Reviews

Rippl-TV Review

The Rippl-TV has an Amlogic S802 chipset and tries to stand out by offering a customized launcher called UtilOS. How well does this unique looking box stand up against the competition?

I want to say thanks to Shenzhen Tomato for sending me a sample of the Rippl-TV to review. You can purchase one from  GearBestAmazon, GeekBuying or Rippl-TV.

Rippl-TV Technical Specs

  • Operating System: Android 4.4
  • Chipset: Amlogic S802
  • CPU: Quad core ARM Cortex-A9, 2.0GHz
  • GPU: Octa core ARM Mali-450 GPU
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3
  • Internal Storage: 8GB + SD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n Dual Band Wifi, 10/100 Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Audio/Video Output: HDMI 1.4, SP-DIF
  • Interfaces: 2 x USB 2.0
  • Power Supply: DC 5V/2A
  • Other: Google Play Store installed, IR Remote

What’s in the box?

Rippl-TV-Photo-032

The Rippl-TV comes inside a nice solid box with some branding and the slogan “A drop of perfection brings out the best in media…”. Inside the box, you get:

  • 1 x Rippl-TV Box
  • 1 x HDMI cable
  • 1 x 5V 2A Power supply
  • 1 x IR Remote control
  • 1 x English User Manual
Rippl-TV-Photo-005
The Rippl-TV comes with everything you need to get up and running

Rippl-TV Unboxing

Rippl-TV Design

Unboxing the Rippl TV,  I was struck by the unique design. Clearly the Rippl TV takes is namesake very seriously, with a striking water drop effect on the top of the box. Continuing this theme,  a droplet shaped power light is on the front of the box,  glowing blue when the power is on. I really like the design as it helps it stand out from the dozens of generic square devices many companies produce.

Rippl-TV-Photo-013

The right side of the device has a full sized SD card slot. This is unusual as most of these boxes tend to use microSD cards, but not unwelcomed as I personally tend to have a lot more spare SD cards for some reason.

Rippl-TV-Photo-011

The bulk of the Ports are on the rear of the device. Moving from the left to the right, we have 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, Composite Video out, optical audio and DC power. Below the ports is some additional venting.

Rippl-TV-Photo-012

The included remote is nice and compact but rather basic – perfect for navigating the device but not much else.  it has all the key Android buttons such as Home, Menu and Back in addition to a full number pad. A “manual” mouse mode using the directional buttons is also included which is handy but only useful in the rarest of occasions due to the slow speed and inaccuracy associated with operating a mouse in this fashion.

Rippl-TV-Photo-008

Rippl-TV Initial Impressions

After plugging in the box, it automatically booted.  During the booting sequence, a horror movie-esqe soundbite plays and then the device boots into a set up wizard. The wizard which guides you through the basic set-up process which is a really nice touch and aids in making a user friendly media player. Subsequent boots took about 36 seconds to reach a usable state.

Rippl-TV User Interface and Included Apps

After completing the setup wizard, you need to select a launcher. Two launchers are included – the Mediabox launcher,  as seen on the MK808B Plus or UtilOS.

I’ve covered the media box launcher in my MK808B Plus Review so I’m not going to go into any great detail. Suffice to say, it is a nice launcher that is much better suited for TV use than the stock Android one.

UtilOS however,  is unique to the Rippl-TV. Heavily based on XBMC/Kodi, it is essentially Kodi with core specific menus such as the app drawer integrated. Whether or not you are familiar with Kodi, it’s super easy to navigate and very intuitive. UtilOS has a whole bunch of Kodi repositories pre-installed, giving you access to a large number of streaming services and other features out of the box. By preinstalling these, it removes one of the more complex parts of the Kodi experience for those who are less tech savvy.

Rippl-TV-UtilOS-01

That’s not to say everything is great however. Both the setup wizard and settings screens both fall back to the Mediabox UI. Whilst not a major issue, transitioning from Kodi-styled menus using a dark color scheme to the rainbow buttons and different navigation approach of Mediabox is jarring. A bit more polish here would be appreciated.

Rippl-TV-Settings-01
Mediabox is still present, even when using the UtilOS launcher, which is inconsistant.

A large number of apps are preinstalled which is great. TeamViewer QuickSupport, YouTube, Netflix, OnLive, Facebook, Twitter and Skype all make an appearance.

A great inclusion is the Gamesome Frontend, which acts as an emulator launcher and helps organise all your ROMs for you. Another great addition for those who favor simplicity over customisation.

Using It

Navigating through UtilOS was a really nice experience. Having used Kodi for a number of years, everything was familiar. I didn’t notice any lagging at all whilst navigating the menus.

Rippl-TV-UtilOS-02

The included IR remote is sufficient for getting around UtilOS and for the average user, it will probably be good enough. All the media buttons worked as expected in both the included 4K Media Player and UtilOS. The mouse function was basic and slow. I was still able to use it to take screenshots and such but, being controlled by the directional controls, it’s a bit painful. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good air mouse such as the Mele F10 Deluxe or Rikomagic MK705.

Rippl-TV-Photo-010
It’s functional, but I’d quickly upgrade to an Air Mouse

The box supports standby via the power button on the remote. Pressing it again will bring the box back to life almost instantly.

I can also confirm that the box comes pre-rooted, which is nice.

Rippl-TV-RC-01

Rippl-TV Media Playback

Antutu Video Tester 2.2

To test media playback, I started with Antutu Video Tester 2.2. This application runs through a number of video files with different codecs and outputs the results. The final test score was 656.

Rippl-TV-AVT-02

Rippl-TV-AVT-03

As expected, the device couldn’t handle HEVC files as the chipset doesn’t support them in hardware. WMV2 also resulted in no video at all.

Rippl-TV-ATV-Comparison

App-Based Video Playback

A number of test videos were run through both UtilOS and the included 4K Movie Player to test video playback in a more realistic use scenario.

Video Codec

4K Player

XBMC  13.2

1080p 3D SBS H.264

OK

OK

1080p 3D ABL H.264

Nothing

Nothing

1080p H.264

OK

OK

1080p High Bitrate H.264

OK

OK

4K H.264

OK

OK

1080p HEVC

No Video

No Video

720p Hi10p

Watchable/many skipped frames

Watchable/many skipped frames

1080p Hi10p

Watchable/many skipped frames

Decoding issues/many skipped frames

1080p MPEG2

OK

OK

720P RMVB

OK

OK

1080p VC1

OK

OK

1080p VP8

Watchable/many skipped frames

OK

Miracast

I wasn’t able to get Miracast working at all with my Galaxy S4. Both the phone and the Rippl-TV said they were connecting but it eventually timed out. Miracast tends to be fussy on some devices, particularly the Galaxy S4, so you may have better luck with other phone/tablet models.

DLNA

I tested DLNA via the included Rippl-TV Media Center app. I didn’t have any issues streaming media from my server.

Peripherals

I was able to connect a USB thumbdrive and play media files off them without any issue.

Rippl-TV Gaming Performance

To test gaming performance, I installed 2 games – 1 2D and 1 3D title:

Gaming on the Rippl-TV was pretty good, with the Amlogic S802’s octacore GPU performing nicely. Angry Birds ran perfectly and I noticed no dips in the framerate. Setting Beach Buggy Racing to the maximum settings, the game ran well. The only real time I noticed the framerate suffer was during the water splash effect or when there were lots of explosions on screen.

Rippl-TV-Gaming-01

Gaming Controllers and Bluetooth

I connected up my iPega 9025 via Bluetooth and played a few races in Beach Buggy Racing. Controls were responsive and there was no perceivable lag.

Rippl-TV Networking Performance

Based on feedback from previous reviews, I have switched my network tests to a straight TCP transfer using the WiFi Speed Test app which should remove/limit protocol overhead affected the results.

Rippl-TV WiFi Performance

A 100Mb file is transferred between the device and a PC running the benchmarking server application. This is repeated 3 times for each direction and the average is taken. The results are presented below. Download and Upload speeds were 17.18 Mbps and 18.34 Mbps respectively.

Rippl-TV-WiFi-Comparison

Testing video playback from a Samba share, I was able to stream a 1080p video without any issue.

Rippl-TV Ethernet Performance

A 100Mb file is transferred between the device and a PC running the benchmarking server application. This is repeated 3 times for each direction and the average is taken. Download and Upload speeds were 95.15 Mbps and 81.59 Mbps respectively.

Rippl-TV-Ethernet-Comparison

Rippl-TV Benchmarks

Antutu 5.6

Antutu returned a score of 31109, which is roughly what other devices in the same family receive.

Rippl-TV-Antutu-01

A1 SD Bench

I benchmarked the Internal Storage and RAM using A1 SD Bench. The internal memory attained a Read of 24.91 MB/s and a Write speed of 8.22 MB/s. Whilst the read speed is fine, the write speed is a little bit slower than other devices I have rested. RAM copy speed was 1058.22 MB/s.

Rippl-TV-A1-01

Other Notes

Custom ROM Support

I haven’t been able to find custom ROMs for the Rippl-TV at this stage.

Temperatures

Temperatures were ok during testing. Using an IR thermometer after Antutu and my gaming tests, the temperatures were 40.2°C and 34.4°C on the top and bottom respectively. Ambient room temperature was 21.5°C.

Power Consumption

Power consumption was good:

Powered Off

StandbyIdleLoad
0 W0 W2.8 W

4.5 W

HDMI CEC

HDMI CEC worked without issue on my Samsung TV.

Rippl-TV Additional Photos

Getting One

You can purchase one from  GearBestAmazon, GeekBuying or Rippl-TV.

 

PiPO X7 Review: A Solid Quadcore Windows Mini PC

So it’s begun. Intel’s introduction of low cost chips combined with Microsoft’s improved licencing with their Windows 8.1 with Bing SKU has seen a number of small Windows sticks and boxes starting to appear. Whilst the first seemed to be the Meegopad T01, the PiPO X7 has arrived. Packing a quad core Intel processor and running Windows 8.1 with Bing, how does this box stack up?

Following the MeegoPad T01, the PiPO X7 is an quadcore mini PC using a more traditional “box” form factor. Leveraging Intel’s Bay Trail processor, this all-metal box runs Windows 8.1 with Bing and should have more than enough grunt to handle XBMC. Will this replace the traditional HTPC?

I want to say thanks to GearBest for providing me a sample to review. You can purchase the PiPO X7 from them here (silver) or here (black).

PiPO X7 Technical Specifications

  • Chipset: Intel Baytrail quad core processor with Intel HD graphics (Z3736F)
  • RAM: 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage: 32 GB eMMC + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output: HDMI 1.4, 3.5mm Audio
  • Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (Realtek RTL8723BS), Bluetooth 4.0, 10/100 Ethernet
  • USB: 4x USB 2.0 port
  • Other Features: Power button, 1 Year Office 365 Subscription
  • OS: Windows 8.1 with Bing (32-bit)

What’s in the box?

PiPO-X7-Photo-02

Whilst unboxing th3 PiPO x7, I have to say that there isn’t much in the way of inclusions. Inside the box, you get:

  • 1 x PiPO X7 Box
  • 1 x Warranty Card
  • 1 x 12v 2.4A Power Supply
PiPO-X7-Photo-05
The inclusions are truly the bare basics

I’m accustomed to getting HDMI cables as a minimum but no such luck here. But strangely, I’m not that disappointed. I’m more impressed that I’m staring at a Windows PC that costs less than $100.

PiPO X7 Unboxing

PiPO X7 Design

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Opening the box,  I was struck at the size of the device. Whilst not large by any means,  my familiarity with Android boxes and the Meegopad T01 set my expectations for something tiny. That’s not to say it’s big by any means – I’d say that roughly the size of a 7 inch tablet. The device feels solid and its all-metal case gives it the weight and feel like a premium product. The metal case pulls double duty, also acting as a giant heatsink to cool the quadcore Intel processor within.

The front panel of the device is relatively minimalist. A small,  silver power button,  red power light, two USB ports and a headphone jack make an appearance. It’s nice to see a headphone jack on the device, making it feel like a complete PC, rather than just a media player.
Moving around to the back of the box,  we have the bulk of the ports. A large wifi antenna is connected on the rear of the device. Unfortunately,  its not removable like on the PROBOX2 EX but it’s not a big issue. The other ports, from left to right, are 2 USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, 10/100 Ethernet and DC Power.

PiPO-X7-Photo-09

Both sides of the case feature grilled vents arranged in an appealing pattern.

PiPO-X7-Photo-12

The PiPO X7  comes in both black and silver. I’ve got the black version and I have to say, it’s a nice looking unit. A sleek,  black box, the PiPO X7 looks incredibly minimalist and just blends in with your home theatre equipment. One thing I’m massively relieved about is that the antenna on the black model is black too,  unlike the white that was shown in the product photos. Phew!

PiPO X7 Initial Impressions

After plugging in the box, you need to hold down the power button for a second to begin booting, with the red power light turning on. My TV was recognized as 1080p and the resolution was automatically set correctly.

I had to follow the standard setup process for a Windows 8.1 install – selecting country, naming the PC, setting the timezone, etc. After that, Windows set up the PC which took about 5 minutes. After this, the device rebooted. From this point on, booting was insanely fast – it only takes approximately 12 seconds to get to a usable state! There has been a lot of confusion about Windows licensing on these boxes but I can confirm that my box came with Windows 8.1 with Bing and was activated.

In terms of storage, according to My Computer, the C drive had 19.4 Gb out of 23.5 Gb free after the intial setup. Running Windows Update will reduce the amount of storage available slightly.

Connecting a keyboard and mouse, the PiPO X7 is effectively a standard PC, which is amazing for such a small and economical device.

PiPO X7 User Interface and Included Apps

PiPO-X7-Start

So normally I’d talk about Android launchers and the customization (or lack thereof) here but this is your garden-variety Windows 8.1. No bloatware is included which is fantastic. If you want a detailed overview of Windows 8.1, TechRadar put together this excellent review.

PiPO-X7-Desktop
So much yellow!

Using It

Navigating Windows 8.1 was fluid. I didn’t experience any slowdown when testing the included apps. Web browsing was fast and scrolling was relatively smooth. I also had no issues playing embedded YouTube videos. I’ve included a video of my initial walk-through below:

PiPO X7 Media Playback

To test media playback, I installed the latest version of Kodi and played a  number of test videos.

Video Codec

XBMC  14.0

1080p 3D SBS H.264

OK

1080p 3D ABL H.264

OK

1080p H.264

OK

1080p High Bitrate H.264

OK

4K H.264

OK

1080p HEVC

Many Skipped Frames

720p Hi10p

Many Skipped Frames

1080p Hi10p

Unwatchable/ Many Skipped Frames

1080p MPEG2

OK

720P RMVB

Many Skipped Frames

1080p VC1

OK

1080p VP8

Many Skipped Frames

Kodi Walkthrough

I’ve put together a video showing how well Kodi performs on the PiPO X7:

Peripherals

I was able to connect both a USB thumbdrive and a 2.5″ Portable HDD and play media files off them without any issue.

PiPO X7 Gaming Performance

To test out gaming performance, I installed the Painkiller Overdose demo from 2007. Quite the blast from the past.

I have to say that gaming performance was pretty average, as I expected for this particular. I was able to get playable framerates at 1024×768 resolution with everything turned down to low.

PiPO X7 Networking Performance

PiPO X7 WiFi Performance

To test out WiFi performance, I used iperf (iperf –t 60 -c SERVER_IP -r) to test networking bandwidth. Speeds were relatively good, achieving download and upload speeds of 27.4 Mbps and 33.3 Mbps respectively.

With regards to actual usage, web browsing and watching YouTube videos over WiFi has felt fast.

PiPO X7 Ethernet Performance

Ethernet bandwidth was tested using the same procedure as WiFi, with the device connected to a Gigabit Ethernet port. As expected, Ethernet speeds were good. Download and upload speeds were 90.8 Mbps and 89.1 Mbps respectively.

PiPO X7 Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3

The internal storage was benchmarked using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3:

PiPO-X7-CrystalDiskMark

Other Notes

Temperatures

During benchmarking, the device barely felt warm to the touch, suggesting that the case was effectively dispersing the heat. Using an IR thermometer, I measured the temperatures on the top and bottom of the case to be 31.8°C and 34.1°C respectively. Ambient room temperature was 24.6°C.

Power Consumption

Power consumption so far appears quite low. During benchmarking, I had a peak power usage of 11W which isn’t much at all. I will update this with more detailed figures as testing continues. When the device is powered off, the adapter still draws 0.5W.

PiPO X7 Additional Photos

Getting One

GearBest provided me the sample to to review. You can purchase the PiPO X7 from them here (silver) or here (black).

Alternatively, you can also get the device from GeekBuying here (silver) or here (black), or Amazon.

Logitech Harmony 650 Review Image 1

Logitech Harmony 650 Review

Introduction

I’ve written about my love of the Logitech Harmony series of remotes several times, and even covered how to set them up. But for the discerning buyer (or if you’re as detail-obsessed as I am), simply being told something is awesome is not enough. That said, I’ve decided to review the Logitech Harmony 650, which has been a staple of my home theatre system for a number of years. Even though this remote has been in the market for a while, it continues to be one of the best – attractive, simple to use and setup and helps you shelve the 500 other remotes you’ll inevitably have as you expand your home theatre setup.

Read moreLogitech Harmony 650 Review