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    MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2

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

     

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


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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

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

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

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


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

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

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

     

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

    Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

    I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and 802.11n@2.4 GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming.

     

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

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

     

    Storage

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

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

    USB storage performance was tested with A2 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

     

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

     

    MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

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

     

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

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

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

    Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

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