Exclusive: Google is testing a low-latency gaming mode on its Android TV dongle, possibly for Stadia support

Exclusive: Google is testing a low-latency gaming mode on its Android TV dongle, possibly for Stadia support

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Earlier this month, we published renders from a marketing video we obtained of Google’s upcoming Android TV dongle, code-named “Sabrina.” We obtained the marketing video from a pre-release firmware build. What we didn’t initially realize, though, is that the firmware also contains evidence of upcoming hardware features.

If you’re looking for a recap of what we know so far about the design and software experience of Google’s Android TV dongle, then I recommend either reading my initial coverage or watching the following YouTube video from XDA’s TK Bay.


XDA Recognized Developer deadman96385, who shared the pre-release firmware build for “Sabrina” with us, discovered some of the Android TV dongle’s hardware specifications by examining the “Device Tree Source” (DTS) files contained within the boot image. The files specify which hardware features of the SoC platform to enable when booting.

Since the main DTS file is very long (~4,200 lines) and difficult to parse without knowledge of Linux kernel development for Android, I won’t be posting the full file in this article. At the very top of the file, though, we can see two key details of the “Sabrina” Android TV dongle device: It has 2GB of RAM (sml_sabrina_2g) and is powered by the Amlogic S905X2 system-on-chip (the reference to g12a below and multiple references to the code-name “meson” not shown below confirm this).

The Amlogic S905X2 is fabricated on a 12nm manufacturing process and has a quad-core CPU with 4 ARM Cortex-A53 CPU cores clocked at up to 1.8GHz. The CPU is joined by an ARM Mali-G31 MP2 GPU. The SoC supports video decoding for 4Kp75 10-bit H.265 content, video output at up to 4Kp60 over HDMI 2.1, HDR video playback with HDR10, HLG, and Dolby Vision, and more.

The S905X2 is a very popular SoC for Android TV devices, so we’re not surprised to see it power Google’s Android TV dongle. Here’s a partial list of certified Android TV devices with this SoC platform, thanks to our friend @AndroidTV_Rumor:

Other Android TV devices with the Amlogic S905X2 SoC

Pay TV Provider / BrandModelYearCountryManufacturerCode NameSoC
AmpliaAmplia TV2020Trinidad & TobagoAskeySTI6160d327Amlogic S905X2
AntelVera TV2020UruguaySDMCDV8547Amlogic S905X2
Canal+ PolskaAndroid TV Dekoder2020PolandSkyworthHY4001 / HY40AAmlogic S905X2
DigiturkAirTV IP Box2019TurkeySDMCDV8535Amlogic S905X2
Dish TVSmartVU +2020New ZealandSDMCA7070Amlogic S905X2
EMCALI 2020ColombiaCoshipN9119MAmlogic S905X2
MecoolKM32019ChinaVideostrongKM3Amlogic S905X2
MecoolKM9 Pro2019ChinaVideostrongKM9PROAmlogic S905X2
MidcoeSTREAM 4K2020USASEI Robotics Amlogic S905X2
MINIXNEO T52019 SDMCDV8553Amlogic S905X2
MNC PlayPLAYBOX2020IndonesiaSkyworthHP40A / CYBORG001Amlogic S905X2
OiStreaming Box2019BrazilSEI RoboticsETRI02 (SEI531O)Amlogic S905X2
RockTekG12020TaiwanElebaoRT-G1Amlogic S905X2
SK BroadbandB tv Smart 32019South KoreaFoxconnBFX-AT100 (BFX-UH200)Amlogic S905X2
TADAAM (Telenet)TADAAM Box2020BelgiumAskeySTI6160Amlogic S905X2
TCC 2020Uruguay  Amlogic S905X2
Telecom ArgentinaFlowBox-F12020ArgentinaSkyworthHP40A2Amlogic S905X2
Telekom Malaysiaunifi TV Plus Box2020MalaysiaSkyworthHP40A3Amlogic S905X2
Telkom IndonesiaIndiHome2020IndonesiaZTEB860HV5_TelkomAmlogic S905X2
TransvisionXstream Box2020IndonesiaSEI RoboticsSEI500TRAmlogic S905X2
United GroupEON Smart Box (OTT)2019Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, BosniaSDMCSDOTT0202 / DV8519Amlogic S905X2
Vectra4K Box2020PolandSDMCDV8519-VectraAmlogic S905X2
VerizonStream TV2019USAWNCJS8VAmlogic S905X2
YesYes+2020IsraelSEI RoboticsSEI500YAmlogic S905X2
YoufoneAndroid TV2020NetherlandsSDMCDV8519 / Amigo7xYUFAmlogic S905X2

Other hardware features of Google’s Android TV dongle hinted at in the DTS file include Broadcom’s BCM43569 combo chip for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and Cadence’s Tensilica HiFi 4 DSP.

XDA Recognized Developer deadman96385 also found some other interesting features of Google’s Android TV dongle in a pre-installed system application called “SabrinaService.” Within this application are references to “ALLM,” which stands for “Auto Low Latency Mode.” This is a feature of the HDMI 2.1 specification that allows the device to send a signal to the connected TV to get it to disable any post-processing features that might add latency to displaying the video. A lot of televisions will market this feature as a “Game Mode” because it’s most useful for reducing lag when gaming. To be clear, the user’s television will need to have a low-latency “Game Mode” for this to work, but ALLM support means that Google’s Android TV dongle will be able to toggle this mode automatically.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this feature is being added to support Google’s cloud game streaming service, Stadia. We first reported that Google planned to bring Stadia support to Android TV in 2020, so it would make sense for Google’s own Android TV dongle to be the first device to support the company’s own cloud game streaming service. The latest update to Stadia enables experimental Android TV support, but the setup process is a bit janky at the moment. Very few existing Android TV set-top boxes or dongles support Auto Low Latency Mode, according to our friend @AndroidTV_Rumor. Sony’s 2018 and Philips’ 2020 televisions with built-in Android TV support low-latency gaming modes, though.

Another interesting class in SabrinaService called “GlobalKeyReceiver” hints at the remote having a Netflix button, YouTube button, and a microphone.

There’s code that suggests long-press action support on one of the keys, which could be for the mysterious button with the star symbol that showed up in the render of the remote we published earlier.

Google Android TV dongle remote

Possible remote

Another class in SabrinaService reveals that the dedicated remote likely connects to the device via Bluetooth, which is unsurprising. (DFU in the below screenshot refers to “Device Firmware Update.”)

 

We still don’t know when Google’s Android TV dongle will launch or what it will be priced at, but we’re definitely excited about it coming to market. We’re long overdue for more competition in the consumer Android TV space which is currently propped up by Xiaomi and NVIDIA.


Thanks to PNF Software for providing us a license to use JEB Decompiler, a professional-grade reverse engineering tool for Android applications.