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Probox2 series are solid Android TV boxes anyway, but the AVA model adds the ability to install an SATA hard drive, record or use PIP from an HDMI source, and runs OpenWRT in the background.
The Probox2 devices are solid Android TV boxes that we’ve reviewed favorably before, so when we heard a new model had a been released that isn’t just an incremental upgrade, we jumped at the chance to check it out.
Available for $155 bundled with the Remote+, or $130 for just the box, the Probox2 AVA adds room in the case for a 2.5″ SATA HDD, and the ability to record from an HDMI source. Those are quite compelling additions, so let take a look at the details and see what we thought of it.
At the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway, too – keep reading to find out how to win!
Design and Specifications
- Realtek RTD1295 system-on-a-chip.
- 2GHz Quad-core A53 CPU.
- Mali T820 GPU.
- 2GB RAM.
- 16GB on-board storage.
- Expandable with SATA HDD/SSD, and SD card.
- Support 4K 60FPS HDR10 and HLG HDR processing.
- Wi-Fi (AC), Ethernet, and Bluetooth 4.0.
- SPDIF audio.
- HDMI IN for HD recording.
- 200 x 125 x 21mm / 265g (excluding optional hard disk).
- $155 w/Remote+, or $135 without.
A basic remote is included in the standard package, but I’d strongly suggest getting the bundle with the Remote+.
The enhanced Remote+ hasn’t actually changed since we last checked out the Probox2 Ex+, but let’s reiterate why it’s so great. It comes with its own USB receiver dongle, so it can be used with all your devices, not just the Probox. It can function as both a media remote with direction pad, an “air mouse” (where your motion directs the mouse), as well as a basic game pad. There’s also a microphone for voice control features. It’s a fantastic addition to the package and well worth it, though again, it’s the same model we were supplied with 3 years ago. Don’t fix what ain’t broken, I guess?
There’s no other added extras in the package apart from the essentials: power adapter, HDMI cable, and screw on Wi-Fi antenna (optional, given the presence of a gigabit Ethernet port).
On the side you’ll find a USB3, USB2, and SD card slot. On the rear there’s the HDMI IN, HDMI OUT, SPDIF audio, and Ethernet. The HDMI output supports full 4K at 60FPS as well Dolby DTS up to 7.1. Sadly, I don’t have a 4K TV or source device to test out those features, but I was able to test the 4K media decoding to an HD display.
Fast Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet complete the well-rounded specifications, though for 4K media streaming over your local network, you’ll want to ensure you’re using Ethernet on both the Probox device and the network storage source you’re streaming from.
Excluding the Wi-Fi antenna, the unit measures 200x125x21mm – this is considerably longer that the Probox Ex+ device, but most of that space is internally empty – allocated for a 2.5″ hard drive expansion.
Despite coming equipped with only 16Gb of internal storage, the system can in fact be upgraded in a number of ways. Namely: USB, SD card, or a 2.5″ SATA drive.
Both the USB or SD storage can then be fully integrated to the internal system thanks Android 6.0 Adaptable Storage, and don’t remain as just an external drive (aka “portable storage”). This is limited to 64Gb, however. There are no restrictions on the size of the HDD or SSD you can install, though this is an entirely optional feature and the device isn’t supplied with one. I installed a 500GB HDD for testing purposes.
Apex UI Launcher
New to the Android 6.0 series Probox devices is the Apex UI launcher, a more accessible TV interface with a simple menu structure and large icons. There’s also a quick switch button in the corner, enabling you to immediately switch over to an alternative launcher of your choice, should you require something more familiar. It’s fast enough however that I didn’t feel the need to replace it with anything else.
Picture-In-Picture and HDMI Recording
A very interesting addition to the AVA model is the ability to record from external HDMI sources, as well as monitor them with Picture-in-Picture mode. Be aware that the device cannot strip HDCP copy protection mechanisms (though you can still do so with an imported HDMI splitter), and it may introduce a slight delay.
In testing I found it to be incredibly easy to use – in stark contrast to some of the tethered PC-based capture devices I’ve tried. I just plugged in something with HDMI output, and opened up the app from the home screen. The image was right there, I could record it immediately or just push it down to Picture-in-Picture mode. There’s eve a scheduled recording feature, useful if you’ve hooked up your cable box or other live TV service. However, there are no advanced TVR features, no scheduling for specific shows or channels. Just record from HDMI source, at specific times.
The only downside is that the file is saved as a .TS, which is an MPEG Transport Stream, so you’ll typically need to convert this before use elsewhere. Final Cut for instance did not like importing those and I needed to convert to MP4 first.
Considering that full blown capture interfaces can run to a hundred dollars or more, I think it’s a great addition to have. It’s a nice bonus feature that I can definitely see myself making use of at some point. However, if you really don’t need this feature, the Probox2 Air model might be a better choice.
OpenWRT for NAS Features
Seemingly in a competition for how many features can be crammed into a single device, the Probox 2 AVA also runs OpenWRT, which is an open source server system, generally used for embedded routers. In the context of ProBox AVA it offers a file server, media server, Torrent downloads, and Time Machine backups. The system runs simultaneously in the background, and there’s no need to dual-boot anything.
If you have stuffed an SATA hard drive in here and didn’t already have a Network Attached Storage system elsewhere on your home network, I can certainly see the benefits of being able to sling your media directly over the network and store it locally on this little box. You’d completely eliminate any streaming delays from network playback.
It’s certainly no replacement for an actual Network Attached Storage device, with multiple drives and RAID backups. However, it should be more than enough for the average user to dabble in running various servers at home.
To access the full OpenWRT interface, the box is setup by default with http://openwrt.local . The default root password is blank, so be sure to set one up as soon as possible. Once you’re in, you’ll have access to the full and frankly bewildering range of settings offered by OpenWRT. This is not user friendly in the slightest. It would have been nice to see an Android app specifically for configuring some of the common use cases.
Although not advertised on the local network, I found that after installing an HDD, it was available for anyone to access at the Samba address of smb://openwrt.local . Writing to and reading from the drive was surprisingly speedy.
Antutu scored the Probox EX2 AVA with a somewhat disappointing 38,000; GeekBench gave it a score of 600 for single core, 1725 for multi-core, and GPU compute renderscript score of 911. This is roughly in line with a budget smartphone, and I would mainly attribute that to the paltry 2GB RAM.
That said, I felt the interface was snappy and just powerful enough to get the job done. It isn’t going to do well with 3D gaming, but I ran some emulators just fine. Really, the box isn’t designed for hardcore performance, but more tuned to media playback.
To test the media, I booted up my networked Plex server and installed the client. I tested out some random movies and TV shows. Unfortunately Plex gave me some errors about streaming speed, though this has more to do with the fact that I have the files on a networked storage drive in the loft, shared to my Mac Pro where the actual server runs, then streaming back over Wi-Fi to the Probox. There’s lot of network slowdown there. While I could watch HD content like this, it stuttered a lot on some 4K footage from our drone review. When I copied the same file locally, it played back fine, so there’s obviously no issue with the box itself and 4K footage. You will need suitably fast network backbone if you have plan to stream 4K. Keep everything wired through Ethernet for best performance.
Should You Buy The Probox2 AVA?
The Probox2 AVA is a fantastic little Android TV box stuffed full of features. Whether those extra features of any use to you is going to need your own personal judgement. Being able to very simply record HDMI is going to be very useful for me. I also have more old hard drives than I do USB drives. I’m constantly hunting around for a USB stick to sling media onto. Being able to send files across the network to an expansive storage drive built into the device is a feature I can much appreciate.
My only complaint is that the OpenWRT features feel a little pointless without a better interface to set them up. The arcane web interface isn’t something I’d want to invest the time into learning.
Again, despite the inclusion of a basic infra-red remote, it’s well worth getting the bundle with Remote+. There are certainly times when a D-pad feels far too clunky, and you’ll yearn for an actual mouse pointer.
If you don’t feel like the HDMI recording or local HDD bay are useful, consider the Probox 2 Air instead. It offers almost identical specs and is $30 cheaper.