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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 – RKMC, 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

CONS

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

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

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

July 25th, 2017 4 comments

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

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

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

Networking & Storage Performance

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

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

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

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

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

WiFi download:

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

  • 3rd try:

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

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

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

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

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

Himedia Q30 System info and Benchmarks

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

Conclusion

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

PROS

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

CONS and bugs

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

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

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

July 14th, 2017 7 comments

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

Bqeel MVR9 Specifications

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

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

Bqeel MVR9 Unboxing

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

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

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

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

Bqeel MVR9 Teardown

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

Click to Enlarge

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

May 2nd, 2017 14 comments

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

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

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

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

Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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Some of the settings include:

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

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

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

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Here’s the full list of options per resolution:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TVMC media center is a fork of Kodi 16.1.

Click for Original Size

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

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

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

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

I tested videos with various bitrates:

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

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

Click for Original Size

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

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

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

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Watchable, but not perfectly smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK, but could be a little smoother
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Plays, but not that smooth
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Very low frame rate (software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video somewhat plays but with a large audio delay  (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by RK3399 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – OK (hardware decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – SAMBA: Not 100% smooth; USB hard drive playback: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Not smooth at all, massive artifacts
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Not smooth at all, massive artifacts

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

  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK, and one of the best playback experience I’ve had with that video, although I’ve still noticed a few tiny slowdowns at times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRM Info shows no DRM is supported whatsoever.

Click to Enlarge

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

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

Throughput in MB/S – Click to Enlarge

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

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

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

WiFi download:

WiFi upload:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

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

Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaming

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

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

Yundoo Y8 Benchmarks

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

Conclusion

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

PROS

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

CONS (and bugs)

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

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

Instreamer App Streams Zidoo X8/X9S/X10 HDMI Video Input to YouTube Live / RTMP Servers with FFmpeg

March 25th, 2017 6 comments

Zidoo X8, X9S and the upcoming X10, are TV boxes powered by Realtek RTD1295 processor with an HDMI input. The stock firmware already supports UDP broadcasting, but robbi5 decided he needed more, and designed Instreamer “HDMI IN Streamer” app leveraging work from Danman’s ZidoStream app for Mstar TV boxes and Zidoo’s own VideoAndHdmiIN app.

Instreamer app supports the following:

  • Streaming as MPEG-TS to network (unicast/multicast)
  • Streaming in FLV format to RTMP server (e.g. Youtube)
  • No need for intermediate recording file – thus no length limit
  • Streaming runs in background
  • HDMI out is usable as pass-through

That looks good. Installation is easy.

  1. Download and install the latest Instreamer APK release
  2. Download and extract FFmpeg Android binaries to /mnt/sdcard

You’ll be able to adjust a few video and audio settings after launching the app  (not tested as I don’t have X9S anymore).

Click to Enlarge

You can now start a terminal, and stream HDMI input using MPEG-TS + UDP:

or to RTMP servers such as YouTube:

You’ll find the “Stream name/key” on YouTube Live Dashboard by clicking on Reveal button.

Since the source code is open source, you could also adapt to app to your need, and build it with Android Studio.

Zidoo X9S Android Media Center Review – Part 2: Android Firmware & OpenWrt (NAS Functions)

October 14th, 2016 21 comments

Zidoo X9S is more than a simple Android TV box, as it supports NAS function via OpenWrt running simultaneously with Android 6.0 and its USB 3.0 and SATA ports, as well as HDMI input function capable of recording and broadcasting videos, and supporting Picture-in-picture, so I find “Android Media Center” better fit the description for this device. I’ve already taken pictures of the Zidoo X9S and its board in the first part of the review, so I’ll test both Android 6.0 & OpenWrt firmware, and the most of the features in the second part of the review.

Initial Setup and First Boot

I connected the usual accessories and cables to the box including a USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, USB RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added a 1TB SATA drive, and connected K1 Plus T2/S2 Android TV box to the HDMI input.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Once you connect the 36V power supply, the front panel LCD display will show “boot” and the LED will turn blue. A standard boot takes about 40 seconds with my setup, but the very first time, you need to go through the setup wizard.
zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-languageYou’ll be presented with a Welcome screen asking you to choose bring traditional or simplified Chinese, Turkish, English, Vietnamese, but selecting “more” will bring you many more languages options.

zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-more-languages

The second step is for overscan adjustment (Scale) in case you have black bar and the interface is cut on either side of the TV screen. The third step will let you configure the network, and if you have connected an Ethernet cable, the system should get an IP address with DHCP automatically, and you just have to select Next.zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-networking

The fourth step of the setup wizards simply describes the user interface, and the last one congratulates you.zidoo-x9s-interface-descriptionClick on Complete to get the ZIUI launcher, the same as found on other Zidoo devices such as Zidoo X6 Pro.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

At this stage, you’ll probably want to go to Settings to set your timezone, and potentially change video and audio settings. In my case, I set video output to 4K 60, and disabled HDMI CEC (now disabled by default with latest firmware).

OTA Firmware Update

I’ve done this review with firmware V1.2.3, but the first time I got the box, firmware 1.1.20 was installed as shown in the About section of the launcher.

zidoo-x9s-firmware-version

I clicked on Update, and Zidoo X9S detected a new version (v1.1.26) with a detailed changelog.zidoo-x9s-firmware-changelogI clicked on Update again to start the download.

zidoo-x9s-firmware-downloadTo clicked on Update (again) to reboot the device, and complete the OTA firmware update successfully. All my settings and currently installed  apps were still present after the update, so it worked perfectly.

Zidoo updated the firmware with feedback from beta testers, and I eventually updated the firmware to V1.2.3 with a USB flash drive (Local Update) for further testing, and it also worked just fine.

Settings, Power Consumption & First Impressions

Zidoo X9S has no separate app for settings like in Amlogic devices – not necessarily a bad thing – , so instead you get to “standard” Android marshmallow settings with some settings specific to TV boxes and NAS functions.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Some of the most interesting settings include

  • Wireless & network section
    • Wi-Fi
    • Bluetooth
    • Ethernet configuration with DHCP, Fixed IP and PPPoE support
    • More – Portable hotspot, VPN, DLNA DMR, Set Device Name (for DLNA/UPnP), Miracast Sink, and Openwrt Settings.
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

  • Device
    • Display
      • HDMI Mode – AUTO, PAL, 480P, 720P, 720P @ 50/60Hz, 1080i @ 50/60Hz, 1080p @ 24/50/60Hz, 3840x2160P @ 24/25/30/60 Hz, 4096x2160P @ 24 Hz
      • Deep Color Mode – AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF
      • Cast
    • Sound & Notifications
      • HDMI output – RAW, LPCM 2 channel, LPCM multi-channel, Auto (recommended)
      • S/PDIF output – LPCM 2 ch, RAW
      • Playback effect – Off, Night Mode, Comfort mode (not sure what this does)
      • HDMI Rx Audio format – PCM or RAW
    • Playback (all on/off options) – Auto 1080p24, Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz, Force SD audio, Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)
    • HDMI CEC functions – HDMI CEC (on/off), One Touch Play, One Touch Standby, Auto Power On from TV, Auto OSD language, IRDA/CEC switch (on/off)

You also have other options like Daydream, printing, language & input, accessibility, and so on. I had no problem with Ethernet and WiFi, and HDMI output selection works, except it will often revert to 720p60 or 1080p60 possibly because the system is confused by the TV and AV receiver settings like so many other TV boxes.

Internal storage usage does not seem optimized, even considering the OpenWrt partition, as only 8.91 GB is available to the user in the “internal storage” partition out of of the 16GB eMMC flash. Having said that, this should still be plenty enough of space for most people. The good news is that both SATA and USB 3.0 drive partitions were recognized with NTFS, exFAT, EXT-4, and FAT32 file systems supported. Most Android TV boxes will not work properly if you attach more than one hard drive.

The About TV box section “reveals” the device is called “Zidoo_X9S”about-tv-box_zidoo-x9s and runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17. The firmware is not rooted.

Zidoo IR remote control worked fine, including the IR learning function which I tried with power and volume keys of my TV. The range was good up to around 10 meters. I wish Zidoo would also offer an air mouse as option, as I had to switch between Zidoo remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse more often than usual during use, since the air mouse is not always the best with Zidoo Apps like Media Center or HDMI IN apps.

Google Play Store worked for most apps, except apps requirement Bluetooth LE/Smart support such as Mi Fit or Smart Movement. I could also side-load Amazon Underground app and install the free version of Riptide GP2 racing game.

Just like with their previous model Zidoo did a decent implementation of power handling. A short press on the remote’s power key will show a menu with Power off, Standby, and Reboot. The current firmware does not support Auto power off like in their previous device.

zidoo-x9s-power-off-standby-rebootIf you don’t want to be asked what to do each time, a long press on the power key will bring up a menu to configure the key behavior.

zidoo-x9s-power-key-defineThere’s also no problem with turning the device on from your sofa with the remote control.

Since Zidoo X9S has a 36W power supply, I did some extra tests for power consumption, testing various configuration with or without USB or SATA drives, and under load:

  • Power off (no HDD) – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby (No HDD) – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle (No HDD) – 5.2 ~ 6.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 0.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD –  8.4 Watts
  • Power off + SATA HDD – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby + SATA HDD – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle + SATA HDD – 7.2 Watts
  • Idle + SATA HDD + USB HDD – 9.4 to 10.4 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD – 13.4 Watts

So everything looks pretty good, and it also means you could probably connect a few more hard drives to USB 2.0 ports, or via a USB 3.0 hub if you wished so, and it would still work. I wish there could be a “connected standby” mode to allow user to keep downloading files in the background, or let them access OpenWrt services while HDMI output and GPU are in low power mode, but I’m not sure that would save that much power. Currently, turning off the TV will not change power consumption of the device either.

Zidoo X9S metal case feels hot at times, but after Antutu 6.0, I measured just 38°C and 39°C max on the top and bottom of the enclosure with an IR thermometer, and after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2 the temperature went up a little to respectively 41°C and 45°C. I did not experience any slowdown while playing the game. However, once I tried HDMI audio pass-through after several hours of testing, and found that it did not work reliably (my AV receiver was switching between DTS/UNKNOWN erratically) and the video were not smooth at all. I repeated the same test the next morning, and everything worked perfectly. The ambient temperature at the time of the issue was 31 °C, and it’s possible the device overheated the first time.

My first impressions about Zidoo X9S were quite good, with the firmware responsive and stable, and many options to satisfy the needs of most users. Beside the potential overheating issue, one small annoyance in the firmware is that the App list is sorted by usage frequency, instead of alphabetical order, so if you have many apps installed it can be confusing.

Video & Audio Playback with ZDMC (Kodi 16.1 fork), Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

There are to main ways to play videos in Zidoo X9S: ZDMC, a fork a Kodi 16.1, using an implementation from Realtek (RTDPLAYER), or Media Center app developed by Zidoo themselves. It’s also possible to set ZDMC to use Media Center by enabling Settings -> Video -> Playback –> Play video with external player.  I’ve tested ZDMC with the internal player for most of the video, and switched to Media Center to double check for videos with issues.

Big Buck Bunny videos from Linaro media samples, and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching (Adjust display refresh rate) is enabled by default in ZDMC, and worked well.

I continued testing using videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 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) – OK

So that’s very good so far, and I switched to Dolby and DTS audio testing using both PCM output (stereo downsampling) via ZDMC and Media Center apps, and HDMI pass-through in both apps using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I had to repeat the test twice with HDMI pass-through using Media Center app with tries marked as #1 and #2.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(ZDMC)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Media Center)
HDMI Pass-through
(ZDMC)
HDMI Pass-through
(Media Center)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK, but 1:1 aspect ratio OK #1: Some audio cuts, 1:1 aspect ratio
#2: OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK #1: AV receiver switching between Dolby D 5.1/Unknown frequently
#2: OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK #1: OK
#2: OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK OK #1: Audio OK (TrueHD 5.1), video not smooth
#2: OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK OK #1: TrueHD 7.1 detected but some audio cuts, and video not smooth
#2: OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK OK TrueHD 7.1 #1: TrueHD 7.1/Unknown switching, audio cuts, video not smooth
#2: TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK OK #1: DTS HD MA/Unknown switching with audio cuts, video not smooth
#2: OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK #1: PCM 2.0 audio, video not smooth
#2: OK
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK OK DTS HD Master (OK) #1: DTS HD Master, video not smooth
#2: DTS HD Master (OK)

Zidoo X9S is a massive improvements compared to most other Android TV boxes on the market with both HDMI audio pass-through working well, and DTS and Dolby audio licenses (also confirmed with MX Player app). But what happened in the forth column, with my first attempt (#1) a disaster, and the second one (#2) working just fine? The first test was done after testing the device for several hours, and the room temperature was around 30 C, while the second attempt was the next day, a few minutes after a fresh boot, so it appears the device overheated, and it greatly affected the performance in the first try. That’s the only instance when I noticed the device overheating. It might not be an issue if you live in a temperate climate, but something to keep in mind if you live in hotter climates (or during summer).

You may have already read my post about HDMI audio pass-through and 4K video support on Realtek RTD1295 processor, where I found many of my 4K video samples not playing smoothly on the platform. I’d like to put some perspective to with the SoC block diagram.

RTD1295 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

RTD1295 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

The Video/Audio System section shows the SoC support H.264 video codec up to 2K @ 60 fps & 4K @ 24 fps, H.265 up to 4K 60 fps, and VP9 up to 4K 60 fps. One question you often may want to ask when you purchase a media player, is if it is future proof. But Realtek decision to limit 4K H.264 to 24 fps makes it “not proof for the present” due to the millions of cameras (e.g. GoPro/Xiaomi) and phones capable of recording 4K H.264 @ 30 fps sold on the market. Whether this matters to you or not, you’ll have to decide by yourself. Following problems with 4K VP9 60 fps videos reported to Zidoo, the company also informed me that 4K VP9 would be limited to 30 fps. VP9 is not used very much right now, and this will probably mostly matter if you download 4K YouTube videos @ over 30 fps using VP9 codec.

Nevertheless, while no TV box will be able to play all of the 4K video samples I used for review, Zidoo X9S is unable to play many of them smoothly. I repeated the test with a more recent firmware (V1.2.3) both in ZDMC with internal player, and Media Center, and I’ve prefixed lines with samples out of specs with OoO.

  • OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – Not smooth in ZDMC, better in Media Center app, but still not perfect, especially at the end.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Not smooth in ZDMC, OK in media center
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not smooth and some audio cuts in ZDMC, OK in Media Center app
  • OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth in ZDMC, yet watchable in Media Center
  • OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Not always perfectly smooth in ZMDC, perfect in Media Center app
  • 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) –  Not smooth in ZDMC, OK in Media Center
  • OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Lots of artifacts and around 1 fps (software decode)
  • OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth
  • OoO – tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Not smooth, artifacts, and audio cuts
  • OoO – The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Not smooth

4K video playback is quite disappointing in ZDMC with the internal player, but with Media Center it’s pretty good with videos within specifications. Some H.264 4K 30 fps videos are almost watchable in Media Center app, if you allow for a few frame drops and rare slowdowns here and there.

You can see HDMI audio pass-through and ZDMC 4K video playback with an earlier firmware (few differences) in the video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and MPEG2 1080i videos could play just fine. Like on most platforms Hi10p is not supported by the hardware, so it must be done with software decode, and ZDMC could handle the 720p Hi10p video, but the 1080p one would not be smooth, and exhibit some artifacts. Media Center won’t play Hi10p videos at all.

My review 4K TV does not support 3D, but it’s still interesting to find out whether the TV box can decode 3D videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (3D icon shown) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I checked whether the 3D icon is lit up using Media Center app:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Black screen, audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – Plays in 2D by default (since my TV does not support 3D), but can be force to 3D, with the  3D icon showing on the Onkyo receiver.
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – Plays in 2D by default (since my TV does not support 3D), but can be force to 3D, with the  3D icon showing on the Onkyo receiver.

Finally, I played several MKV, VOB/IFO, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV videos from my library in ZDMC, including one full 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie, and the vast majority could play just fine, with the exception of some FLV videos.

In order to have a formal video & audio capability score, I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, with Zidoo X9S getting 888 points, a score pretty similar to what you’d get on Amlogic devices.zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-3-0

Some videos were only partially supported, as the app detected they did not play smoothly, and one WMV/WMV2/WMAV2 video completely failed to play. I also heard some video had issues with audio (only noise), but the app did not seem to pick this up.

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-results DRM info app will crash, so I was not able to find out whether Widewine or PlayReady are supported, but it’s probably safe to assume they are not… YouTube worked fine me up to 1080p.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my audio & video samples post.

HDMI IN App Review: PVR, UDP Streaming, and PiP

HDMI input is one of the main selling points of the Zidoo X9S, and I’ve already tested video recording, video streaming, and picture-in-picture in the post entitled “Zidoo X9S Android TV Box HDMI Input Testing – Video Recording, PiP, and UDP Broadcasting“, where I found that all three features worked reasonably well, despite my having some issue with audio at the beginning.

One issue included RAW audio (AC3/DTS) recording not working, and videos broadcasted over UDP are not quite as smoothly as the original input.

OpenWrt and NAS Functions

I’ve already explained how to access OpenWrt, and perform its first time configuration, so here I’ll report my findings with some of the available services, namely SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent.

As shown in the description of settings, but you disable/enable services on OpenWrt directly within Android settings, but in some cases, such as SAMBA, you may also have to define the shared directory(ies) within OpenWrt LuCI web interface.

zidoo-openwrt-samba

Click to Enlarge

To do so, go to About in the launcher, note the IP address of Zidoo X9S, and access LuCI in your PC web browser @ http://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS. You’ll find the following NAS services on the top menu: DLNA, iTunes, Samba, FTP, TimeMachine, and BitTorrent.

I’ve enabled SAMBA shares for the SATA drive NTFS partition, and all three USB 3.0 partitions. “OpenWrt” client won’t show in Ubuntu 16.04 with Nautilus, but I could select “Connect to Server” and input smb://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS to access the list of shares.

zidoo-x9s-samba-sharesDisk_sda1 is the SATA drive share on Zidoo X9S, and I could transfer large files from my PC’s SSD to Zidoo’s SATA drive at a reasonable speed (~49 MB/s) over Gigabit Ethernet.

zidoo-x9s-samba-transfer-rateI could also play a few 1080p and 4K videos on my computer using Zidoo X9S as a SAMBA server.

Then I switched to FTP with Filezilla program, and I could easily transfer files after login as root user.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Performance basically maxes out the Gigabit Ethernet connection at close to 90 MB/s.

Finally, I’ve configured BitTorrent. By default it will download files to /tmp/bittorrent (Ramdisk), so you may want to change that to a directory on SATA or USB storage… It’s a little inconvenient as the path need to be type by hand, and mine looked like: /storage/309C86229C85E2A8/transmission/done.

zidoo-x9s-bittorrent-path

Then you can open Transmission web interface @ http://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS:9091 (a reboot may be required), in order to add torrent either from .torrent files downloaded to your PC or direct links to torrent files.

zidoo-x9s-bittorrentHowever, BitTorrent did not work well for me. First while I could Browse to select a torrent file, entering a URL would results in error such as:

Add when adding .torrent file, the download would never seen to start.

Network Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet interface is doing its job in the OpenWrt section, but I’ve also tested WiFi performance by transferring a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash in both directions using ES File Explorer. Zidoo X9S can achieve 3.6 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and MB/s with 802.11ac (434Mbps Link Speed) both of which are excellent, and near the top oftheir respective category against competing devices.

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WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve also quickly tested Gigabit Ethernet with iperf in full duplex mode:

That’s impressive, as it’s quite rare to see ARM based SoCs for TV boxes nearly hit Gigabit Ethernet speed in full duplex. So both wireless and wired networking performance on Zidoo X9S is outstanding.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After I paired Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, I could transfer several photos over Bluetooth. However, I also got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped” a few times, so the transfer failed for some photos. Since Google Play would report BLE app to be “incompatible with this device”, I side-loaded Smart Movement app, and I could synchronize data from my Bluetooth Smart fitness tracker without issues.

The firmware is not rooted, so I skipped sixaxis gamepad test. completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset. I could however pair my Bluetooth headset, and watch and listen to some YouTube videos with it.

Storage

I have a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate hard drive with 4 partitions with different file systems, and Zidoo X9S could mount 3 of them,  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode. So file system support is a bit better than most other devices that do not always support EXT-4.

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

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write both via USB 3.0 and SATA interface, except for exFAT file system which should usually be avoided on Android devices:

  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 57.41 MB/s – Write: 56.73 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 63.38 MB/s – Write: 59.06 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 16.27 MB/s – Write: 5.32 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 106.67 MB/s – Write: 84.74 MB/s

Zidoo told me that they are using Paragon NTFS, a commercial implementation of NTFS file system that normally delivers much higher performance than NTFS-3G open source implementation.

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

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

Maybe Realtek should make a networking/storage SoC with the USB 3.0, SATA and Ethernet IP blocks used in RTD1295…

I ran A1SD Bench again for test Zidoo X9S eMMC flash, but I never managed to do so without “Cached read”. eMMC write speed was 25.71 MB/s, and the cached read speed was between 80 and 102 MB/s.

Gaming

I shortly played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and as expected no problem at all here. So I moved to my wireless gamepad, and Beach Buggy Racing 3D game, which also played perfectly smoothly even with maximum quality settings. Riptide GP2 had very much the same user experience as on Amlogic S912 SoC with the game being playable, but not perfectly smooth, with the “highest resolution” settings. I could play the latter game over 15 minutes with any obvious degradation in performance, so the overheating issue is not that easy to reproduce.

Zidoo X9S Benchmarks

You’ll find results Antutu, Vellamo, 3DMark, and CPU-Z in Zidoo X9S Realtek RTD1295 Android & OpenWrt TV Box System Info & Benchmarks. The results are about as expected with a CPU performance roughly equivalent to what you’d get with Amlogic S905 CPU, and GPU performance and capabilities (OpenGL ES 3.1) similar to Amlogic S912.

zidoo-x9s-antutu-6

Conclusion

Zidoo appears to be getting better and better overtime, and Zidoo X9S might be their best devices so far. They also invited a team of beta testers to provide inputs and report bugs before sending to end users, so this might have help. At first, I was disappointed by RTD1295 SoC limited 4K capabilities (4K H.264 up to 24 fps, 4K VP9 up to 30 fps), but if you can do without those, the firmware is normally excellent with HDMI audio pass-through, automatic frame rate switching, outstanding networking and storage performance, and most features working out of the box.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good Media player capabilities with Media Center app including 4K H.265 & HDR support, automatic frame rate switching HDMI audio pass-through including for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD
  • Outstanding Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Very good storage performance for internal storage, USB 3.0, and SATA
  • File systems support – NTFS (Paragon), EXT-4, exFAT (slow), and FAT32
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording, UDP broadcasting, and picture-in-picture support. N/B/: Recording can only be done up to 1080p30, so video input may be downscaled.
  • NAS functions such as SAMBA and FTP servers through OpenWrt, which runs side-by-side with Android
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Zidoo support – Frequent firmware update (with Changelog) and user forums.

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations: 4K H.264 up to 24 fps (which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones; 4K VP9 up to 30 fps (Zidoo confirmed 60 fps won’t be supported)
  • 4K videos are often not smooth when using the internal player in ZDMC (Kodi 16.1 fork).
  • Potential overheating issues in hot weather. I only experienced overheating once during testing, at which point it was not possible to play any videos smoothly (Room temp: ~30 C)
  • Lack of DRM support
  • HDMI Input – Recording/broadcasting fails when selecting RAW HDMI Rx, so AC3/DTS can not be recorded; UDP Broadcast is not quite as smooth as original input
  • Third party air mouse (MINIX NEO A2 Lite) is not always usable with Zidoo apps, and Zidoo IR remote is not really suitable for general Android usage (no proper mouse function), so you may have to jungle between Zidoo remote control and your air mouse more than one other devices. Alternatively using Zidoo RC app with your smartphone is an option, but I’d wish Zidoo would make an air mouse specifically for their devices.
  • Minor – App list in “most used” order, not alphabetical, which makes it hard to find apps if you have any installed.
  • Potential OpenWrt issue – While adding torrent files to Transmission web interface work, Bittorrent downloads would not start. SAMBA server not automatically detected in Ubuntu, smb:// address needs to be typed manually.
  • To be fixed – Apps requiring Bluetooth LE  can’t be installed through Google Play (side-loading apps works)

If you plan to use Zidoo X9S to its fullest with 4K media playback, NAS functions, and HDMI input features, the media center is actually very good value.

I’d like to thank Zidoo for sending a review sample. Resellers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities, while individual will find Zidoo X9S for $139 on Amazon US with O974D68X coupon (also works in other Amazon stores) and other online resellers such as Chinavasion, GeekBuying, DX, or eBay.

Review of Allo Vana Player Linux HiFi Audio System with Max2Play, SqueezeBox and Kodi

October 2nd, 2016 10 comments

Last month I showcased what I called “Allo Sparky Audio Kit” with a DAC board (Piano), an amplifier board (Volt), and usually hard to find  reclocker and capacitance multiplier boards (Kali & CM), all connected to Allo Sparky ARM Linux development board powered by Actions Semi S500 quad core Cortex A9 processor, and running Ubuntu 12.04. In the first post, I just described the boards, and showed how to assemble the kit, but now that I have received the user’s manual, it turns out the kit is actually called “Vana Player” and the provided Ubuntu firmware image runs Max2Play Browser based system that’s also available for Raspberry Pi and ODROID boards.

Before starting the kit, you’ll need to connect speakers to Piano DAC board and/or Kali board, as well as a 19.5V power source such as a laptop power supply to connect to the CM board. I connected some USB powered speakers to the headphone jack of Piano board, and one 5 ohm speaker to Volt amplifier board which I had left from a speaker set. You’d normally want to use two speakers for the Volt board, but that will do for testing. I tried four different laptop power supplies, but none of the jack would fit, so finally I change the plug from a Sony Laptop power power supply. Finally I connected an Ethernet cable, and a USB hard drive.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The user manual recommends to connect the 5V power supply provided with the kit, before turning on the 19V power source, and do the reverse while powering it off (turn 19V off first, then 5V). If your kit includes Kali reclocker board, it’s also very important not to connect 5V to Sparky board, but only to Kali board.

Now that the board is started you can find the IP address with an IP scanner software or your router DHCP list. In my router, the kit is detected as pcm5122:

pcm5122 00-17-F7-01-00-FD 192.168.0.111 00:57:43

While running arp-scan in my Ubuntu computer looks up the manufacturer (CEM Solutions Pvt) from the MAC address suffix (00:17:f7):

Now that we have the IP address, let’s open a web browser and access Max2Play web interface.

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Click to Enlarge

It’s telling me an update is available, so I went to Settings / Reboot tab, and successfully upgraded it from version 1.0 to version 2.36.

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Click to Enlarge

Two players are installed: Squeezelite working with Logitech Media Server (now Squeezebox Server) and Shairport for Airplay support, with both players set to auto start. You can access the settings for each in Audioplayer tab in the web interface.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I have not changed anything but you can disable autostart, set advanced options, and enable/disable the Graphics Equalizer.

SqueezeLite will communicate with SqueezeBox Server, which can be configure in the tab of the same name.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

You can also install plugins in that menu such as ShairTunes / ShairTunes2 (Airplay), and Google Music. But again, I have not changed anything in that section.

Vana Player is also powerful enough to act as a video player when connected to a TV via its HDMI port, so you can enjoy both high quality audio and video. That’s what the Kodi/XBMC tab is for, as it will allow you to configure Kodi, for example to decide whether you want to start it automatically.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

This can also work as a headless Kodi installation using Kore Android app, but I’ll get into more details a little later.

The most important part of the interface at first is the Filesystem Mount tab, where you’ll be able to mount network shares (NFS/SAMBA) on other devices, or your USB storage partitions, as well as use Vana Player as a SAMBA server. If you copied your file on the SD card, you don’t need to do anything here.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Three out of four partitions of my USB hard drive are detected, the only exception being the BTRFS partition, however none of them would mount from the web interface. I could however mount them manually using ssh (username/password: pi/pi):

So I set “Set fixed Mountpoint to prevent directory switching on reboot” and clicked “Save”, but the  “resolve host pcm5122” error still caused  the web interface to believe mounting did not work:

sudo: unable to resolve host pcm5122 [mntent]: line 3 in /etc/fstab is bad [mntent]: line 5 in /etc/fstab is bad [mntent]: line 7 in /etc/fstab is bad [mntent]: line 9 in /etc/fstab is bad [mntent]: line 11 in /etc/fstab is bad; rest of file ignored
Mountpoint NOT added! Please refer to the description below!

So restarted the board, and the NTFS partition was mounted automatically. Restarting the board is not straightforward however, as the Reboot option in “Settings / Reboot” never worked for me. It does restart the board, but never fully boots it. So I turned off 19V power, turned off 5V power, and then back on 5V, and 19V to be able to boot successfully. Maybe some programmable power strip would be useful here.

vana-player-usb-drive-samba-shareI also created “vanaplayer” SAMBA share, and could access from my Ubuntu computer after settings a password for the SAMBA share for user “root” (fixed username).

vana-player-samba-share

Finally, you can configure networking for Ethernet or WiFi in WiFi / LAN tab. However, the first time you’ll need to connect Ethernet even if you want to use WiFi through an USB WiFi dongle.

So now we should be ready to play some audio files. To do so, go to SqueezeBox Server tab, and click on “Open Squeezebox Server Webadministration” button, which should open a new video with “Logitech Media Server” (LMS).

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

If you are using external USB or network storage for your music, you’ll want to click on Settings on the bottom right corner in order to add your Media Folders, in my case /media/usb1/Music/music, and optionally edit the playlist folder.

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Click to Enlarge

Click on Apply and Close, and then you’ll be able to able play your music, add files to the playlist, and adjust the volume and other settings such as repeat and shuffle from the web interface.

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Click to Enlarge

Audio plays via speakers connected to both Piano DAC board and VOLT amplifier, and the audio quality seemed pretty good considering the speakers I used. I also set the volume in LMS to the maximum, but it was not that loud. Maybe there’s another way to increase the volume, but I did not find it. I also played a FLAC audio file (24-bit/192 KHz) successfully.

Another source of audio can be found in the Radio part of LMS, I managed to do so easily, although one of the radio stations would not start at all. Probably a network issue, as others worked just fine.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Vana player manual also mention the use of Qobuz plugin, but I did not try since it requires subscription.

The final way to play music using LMS is DLNA/UPnP, and I could confirm the UPnP/DLNA plugin was installed and running on port 5000:

However, for whatever reason, BubbleUPnP nor AirWire apps were able to locate PCM5122 as the media renderer.

bubbleupnp_airwire_renderer

I’ll update the post if I manage to make it work.

An another way to use Vana Player is via Kodi Media Center. You’ll need to connect an HDMI display to Sparky board, login using pi / pi credentials, and start Kodi via Max2Play interface. SqueezeLite and Shairport will be stopped, and only restart (if set to autostart) once Kodi is stopped.

If you want to control the player remotely, you’ll need to install Kore app on your smartphone. I started Kodi by going to Max2Ply Interface, selecting Kodi/XBMC tab, and clicking on Start Kodi(video), which will start Kodi 15.0 Isengard on the device.

Now to enable smartphone remote control support, enable Settings → Services → Remote control → Allow programs on other systems to control Kodi and Settings → Services → Webserver → Allow control of Kodi via HTTP to ON to allow you smartphone to send data such as images and summaries to Kodi. Both options were actually already enabled in my system, but I got the error message “remote communication server failed to start” in Kodi, until I manually stopped SqueezeBox Server in Max2Play web interface.The rest of the instructions should work with any other system running Kodi.

Now we can start Kore app, click Next, auto detection will fail, click Next again to setup manual configuration with the IP address and default Kodi settings as shown below.

kodi-kore-remote-controlThen we can go to Files to access the video inside Vana Player and start playing them. Once the video is started it does not rely on the smartphone, except if you want to use Kore remote control to stop the video, fast forward, adjust the volume and so on.

Another way to use Kodi Media Server capabilities is to use a UPnP app such as AirWire or BubbleUPnP, and contrary to my experience with SqueezeBox Server, Kodi(pcm5122) media renderer was probably detected, and I could play a video located on my phone.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

A final way to use the system as explained in the user’s manual is to stream a YouTube video from your smartphone to Vana Player again using UPnP. To do so, start YouTube app, start playing a video, and share it to BubbleUPnP (AirWaire does not support this feature), which will ask to install additional files the first time.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Once it is complete, you’ll be able to stream and control YouTube videos from your smartphone.

I suddenly had a problem while using UPnP apps however, as I lost all audio. I tried to reboot the system, and use SqueezeBox server, but I still did not have any audio. The screenshoot below shows I can run AlsaMixer and atm7059_link audio card is detected.

alsamixerHowever, if I go to Sound Settings in Ubuntu 12.04, there’s no Output device at all, and Kodi complains /dev/mixer is missing. All boards seem to be OK based on the LEDs, so it must be a software issue, but I have not found a solution yet.

So overall Vana Player is an interesting audio device, but software can be confusing at time, and not always work as expected. I’ve also noted that the network interface may take a long time to be brought up, and sometimes I have restart the device manually to make it work. Some explanation about the many LEDs on the board could be useful to debug potential issue without having to connect the device to a monitor or TV.

Allo website has been updated, and you can now buy all boards on Sparky page. My kit includes Sparky board ($37), Piano DAC board ($27), Piano 2.1 DAC board ($49), VOLT amplifier board ($27), Kali reclocker board ($69),  CM board ($15), and some accessories, but you can also directly buy Vana Player kit for $169, as well as other bundles. If you own a Raspberry Pi 2/3 board, the audio add-on boards should also be compatible.

How to Download YouTube 4K Videos with Youtube-dl Script

September 20th, 2016 8 comments

Many Android devices can now support 4K VP9 and/or H.264 video decoding, but for some reasons, Google only serves 4K videos to devices running Android TV OS, as opposed to just Android, with the latter limited to 1080p videos. If for some reasons you want to watch a YouTube 4K video on a capable device, you could download it with youtube-dl script written in Python, and available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.

youtube-4k-video-downloadI’ve been using the script for a while to download various video or audio files from YouTube, and other website, but for the purpose of this post, I made sure to update it to the latest version:

If you have already installed the script, it can also be updated with:

I’ll use one of the most popular 4K videos on YouTube as example, namely: COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w/ Freefly Movi.

The first task is to list the video’s supported formats:

So we can see there are lots of different formats for a given video with different resolution, container formats, and bitrates. You have to find the lines you want and select the corresponding “format code” in the first column to download the video and audio. I’ll select 313 for video and let the script select the best audio format:

The “+” sign is used to merge video and audio. If you don’t add an option for audio, only the video without audio will be downloaded. You can also run “youtube-dl URL” without options, and it should download the video with both “best audio and video”, but you don’t have full control over the exact format of the video.

Youtube-hd script has many others options, include support for YouTube playlist downloads so it’s a very useful script.

Categories: Linux, Testing Tags: 4k, how-to, tutorial, youtube