Every Android Smart TV box or Media Player is built around a single chip, containing the CPU / graphics processor / audio hardware, and all other functions. This type of integrated design is called SoC (System on a Chip) or simply 'chipset'.
We have been listing Media Players and Smart TV boxes according to chipset since 2008. Products based on the same chipset are always very similar because their internal hardware is near identical, this makes chipset the single biggest factor when comparing Smart TV boxes / Media Players.
What follows are sections devoted to explaining the various chipsets. The red boxes to the right are links to our main index, so you can click on them to get a listing of all Smart TV boxes / Media Players with that particular feature.
Specific Android Chipsets
This section briefly runs through some common Android chipsets. We use rough Antutu benchmarks as an indicator of performance.
Amlogic 8726-M8 - Dec 2013 - Quad-core A9 CPU. Quad-core Mali-450 GPU. Performance or other details unknown.
HiSilicon Hi3716C V200ES1 - Aug 2013 - Dual-core A9 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. Built for media playback. 7.1 HD-Audio and 3D. Antutu ~5000.
Allwinner A20 - May 2013 - Dual-core A7 CPU. Dual-core Mali-400 GPU. Faster and lower power usage update to the A10. Antutu ~5000.
Rockchip RK3188 - Apr 2013 - Quad-core A9 CPU. Quad-core Mali-400 GPU. Very strong in all areas. Antutu ~20000.
Allwinner A31 - Feb 2013 - Quad-core A5 CPU. Dual-core PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU. Faster than all of the dual-core chipsets. Antutu ~12500.
Actions ATM7029 - Jan 2013 - Quad-core A5 CPU. Dual-core Vivante GC1000 GPU. Comparable to the A31 overall but with a weaker GPU. Antutu ~12000.
Rockchip RK3066 - Aug 2012 - Dual-core A9 CPU. Quad-core Mali-400 GPU. Roughly comparable to the Amlogic M6/MX. Antutu ~9000.
Amlogic 8726-M6/MX - Jun 2012 - Dual-core A9 CPU. Dual-core Mali-400 GPU. Big step up in performance from the single core chips. Antutu ~8500.
Allwinner A13 - Nov 2012 - Single-core A8 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. Low power version of the A10. Antutu ~2500.
Wondermedia WM8850 - Aug 2012 - Single-core A9 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. A little faster than the Amlogic M3 or Allwinner A10. Antutu ~3200.
Amlogic 8726-M3 - Apr 2012 - Single-core A9 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. Slightly faster than the Allwinner A10. Antutu ~3000.
Amlogic 8726-M1 - Feb 2012 - Single-core A9 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. Slow overall but fast GPU. Antutu ~2000.
Allwinner A10 - Nov 2011 - Single-core A8 CPU. Single-core Mali-400 GPU. Now slow in comparison to newer chipsets. Antutu ~2500.
Android Smart TV
Cortex A8, Cortex A9, Cortex A5, Cortex A7? WTF?!
You will often see ARM chipsets advertised as 'Cortex A8' or 'Cortex A9'. All this means is that the main processing part of the chipset uses either the A8 or A9 ARM core. In theory the Cortex A9 core is faster than the A8 but in reality it is not that simple. Other aspects of the chipset design are more important than the ARM core used. Some recent chipsets are based on Cortex A7 or Cortex A5. Again, the number is not really related to performance. A7 is a low power version of the A8 and A5 is a newer low cost replacement for the A9.
1.5Ghz must be better than 1.2Ghz, right?
Clock speed is important in a chipset's performance but it cannot be used to make reliable comparisons. A quad-core RK3188 chipset running at 1.2Ghz will be many times more powerful than a single core WM8850 chipset running at 1.5Ghz. Manufacturers give misleading information regarding clock speed. Theoretical maximums are often quoted rather than the speed the device actually runs at on the default firmware.
Android Smart TV
What about the GPU?
The other major factor when looking at ARM based chipsets is the graphics co-processor (GPU). This is more important than the processing core for decoding HD video streams, and is completely separate from it. Since early 2012 the Mali-400 GPU developed by ARM has proven to be the best low cost option. It has become the de-facto standard for ARM based chipsets. Even a single Mali-400 core running at the lowest clock rate available can easily decode 1080p video. The latest chipsets have multiple Mali-400 cores. Other GPU cores are used, for instance the PowerVR series. In general Mali-400 is best, but something like the PowerVR SGX544MP2 in the Allwinner A31 is comparable.
Which chipset is the best?! That's all I want to know!
Calm yourself. There isn't a 'best', they're all different. See the specific Android chipset listing above for info.
Does all this matter?
No, it usually doesn't! Whilst it's nice to have the fastest possible hardware, even the least powerful is perfectly capable of playing video, browsing the web, and using Youtube. The newest and fastest chipsets are of most use when playing games, for use as a Smart TV there is very little difference between something like an Amlogic M6 and a Rockchip RK3188. It's more important to look at the firmware and whether it is going be compatible with what you want to run. Running Android does not mean that every box is automatically compatible with every App. There are big differences.
Android Smart TV
I want XBMC! Which is best for that?
We have a dedicated XBMC page here. XBMC is available as an Android App and as a native Linux port on Amlogic M3 hardware (slow!) only. The native port is better because it is compatible with all add-ons and completely stable. The Android App is getting better all the time but still won't play HD video on most hardware and won't run at all on many chipsets.
Manufacturing an Android box is actually fairly easy and hence many Chinese manufacturers are now doing it. Beware!, the vast majority of the products you'll find are basically junk. The hardware will be built badly so it will break, the manufacturers have no idea how to get the firmware running properly on the hardware, and the products will lack the legally required European (CE) or American (FCC) safety certification. We recommend sticking with the more well known manufacturers or reputable retailers operating out of your locality.
Android Chipset Links
Actions Semiconductor Wiki
Actions Semiconductor Official
Allwinner Technology Official
Specialist Media Chipset History
The classic 'Media Player' originated in the mid 2000s as high quality video content started to become available via the internet. A market emerged for simple set top boxes that enabled the playback of this video on a home TV.
Up to late 2007 you needed a very powerful computer with an expensive graphics card to decode HD video. The Sigma 863x was the first integrated and relatively low cost solution to allow HD video playback on a TV. As with all Media Player chipsets before and after, the Sigma 863x was a SoC (system on a chip) design whereby all hardware functions are contained within the chipset (video, sound, LAN, interface. etc). This enabled boxes powered by it to be small and relatively inexpensive. Very quickly these new 'Media Player' boxes became popular.
In the following years there were a succesion of specialist Media Player SoC chipsets, generally getting more powerful and adding features.
Specialist Media Players
Key players from this era were the original WDTV and the grandaddy of all Media Players, the Popcorn A-100 NMT from Syabas. These players were very popular despite being priced at $200+, something that seems ridiculous today! Also at this time the Chinese manufacturers jumped onto the scene, with players like the HDX-1000 and Egreat M34-A becoming popular cheaper clones of the Popcorn A-100 NMT.
Specialist Media Players
The burgeoning popularity of Media Players in 2009 led to the entry of Realtek into the market. The Realtek 1xx3 chipset series was much touted and managed to offer both superior performance than the Sigma 863x and a vastly lower price. Despite early versions failing to deliver on promises (no 7.1 audio until the DD revision) a new breed of players managed to overtake the Sigma players in popularity, largely due to the low prices.
For Reatek chipsets the last number in the chipset name indicates the chipset generation. So all chips ending in '3' are 1xx3 (2009) generation and all ending in '5' are 1xx5 (2011) generation. The fact that 1073 is a higher number than 1055 does not matter, it is the final number that indicates the age and core design of the chip.
There were three major versions of Raltek 1xx3 and several minor variations. The three major 1xx3 chipset versions were the 1073, 1183, and 1283. These were all the same chip in terms of format support and performance, the only difference being the added ability to record AV sources in the 1283. HD Audio support in the 1xx3 improved through the chipset's life with several revisions. The DD and CC versions of the chipset both added full 7.1 HD-audio support to the chipset.
Realtek 1073 players were all based on a common SDK (firmware+OS) provided by Realtek. This meant that they were all essentially similar in performance and interface. It also meant that producing these players was very easy for manufacturers, all they had to do was create the hardware and Realtek provided the software.
Key players from the Realtek 1073 era were the original Xtreamer, the Asus O!PlayHD, and the ACRyan PlayOn. The Chinese manufacturers got into the Realtek 1073 in an even greater way than with the Sigma 863x because Realtek provided the SDK, meaning they had no software to develop. There were literally hundreds of Realtek 1073 players released (we list 158).
In response to the challenge from Realtek and in recognition of the aging nature of the 863x, Sigma released two new chipsets in late 2009, the 864x series and 865x series. The Sigma 864x and the 865x are related and similar chips, with the 864x being the more powerful. The 865x is clocked at 500Mhz and the 864x at 667Mhz. These two Sigma chipsets would last well into 2012 with many variations.
The Sigma 8643 and 8642 are identical except that the 8642 is a Macrovision version allowing for the ability to play copy protected DVD / Blu-Ray. The 864x chipset is significantly more powerful than the 865x series, despite the product number being lower. The 864x chipset offered full 7.1 HD-audio downmix and passthrough.
There were initially 8655 (64bit RAM - 6 video DACS), 8653 (32bit RAM - 4 video DACS), 8654 (Macrovision enabled version of 8655), and 8652 (Macrovision version of 8653) versions of the 865x. All 865x chipsets perform the same in terms of video format support and performance. In theory the 865x offers full 7.1 HD-audio support but in reality licencing problems means that DTS-HD MA passthrough is missing in many players (e.g. WDTV Live 2011). In 2011 there was also released a version with Android 2.2 support (similar to the Realtek 1186), this version did not gain much support from manufacturers and only appeared in a couple of players.
In 2010 several new manufacturers released media chipsets. Attempting to compete on cost were Amlogic and Boxchip with their 8626H and F10 chipsets respectively.
Specialist Media Players
The AmLogic 8626H (Apollo) chipset was launched in early 2010 as a budget alternative to the Realtek 1073. It runs at 400mhz and appears to be at least equal in decoding performance to the Realtek chips whilst being even cheaper. The 8626H's main drawbacks are that it does not support lossless HD-Audio or WMV / VC-1.
The Boxchip F10 is SoChip SC9800 based, and offers full 7.1 downmix. Clock speed is as yet unknown but decoding performance has been shown to be comparable with 1073 based players.
Players using Intel chipsets started to appear in late 2010. Both Google TV and BoxeeBox use the Intel CE4100. This chip runs at 1.2Ghz and reports state it is capable of 90Mbit/s h.264 video, making it roughly on a par (for h.264) with the 667Mhz Sigma 864x series. As of 2012 is seems Intel have abandoned their CE line and their attempts to create a media chipset.
The 865x range was suceeded by the 8670, offering a 700Mhz clock, and 30% lower heat.
Sigma released the 8647, an updated version of the 8642 running at 800Mhz.
In early 2011 the Realtek RTD 1055, and 1185 (1xx5) chips were launched. These are the successors to the 1073 series. All three chips run at 500Mhz so providing a small performance increase, otherwise the chips offer the same comprehensive format support as the previous generation. All chips run the same Realtek SDK4 Casablanca, offering a much better user experience (aesthetically, added media indexing, thumbnails..) from the stock SDK. As with the later version of the 1xx8 chipset full 7.1 HD-audio downmix and passthrough are supported in the 1xx5.
The next generation of Realtek chipset, the '6' series 1186 was released in early October 2011. This runs at 750Mhz, has HDMI 1.4, is capable of 3D including 3D ISO, and is able to dual boot into Android.
The Sigma 8910 with VXP image processing was released as a high-end solution.
Also from Sigma, the 867x chipset appeared in a few products aimed at the lower end of the market.
The big development in 2012 was the shifting of the mass-market onto ARM Android chipsets. See the sections at the top of this page for info.
We have rated the most common media chipsets from 1 to 5. These ratings are used for the 'Chipset Rating' part of our main index.
Page last updated: 26-Sep-13
|5||None. Perfection would require full HD-Audio, full 3D, and XBMC or equivilant.|
|4||Rockchip RK3188, Sigma 8910, Sigma 8647, Realtek 1186 (with Gigabit LAN), Amlogic 8726-M6(MX), Amlogic 8726-M3 (high due to Linux XBMC), Sigma 8673, HiSilicon Hi3716C V200ES1.|
|3.5||Realtek 1186 (with 10/100 LAN), Rockchip RK3066, Allwinner A31|
|3||Sigma 8670, Sigma 8643, Sigma 8642, Sigma 8655, Sigma 8654, Realtek 1185, Realtek 1055, Realtek 1073, Realtek 1283. Intel CE3000, Intel CE4000, Allwinner A10, Allwinner A10S, Amlogic 8726-M1.|
|2||Sigma 8635, Sigma 8634, Amlogic 8626, Boxchip F10.|
|1||Nothing too common|
Media Player SoC Chipset Comparison Table
Click on column heading to sort.
|Manufacturer||Chipset Family||Launch Date||Model||Clock MHZ||LAN||Audio||Notes|
|Realtek||'6' Series||2011-10||1186||750||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||HDMI 1.4 + 3D support. Dual boot Android.|
|Realtek||'5' Series||2011-07||1005||500||NONE||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Cut down 1055. 8MB flash. SATA.|
|Sigma Designs||8910||2012-12||8910||1200||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||VXP, 1080p 3D, dual core|
|Amlogic||8726||2011-11||8726H||?||10/100/1000?||?||Very little known!|
|Realtek||'5' Series||1901-01||1085||500||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x, Flash web browser. Possibly dead AUG2011.|
|Sigma Designs||8670||2011-09||8670||700||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||30% less heat|
|Sigma Designs||865x||2011-11||8656||500||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||3D Hardware Acceleration. Possibly dead. OCT2011?|
|Sigma Designs||864x||2011-11||8647||800||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Possibly dead? OCT2011|
|Sigma Designs||864x||2011-11||8646||800||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Macrovision. Possibly dead? OCT2011|
|Marvell||Cortex A9||2011-06||88DE3010||1200||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Blu-Ray Java menus, 3D|
|Realtek||'5' Series||2011-03||1185||500||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x, DVB-T, Flash web browser|
|Realtek||'5' Series||2010-11||1055||500||NONE||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Lower heat, 20% faster than 107x|
|Intel||Intel CE||2010-10||CE4200||1200||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||3D, video encoder|
|Intel||Intel CE||2010-10||CE4100||1200||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD|
|Boxchip||SC9800||2010-09||F10||?||NONE||DTS, DD, TrueHD DM|
|Realtek||'3' Series||2010-09||1073DDC+||400||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||?|
|Intel||Intel CE||2010-01||CE3100||800||10/100/1000||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD|
|Sigma Designs||865x||2009-10||8655||500||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||64bit RAM, 6 * Video DAC|
|Sigma Designs||865x||2009-10||8654||500||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||64bit RAM, 6 * Video DAC, Macrovision|
|Sigma Designs||865x||2009-10||8653||500||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||32bit RAM, 4* Video DAC|
|Sigma Designs||865x||2009-10||8652||500||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||32bit RAM, 4* Video DAC, Macrovision|
|Sigma Designs||864x||2009-09||8642||667||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD||Macrovision|
|Sigma Designs||864x||2009-09||8643||667||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD|
|Realtek||'3' Series||2009-06||1283||400||10/100||DTS, DD||AV record|
|Realtek||'3' Series||2009-06||1073DD+||400||10/100||DTS, DD|
|Realtek||'3' Series||2009-06||1283DD+||400||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA, TrueHD|
|Realtek||'3' Series||2009-06||1183||400||10/100||DTS, DD, DTSMA||Cut down 1283|
|Sigma Designs||863x||2008-01||8635||300||10/100||DD, DTS (partial)|