SoC – the Heart of a TV Box

A System-on-a-Chip (SoC) is the heart of most mobile devices. The three main Chinese manufacturers of non-Intel ARM-based Android TV box SoC circuits are Allwinner, AMLogic and Rockchip. An SoC is sometimes also erroneously referred to as a chipset.

Allwinner is the black sheep among these manufacturers because of a past history of benchmark cheating and incompatibility with KODI (XBMC) software, the most common media center software used on Android TV boxes. I tend to avoid Allwinner.

Rockchip was the favored SoC maker back in 2013 when the first low-cost Android 4.0 TV boxes started becoming popular. My early 2013 Smallart UHost2/Probox2 stick from Geekbuying used a 32-bit Rockchip RK3066.

AMLogic’s lower priced 64-bit S905 SoC is the new popular favorite for Android TV boxes. AMLogic has also gained favor with KODI developers. My 2016 Mini M8S from Gearbest featured pre-rooted Android 5.1.1 and it has been rock solid stable in operation.

I was not lucky with the new Mini M8S II (AMLogic S905X), also from Gearbest (Android 6.0.1). A “root” method is not yet available and it has significant firmware flaws, e.g., the ENTER key is inexplicably disabled on external USB and RF keyboards. Despite that, unlike the stability horrors I had with the “highly regarded” 2013 ProBox2, the Mini M8S II is still stable in actual use. By 2016 standards, the 2013 ProBox2 would be considered pure garbage for many reasons.

2016-m8s2013-probox-2

TV box manufacturers add their own support chips and firmware to these SoC chips. Sometimes the firmware used on one TV box may also work (more or less) on another TV box with the same SoC. However, often this will not work, especially if they use different support chips, e.g., wi-fi.

Firmware from one type of SoC will not work on a different type of SoC, even the closely related AMLogic S905 and S905X. Flashing firmware intended for one SoC to a different type of SoC will likely “brick” your TV box converting it into a novelty paperweight.

 

 

Android TV PC – “We are the BLOG” . . .

Welcome – yes, you may be assimilated but resistance is not futile.

There are over 200 million blogs but the vast majority are abandoned. Will this one be the same? Well, maybe, but as a first timer, I will give it a go anyway. Add comments and I might even stick around.

This blog is about Android TV boxes used as second or substitute PCs.

Mini M8S Android Home Screen (Nova Launcher) – click image to see full size

The normal marketing focus for a low-cost Android TV box is as a fancy video player and/or gaming device. They offer more functions than a Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV box.

Modern Android TV boxes are now lower cost than proprietary boxes but not as simplified. For mostly video use, there are much better blogs that focus on KODI/XBMC/PLEX and video / gaming devices for connecting to your HDMI TV. That will not be our focus.

Video and gaming are important functions on Android TV boxes, but these tiny Android TV boxes can be do much more. In 2016, under $50 64-bit boxes have grown up – they are not just KODI/XBMC playback machines. Many can serve as a second or even substitute mini-PC by adding an inexpensive (USB dongle) RF mouse and keyboard.

We also won’t focus on higher cost devices. The 2016 consensus is that only one higher cost ($199) Android TV box has significantly better video performance and support, NVIDIA’s Shield TV.

The NVIDIA Shield TV device, however, is not that great as a Mini PC. The Shield has a very limited and proprietary Google Play Store. On Android TV boxes that include the full Google Play Store (many still do not), far more Android apps will be available to the owner. Personally, I don’t need 4K video. In fact, I can get along just fine at 720p and I am also not a gamer so the Shield TV’s video superiority is of little value to me.


This blog started as the offshoot of a small personal project to fix one of the weaknesses of Android web browsers when used with wide-screen TV box display. With developers focused on efficient battery use on narrow screen smartphones, they left out things like bookmark bars and extensions. That was not good for the small market of TV box users who do not use batteries and do not suffer from limited screen real estate.

The Android Opera browser does have a decent Speed Dial page and Google Chrome has its clunky Bookmarks page. However, both are far from ideal for users with dozens of frequently used bookmarks.

m8s-home-128bookmarks start page run from Android SD card – click image to see full size

To fix this, I made a compact personal bookmarks page (Android, Windows, Linux, Mac) expanded to include: a dark theme with a stock ticker and search bar, a start page with dynamic Google news feeds, and start pages that include all of these features.

Download a start page HTML file to your Android TV box, PC or Mac. Customize with your own OneTab links using copy-and-paste from our online bookmarks editing tools. Your custom start page resides on your Android TV box, PC or Mac and it is accessed using the file:// protocol instead of the normal http:// protocol. (Also added: six hidden click-to-play background radio stations to all start pages.)

During HTML / Javascript testing of the new Android start pages, it was necessary to visit various tech forums and explore other Android resources about some Android-unique problems that I encountered. I thought that I would share some of my tech travels with you.