I’ve recently purchased a tiny, Android-based media player from DX.com — mostly so I can hack on it, and perhaps use it for its nominal purpose of streaming media over my home network. I purchased mine on August 22nd 2012 and received it on September 12th — not too bad for DX.com free delivery. This post summarises some initial observations.
DX.com refer to this unit as a “Mini Android 4.0 Network Media Player“. It comes with Android 4.0, is based around the Allwinner A10 chipset and comes with 1GB RAM, 4GB internal Flash, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, two USB 2.0 ports (one of which is configured for OTG), a TF (microSD) card slot for up to 32GB extra storage, an IR remote control unit, HDMI output and a 3.5mm analog AV output.
It appears to be a slightly tweaked clone of the “MiniX H24 TV box” media player by PineRiver (although based on the PCB date of 2012.06.09 in the photo above, and comments in this blog post, my unit might be a “MiniX Plus” internally).
A range of related forum discussions are hosted here (and specifically here for the MiniX) by Miniand Tech, and a blog covering small hacks to MiniX devices is here. Miniand Tech have also made available a copy of the user manual here for their official MiniX.
HDMI video output & USB keyboard/mouse input
I’ve successfully connected the MiniX to both my LG 32LH35FD and Sony KDL40V4000 flat-screen TVs using the HDMI port, and the screen image seems fine. The MiniX defaults to 720p format, but you can easily reset it to 1080p from the Android Settings screen (although there are rumors the unit will dissipate more heat operating in 1080p mode).
However, I was not so successful plugging the MiniX into either a 22″ Samsung Syncmaster 226BW or 24″ Samsung Syncmaster 2443 LCD monitor using this HDMI to DVI adapter cable. The blue Android background came out purple, and trying to do pretty much anything on screen (e.g. open up Settings and trying to scroll down the screen) would cause the signal to disappear completely (leaving a blank screen). I confirmed it wasn’t the cable — plugging a Toshiba R700 laptop’s HDMI port into the Samsung monitor’s DVI port worked just fine. Turns out I’m not the only one to notice this oddity. [Edit: Unfortunately, turning off HDCP detection as suggested here makes no difference.]
The MiniX comes with a remote control unit. However, except for the most mundane media player functions it really is a nightmare trying to navigate around the Android GUI using up/down/left/right keys on a remote control. Fortunately, the MiniX’s regular USB port was quite happy to take a USB 1.1 hub, into which I plugged a USB keyboard and USB mouse. Both keyboard and mouse were recognised immediately, which made it much easier to explore the MiniX’s official user interface.
The MiniX appears to have somewhat unreliable 802.11 connectivity. When first turned on, it quickly located my WPA2-protected home AP and I was easily able to authenticate and connect to my home LAN over 802.11n. But after only a few tens of minutes, the WiFi link would be intermittently declared dead, or downloads (e.g. surfing the web, or watching YouTube content) would simply stall — even though other WiFi-attached devices around the house continued to access the Internet just fine.
A few applications are pre-installed, including YouTube, Gmail, etc. There’s also a couple of custom media players that I didn’t recognise. I installed the “VLC (beta) Neon” application to see how well VLC would play back media content (moderately well).
Playback of content
Streaming of media is yet to be fully explored. When I got to the File Manager there appears to be an option to scan the local network for content sources, but the MiniX completely misses my UPnP-based home media server. (This same media server is picked up and happily used by my XBox 360 and my recently purchased Asus Transformer Infinity Android 4.0.x tablet, so there’s definitely something I’m not doing right with my MiniX.)
I’ve successfully played back a few minutes of some .avi and .mp3 files stored on a small 8GB TF card, but had very limited success playing online YouTube videos. Either the network link is crapping out, or the MiniX simply can’t figure out what to do with the YouTube content in a timely manner — clips always seem to freeze after a minute or so, after which even the YouTube main menu page appears unable to display thumbnails for selection. The MiniX itself doesn’t completely freeze — it is possible to back out of YouTube to the main menu screen — but YouTube itself is (so far) pretty useless. (At the same time, YouTube over WiFi to my Android 4.0.x Asus Transformer tablet works fine — go figure!)
Web browsing and the Google Play app store are similarly afflicted by network freezes. After a few days of playing around I still have no idea what the problem is, but it is very annoying.
More details in later posts.