Exclusive: Google is testing a low-latency gaming mode on its Android TV dongle, possibly for Stadia support
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 / Brand||Model||Year||Country||Manufacturer||Code Name||SoC|
|Amplia||Amplia TV||2020||Trinidad & Tobago||Askey||STI6160d327||Amlogic S905X2|
|Antel||Vera TV||2020||Uruguay||SDMC||DV8547||Amlogic S905X2|
|Canal+ Polska||Android TV Dekoder||2020||Poland||Skyworth||HY4001 / HY40A||Amlogic S905X2|
|Digiturk||AirTV IP Box||2019||Turkey||SDMC||DV8535||Amlogic S905X2|
|Dish TV||SmartVU +||2020||New Zealand||SDMC||A7070||Amlogic S905X2|
|Mecool||KM9 Pro||2019||China||Videostrong||KM9PRO||Amlogic S905X2|
|Midco||eSTREAM 4K||2020||USA||SEI Robotics||Amlogic S905X2|
|MINIX||NEO T5||2019||SDMC||DV8553||Amlogic S905X2|
|MNC Play||PLAYBOX||2020||Indonesia||Skyworth||HP40A / CYBORG001||Amlogic S905X2|
|Oi||Streaming Box||2019||Brazil||SEI Robotics||ETRI02 (SEI531O)||Amlogic S905X2|
|SK Broadband||B tv Smart 3||2019||South Korea||Foxconn||BFX-AT100 (BFX-UH200)||Amlogic S905X2|
|TADAAM (Telenet)||TADAAM Box||2020||Belgium||Askey||STI6160||Amlogic S905X2|
|Telecom Argentina||FlowBox-F1||2020||Argentina||Skyworth||HP40A2||Amlogic S905X2|
|Telekom Malaysia||unifi TV Plus Box||2020||Malaysia||Skyworth||HP40A3||Amlogic S905X2|
|Telkom Indonesia||IndiHome||2020||Indonesia||ZTE||B860HV5_Telkom||Amlogic S905X2|
|Transvision||Xstream Box||2020||Indonesia||SEI Robotics||SEI500TR||Amlogic S905X2|
|United Group||EON Smart Box (OTT)||2019||Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia||SDMC||SDOTT0202 / DV8519||Amlogic S905X2|
|Vectra||4K Box||2020||Poland||SDMC||DV8519-Vectra||Amlogic S905X2|
|Verizon||Stream TV||2019||USA||WNC||JS8V||Amlogic S905X2|
|Yes||Yes+||2020||Israel||SEI Robotics||SEI500Y||Amlogic S905X2|
|Youfone||Android TV||2020||Netherlands||SDMC||DV8519 / Amigo7xYUF||Amlogic S905X2|
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.
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.