John Galea's Blog

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Android is popping up everywhere. But my experience on using it to play heavily encoded, highly compressed movies like say YIFYs (a handle for an encoder on the net) has been dismal. But I’ve always wondered if it is not so much the hardware but the heavy software load. The holy grail would be to get one that runs XBMC. So when a colleague at work Johannes offered me the chance to give this one a whirl (at his peril, the family miss it) I jumped at it. This one actually comes preloaded with XBMC. The MyGICA ATV 1200 is unique in a couple of ways. It has a dizzying number of ports making it uber flexible in how you can connect it and what you can connect it to. Supporting component, composite and HDMI video output (full 1080p). The HDMI is 1.3 which should mean it supports 3D although I don’t have a 3D TV so can’t test that. And HDMI or optical audio output. From and input point of view there are 4 USB ports, and an SD slot. Networking wise you can go wireless b/g/n (but no 5 GHZ support) as well as wired. There is even an IR port, more on that later.

One of the challenges a device like this has, is for it to have any hope of playing back a heavily encoded movie will require hardware accelerated playback. Especially given the dual core processor. XBMC has been working on hardware accelerated playback on Android for a while and has finally released Gotham XBMC 13 for Android. This device uses a customized version of 12.2. Hopefully going forward this will be less of an issue.

I’ve had a PC sitting beside my TV for years. It is big, consumes power, makes noise but plays movies, and XBMC flawlessly. The grail would be to find a device like this, small, silent, low power and just works to do that function. I have a second TV in the house and would like something for that too.

This device (the ATV 1200) boots up reasonably fast and comes up to a unique interface. Different from most Android. There are no widgets perse but screens of whatever apps you have loaded. It comes with Google Play loaded which is great. But remember, if media player is what your looking for you may want to limit what’s running/syncing in the background and might interrupt your smooth movie experience. The overall user interface is fine, especially when you think of it as something to be managed from the couch. It’s a bit chunky in how it moves across the screen. Not elegant at all. But it is functional and easily manoeuvred with the remote.

Android is at 4.1.2 with an apparent upgrade coming.

And thus comes the first rub of this device. The remote on it is so minimal as to be virtually useless. NO play/pause/ffwd/rew, not even a volume control.
Fortunately the remote is infra red and you can add this device to a Logitech Harmony remote (which I have) to give somewhat better functionality (got back volume, but still no play/pause/fwd/rew) but for me this is a pretty big oops. If this is suppose to be a media play why does the remote not have basic functionality like play/pause/ff/rew etc. And home on the remote is home for the operating system (meaning exit XBMC) vs home for XBMC. Overall it’s just dumb. And I tried plugging my windows media center remote in, but as expected there are no drivers for it in android so it gets ignored. If the company is expecting the average shmo or a soccer mom to use this thing, wake the f..k up will ya 🙂

Given the pathetic remote I plugged in my wireless Logitech keyboard and mouse and they worked like a charm! Nice! On the positive side, once setup, you will rarely need a keyboard and mouse!

Given the number of USB ports I thought heh lets try and insert a USB flash drive. well it took me a good 15 minutes just to find where Android had mounted the damn thing. mnt/sda1 if you care. Now fortunately the built in movie and music player saw that all on it’s own but sheesh.

Next up I jumped into XBMC. It’s a customized version of 12.2. I tried for hours to get any kind of sharing to work. I finally discovered certain keys coming through the keyboard were getting munched. I had to use the onscreen keyboard to get this setup. Once setup I was able to get an SMB share working.

Of all the phones and tablet I have played with not one was able to get HDMI output right. Troubles with the screen timing out, troubles with the hone screen not rotating and the like. Well I have to say this device just worked correctly for 1080p hdmi out. Proof positive that this can (and should) be done. If on a phone/tablet your going to include HDMI out why not get it right?

Ok now we come down to the real meat of this device, movie playback. Now I will admit, I am picky. Coming from a PC running Windows 8.1 and XBMC on a core i5 playback just works. You don’t ever even think about it. If it doesn’t work, there is something wrong with the movie you are playing. Now admittedly, this is setting the bar pretty high. Frankly not one of the Android phones I have played with been good enough for me to use except in a pinch.

So first off I pointed it at my movie collection (within XBMC) and had it start a scan over WIFI (my desktop was using my wired connection). On the desktop it took 12 mins to scan the movie collection and add it to the database. By comparison the ATV 1200 took almost 2 hours to scan the same collection. Now some of this was due to wireless Vs wired, but a lot has to do with the overall processing power available. Now admittedly you don’t have to rescan your collection every day but there are definitely times you need to do it. So this is worth noting because this is part of the usability of the device everyday. And exactly what I want it for.

Cleaning the internal XBMC library was also quite slow. It ended up taking 13 mins, an operation that takes under a minute on the PC.

Next up I pointed it at my TV collection, must smaller. It took about 2.5 mins on wired on the desktop and about 5 mins on the ATV 1200 also on wired. So a lot more palatable.

Once the libraries are loaded rescanning seemed to go quickly enough. Navigating around the libraries was reasonably smooth (not as fast as on the PC) but easily usable.

Movie playback was good. Probably the best I’ve seen on an Android device to date. But that said it was not quite perfect. There were occasional hiccups. I would say 3 or 4 in a two hour movie. Minor glitches. I also saw some minor audio drops. It seemed better on wired Ethernet Vs wireless, perhaps my WIFI signal was a little weak to the device. Fast forward and rewind seem to take a few seconds to catch up. This was aided if I pressed pause to let it catch up.

Overall this device is an impressive start and VERY close to good enough. It’s small, silent, reasonably priced, and low powered (12V 1500MA or 18 watts). The next generation of these are already coming out with quad cores. Sadly, still ARM processors. We endure ARM processors in phones largely because we don’t have a choice. But outside of phones there are other choices. AMDs, Atoms, Core i3 etc. Now obviously this bumps the price up, consumes more power, but is faster so as always everything is a trade off.

So now the million dollar question … would I buy it? Given the state of the remote and given alternatives I think I would have to say no. I can load XBMC Ubuntu onto a set top boxes like this one below for a little more money and have a whole lot more flexibility. But that said, I am impressed. Can’t wait to see the quad cores. Now I have to wonder, is XBMC multi threaded in things like scan content, or was this an IO issue?


May 12, 2014 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews

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