Here is the first in a new series of reviews about Kodi TV Boxes.
What are Kodi/TV Boxes?
TV Boxes are small computers running Google Android OS, Linux or even Microsoft Windows (on x86 CPU variants), mostly based on ARM processors – from different and varied manufacturers, such as AMLogic, RockChip, Intel, and others. Most of these are identical or quite similar to those found in modern Smartphones and tablets.
That’s no coincidence. Modern smartphones are powerful computers that can run many tasks that required room size industrial computers only a few decades ago. And the task which TV Boxes take on is not a small one.
Modern TV Boxes aim to replace the need for cable or satellite TV subscription, with content from the World Wide Web. This is what streaming is all about.
However, these days, it’s not just about displaying the content from sources such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and others, but doing so smoothly and being able to handle multiple audio and video formats and codecs.
These days, the evolution of mobile hardware is much faster than that of the personal computer. Because of that, the newer chipsets can handle these heavy duty codecs and decode them in hardware.
From Black & White, low-res digital reproductions of old films and TV programs, to this year’s 4K highly compressed, 3D feature films – these boxes can do it all – whether it’s video or audio. All you need is a fast (preferably fiber) internet connection and a good TV with an available HDMI input. After an hour or less of fiddling, you’ll enjoy the world of (mostly) free unlimited content off the World Wide Web.
And this time, I am proud to present: The Probox2 EX+ Extreme Media Player!
This review unit was sent to me courtesy of the good people at Probox2, so thank you all, and especially Will, for the swift and great communication.
What’s in the Box?
PROBOX2 EX+ is a new iteration on the previous generation from PROBOX2, which was simply named EX. The main difference between the two is the hardware. The new EX+ is based on the newer AMLogic S812 chipset while its predecessor was based on the older AMLogic S802-H.
Both boxes are running Google Android, but the new EX+ comes with the new Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box as well as a fast 1000M (Gigabit) LAN wired connection, while the EX comes with the older Android 4.4 Kitkat version and a slower 10M/100M LAN wired connection.
So what do we get? the player – PROBOX2 EX+, Power Adapter, Infrared Remote, Dual-Band Antenna, AV Cable, HDMI v1.4b Cable, USB Cable, User Manual. Oh, and the PROBOX2 Remote+, which is a Air mouse bonus that will be discussed more at the end of the post.
Why is better hardware important? Simply put: more powerful hardware equals better performance – and especially when it comes to the new HEVC/H.265 video codec. However, a newer OS version doesn’t only come with a slicker look, but also with its own growing pains.
The EX+ is a slick looking small black box with a matte finish on top and bottom, and reflective coating on all four sides. It’s light at around 200 grams, and can be easily mounted on the back of a TV or other HDMI capable digital screen, using two sided tape. (Better to check first and make sure the remote controls the box when mounted that way)
This design is similar to most TV Boxes, but I would like to mention, that the top indented On/Off button is great idea as it makes it easier to find over those which include it on the side of the box which is more inconspicuous, especially at night. This On/off button also gets a little illumination from the Active incorporated led light.
|CPU||Amlogic S812 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU, up to 2Ghz|
|GPU||Octo Core Mali-450 GPU, up to 600Mhz|
|Memory / Storage||2GB DDR3 / 16GB* eMMC|
|LAN||RJ-45 Ethernet jack (10/100/1000Mbps)|
|Wireless||Built-in 802.11 b/g/n/ac Dual Band (2.4Ghz / 5.8Ghz) WIFI|
|Bluetooth||Built-in Bluetooth v4.0|
|OS||Android 5.1 Lollipop|
|Video Output||HDMI 1.4b, up to 4K** @ 30fps, Support HDMI-CEC|
|Audio Output||Via HDMI 1.4b, optical SPDIF|
|Power||DC 5V 2A adapter (CE, FCC, CCC Certified)|
|Peripheral Interface||USB 2.0 Port x 2, OTG Port, TF Card Reader, AV Port, IR Sensor (Remote included)|
|Packing Included||PROBOX2 EX+, PROBOX2 Remote+, Power Adapter, Backup IR Remote, Dual-Band Antenna, AV Cable, HDMI v1.4b Cable, USB Cable, User Manual|
Benchmarks and Testing
All benchmarks have been repeated 3 times and results have been averaged to give a more accurate reading:
The Antutu benchmark tests single core performance over multi-core as it is a better indication of the performance of one device over others in most situations. Here it shows a distinct advantage to the AMLogic S812 chipset over the other two.
GPU Mark Benchmark
GPU Mark tests 3d gaming performance and also provides a normalized score according to the used screen resolution (for a more accurate result). The test is quite short and should be taken as a supporting result to that of the more serious 3D Mark benchmark.
A1 SD Benchmark
A1 SD Benchmark tests RAM and flash memory speeds. As can be seen in the provided graphs, RAM is much faster (by a factor of about 40) than flash memory – that is why it’s in smaller amount and is also volatile (does not keep its contents after a reboot). The RAM performance is similar between the Minix and the Probox2, as both are using a similar chipset. But in both Internal and External SD card tests, the Probox2 seems to take a backseat to the Minix, probably due to a better implementation of a memory reader/controller.
* PC Mark Benchmark
* The PC Mark benchmark tests are lacking, because out of the three boxes tested, only the Minix X8-H was able to complete the video test portion of the test fully. It seems that both the EX+ and the Gecko require the use of specialized codecs in order to play some encoded video files. However, video testing with the included Kodi media center seems to produce great results, and the other parts of the benchmark show an obvious lead.
3D Mark Benchmark
Video Playback testing (Using KODI)
|Resolution||Video Format||Local Playback||Network (Wi-Fi/LAN) Playback|
|720p (1280*720)||AVC (High@L4.1)||Playing correctly||Playing correctly|
|1080P (1920*1080)||AVC (High@L4)||Playing correctly||Playing correctly|
|2160P (3840*2160)||HEVC (H.265) – 10Bit||Playing correctly||Buffering and stutter|
|4K (4096*2304)||AVC (High@L5.1)||Playing correctly||Buffering and stutter|
|4K TS HEVC files||HEVC (H.265)||Does not play / play with artifacts and stutter||Does not play / play with artifacts and stutter|
Two things: playback testing was done in both 2.4GHz and 5Ghz wireless connections (802AC), and my LAN connection is using power-line AV500 adapters to reach the router. That may skew the results somewhat, but not by much.
As can be witnessed, the playback suffers when not using local storage (Micro-SD card, or attached USB drive). This is not good news as it may affect streaming generally. Always make sure you are connecting your box to the router in the shortest and optimal route possible.
The benchmarks and video tests stand witness to show that the EX+ is a powerful machine. It can play (almost) any current video file you’ll throw at it, and does it well.
It will also handle itself quite well with most android games and/or applications.
I do have reservations regarding the included (basic) remote and its loud clicking sounds. But Probox2 made up for it by including the (much better) Remote+ air mouse.
The box I received came fully updated with the latest firmware, but a System OTA (Over the air) application is included to allow for future updates. I did experience some video sync issues with my TV at first as the box started with a higher refresh rate than my TV supports. However, disconnecting and reconnecting the HDMI cable, and changing the settings in the display options to match my display set it right.
For the time being, no android app (that I could find) is available to allow remote control of the EX+ from your phone or tablet. That is regrettable, even though most actions are quite easy with the Air mouse. Probox2 did promise that they are working on a remote app that will accommodate the newer EX+. Android TV remote (or as previously known, Google TV remote) which works well with Minix boxes is currently not supported on the EX+.
The EX+ comes pre-rooted from the manufacturer. That is an important point to make, as most TV Boxes either do not formally support rooting, or even block the option all together. Probox2 made a bold move, and from my point of view, a great one. Rooting allows more freedom, and as a result a better advanced user experience. It also means that (unlike) other boxes, there won’t be a need to re-root the box after each and every firmware update, and that the warranty will not be affected by rooting.
|Frames Per Second||Minix Neo X8-H (Amlogic S802)||Probox2 EX+ (Amlogic S812)||OpenHour Gecko (HiSilicon 3798M)|
|Asphalt 8 Airborne||23||33||N/A|
|Angry Birds 2||30||31||N/A|
|Walking War Robots||25||29||N/A|
|Resource Usage||Minix Neo X8-H (Amlogic S802)||Probox2 EX+ (Amlogic S812)||OpenHour Gecko (HiSilicon 3798M)|
|Asphalt 8 Airborne||8%, 169MB||12%, 326MB||N/A|
|Angry Birds 2||9%, 201MB||13%, 315MB||N/A|
|Walking War Robots||10%, 99MB||13%, 275MB||N/A|
- The Gecko could not run Gamebench app, and was also having trouble running some of the games.
I have tested the EX+ with three games, using GameBench app which allowed me to measure frame rate, as well as resources used in each of these games:
Asphalt 8 Airborne – a 3d graphic intensive racing game
Angry Birds 2 – a popular 2d action game
Walking War Robots – an online robot warfare game that requires a game-pad
Ex+ held its own quite nicely. It performed well, and as you can see did not consume too many resources…
However, I can say that the box sadly runs quite hot when put under the strain of heavy gaming tasks. Even though CPU temperature monitoring apps show a steady and cool 30 Celsius, the unit feels much warmer to the touch, and the overheating causes freezes that forced me to pull out the power plug in order to restart the EX+.
I do believe that adding a active (a fan, or a laptop cooler) cooling solution to the passive cooling of the EX+ would make a difference. But without it, I would not recommend risking any heavy duty gaming on the EX+ for more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
* Price for Minix was taken from Geekbuying website, Price for Probox2 was taken from W2Comp website, and Open Hour Gecko price was taken from product website. Prices are as found, without any current discounts.
The Probox2 EX+ TV Box is a powerful machine. It holds its own, even though I could not test it against another S812 based box, I am sure its performance would stand.
Video and gaming performance are quite good, and unlike the previous chipset (S802), it can handle HEVC (H.265) encoded video up to and including 4K/2160p content.
There are issues with TS HEVC encoded files, but Probox2 promised me they will address them in a future update.
Network performance with heavy bandwidth video files was not encouraging. Since I tested it both with high speed wireless and wired connections, I think there are improvements to be made with a software and/or hardware update.
I also encountered a few freezes that forced me to power off the EX+ and restart it. I suspect it may have to do with overheating, as the device was quite hot to the touch.
|Can play almost anything you’ll throw at it||Noisy clicking standard remote|
|Slick look thanks to Android 5.1.1||Lacking basic launcher|
|Kodi 15.2 (RC1) Pre-installed||Issues playing 4K TS files|
|Future-proof thanks to hardware HEVC 4K decoding||Lags in 4K AVC content playback over network|
|1GBit LAN||Freezes occur (infrequently)|
|Good Air Mouse included||Starts set to high refresh rate out of the box (may cause flickering on some TVs)|
In conclusion, I would recommend buying this box. It has a few issues, but it’s a solid performer and I believe those problems are more teething pains than serious malfunctions.
I give it… 3/5 Stars – Good, but can get better with time and updates.
The Probox2 Remote+ Air mouse
When you buy the Ex+, you get as a part of the package, a great Air Mouse called “Remote+”.
Why is it so great? In a nutshell, it has four work modes: Remote control mode, Air mouse mode, Vertical gaming mode, and Horizontal gaming mode. There is a dedicated button for switching between the different modes.
On top of that, it incorporates a microphone which allows you to use google voice search functions without having to connect a microphone or Bluetooth set to your TV box.
It is compatible with Android, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
It takes 2 standard (or rechargeable) AAA batteries.
However, the gaming and power buttons are only compatible with Probox2 series devices.
I have tried and used it with two other android TV boxes, and all it took was plugging the USB receiver in, and the air mouse and remote was working.
Accuracy is great, but it does lag a little bit at times with accepting a click, or moving around. It does not happen often, but it does.
When I compare it to another air mouse I have (the Minix Neo M1), it wins on all fronts.
I used the game-pad function to play Asphalt 8 Airborne on the EX+, and the experience is much better than fiddling with a standard remote. In fact, I would say that the inclusion of the Remote+ in the package upgrades the whole experience.
The built-in microphone works well with Google search, but the recording quality is not the best. Microphone gain should be used, and the quality is comparable to FM radio.
Since the EX+ does not offer a virtual keyboard/mouse app for your phone or tablet, the Remote+ provides an interim solution to typing and moving around the screen.
Did I like it? Yes.
Would I recommend it? Yes, but more so for Probox2 device owners. It works great as a air mouse on other devices, but the great game-pad functionality only comes into play with Probox2.
I give it… 4/5 Stars – Good, but increased functionality is reserved for the Probox2 line.
So you like the EX+ and Remote+ and want to buy them? For online purchase, there is only one place to go for this slick combo: W2Comp (click on the name to get to the product page)
And as a bonus, I got you a 5% discount code, and it is: DropsOfWisdom
“Where to buy” – http://probox2.com/become-a-distributor/
Israeli distributor: “Benda Magnetic Ltd”: (no discount code)
I hope you like the review, and you can expect more to come soon!
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