These little mini PCs called MK802 with Android 4.0 OS are quite the hit all over the Internet due to the fact that they are low power, decently performing and cost effective mobile platform that connects to your TV set and kind of gives it most of the features that an Android-based smartphone offers. What has attracted my attention to them however is that fact that some sellers of these devices claim that they also offer stereoscopic 3D support, so I’ve ordered one to try it out and see what kind of stereo 3D support do they have and is it really worth it. You can imagine that not a lot of people buy them because of the advertised stereo 3D support, so the information about that feature is not very much and getting a fist hand experience with the device is always much better. So I’ve just recently got the small device and played with it for a few days before sharing my feedback from the MK820…
The device is based on AllWinner A10 processor which is essentially a Cortex A8 ARM CPU running at 1 GHz (single core) backed up by a decent GPU (some sellers label this as 1.5GHz with 1GHz CPU and 500MHz GPU), with 1GB DDR3 RAM memory (though there is also a version with 512MB) and 4GB ROM. You have an microSD card slot that can take up to 32GB cards, so extending the storage is not a problem, two USB ports (one is mini-USB) with OTG support so you can connect devices like keyboard or mouse as well as USB flash drives etc. There is a built-in WiFi support and apparently USB Ethernet adapters are also supported if you a cable connection to a local network. On top of that you get Andoid 4.0 OS on a rooted device (no need to root it) with full access to Google Play, meaning it is easily hackable and extendable and you can also boot other OSes on it from an SD card. You have an HDMI port that allows you to easily connect the device to an HDTV or a computer monitor and all this comes for less than $100 USD with the shipping from China. It is not an OUYA, but you also don’t have to wait to March next year to get one either, so it does not sound like a bad deal… not as fast and powerful as Tegra 3, but it works decently fast.
But what about the stereo 3D features it should offer? As I’ve said some of the sellers of the MK802 mini PC with Android mention stereoscopic 3D support or 3D video support, others don’t. There is actually a reason for that and it is the fact that initially the first software build of the MK820 firmware supports stereo 3D video playback with HDMI 1.4 frame packaging output, but apparently the later builds don’t or at least it is not working. The device comes with a special video player called 2160p or Gallery (the exact name is not very clear) which is not available on the Android Market, and in order to get 3D video playback you need to open the 3D video with that player, apparently it supports hardware acceleration through the GPU so you can not only play 3D video, but also 2160p (4K) 2D video over it.
The device I’ve got was with the most recent software build and while it had the mentioned special video player and the player supported 3D video playback it simply did not work when I’ve tried to activate the stereo 3D mode. So I went back to the previous software it had the same problem and after that to the initial software build where I was able to easily make the 3D video playback work just fine. I’ve noticed that the initial version of the firmware for the MK802 was using an older version of the player, so I’ve tried upgrading the firmware to a newer version and replacing the video player with the one used in the initial build (the info page from the initial build is on the photo above), however the 3D mode on the TV set still did not activate. So the conclusion is that in the more recent software builds the stereoscopic 3D support has been broken and not because of the updated video player version apparently and the only way to be able to use the MK820 to play stereo 3D videos is to install the first build of the firmware for the device. Fortunately this is not hard to do as the image file for that firmware is available and you can easily flash it on the device, the actual problem is that there are some bugs and things present that are not functional in that build and the more recent versions of the software fix these and add some new useful features.
The special 2160p (Gallery) player does have support for HDMI 1.4 frame packaged output, so when you play a 3D video and select the right 3D input method of the video you can have it played back in 3D automatically and that is a good thing. The player supports Side by Side and Over/Under format for 3D videos, along with Interlaced and Anaglyph 3D formats, and you can play 3D videos in 2D as well if you wish to. No support for Blu-ray 3D ISO files for example or MVC-encoded videos is available though. The interface of the player in the only working version is a bit confusing, especially the different 3D modes menu and while this has been fixed in the more recent versions of the video player, as I’ve explained they do not function properly, but after trying out the different options you’ll quickly learn what they do and what to use.
So what is the verdict for the Android-based MK802 device? It is most definitely an interesting product at an attractive price, and while it does work with stereo 3D video if you manage to make it work (get to the early firmware) there is more to be done and seeing that in the more recent software releases 3D video playback does not work properly I will not recommend to get it if you plan to mostly use it for 3D video playback. If you however don’t care about stereoscopic 3D video playback the MK802 Android 4.0 mini PC is actually not bad, you can play with it a lot, use it is a development platform for Android or simply make your older HDTV “smarter”… not much of a game console alternative though as it is not that powerful, but you should be able to run most not so demanding Android games. The good thing about the device is that there is already a large community hacking it and even developing custom ROMs working on extending the support and features and while 3D video playback support is apparently not much desired feature, gaming with it as well as different other uses are among the priorities. There is also apparently a revised version UG802 coming out soon at a slightly higher price, but with a much faster Dual-Core A9 CPU and pretty much similar other specs and features, no word on stereo 3D support for it though. And again, while I will not recommend it for 3D video playback, the MK802 and the new UG802 devices can actually be quite useful and fill your time before we see what the OUYA will bring on the table when it becomes available and if it will answer all of our expectations.