I should have done my research on this one – I know better – but I rushed in. The Orange Pi PC board attracted me with it’s cheap price tag and promised H.265/HEVC video support. I was going to build a Kodi player to replace my Raspberry Pi 3 to attach to our main TV and playback my large multimedia collection from my home server (mounted to Kodi via NFS share). I was starting to have a growing number of HEVC video files, and the Raspberry Pi 3 simply wasn’t powerful enough to play this format. A lot of those cheap Chinese Android boxes could have done it for around the same price as the Orange Pi PC, but my previous experience with those boxes is that they always have outdated versions of Android, never get any updates or support, and are often riddled with bugs and poor performance. I wanted to go custom so I had control over what the system was running and could more freely update it.
I decided to buy my Orange Pi PC from the source, and ordered straight from their official AliExpress store. It took a little over a month to arrive, and I dove right into setup on the first night. This is when I started to uncover:
- The only version of Android out there for this thing is several versions behind. Too old to even be supported by Kodi!
- Even their official Linux OS’s are not current at all
- Worst of all – they don’t contribute their video processing unit drivers back into the mainline linux kernel (this is a major faux pas in the open source world!). This means that any third party Linux operating systems not from Orange Pi, like ones that are more current, do not support hardware accelerated video. This means you’ll never get that H.265/HEVC support on any sort of modern operating system. The only way to truly take advantage of this board is to install extremely dated operating systems from the manufacturer with their, essentially, closed source video acceleration drivers in them. I don’t like outdated operating systems purely from the security standpoint, and from the fact that I’m not Linux technical enough to know how to start updating and patching things beyond what apt-get update/apt-get upgrade will pull down for me.
There has been some community effort to make a third party video acceleration driver for these things, but it doesn’t have much momentum. There’s only an old version of Kodi out there that somewhat supports it, but the age of that Kodi makes it incompatible with some plugins I use in Kodi (legitimate ones, not illegal streaming). The developer has openly stopped development on it, and nobody has picked up to fill the void and port those changes to a newer Kodi.
I opened a dispute with the seller (aka Orange Pi themselves) on AliexExpress. Sure, it was only a $30 board, but in my opinion it did not fulfill the duty of supporting what the specifications say it does. Anything related to accelerated video support should be noted that only their own images have the driver support needed – that way I would have seen how dated they all were and wouldn’t have bought the board in the first place.
Orange Pi openly admitted to me that they aren’t contributing back to the mainline Linux kernel, and that if I wanted a newer operating system for my media project that I was to use Armbian. They were even kind enough to send me a link to Armbian, where the devs very clearly state that they do not support accelerated video.
The language barrier was ultimately holding us back here – Orange Pi was quick to admit to everything I told them, but had no desire to help me and were too cheap to refund even a single board. AliExpress, further continuing the language barrier, made the ruling that the board supported everything just fine and that the wealth of evidence I had spent several full evenings putting together to present in the dispute was “not valid”. Ultimately, both Chinese companies had my money, were halfway around the world from me, and couldn’t give a rats ass about my experience after they were paid.
All in all, it was a learning experience. There’s a wealth of these cheap Chinese SBC’s on the market and they’re all junk. Don’t be lured by the price tag, and if you are, do a LOT of research before you buy to ensure it will support what you plan on doing with it. These Orange Pi boards are junk in my opinion, and now that I look into it, they seem to be junk in most people’s opinions.
I’m further disappointed that the company will admit they aren’t supporting things properly, but won’t stand behind their own admittance and support their customers by either refunding them, or realizing that the community is crying out for proper support and actually releasing their source.
I guess where I’m going with this is: don’t buy an Orange Pi. There’s plenty of other small board computers that aren’t much more money and have incredible community support and current version operating systems available for them. I’m hearing ODROID is the way to go for Kodi + HEVC support and will likely buy a C2 after I can sell this Pi and cut my losses on it.