Review: Tronsmart Prometheus Amlogic M6 Dual Core Android TV Box
What is the Tronsmart Prometheus Android TV Box?
The Tronsmart Prometheus Amlogic M6 Android TV Box is a TV set top box that runs on the Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean operating system. I must admit that the first thing that caught my eye is the shape of the device itself. It is shaped like a crescent moon or the alien engineer ship at the end of the movie, Prometheus (ain't that a coincidence?).
The very next thing that caught my eye was that the Prometheus is based on the Amlogic 8726M6 dual core 1.5 GHz chipset. Besides the fact that I have yet to test out an Amlogic chipset based Android device, I was also attracted to the fact that development on XBMC for Android devices has the Pivos XIOS as the development target. The Pivos XIOS uses an Amlogic 8726 chipset as well.
So when the great folks at GeekBuying contacted me and asked if I would like to write a review on the Tronsmart Prometheus, I jumped at the chance right away.
Disclaimer: The review unit used for this review is supplied and sponsored by GeekBuying and Tronsmart. This review was written with the understanding that the review will be impartial. Geekbuying and Tronsmart had no influence over the content of this review except to make clarifications on questions raised during the writing of the review itself. Geekbuying and Tronsmart only got to see this review after publication
All images courtesy of Roy Yap and Tronsmart
Unboxing the Tronsmart Prometheus Android TV Box
The Prometheus arrived in a huge package because GeekBuying took special care and packed the box in an air cushion bag that did a great job of protecting its contents. If other retailers do this more often, we will have much less problems with good damaged during transportation.
The Prometheus Android TV Box came in a simple but sturdy box. Besides the picture of the Prometheus itself on the box, there are also logos of Amlogic, WiFi, YouTube and XBMC. Most of the China Android Mini PC devices do throw in XBMC as a selling point but up till now, XBMC on Android is still in Beta at best. However, the Prometheus does have a little more credibility than other Android devices since it is running on an Amlogic chipset.
Inside the box is the Prometheus device itself, a power adapter, a HDMI cable, an AV cable and a user manual. The user manual does contain some useful information such as the UI menu structure, a simple troubleshooting guide and instructions on how to do a firmware upgrade.
The build quality is pretty good. The plastic housing has a matte black finishing which in my books look a whole better than shiny and glossy black plastic. There are four LED lights around the curved surface and they all light up in different colors. I am not sure if each of them has a different function but I did notice that the amber light on the right flickers when the device is doing processing. The manual makes no mention of the function of the lights.
On the right side of the Prometheus are an SD card reader slot and 3 USB 2.0 host ports. At the back of the unit are the Ethernet LAN port, a standard HDMI port, a 3.5mm port for the analog AV cable, a rocker power switch and the power port.
For a device that is marketed as a TV set top box, it is strange that there is no remote control included with the Prometheus. An IR remote control is listed as an optional accessory in the manual and GeekBuying confirmed that they do offer the remote as an option. The AV cable is also listed as an optional accessory in the manual but it is included in the box itself.
Tronsmart Prometheus Android TV Box specification
The Prometheus has an Amlogic-8726M6 Cortex A9 CPU as its brains. This is the newest version of the AML8726-M series of SoC from Amlogic and has a dual core 1.5 Ghz Cortex A9 core.
The GPU is a Mali 400 GPU which is similar to the GPU used on the Rockchip RK3066 and Allwinner A10 chipsets. Performance wise, the Amlogic-8726M6 is in the same class as the Rockchip RK3066 according to some benchmarks that I have found online.
It has 1GB DDR-3 RAM and 4GB NAND Flash for storage which is quite common for such Android devices. The operating system is Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.
For network connectivity, it has both wired Ethernet LAN and build in WiFi 802.11b/g/n. Network sharing is supported via both SAMBA and DLNA. The Prometheus has support for FAT, FAT32 and NTFS file systems. The last one is important as NTFS has support for file sizes above 4GB which is quite common for HD video files. Also of note is the support for analog video/audio output via the analog A/V output.
A big plus point of the Tronsmart Prometheus is that it has support for audio pass through via HDMI. This means that you can pass through multi channel surround sound like Dolby Digital and DTS via the HDMI cable to an A/V receiver that supports multi channel surround sound.
The three USB ports can be used for attaching external storage drives and USB peripherals like wireless keyboard / mouse and USB webcam.
The HDMI output on the Tronsmart Prometheus is only 720p but is scaled up to 1080p. This is quite common among the Android Mini PC devices but there are custom firmware for some of these devices that enable true 1080p resolution.
The latest firmware from Tronsmart dated 18 Jan 2013 adds support for Bluetooth 2.1 connectivity via a Bluetooth USB dongle.
TRONSMART PROMETHEUS AMLOGIC M6 ANDROID TV BOX TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
- OS - Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)
- Chipset - Amlogic-8726M6 Cortex A9 CPU1.5GHz
- Memory - 1GB DDR3
- Built-in Storage- 4GB NAND Flash
- Network - WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Ethernet LAN. Bluetooth 2.1 via USB dongle.
- Additional Storage - SD / SDHC / MS PRO card reader
- Video Formats - MPEG-2, H.264,MPEG-4,VC-1
- Audio Formats - MP3, WMA, OGG, WAVE
- Video/Audio Output - HDMI 1.3 and analog AV
- USB Ports - 3 USB 2.0 Host
Accessories for the Tronsmart Prometheus
Tronsmart Prometheus Android TV Box performance
Setting up the Tronsmart Prometheus consists of plugging in the power adapter, HDMI cable and LAN cable plus inserting the USB dongle from my Logitech wireless keyboard. Then all I had to do was switch to the correct input on the TV and switch on the power on the Prometheus.
Boot up and initial impressions
Boot up took about 40 seconds and it had an interesting boot up animation sequence. The Prometheus boots to a startup app that helps the user set up the device. By going through the set up sequence, you would have set up the language for the UI, adjusted the TV display layout and configured both wired Ethernet LAN and WiFi.
One thing to note is that for setting up the display layout, you need to to input some Android specific function keys such as the Back key to save or the Menu key to save default. These keys are not present on my Logitech keyboard so I was not able to save my settings.
While an experienced Android user would have no problems going to the Android settings page and set up everything manually, the setup page is really helpful for someone who is unfamiliar with Android.
Next, the user gets the option to go to the customized launcher or to the default Android launcher. At this point you can also decide if you want to set one of the options as the default.
The customized launcher screen is represented by a virtual desktop with physical items on the desk representing short cut links to the web browser, settings page, apps page, photos, video player and the file explorer. It is quite puzzling why the file explorer shortcut is represented by a modem as I just cannot see the connection.
The interface is quite standard except for the addition of a screen shot function on the menu bar. While I am not sure how useful a screen shot button is for a normal user but for a reviewer like me, it is a big help. It sure beats having to root the device and install a screen capture app.
A more useful function would be a power down button which is included in certain models but unfortunately that is not present. I was able to put the Prometheus into a sleep mode by using the power button on my Logitech keyboard but it does not support awakening the device. The only way to restart the unit is to power it off and turn it back on.
The Tronsmart Prometheus comes with a simple built in video player. I tried out my usual set of testing videos and the video player managed to play all files except an MP43 codec encoded file. So far, most of the Rockchip RK3066 based Android Mini PCs have failed to play this file.
However, the advantage of an Android based device means that you have a choice of dozens of other video players (most of them free) from the Android Play Store. I installed MX Player which has a reputation of being able to play everything with hardware video decoding and it did not disappoint. The only problem that I encountered with the MX Player was that the dreaded menu bar was present at the bottom and thus the video does not play in full screen.\
This seems to be a common problem for many Android devices and we only hope that the manufacturer will release a new firmware that provides the option to hide the menu bar. A possible solution is to install the HideBar.apk from Pieter Github but unfortunately this app requires Root access to work and the Prometheus does not come pre-rooted.
Since the Prometheus is an Amlogic device, I installed XBMC for Android as I was hoping that since XBMC has support for some Amlogic based set top boxes like the Pivos XIOS DS set-top-box, I would be able to get hardware video decoding on XBMC. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get hardware video decoding support on XBMC despite trying out a few different XBMC builds.
Tronsmart has responded that they are currently working with the XBMC team to get hardware decoding support on the Prometheus and they are expecting an updated version of XBMC with hardware decoding support soon although no exact time frame has been indicated. If XBMC is an important factor to you, I suggest that you wait until the actual release before making a buying decision.
My two apps for testing out video streaming are YouTube and Netflix. YouTube works fine on the Prometheus including playback for HD videos. YouTube is one of the pre-installed apps on the Prometheus and the version is an older version which has the "video wall". I did not update the app to the latest version as the current version is lacking the full screen button and limits playback to a small window that covers about 1/4 of the screen.
On the other hand, Netflix did not run properly. During video playback, there is a wide horizontal line across the center of the display. I questioned GeekBuying about this and a few days before this review was published, Tronsmart released a firmware update for the Prometheus that fixed this Netflix problem. The firmware release notes also mention about a fix for YouTube but since I did not encounter any problems with YouTube, I am not sure what the YouTube fix is about.
The Prometheus comes with the standard Android web browser but again, you have the freedom to choose from one of the many alternative browsers that are available on the Google Play Store.
I tried out Chrome on the Prometheus as that is currently my browser of choice on all my Android devices. Performance wise, the experience of browsing on the Prometheus is relatively smooth and quick even with multiple tabs opened at the same time. However, it cannot be compared with a full sized computer as there is significantly more page updating involved due to the much smaller RAM available.
The only observation I would like to point out is that the Prometheus video output is 720p and upscaled to 1080p. That means that the amount of screen estate is actually lower than most computers. If you were to run the Prometheus off a monitor and sitting in front of it, everything will look much larger than normal and you will be wishing that you can shrink the elements on screen to see more on screen. However the 720p resolution looks just fine if you are using a large screen TV and sitting at a reasonable distance away from it.
Gaming on Android based set top TV devices has always been hampered by the lack of a touch screen and support for a gyro controller. Some of the simpler games that require simple touch controls like Angry Birds are very playable of course but don't expect the same for games like Shadowgun or Dead Space.
However, game emulators do run reasonably well on the Tronsmart Prometheus and with the right hardware such as supported gamepads, it can double up as a very competent classic gaming machine. Just download the many available emulators both free and paid from the Google Play Store and game away.
Firmware update on the Tronsmart Prometheus
Updating the firmware is a simple process and much more user friendly compared to all the other Android Mini PC and set top box devices. All you have to do is copy the update file to the root directory of an SD card or flash drive and insert into Prometheus.
Then, go to the app listing page and look for the firmware update app. Select the storage location of the update file and the Prometheus will automatically update itself and reboot once the update has been completed.
The Tronsmart firmware download page has a list of all the official firmware updates that have been released so far with the latest being released on 18 Jan 2013 which adds support for Bluetooth via a Bluetooth USB dongle.
Strangely, the download page only mentions about updating using the reset button and paperclip method similar to other Android Mini PCs and makes no mention of using the firmware update app. I have personally updated my Prometheus using the update app and I confirm that it works. I recommend using the reset button method only if the easier method does not work.
Skype on the Tronsmart Prometheus
I originally tried out Skype with the Prometheus with the stock firmware and it didn't work. However, a firmware update was released that included a fix for Skype so I tried out Skype again after I performed the update.
I connected a Logitech C210 webcam to the Prometheus and I initiated a video call to myself on my Android phone. The Android phone rang but the moment I accepted the call, Skype on the Prometheus crashed. I tried this a couple more times and the same thing happened.
Then I tried just a voice call and this time it worked. Sound was very clear on both ends. Then I activated the camera on the Prometheus and the camera worked like a charm. Resolution is only VGA but this is a limitation on the Android driver and not the fault of the camera or Skype. Next I switched on the camera on my phone and I had a full video call.
There must a bug somewhere that is causing Skype to crash if I initiate a video call right away. I will do some further testing with some other cameras to see if I can narrow down the cause. So while you need a work around but making video calls on Skype is possible on the Prometheus.
- Boot up is fast and latest firmware is stable.
- Setup app launches on first time use to guide users on important settings.
- Comes with 3 USB ports for additional storage and peripherals.
- Support for Bluetooth via Bluetooth USB dongle.
- Support for multi channel audio pass through via HDMI cable
- Video calls using USB webcam and Skype is supported.
- Strong support from Tronsmart with frequent firmware updates and bug fixes.
- Support for SD TVs via analog AV connection.
- Firmware update is very user friendly using the firmware update app.
- Menu bar is not hidden during Netflix and YouTube video playback.
- XBMC for Android does not have hardware decoding support despite the Prometheus having an Amlogic chipset. Tronsmart did informed that they are currently working with the XBMC team for a proper port with hardware decoding support.
- No remote is included although the Prometheus is sold as a set top TV box.
- No soft power off button. Only way to switch off the Prometheus is by using the power switch at the back of the unit.
- The shape of the Prometheus itself. I guess it is one of those love it or hate it kind of situation.