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Vu+ Solo2 Review

Vu+ decided to refresh their line of satellite receivers and they surprised used with new model named Solo2. It contains next generation chipset from Broadcom and this is of course good news for all satellite enthusiasts. The name suggest that this receiver is single tuner but in reality it has two fixed DVB-S2 tuners! Sadly tuners are non-replacable because this feature is reserved for Duo2 which is expected to come in Q1 2013. Warning, in this review there are no pictures because i currently do not have my DSLR at home 🙁

SPECIFICATION

1300 MHz MIPS processor
256MB Flash
1GB DDR3 DRAM
Gigabit LAN
1 x DVB Common-Interface Slot
2 x Smart Card Reader (Xcrypt)
3 USB ports (1x front, 2x rear)
SPDIF optical audio output (digital)
1 x HDMI 1.4 video / audio output (digital)
1 x Scart (TV)
1 x RCA video output
2 x audio output (L / R) RCA (analog)
Plug and Play support for 2.5″ SATA – Hard Drives
External 12 volt power supply
12 character VFD display
Opera Browser
HbbTV
Transcoding function
Current kernel version is 3.3.6

QUICK PRODUCT COMPARISION

Vu+ Uno

512MB RAM
128MB Flash
2x400Mhz
100Mbit LAN

Vu+ Ultimo

512MB RAM
1024MB Flash
2x400Mhz
100Mbit LAN

Gigablue Quad

2x1300Mhz
1025MB RAM
512MB Flash
100Mbit LAN but apperantly they are working to enable 1Gbit speed

INSIDE BOX

Solo2 comes in nice recyclable cardboard box, which is actually the same as the packaging of the Duo and other Vu+ receivers. It contains the HDMI 1.4 cable, remote control, batteries, external power supply, power cable and a small pack of HDD mounting screws. Everything is neatly packed and i can just say, nice work Vu+! HDMI cable is interesting addition because some other companies are not adding these cables with their satellite receivers. Remote control is the one we can find with some other receivers, except with Ultimo which has experimental remote that most users actually do not like much. Color of remote is black and it is programmable!

APPEARANCE

Solo2 is very similar to the Vu+ Ultimo but much smaller in size. Casing size of Solo2 is: 280mm x 200mm x 50mm
For comparision, Quad size is 340mm x 243mm x 66mm

In the FRONT we can find:

Left side:

  1. 12 digit VFD display which is also present in Vu+ Uno model
  2. Power button which is the same as with Ultimo

Right side:

  1. Small plastic lid that is covering front USB 2.0 port and cardreaders/CI slot
  2. Single CI slot
  3. Two card readers

Look is very minimalistic and this is apperantly new design route for future Vu+ receivers. There are no volume control or any other buttons like on Duo for example!

In the REAR we can find:

  1. Two connectors for fixed DVB-S2 tuners.
  2. SCART socket
  3. Composite and audio outputs
  4. Optical output
  5. HDMI 1.4 socket
  6. Ethernet port which speed is 1000MB/1Gbit
  7. Two USB 2.0 ports
  8. RS232 connector
  9. Cooling fan

As we can see, the rear side is pretty standard, nothing spectatular. I personally expected one USB port more because rear ports are the one we use most of the time. Front one is usually used for flashing images only.

Fan was surprise to me, because Gigablue Quad which is using almost the same next-gen chipset, does not have fan. Personally i think that Vu+ made good decision, because when considering long term effects of heat on internal components, we come to the conclusion that fan can prolong life of our satellite receivers. I also need to mention that fan is controlled with sensor(s).

INSIDE THE RECEIVER

In the inside/left side of the receiver, we can find mounting tray for 2.5″ drive. Some of you maybe expected that Solo2 would accomodate 3.5″ size drives, but this is reserved for Duo2 which will also have bigger casing. Because 3.5″ size is not supported you are limited with drive space. I think that 1TB 5400RPM 2.5″ drive is the most rational decision if you have enough funds of course. Select reliable brand because you do not want to loose your recordings 😉

In the center there is new chip called bcm7356 which has 1.3Ghz. Vu+ decided to use standard passive cooling solution that can be found on all their receivers. I think that they could used bigger heatsink for the main chip in order to improve cooling.

RAM is very important part of the receiver, especially if you are heavy user of EPG data. This kind of data is notoriously known for bringing receivers to their knees. Especially are problematic older and entry lever receivers with 256MB of RAM capacity. Its just not enough for advanced users. Some newer receivers already have 512MB and this should be bottom limit for future receivers. Where is Solo2? It has four 256MB DDR3 1333Mhz chips and this means that the total number of usable memory is 1GB. Impressive number! With this amount of available memory, there is almost zero possibility of its shortage. Vu+ made good decision to put so much of it into Solo2.

Flash is usually not so important for end users. It is used for storing images that we flash to our receivers. At first Vu+ planned 128MB of flash for Solo2, but they changed their minds and now we have 256MB of flash available on Solo2. Currently this is more than enough for all functions of this receiver.

LAN is very fast and supports speeds up to 1Gbit. Solo2 uses RTL8211E chip and its quite a performer. I measured speeds up to 30MB/s when downloading from receiver using CIFS. Upload speeds are sadly a lot lower and I achieved speeds up to 9MB/s. In the future this can change as drivers will improve for sure.

And where is internal PSU? Well with this receiver, Vu+ apperantly decided to use external PSU which is actually good decision. Why? There is no unnecessary heat build up within the machine and should your PSU ever fail on you, it’s a far simpler job getting an external replacement.

REMOTE CONTROL

Remote control is really nice, much better that the one which comes with Xtrend receivers. It has firm and big buttons which are smartly placed over the whole remote. Range and responsivnes is amazing and one of the best among satellite receivers. You can point remote to the wall and receiver will still detect IR signal. IR receiver embedded in the Solo2 apperantly does great job receiving signals from remote. When moving through channel list you can do this with lightning speed as receiver does not have any problems receiving flood of IR signals from remote. This is the case with all Vu+ receivers and i love it. I also have Xtrend ET-5000 and its remote control is not so responsive and therefore it is a bit hard to navigate quickly through channel list. I also dislike its buttons which are too small and too soft. They do not produce good feeling in your hands at all. I hope that Xtrend will add better remote next time.

IMAGE CHOICE

I am a bit dissapointed with current image choice which consists only of VTi and BlackHole. These two images uses Vu+ original image as their basis. Images like ViX and OpenPLi havent released their images yet and apperantly they wont release it anytime soon. Apperantly the main cause for delay is insufficient support from Vu+ regarding fixing issues that are reported by image makers. Their drivers are actually known to be poorly made and full of hacks. This statement can be confirmed  by developer(s) of drivers for Sundtek DVB-C/T sticks, OpenPLi, ViX and probably other developers. Main coder of ViX recently said:«yet more, hacks to fix bad drivers, sorry this is final straw, nothing for vu from me, until they get there ****ing act together.”

Another quote from him: “just so you know the issues are not with the box, i have vix running on solo2, but Vu+ keep breaking their promises in regarding support. (i even told them i did not want a solo2 to test on, but they sent one anyway, in the hopes i would just bow down and release an image.). so unless they start acting like a proper company, i will not be adding new machines.”

EDIT: ViX image is now available!

My suggestion is that you use BlackHole ViX image. Its around 103MB in size and it takes around 1 minute to load it into flash and start booting. Update procedure is the same as with other Vu+ boxes but i will write it again:

1. Unzip or unrar your favourite image (BlackHole for example)
2. Format stick to FAT32
3. Copy the folder to the root of the USB stick
4. Connect USB stick
4. Turn on VU + Solo2
5. Press power button to start

BOOTING SPEED

I was impressed with speed of boot time from completely cold state (OFF) to operating state (TV picture). I measured around 30 seconds. Amazing time! 1.3 Ghz really shows its power here. After booting we are presented with Vu+ original Enigma 2 image. Nothing special here as it looks and feels the same as on other Vu+ receivers. Setting the receiver is easy and shouldn’t take a lot of time especially if this is not your first Vu+.

PICTURE QUALITY and ZAPPING SPEED

Channel switching is very fast and it could be even faster if Enigma 2 wouldn’t be the bottleneck here. New chipset has too much power for Enigma 2 which was originally made for 300Mhz MIPS Broadcom CPU. My measured speeds for FTA channels on same transponder are around 0.7 seconds. Encrypted channels open a bit slower. You can expect speeds around 1.3 seconds. 4.2.2 feeds sadly (still) do not work and they probably never will. Picture quality is great and on par with other Vu+ receivers. There was fear that Solo2 wouldn’t perform so good because Quad which is using the same chipset (7356) had and still has many problems with picture quality. Till now (22.12.2012) they still haven’t fix all image problems. But ibelieve that they will, so no worries Gigablue users!

PIP

Picture in Picture works just fine and you can watch two HD channels at once and they can be on different transponders or they can be FTA or encrypted. Duo for example has poor PiP function but that is because of chipset limitation. Solo2 of course has chipset which supports HD PiP with smooth picture, it is not slideshow like with Duo. Sadly there is no dedicated PiP button on remote control, which is the case with Xtrend receivers.

RECORDING

Recording works flawlesly and it doesnt matter if you use hard drive or NAS. By flawlesly i mean recording of 6HD channels + 1SD channel. It does not matter if you watch encrypted or FTA channels, it works in both cases. This is of course just in testing environment. In reality you will never record so many channels but as you can see its possible. Recordings are stored in .ts files and this is not a surprise.

VIDEO PLAYBACK

Video playback can be difficult to test because there are so many different files out there. I tested a few .av, .mkv and .mp4 files and they worked perfectly. Wmv files on the other hand currently do not work! Subtitles were ok but i suggest that you rename them, so they have same name as video file. I also tested one blueray video with bitrate 40Mbit/s. Video didnt play flawlesly because after one minute picture stopped because of buffering. I guess this will be tweaked in future driver releases but i am not 100% sure. Vu+ is known to have poor drivers and Duo still has problem with some .avi files and it has been on the market for two years now! Regarding sound playback i can say that i tested .flac and .mp3 files. They were working fine.

TUNER SIGNAL

Signal is a bit better than with Uno or Ultimo. I tested all three receivers with same dish and LNB and i got higher signal levels with Solo2. I was also able to watch some frequencies that previously had too low signal quality. My conclusion is that Solo2 tuner are better than those in Uno and Ultimo. Great news for those who are struggling with bad satellite reception of some border satellites.

INTERESTING FEATURES

Web browser actually works quite well but it is pain to use it with remote control. Something like Logitech K400 with touchpad would be nice but i do not have it here so i cannot test if it actually works.

HbbTV is useless in my country because no TV station supports it, but i checked ARD HD channel on 19.2E and HbbTv was working fine. HbbTv can be a resource hog but only 28% of memory appeared  to be used at the time.

Transcoding function is very useful addition of this receiver. What does this function do? It transforms high quality video to lower quality one so you can watch it on your phone via 3G connection for example. Yes, you can watch your favourite TV channel in your school using 3G or WiFi if you school has it. Really nice feature! I was able to test it and I can say that it works fine but it is in its early stages of development.

CONCLUSION

Solo2 is receiver packed with powerful chipset, lots of RAM and some interesting features like transcoding. Currently I only see one problem and that is lack of image choice. Currently we have only BlackHole and VTi and that’s not enough. I personally only use OpenPLi on all of my receivers. If you do not care about images then buy it as soon as possible. It has very competitive price of only 329Eur in German stores and you 100% cannot find better receiver for this amount of money.

SCORE: 8/10 – I would give 9 if receiver had OpenPLi support which i use on all my other receivers!

  • Would you plz link to from where latest stable and recommendable images can be found?

    AW

    January 11, 2013

  • admin

    January 11, 2013

  • Thanks a lot for a quick reply (:
    Is that image the most stable one?

    AW

    January 11, 2013

  • It does have some nice features and i find it stable. OpenPLi should be also available soon!

    admin

    January 11, 2013

  • Still getting contradictory feedback about picture quality of VU+ Solo2 (BCM7356). Do you know whether the new Broadcom SOC supports a reliable film mode detection (especially PAL 2:2 cadence) and a full chroma upsampling (to YCbCr 4:4:4 and/or RGB 4:4:4) ?
    Best regards

    rastl

    March 21, 2013

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