original Size

The launched is called Carbon Metro and includes Kodi, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Netflix, a Web Browser and a link to “Setting”.

Apps Center

Apps Center

There’s also an Apps Center, which would have been better called “Favorites”, as you can add and remove shortcuts as needed…

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

… as well as “Smart Apps” which simply lists all installed app, in some random order…About_R8

I’m not going through the whole settings today, as they look exactly like the ones in Zidoo X6 Pro up to the “Ehernet” typo, except printing is also enabled. The 8GB partition has been partitioned in to a 2.91GB “internal storage” partition with 1.89 GB free, and a 2.88GB “NAND flash” partition. I could not see any major issues with settings, and I could change video output to 2160p60 with the user interface resolution fixed at 1920×1080, and I had no problem with Ethernet and WiFi connection to my router.

The About device section only shows a generic “rk3368-box” model name with Android 5.1.1 on top of Linux 3.10.0.

I’ve added two AAA battery to the remote control, and I have to say the remote is pretty nice to use (for an IR remote) thanks to its compact size and fits well into my hand, and I tested up to 10 meter without issues. Having said that I only used it a few minutes, and switched to an air mouse instead which is much more convenient in Android.

I could install all apps I needed for the review from Google Play store or Amazon Underground, after side-loading the latter.

Power control is mostly implemented correctly with standby and power off working fine. A short press on the remote power button will go into standby, and a long press will pop-up a menu asking you to confirm you want to power off the device. Once in power off mode, you can use the remote control to turn it back on. However, power measurements showed some flaws:

  • Power off – 0 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle – 2.4 ~ 3.2 Watts
  • Power off + HDD – 2.1 Watt (HDD light still on)
  • Standby + HDD – 1.2 Watt (HDD light does turn off)
  • Idle + HDD – 5.0 ~ 5.4 Watts

So as long as you don’t connect any USB devices all is fine, but if you leave your USB hard drive attached is will still be powered on in power on, although it’s completely turned off in standby mode. When I connect all USB devices used for review, the power off consumption goes up to 3.1 Watts.

One good news is that the box temperature stays in control, and the Rockchip processor does not massively throttle like in Zidoo X6 Pro. The maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the device was respectively 41°C and 54°C after Antutu benchmark, and 42°C and 57°C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

The firmware does not seem to have massive bugs and never frozen, but Android would very often show the messages “Carbon Metro is not responding” or “Unfortunately Carbon Metro has stopped”, either because of poor implementation of the launcher itself, or more likely, the very slow NAND flash used R8 TV box. Switching from an app to Android home screen by pressing the home button on the remote will normally take 5 seconds, and apps don’t start very fast either, and sometimes the system feels rather sluggish. So unfortunately the first impressions were not very good mostly due to very slow boot time, launcher issues, and overall sluggishness.

Video Playback

A Quick Look at Kodi

Even though I’m going to focus on VideoLAN in this review, I’ve still had a look at Kodi. I was somewhat impressed than Kodi 15.2 is pre-installed, as the firmware is a few weeks old, and many still used Kodi 14.2.

Kodi_15.2_TVAddons

Click for Original

Kodi is also pre-loaded with TVAddons which I previously tried, provides lots of pirated content, and is despised by Kodi’s developers.

Firstly, I went to Kodi settings to enabled Dolby and DTS pass-through, and automatic frame rate switching, as well as the Android settings to set audio output to HDMI pass-through. Then I played three videos in Kodi via Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, all of which are in theory supported by RK3368 processor:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_normal.mp4 (H.264 @ 1080p60 + AC3) – Video OK, and the AV receiver showed “Dolby D 5.1”, but it sometimes switched to “Unknown” and audio was cut for less than one second, before resuming audio and “Dolby D 5.1” output.
  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (4K H.264 @ 30fps + AAC) – The video was not very smooth.
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps + AC3) – The video was not smooth, and audio played fine (Dolby D 5.1) was a while before continuously making a “machine gun” like noise.

Finally, I’m very happy not too have gone through the torture that would have been to run a full video playback test with Kodi on this firmware. You’ll probably want to find another version of Kodi maybe from Google Play, or the version recently released by Zidoo which has been specifically optimized for RK3368.

VLC

If you are interested in the open source nature of VLC for Android, and want to check it out yourself you can follow the instructions to get the code and build VLC. The app is available in Google Play, but there are two versions:

  • VLC for Android beta – Version 1.0.0 last updated on December 9, 2014 with 50 to 100 millions installs.
  • VLC for Android – Version 1.6.6 last updated on October 23, 2015 (But I tested version 1.6.0 released October 16, 2015) with 10 to 50 millions installs

If you only look at the app title, you may have thought the beta version has the latest developments, but checking the details clearly shows the beta version is not updated anymore, so you’ll want to install VLC for Android, which is exactly what I did.

The first boot might slow as the app will scan for media files on your system, especially if you have connected an hard drive with lots of videos or/and pictures, and since this happens in the foreground, you’ll have to be patient. Unfortunately after a while the app would just exit without any crash log files (vlc_logcat_<…>.log) in the root of my “internal SD card”. That problem is reproducible 100% of the time, maybe because I have two many files, or maybe because I have multiple partitions with the same directory structure (double files), and somehow that confuses the app. Since I normally play videos over SAMBA, I just disconnect the hard drive, and the app started normally, but then I found out that SAMBA is not supported by the app in VLC Android FAQ. You should be able to work around that by mounting the network shares with another app, but instead I just copied the sample videos in a USB flash drive, and after the scan I could see all my videos. Yeah!

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The videos are grouped by filename, and all Big Buck Bunny videos were in one single “group”. This looks nice, but for testing purpose it’s much easier for me to get a file list.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It works, but the user interface is clearly optimized for phones, as a lot of space is unused.

All good so I started by playing 1080p video samples found in samplemedia.linaro.org, but unfortunately I only got a black screen (without mouse pointer or volume display possible) with audio playing fine. So I went to the settings and following some recommendations from the Android FAQ.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The settings page shown above have various option for subtitle, video orientation, background video playback and so on, but I went into the hardware acceleration menu and try all four options, and only “disabled” worked for me. Please note that you may have to quit and restart the app for it to work.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Then I went into the Performance section, and forced video chroma to YUV as it’s supposed to provide the best performance, and it also worked on the device.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Finally, I had a look into the advanced options, and check the audio output which allowed selection between AudioTrack and OpenSL ES. I simply kept the default settings.

Based on these settings, here are the results for Linaro’s 1080p video samples, plus a low resolution VP9 sample, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – Not 100% smooth
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – Pretty good, but I did notice some frame “flashes” 2 or 3 times (Like a white frame or older frame is shown during playback)
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK, but I did notice some frame “flashes” 2 or 3 times
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Real Media (RMVB) (720p / 5Mbps) – Artifacts, and video freezes before the end
  • WebM / VP8 – Most of the time the video plays fine, but some frame flashes occurred
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – Black screen and audio
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Artifacts

Even saying that it’s not very good is an euphemism. VLC developer did say that the program may not work on all platform, and Rockchip RK3368 is one of these. Nevertheless, I still enabled HDMI audio pass-through in Android settings to see if HD audio would be passed through to my AV receiver:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 (VOB file) – VLC reported that a “Serious error occurred and VLC had to close”
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0 only, and the video was not smooth
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0 only
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – the receiver showed PCM 2.0, but the audio felt like some extra-terrestrial life form was trying to enter in contact with me…
  • DTS HD Master – PCM 2.0 only
  • DTS HD High Resolution – PCM 2.0 only.

So with hindsights, it was not such a good idea to run VLC on an Android TV box, as the app is probably optimized to run on the most popular phones or mobile SoCs like Qualcomm, Samsung, or Mediatek.

Antutu Video Tester 3.0

I installed Antutu Video Tester 3.0 manually and the results were in line with other RK3368 mini PCs with a score of 516 points.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfer a 278MB file between the internal flash and a SAMBA share to test WiFi performance. Kingnovel R8 has one of the weakest WiFi performance I’ve tested so averaging 1.24 MB/s, and in the second test the transfer stalled a few times. Had it not stalled performance would have been higher, but not much, probably around 1.5 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

I did the same test for Gigabit Ethernet, but with a larger 885 MB file, and the file was transferred at 10 MB/s. This is slower than most devices with Gigabit Ethernet device, but as we’ll see later the bottleneck should be the slow NAND flash, just like in WeTek Core TV box.

R8_Ethernet_PerformanceSo I’ve also tested dual duplex raw performance for one minute using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, and the performance is OK at around 600 Mbps in both directions. Kingnovel_R8_Ethernet_iperfiperf output:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I’ve tested Bluetooth transferring photos using Iocean M6572 smartphone, and a Bluetooth audio headset. Both worked.

Storage

A micro SD card formatted with FAT32, as well as NTFS &, EXT-4 partitions in my USB hard drive could be access in read/write mode, but not exFAT nor BTRFS.

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

A1 SD Bench results for the 2 partitions on the USB 3.0 hard drive:

  • NTFS (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK4/USB3_NTFS) – Read: 23.92 MB/s , Write: 16.75 MB/s
  • EXT-4 (/mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK4/udisk1) – Read: 25.18 MB/s, Write: 17.28 MB/s

Performance is acceptable for a USB 2.0 connection, but write speed should be optimized.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

The internal storage felt slow at boot time and during usage with some apps, including the launcher, often becoming irresponsive. A1SD benchmark confirmed the impressions,  as the flash could only achieve 14.02 MB/s reads, and 4.85 MB/s writes.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Some other products like WeTek Play and WeTek Core also have slow internal storage, but somehow they’ve managed to setup their firmware in a way that it does not affect the user experience much.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga worked without issues as in most devices, and Riptide GP2 was quite smooth, and remains very much playable after changing the graphics settings to the “highest resolution”.

Kingnovel R8 Benchmarks

If you still thought RK3368 would be clocked @ 1.5 GHz as advertised, that’s the third device were CPU-Z shows it clocked @ 1.20 GHz maximum. The board model is simply rk3368_box.
R8_CPU-Z

I’ve only run Antutu 5.7.3 benchmark this time, and R8 achieved 31,609 points, a bit below to the 34,101 points  I got with Beelink i68, but still well above the ~25,000 points in Zidoo X6 Pro which throttles a lot. (Note that X6 Pro will also get ~34,000 points if you run Antutu right after booting, but the score will decrease if your run Antutu after using the box for a while, and once I even managed to bring the score down to around 11,000 points after playing a 4K H.265 videos at 60 fps for one hour).
R8_Antutu_5.7.3

Conclusion

This time I’ve got a two parts conclusion: one for VLC on TV boxes, one for Kingnovel R8 specifically.

VLC on TV Boxes (powered by Rockchip RK3368 processor)

VLC for Android has been installed on tens of millions of devices, and the app has a pretty good rating of 4.3 out of 5. However, it’s quite likely developers are focusing their efforts on popular smartphones and tablets powered by Qualcomm, Samsung and Mediatek processors, as my VLC experience on Kingnovel R8 TV box was very poor without hardware acceleration support, and software decoding struggling with 1080p videos. I could not connect to network shares either, but all these potential issues are pointed out in the FAQ.

Since VLC is my favorite player in Linux, I was hoping for more, but unfortunately it should be avoided in (Rockchip) TV Box. That does not mean VLC won’t run well on any TV boxes, as the app supports Android TV operating system, and an earlier preview version had been tried on Nexus Player.

Kingnovel R8

Sadly Kindnovel R8 is yet another disappointing TV box both due to firmware (e.g. sluggish launcher), and hardware issues (e.g. slow NAND flash). I’ve compiled some of the pros and the cons for the device.

PROS

  • Android 5.1 firmware with Kodi 15.2
  • HDMI 2.0 video output works up to 2160p60 Hz
  • Good Ethernet performance
  • Proper power handling with standby & power off but one caveat: USB power is not turned off in power off mode.
  • I did not notice any overheating issues
  • The IR remote is nice and small with a good range (>10 meters)
  • 3D games played fairly well

CONS

  • NAND flash is slow, and the firmware may feel slow at times with “app unresponsive” messages popping up from time to time, especially the launcher. This also explains a 2 minutes 20 seconds boot time (when USB devices are attached to the device)
  • It takes 5 seconds to go from the current app to the home screen
  • Kodi 15.2 did not well with the three videos I tried: Neither 4K H.264 @ 30fps and 4K H.265 @ 60 were smooth, and HDMI audio pass-through was not reliable (Audio cuts while playing). Kodi may also be quite slow to exit at times as in many other devices, and that version is pre-loaded with TVaddons (piracy issues).
  • WiFi performance is one of the worst I experienced in TV boxes
  • USB power is not turned off in power off mode (but it is in standby mode)

The issues might be eventually fixed, and if you are a distributor you may either request Kingnovel to improve the firmware responsiveness, or ask them to provide a faster flash device.

I’d like to thanks Kingnovel for providing the sample for review, which can be ordered in quantities from the company, see R8 product page. While I would not recommend it, individuals can purchase “R8 TV box” on GeekBuying, Ebay, Banggood, or Aliexpress with prices starting at around $76, but the hardware in the device may be slightly different than the one reviewed (e.g. 2GB vs 1GB RAM), and the provided IR remote control is different.

Nvidia Shield Android TV vs Apple TV vs Roku 3 vs Fire TV vs Nexus Player – Video Capabilities and Features Comparison

October 1st, 2015 6 comments

Since Nvidia released the Shield Android TV box, I’ve heard several people saying Nvidia raised the bar and even disrupted the TV box market by bringing a powerful HTPC and gaming console to the market for just $199.

Nvidia_SHIELD

The company has now released OTA 2.0 firmware that improves HTPC capabilities, including under Kodi and Plex, and the box supports for 10-bit HEVC, H.264, and VP9 @ 4K, and audio pass-through for HD audio codecs such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master.

As part of the release announcement, Nvidia also compared the Shield TV media capabilities to the ones of other US centric media players, namely Apple TV (2015), Roku 3, Amazon Fire TV (2015), and Nexus Player.

Shield_TV_Roku_3_Amazon_Fire_Nexus_Player_H.265_VP9Since it comes from Nvidia, it was also going to show the Shield TV in a good light, but I’m very surprised to see that Apple, Amazon, Google, and Roku would ship a device without MPEG-2 support… Maybe most people just stream videos online, instead of watching ripped DVDs… or in the case of Fire TV 2015 and Apple TV 2015, the products are not shipping yet, and the specifications were not completed. Nvidia Shield TV is also the one to support pass-through, but DTS-HD HR (High Resolution) is not listed and most likely not supported.

Nvidia also provided another comparison table comparing features and performance of Apple TV, Roku 3, and Fire TV (2015), against Shield, and somehow dropped Nexus Player from the comparison.

Apple_TV_vs_Roku_3_vs_FireTV_vs_Nvidia_ShieldThis confirms Shield TV supports HDMI 2.0a, and 2160p @ 60 Hz video output, and is much more powerful than its competitors, being the only machine providing decent gaming performance. Fire  TV is listed as not having a micro SD slot, but that’s a mistake, as Fire TV supports micro SD cards up to 128GB.

I’ve also checked the price of the competitors:

So only the Apple TV device is in the same price range as Nvidia Shield Android TV, and while it’s true the Nvidia device is well above the rest of the field in terms of performance and video capabilities, it’s also twice as expensive, but if that you need is a 4K HTPC with audio pass-through, it is the only viable solution among the other devices listed above, and the price to performance ratio is very good… as long as you happen to have an address in the US, or beginning today, in France, Germany, the UK, or Scandinavia, where it is now selling for 149.99 GBP, or 199.99 Euros. But if you live outside Europe or US, or other markets where the Shield TV is officially sold, you’ll have to go through parallel channels, and it will probably cost you between $300 to $400 to get the 16GB version of the device.

Thanks to Harley for the tip!