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

August 18th, 2017 No comments

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

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So everything is done right here.

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

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

Video & Audio Playback – RKM, DRM, and YouTube

RKMC 16.1 is installed with a purple skin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported.

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

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

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

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

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

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

  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n upload:

  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n download:

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

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

  • Gigabit Ethernet full duplex test with iperf:

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

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

Gaming

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

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

Bluetooth

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

Benchmarks and System Info

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

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

Conclusion

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

PROS

  • Recent, responsive and stable Android 7.1.2 operating systems
  • Excellent supports for 4K videos in RKMC 16.1 (Kodi fork) with automatic frame rate switching support
  • HD audio codec such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD are detected with HDMI pass-through in RKMC, and
  • High performance internal storage leading to fast booting and app loading times, and good overall performance (no waiting for app windows…)
  • USB 3.0 performance is good with EXT-4, and to a lesser extend with NTFS
  • Good power handling with reboot/standby/power off mode, and low power consumption
  • Built-in Bluetooth is working well
  • Widevine Level 3 DRM

CONS

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

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

Rockchip RK3328 based MXR PRO TV Box Boasts 4GB RAM, 32GB Flash

July 24th, 2017 9 comments

Most users of TV boxes will do just fine with 2 GB RAM, especially with lower end ARM Cortex A53 systems, but if you have somewhat low processing needs, but high memory requirements, MXR Pro TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor, and running Android 7.1 comes with 4GB RAM, and 32GB storage.

MXR PRO 4K TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264. 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio – Via HDMI, AV port (stereo audio), and 3.5mm coaxial S/PDIF jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, single band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, blue/red LED for power status
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 12 x 12 x 2.4 cm

Maybe one use case of the extra memory could have been TV BOX + NAS via the USB 3.0 port, but while they decided to spent extra for memory and storage, they kept the cheapest networking options possible with Fast Ethernet, and 2.4GHz WiFi. So that’s not ideal for that use case. That means the only option – that I know of – with RK3328, 4GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0 is still ROCK64 development board.

MXR PRO TV box is sold on DHGate for $67.98 with shipping by DHL. That website also offers wholesale discount, with the price dropping to $49.09 per unit for orders of 100 devices or more. Note that the title on DHgate mentions RK3228 processor, but in the description it’s mostly RK3328, and a listing on Alibaba confirms the specs.

Via AndroidPC.es

ROCK64 Board Review – Part 1: eMMC Flash Module, Android 7.1 Firmware, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 16th, 2017 19 comments

ROCK64 is the second ARM Linux development board by Pine64 that is based on Rockchip RK3328 processor, instead of Allwinner 64 for Pine A64 board, and while both processors comes with four Cortex A53 cores, the Rockchip processor offers a faster GPU, 4K @ 60 Hz video support, as well as USB 3.0 support. I’ve got a sample with an eMMC flash module, and I’m going to test it first with Android 7.1, since those were the only firmware images currently available on the Wiki, but Linux will be available before the board ships publicly at the end of July.

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Rock64 Linux Ports Status

There are now at least three Linux ports in progress:

  1. ayufan’s Debian Jessie and Ubuntu Xenial images which are now in pre-release, but should officially be released next week.
  2. Arch Linux ARM with no pre-built Rock64 images yet
  3. Fedora 25 minimal Image
  4. The Yocto Project support is also being worked on with the first release planed for August

I’ve got some comments on IRC, that ayufan images supports GPIO(s), Mali hardware graphics acceleration – but performance needs to be tuned -, as well as hardware video decoding but 4K videos are not playing that well right now. I’ll make sure to try one of ayufan image, before the boards ship on July 31st.

eMMC Flash Module Compatibility with ODROID Boards

ROCK64 board can boot from micro SD card or an eMMC flash module, with the latter likely to provide better performance than most SD cards, and you won’t have to worry about fakes. The eMMC flash module is not a new idea, as Hardkernel has offered those with their ODROID boards for year. And I read that Pine64 eMMC flash module would be compatible with ODROID boards, which would be good news if you already own any of Hardkernel ones. I tested compatibility the easy way, as I connected Pine64’s eMMC flash to Hardkernel eMMC to micro SD adapter…

and plugged it in to a card reader in my computer, and I could access “system” and “Volumn” partitions on the eMMC flash module part of the pre-installed Android image.So ODROID users can rejoice, as you may not need to buy extra eMMC flash modules to play around with ROCK64 board.

Installing Android 7.1 on ROCK64 Board

ROCK64 board firmware update to the eMMC flash module works just like firmware update on Rockchip TV boxes, i.e using Android_Tool program in Windows, or upgrade_tool (now renamed rkdeveloptool) in Linux. You’ll also need a USB male to male connected between your computer and the board. If you plan to run Android from a micro SD card instead, you can use the same image, but flashing it via SD_Firmware_Tool from Windows.  Eventually Pine64 installer program, based on Etcher, will probably be updated to support ROCK64 board, and handle both download and flashing to the micro SD card.

Currently there are two Android images provided via the Wiki:

  • Stock Android 7.1 [20170712] Engineering version released by the company
  • Community Build Android TV 7.1 [ver 0.1.8] by ayufan

I’ll use “Stock Android 7.1” for this review, since I’m not a big fan of Android TV, and both download are slow, with the Pine64 server easily winning the download race against github. 🙂

Since I’m a Ubuntu user, I went with the Linux method. Let’s install the update_tool, and uncompress the firmware image first. After download run:

After connecting a jumper – or something else to short both pins – as shown in the picture above with a red circle, I connected the power supply, and a USB cable between the top USB 2.0 port and my computer in order to enter MaskROM mode, and finally removed the jumper before running:

This should take a couple of minutes with the following output:

Firmware update is done.

Android 7.1 “Engineering Version”  Launcher, Settings and Benchmarks

So we can connect the board with everything we need.

The first time. I’m asked to choose between “ROCK64 Launcher” and “ROCK64 Launcher”, and you’ve got to love the choice offer here.
I just selected the first one (com.cloudmedia.rock64launcher) and it did not work quite as expected…

I tried to open the app again, but it did not work, so I just restarted the board, and could finally access the launcher [Update: The second launcher works better apparently]. Note that the framebuffer resolution is only 1280×720 instead of the more common 1920×1080 on this type of hardware.

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One small problem though… While the USB keyboard would work, my air mouse’s RF dongle connected to the top USB dongle would not be recognized. I had to move it to the lower part to make it work. Nothing would work on that upper USB port, so I guess it’s stuck in device mode, and could not find an option in Android to change that. So I connect a USB Hub with the USB keyboard and RF dongle, and it would not work either. After unplugging and replugging the hub, I was finally able to use at the same time.

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The settings will show on the right side of the screen, I just composed the screenshot above to show both resolution options up to 4096x2160p60(YCrCr420), and maybe 4096x2160p60(YCrCb444), which may have seen filtered out since LG 42UB820T television used for review is not supporting that mode.


The storage section shows 3.08GB used out of 14.45GB from the 16GB eMMC flash module, and the system could mount both NTFS and EXT4 partitions from the USB 3.0 hard drive, but not exFAT nor BTRFS.That image is based on Android 7.1.2 plus Linux 3.10.104, and a fairly recent April 5,2017 security patch.


Above is the list of pre-installed app in that image. I went to Google Play Store to install a few apps, and many were grayed out and impossible to install. I still managed to install Antutu and DRM Info. I ran the former, keeping in mind that without heatsink, the score may not be that good. 34,811 points in Antutu 6.x without heatsink is not bad, especially considering the room temperature was close to 30 ºC. I actually got a lower score with Rockchip RK3328 TV boxes like A95X R2 with only 33,117 points, also using the same 1280×720 resolution. DRM Info returns no support for Widevine DRM at all, not really surprising.

In order to install more apps, I decided to download APKPure apk via the installed Lightning web browser, and somehow the board became rather unresponsive, as is there was lot of I/Os in the background. After killing the browser twice when getting the “app not responding” window, I finally manage to download and install APKPure.

Damn, it will launch in portrait, a frequent bug on TV boxes running Android…. 4 or 5 years ago. So I decided that maybe I should give ayufan Android image a try after all, since the “Engineering Version” image has soon many bugs right now. As I finished testing I was also informed that “the stock build listed as engineering, we still tuning on 4K playback”, and that “eventually this tuning will roll into ayufan TV build around end of this month when ROCK64 production board roll out”. So eventually people will be directed to use Android TV 7.1 OS, and you should still keep in mind that there’s still 2 weeks before the board ships so many bugs will be ironed out.

Android TV 7.1 “ayufan” Firmware

As I tested the “Engineering” image, Android TV 7.1 firmware could complete to download (it tool around 6 hours), and I uncompress it, and flashed it using the same method as above:

I had no troubles to access to the launcher this time, and both USB 2.0 ports are working.

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The resolution is still 1920×1080, so that’s also an improvement.

Android TV firmware does not play nice with my air mouse however, as in many sections, mouse clicks are not supported, and the Home key has no effect. Doing searches in Google Play is a nightmare, as it will randomly switch to “voice mode” when I type with a keyboard or air mouse.

I could not find Chrome, nor Firefox in Google Play, so instead I installed some other “TV Browser”, and the download would not start, so instead I download APKPure in my computer, and installed it from ES File Explorer. The same portrait orientation occurred again, so I gave up, and side-loaded CPU-Z, A1SD Bench, and iperf from ES File Explorer.


CPU-Z shows a quad core Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU…

… and that I got the 1GB RAM version of the board (there are also 2GB and 4GB version), and the “screen resolution” is 1920×1080 as we’ve seen above.

This image is also based on Android 7.1.2 with Linux 3.10.104 kernel.

I used A1SD bench for storage benchmarks in Android which reports sequential speeds only.

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The “Cache read” is the internal memory so the 90.80 MB/s read speed is invalid. The 35.39MB/s write speed should be correct, and is not too bad with a flash. We’ll find more about the eMMC flash module once I run iozone3 benchmark in Linux. USB storage is working OK, with the EXT-4 partition (Red SD card) achieving 94.13 and 90.93 MB/s W/W speeds, and the NTFS partition (Yellow SD card) getting 92.82 MB/s and 62.66 MB/s not that from what I get on my computer with that mechanical hard drive. Other people have tested performance up to 300 MB/s on SSD drive connected to the USB 3.0 port of ROCK64 board. The important part is that performance maxes out Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, which with EXT-4 file system it nearly does.

Speaking about Ethernet, I tested Gigabit performance by using iperf for 60 seconds for a full duplex transfer:

Not too bad, but it looks like it can not (currently) transfer close to max speed in both direction at the same time. If you are using it as TV box, it will not matter a bit however.

I also tested a few 4K videos from the USB 3.0 drive in Kodi 17.3 installed from Google Play since I was told it should work OK…:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – Audio OK, but video is a slidehow despite hardware video decoding with amc-h264 codec
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) – Shows previous video still with many green lines. I had very difficult controls from the air mouse, so I powered cycled the board.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Audio OK, but video is a slideshow despite using hardware decoding with amc-h265
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Audio OK, but video is a slideshow with the picture refresh every ~6 seconds
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Several audio cuts, and slideshow
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Video will freeze after a few seconds
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Maybe 1 fps with amc-VP9 (HW)

All videos above are using hardware video decoding according to Kodi overlay info. I tried Big Buck Bunny 1080p60 sample, but the video was not watchable either. It would play, but not smoothly. CPU temperature should not be the problem, as I measured around 65 °C with a IR thermometer. I skipped HDMI audio pass-through, since I was told it would not work, and I can’t play videos properly in Kodi with the current firmware. Better video playback and HDMI audio pass-through are all being worked on right now.

So Android support does not look too good right now, and while I’m hopeful the most critical issues will be fixed by the time, people get the board next months, there are so many problems that, it’s likely many other bugs will still have to be fixed, so you may have to be patient if you have ordered  a board in order to run Android.

ROCK64 can be pre-ordered for $24.95 with 1GB RAM, $34.95 with 2GB RAM, and $44.95 with 4GB RAM on Pine64 website. You may want to add a power supply, and optionally the eMMC flash module to your order. Remember that you’ll also need a USB male to male if you want to flash the firmware to the eMMC flash. It’s not needed if you run Android from a micro SD card. You can find some tips to order a proper micro SD card in the article entitled  “Micro SD Cards for Development Boards – Classes, Tools, Benchmarks, Reliability, and Tips & Tricks“.

Review of MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless 4K Mini PC – Part 2: Windows 10, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 12th, 2017 20 comments

MeLE PCG03 Apo is an update to MeLE PCG03 mini PC, and one of the rare Apollo Lake mini PCs to be both fanless, and support HDMI 2.0 output. I’ve already checked out the hardware design in “MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so in the second part of the review I tested Windows 10, focusing on HDMI 2.0 features, audio pass-through in Kodi, and performance and stability tests to see how well it compared to similar actively cooled mini PCs such as Voyo V1 VMac mini.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Setup and System Information

I connected a USB 3.0 drive to one of the USB 3.0 ports, USB keyboard and mouse, and RF dongle for a wireless gamepad to the other USB 2.0/3.0 ports, as well as USB type C to micro USB adapter itself connected to a micro USB OTG adapter in order to add a USB flash drive. Finally I added Ethernet, VGA and HDMI cables, and of course the power supply to complete the setup.

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A typical boot to the login window takes around 15 seconds, but the very first boot, I went through the usual Windows 10 setup wizard to select the language, create a user, etc…, as well as retrieve the latest Windows update. So that’s better than some other Windows 10 mini PCs which are already configured with a default user, and may raise suspicions.

I still wen to Control Panel->System and Security->System to check Windows 10 is indeed activated, and the mini PC is running Windows 10 Home 64-bit on an Intel Celeron N3450 with 4GB RAM as expected.

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The next step was to check HDMI 2.0 support that should allow 4K resolutions @ 60 Hz, and I could select and use 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 up to “60p Hz” without any issues.

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Since we have a VGA port too, I tested dual display setup using extended desktop mode with 3840×2160 resolution @ 60 Hz on my 4K TV, and 1600×1050 on my Full HD TV, as it was the maximum resolution I was offered.

No problem here again, and I could use to independent display one connected via HDMI 2.0, and the other via VGA.

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I’ve also included a screenshot of the dual display setup for those interested.

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I took the screenshot below after starting to download a few programs (but no installation), and 28.9GB storage is really tight for Windows 10, I could not install all programs used for the review, without uninstalling one or more. For example, if I install PCMark 8, complete the benchmark, I had to remove it before install PCMark 10, even when moving all download the USB partitions.

So may want to run Disk Cleanup from time to time, and uninstall some pre-installed games. I may also consider disabling hiberfil.sys file, learn how to do folder redirection and filesystem junction with mklink, which I used for Package Cache directory. You could do this to external USB hard drive, but performance may suffer while loading programs or during databases accesses, so you could consider adding a 80mm M.2 SSD inside the mini PC. I could not get one to test, but the company told me they tested three models available on Aliexpress:

Another thing I discovered is that when you “uninstall” Windows Store apps, there are not deleted, but for some reasons kept in C:\Programs Files\WindowsApps\Deleted directory, so I’d have to take ownership of the directory and delete it if you want to free up some more space.

The 32GB eMMC flash capacity is the most negative point I found about this mini PC, I wished the company could offer a 64GB version, or better a pre-installed 128 M.2 SSD [Update: I forgot this would be a problem with the discounted Windows 10 license]. This will not be a problem if you only plan to use the box as an HTPC, but for desktop use, you really need more external storage.

The mini PC recognized the NTFS and exFAT partition in my USB 3.0 drive, but the USB flash drive which I connected the USB type C port was not found. I tried to connect the keyboard there instead, and then to my computer via a USB type C to USB type A cable, but again no luck in both cases. It looks like the USB C port is not usable for anything. Maybe my sample has some issues.

I took a screenshot of the Device Manager for people who want a few more technical details about peripherals.

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… as well as HWiNFO64 which basically reports the same info as on Voyo V1 Vmac Mini since it’s based on the same Celeron N3450 processor.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo Benchmarks

Let’s start with PCMARK 8  HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark at 1080p60 resolution and framerate.

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The score here is surprisingly higher than on the fan cooled Voyo mini PC (1,566 points), and not too far to the score I got (1,846)with the Pentium N4200 version of Voyo V1 VMac Mini.

Since PCG03 Apo is a candidate to use as 4K desktop for simple tasks, I run the same benchmark using 3840×2160 @ 60p Hz video output, and the score dropped a little to 1,431 points.

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Please note that only two passes out of three could complete, as the benchmark failed somewhere during the third pass, but the average should not change, it’s just we can 2 test samples, instead of 3. I tried the benchmarks 3 times in total, and the two other times it failed during the first pass ending with no score. You can find the details results here.

FutureMark has recently released PCMark 10, so for future reference I also ran that version of the benchmark using 1080p60 output.

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Check this link for full results. All other benchmarks below were done using 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz video output / resolution.

Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 confirmed the good performance of the device with 995.70 points, which compares to 998.4 points for Voyo V1 (N3450), and 1087 points for Voyo V1 (N4200).

Note the performance of Disk Mark is quite weaker here, and the Voyo models who got close to 3,000 points, but the latter had the C: drive in a 128GB SSD, instead of a 32GB flash, which explains the massive performance difference here.

I ran three 3DMark tests showing performance that’s almost as good as Voyo mini PC based on Pentium N4200 processor.

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Details for all three results can be found below:

CrystalDiskMark reports up to 258 MB/s sequential read speed, and 51 MB/s write speed, with random I/O up to 28 MB/s for the C: drive (32GB eMMC flash). That’s actually roughly the same as the 32GB eMMC flash in Voyo mini PC, but a big difference compared to the 500MB/s+, you got from the 128GB FORESEE SSD installed in the same devices.

Random I/O performance will be better in the SSD too, so you may considering re-installing Windows 10 in an M.2 SSD if you decide to purchase one [Update: Not a good idea, the Genuine Windows key in the device will be ignore, and Windows 10 will not be activated]. You’ll find BIOS, drivers, and instructions to re-install Windows 10 in MeLE’s forums.

USB 3.0 performance is fine with my USB driver achieving around 100MB/s read and write sequential speed.
The random I/Os number shows why you don’t want to install Windows or apps in such drive.

I used iperf 2.x to measure network performance with using dual duplex transfer over Gigabit Ethernet:

All good, so I connected the mini PC to my AC router…

… and performed WiFi upload and download tests with iperf:

  • Upload
  • Download

Those are decent results with my setup, i.e. the AC router is located about 4 meter from the DUT and with a wall in between. You can see a comparison with some 802.11ac Android TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed.

802.11ac WiFi Download and Upload Speed in Mbps

To give a better idea of the performance I compare it against other low power mini PCs based on Braswell (MINIX NGC-1, Vorke V1), Cherry Trail (Voyo V3, MINIX NEO Z83-4), Apollo Lake (Voyo V1 VMac Mini), and Skylake (Compute Stick) for various benchmarks.

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Note: Ice Storm scores divided by 10, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale.

The Skylake compute stick really stands out despite having similar TDP, but it’s also much more expensive. Other mini PCs are closely matched, but the good news is the MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC fairs well in all benchmarks, except for storage speeds, but it can be made to match other systems if you use a M.2 SSD to run Windows instead of the 32GB eMMC flash.

Kodi 4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Pass-through

I’ve installed the latest Kodi 17.3, and run it using 1920×[email protected] output.

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You don’t need to set the Windows resolution to 3840×2160 to watch videos, since Kodi will automatically do that if you go to Settings->Player Settings->Videos, and set Adjust display refresh rate to On start / stop, as it will also automatically adjust to the best resolution for the video.

Once I’d done that I tested my usual 4K video samples via SAMBA over Gigabit Ethernet unless otherwise stated:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Mostly OK, but the video seems to skip frames a few times
  • 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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – SAMBA: Audio cuts and buffering issue; HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not super smooth, but no audio delay like on ARM TV boxes. Almost watchable
  • 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) – Maybe 10 fps (Software decode) and buffering issues
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues

Automatic frame rate switching is working well, but playing videos with bitrate over 50Mbps over SAMBA seems to be an issue with this mini PC. VP9 and 10-bit H.264 codecs are not supported by Apollo Lake processor, so Kodi revert to software decoding, but the processor is not powerful enough to handle those codecs at 4K. Hi10p up to 1080p is fine. One small issue worth noting is that almost all videos had a short audio cut after 16 to 19 seconds, but the problem would not reoccur at other points in the videos.

Apollo Lake mini PC are supposed to support audio pass-through, but HDMI 2.0 is implemented via an eDP to HDMI bridge which in the past has created issue with this features. So I enabled audio pass-through in Kodi by going to Settings->System Settings->Audio, enabling Allow passthrough, and selecting DIRECTSOUND: TX-NR636…. as the Passthrough output device before running the tests with various audio codecs.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

So only AC3 is supported. I changed to WASAPI output device instead, and the results are not much better.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

Disappointing, as HDMI 1.4 Apollo Lake mini PCs can normally handle DTS 5.1 as well even with DTS HD files.

User Experience, Stress Test, and Power Consumption

I did a user experience test like with other Windows 10 PCs with multi-tasking by launching an using ThunderBird, Firefox, Libre Office, and Gimp at the same, multi-tab browsing in Firefox playing some Flash games, and watching 4K YouTube videos. I also played Asphalt 8, and as shown in the section above used Kodi to watch videos. The experience felt very similar to other Apollo Lake mini PC with maybe apps not launching as fast due to the eMMC flash. I also run HWiNFO64 in sensor only mode during my tests and benchmarks, and CPU throttling was never reported by the program, so MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device with good thermal design.

I have not done any video this time, but if you’re new to Apollo Lake system, you may want to watch Voyo V1 Vmac Mini video below which should give you an idea of the performance.

I also ran AIDA64 Extreme stability test during 2 hours with HWiNFO64 also running side by side, and the CPU temperature never went above 79 °C with the average CPU clock speed being 1.6 GHz right between the base frequency (1.1 GHz) and turbo frequency (2.2 GHz).

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Power consumption is about 6.4W in idle mode with the USB 3.0 drive connected, 1.0W in sleep mode, and 0.0W in power off mode.

Conclusion

MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device that stays cool enough under load despite thanks to a good fanless thermal design, and HDMI 2.0 works as expected with 4K @ 60 Hz supported. The VGA port also allows for dual independent display setups. Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac WiFi are performing very well. The main downsides I can see are the small eMMC flash, USB type C port that would not work for anything (sample issue?), and HDMI audio pass-through is limited to Dolby Digital 5.1. The first issue can easily be solved by installing a larger (and faster) 80mm M.2 SSD inside the device.

If you are interested in this mini PC, you can purchase MeLE PCG03 Apo for $159.20 including shipping on Aliexpress. If the price is higher when you check it out, it may pay to wait until the week-end to get a better price.

[Update: MeLE’s answers to some of the issues raised in this review:

Read / Write speed
1. It is clear that MeLE PCG03 Apo (N3450) is far behind VOYO VMac Mini (N3450 and N4200) because MeLE follows Microsoft’s policy strictly to install the genuine Windows 10 Home as C: Disk on 32GB eMMC while VOYO does that on the 64GB or 128GB SSD.
2. According to the policy, the unit price for genuine Windows 10 Home on Apollo Lake mini PC is USD 45 at least if the storage capacity (as C: Disk) is equal or over 64GB. That is why user may see a 64GB SSD as C: Disk on VOYO VMac Mini while there is still a 32GB eMMC as D: Disk on the PCB board. It is a trick which has just been discovered and warned by Microsoft in China.
Audio Setting
1. I will check with technical team on how to make DD & DTS 7.1 working in Kodi as well, I will keep you updated.
2. It will get Audio 7.1 DD & DTS with LAV codecs using MPC-HC as player for example.
USB Type-C
1. It is actually a standard USB 3.0 interface converted into USB Type-C shape.
2. It only supports normal (not fast) power charging, and data transfer directly to USB Drive or HDD in external enclosure with Type-C interface.
3. For this point, we will update our product description on our official store on Aliexpress to make it more specific for every buyer to avoid any misunderstanding.
]

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

July 6th, 2017 11 comments

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

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kodi & RKMC Video Playback, DRM Info, and YouTube

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

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Stays in UI
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – Stays in UI
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – ~5 fps (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Stays in UI
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow + audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by the VPU in Rockchip RK3399 SoC)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Stays in UI
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – Stays in UI
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – First try: Kodi hangs; Second try: ~2fps + artifacts (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – ~5 fps, massive artifacts (software decode)

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

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

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

Throughput in MB/s

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

WiFi 802.11ac upload:

WiFi 802.11ac download:

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

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

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

Storage Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vorke Z3 Benchmark & System Info

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

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

How to Install RKMC “Kodi for Rockchip” App in your TV Box

July 3rd, 2017 6 comments

I’ve started playing with Vorke Z3, an Android 6.0 TV box based on Rockchip RK3399 , and saying that Kodi 17.3 – installed from the Google Play Store – is not working so well is an understatement. The other Rockchip TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed with Android 6.0.1 such as Yundoo Y8 and A95X R2 are all using TVMC, a fork of Kodi 16.1 specifically designed for Rockchip devices. However, there’s no source code for that app, but a Rockchip engineer is maintaining his own fork of Kodi, with the code and some binaries libraries released on Github. The project is called RKMC.

Click for Original Size

I did install the app, but I misunderstood part of the instructions at first, and the device would not boot anymore. I lost many hours of work, as I had to reflash the firmware. So I’ll show how I installed it in Vorke Z3 TV box. You could compile it from source, but James also provides binary files for easy installation.

First we’ll need to download RKMC apk and a patched library available for RK3399, RK3368, RK3288, and RK322x processors.First go to RKMC-Build to either download rkmcapp-armeabi-v7a-debug.apk with some add-ons, or rkmcapp-armeabi-v7a-debug-tiny.apk without add-on. With hindsights, I’d recommend the later, as we can see in the screenshot at the top of this article, the first apk mostly includes piracy add-ons that are illegal in most places, and now not working anymore due to the recent crackdown on piracy services with those Kodi add-ons.

Then you’ll want to download librkmcplayer.so  for your processor and operating system, in my case RK3399 and Android 6.0. You’ll also see libmpp.so and libvpu.so in that directory, please ignore those as that’s how I bricked the TV box.

Now that we have our two files, we can run the following commands in a terminal in Ubuntu, but it should work in Windows for Linux Sub-system, or in a Windows command prompt by replacing adb by adb.exe in the commands.

The last command takes around 30 seconds, so be patient. Replace TVBOX-IPADDRESS with the actual IP address, or you can skip this step if you are using a USB type C to USB cable connected between your computer and the device.

We’re done, and you should see RKMC app in the list of apps.

Click to Enlarge

After a few quick tests, I have to say I also have mixed results with this app, but your mileage may vary. I’ll provide a more detailed report in Vorke Z3 review.

 

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

June 26th, 2017 6 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.

HiMedia Q30 (Hisilicon Hi3798MV200) Android TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

June 12th, 2017 6 comments

I’ve often read praises about HiMedia TV boxes in the comments section of this blog, but so far, I had never tested any of their products. This is about to change, since the company has sent me their latest HiMedia Q30 TV box running Android 7.0 on Hisilicon Hi3798MV200 processor, a cost-down version of Hi3798CV200 processor with the same CPU,a lower-end Mali-T450 GPU, about the same media capabilities, and less I/Os. I’ll start the review by checking out the TV box and accessories, as well as the PCBA, before reporting the experience with Android 7.0 firmware in several weeks.

HiMedia Q30 TV Box Unboxing

I received the device is a package that read “HIMEDIA Q30” and “Android TV Box”, and shows some of the key features like 4K @ 60 fps, 10-bit HEVC, HDR and Kodi support.

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The devices ships with an IR remote control with IR learning function for 5 keys, a HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power supply, and “3D/4K Smart TV Box Quick Guide”.

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The” Quick Guide” is quite basic, but contrary to most competitors, it’s actually useful with a description of the remote control and how to configure the TV keys with the IR learning function, QR code for the Hishare and Hicontrol mobile apps…

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.. a connection guide depending on your setup, some basic configuration for network and UI, and the different ways to do a firmware update.

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The box itself is made of an outer shell made of metal, and the body inside include the front and rear panels is made of plastic.

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The front panel includes the power button and two LEDs, as well as the IR receiver window, while one of the side features a USB 2.0 port and SD card, and the other side one USB 3.0 port, and another USB 2.0 ports. The rear panel comes with an external WiFi antenna, optical S/PDIF output, RCA connectors for composite video and stereo audio, an HDMI 2.0 port, a Fast Ethernet port, the recovery pinhole, and the power jack.

HiMedia Q30 TV Box Teardown

Usually, we’d open the TV boxes by loosening some screws on the bottom of the case, but there aren’t any in Q30. As a side note, the MAC address starts with 00:66:DF which does not look up to anything.In order to open the device we need to loosen the four screws on each corner the rear panel to take it out, and squeeze the end of the WiFi antenna to take it out, and slides out everything through the metal inner shell.

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The processor and memory (2GB RAM) are covered by a thin black heatsink. An 8GB Samsung KLM8G1WEPG-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash is used for storage with the following performance according to Samsung eMMC flash table: 140 MB/s sequential read speed, 8MB/s sequential write speed, 5K/0.6K R/W IOPS. That’s the cheapest eMMC flash, and the one with the weakest performance, from Samsung in the table. The Ethernet PHY is built inside the Hisilicon processor, so there’s only a KMS-1102NL transformer for 10/100M Ethernet, while 802.11 b/g/n WiFi is implemented through a Realtek RTL8188ETV module. Other ICs include Genesys GL850G USB 2.0 hub, and 3PEAK TPF632A stereo line driver. The serial console should be available via a 4-pin header located between a LED and the Samsung flash, and there apepars to be footprint for another S/PDIF port and 3.5mm YPbPr  (video component) jack.

There’s no much to see on the other side of the board.

I’d like to thank HiMedia for sending the review sample. The TV box does not appear to be available for retail just yet, and the company has not listed it in their website either, but by the time time I complete the second part of the review, HiMedia Q30 should be available for sale.

[Update: Himedia Q30 is now selling for $99.99 including shipping on GeekBuying

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

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