Unboxing old tech: AVLabs AVL340 / Mustek IPA1070

Thrift shopping for old tech to pull apart is a fun hobby of mine. As far as hobbies go, it’s a relatively inexpensive one too. I picked up an AVLABS AVL340 – bascially a hifi with a screen and an iPod dock. I paid $30, which I still think was too much, but was far far less than the $400AUD ($199Euros) retail price that this thing sold for.

I had “techno-lusted” after this device, imagining this sleek solution to storing all my music and video content on my hifi, and then being able to easily switch from watching a podcast on my iPod Touch, to docking it and watching it on this HiFi. So even though the iPod Touch was long gone, I still was slightly thrilled to be able to finally own this neat solution, and get to try it out for myself.

Opinion

Boy, was it a disappointment!!

The sound quality was quite thin and “clock-radio” sounding, which seemed to improve in fullness to reach “mediocre kids hifi” standards when enabling the button labelled “3D Surround”.

The screen was a very blocky low resolution, the viewing angles were terrible, and while playing a video I noticed that the entire video stream was interlaced.

The best part of only paying $30 for this unit, was being able to take it apart. AVLabs had the guts to position a large silver “Warranty Void if Seal Broken” sticker so obnoxiously, that it was clearly visible from the front of the unit, incongruously disrupting the premium glossy appearance. So long sucker sticker.

Internal Components

Inside was also a disappointment. The device was built like a child’s hifi, with low quality components, terrible soldering quality, and flux residue and solder spatter abundant.

The internal electronics were designed around a main motherboard, with connectors going to multiple daughterboards for connectors, buttons, and USB/SD.

The manufacturing date codes on the various components dates this unit to early 2008.

The main processor running the show is a Cheertek CT950A, which supports MPEG1/2/4, as well as MP3 and WMA. It also has USB support, with an Alcor AU6371 USB card-reader chipset used alongside a regular USB socket. The GUI on the device was terrible and ugly. Cheertek is known as a low-end SOC manufacturer in the LCD picture frame market, alongside Sunplus, ESS, Zoran and MTK.

A tacky and horribly compressed JPG images appears to have been used for a splash screen, with little attention appearing to have been made to make this product elegant to use. With only 1MB of flash memory (EON EN25F80) provided this is hardly surprising that corners were cut in software quality! 16MB of ram (ESET M12L16161A), and a bunch of 74HC4053D multiplexers round out the main SOC system.

The display panel itself is driven by another Cheertek IC (CT675C-LF), which is basically a composite signal, TCON and video decoder all in one. Judging by the disappointing interlaced picture, it appears to be using composite video internally between the main IC and the display IC. The LED backlight is driven separately by a Feeling Tech FP5451B PWM controller, with the LED backlight module manufactured by Everlight.

The LCD is 7 inches in diameter, with a very disappointing 480×272 resolution – only barely better than the 320×240 resolution of the 2.5 inch screen on the iPod itself.

The audio side of things is hosted by an ST TDA7266D amplifier, which while advertised as a solution for 5Wx2 configurations, barely exceeds 3W per channel before major distortion begins. This is an IC more suited for computer monitor LCD audio, not even close to adequate for a $400 entertainment platform.

Additonal audio processing is provided by an Japan Radio Corporation NJM2706, which is a “3D surround audio processor with dynamic bass boost”, claiming that it “regenerates rich sound field with only small two speakers.”. Translation: extracting barely-passable sound out of two 5W speakers in a small plastic housing.

Cheap Ceramate dual op-amps (CO4558 – budget clones of the LM358) finish off the outputs for the RCA and headphone jacks.

Power circuitry is basic, with DC/DC for the 5V supply provided by Advanced Power Electronics Corp. AP4953GM mosfets, along with a bunch of cheap LDO’s (LD1117A) for other voltages. Capacitor quality is predictably cheap, with variety of brands used from chang, xunda and others.

Interesting things:

There is a daughterboard connected via very very long header pins, with a single mysterious IC on it. This is is marked “2161 AC052 37H”, on its own daughterboard, with only a couple of passives. This daughterboard is marked “CP CHIP” which I assume means copy protection chip. Presumable this chip was provided/prescribed by apple, for video authentication and validation under their “Made for iPod” program.

The back of the unit had a connector that looked like a laptop battery pack connector – and the connector board is marked “Batt-conn”. So from this it sounds like a battery pack may also have been available for this product? A little searching indicated the Mustek branded version may have come with a battery option?

Conclusions:

  • If you can’t find the product spec anywhere, assume the worst. I couldn’t find the LCD resolution published anywhere on any review of this product, so I measured it to find out it was a dismal 480×272.
  • Companies produce what they know. People are creatures of habit, and companies even more so: This product is basically a photo frame, with tinny LCD-screen class speakers stuck on. Mustek and AVLabs both sell LCD photo frames, but it is unclear which of the two is the ODM/OEM.
  • Apple customers are frequent targets for exploitation. Within the vast apple ecosystem of accessories, there are always going to be some that will try to flog junk, to those that don’t know any better, at prices that they shouldn’t have gotten away with. This was a product built to a cheap price, and sold with a massive markup. I’ve put the original marketing blurb below for reference.
    • Original Advertising Blurb:Treat your senses to the sensational My Tube mobile, music, video speakers from AVLabs. Featuring an awesome 7″ widescreen display, the My Tube takes your iPod video and images to a whole new level of enjoyment. But don”t [sic] let your eyes have all the fun, superior stereo sound ensures crisp clear audio, making the My Tube a great all-round home entertainment unit for the modern home. Listen to your favourite songs, watch clips and play downloaded video from your iPod.Features
      • Awesome 7″ widescreen LCD for crystal clear viewing.
      • View and display your favourite digital images.
      • Play music or watch videos from your USB pendrive, SD, MMC and MS cards.
      • Superior room filling stereo sound for out there iPod listening.
      • Wireless infrared remote control.
      • Plays and charges new iPod models, inlcuding [sic] Video, Nano (4th Gen), Classic (2nd Gen), Touch (2nd Gen), iPhone and iPhone 3G.
  • Brand names never die – they just get traded like pokemon cards amongst various corporations over time. Most of the time they are simply a label slapped on goods from chinese/taiwanese manufacturers, and hold no real permeance. Even well-known names like Polaroid, Nokia, AWA, Telefunken, now hold no connection to the original parent company. Searching for AVLabs indicated that the brand is about ten years old, but in that time has exchanged hands several times.
  • Reviews mean nothing if the reviewer doesn’t know what to look out for. When an average person on the street finds and reads an online review, I wonder whether they consider validating the credibility or authority that the reviewer holds?
    • A seemingly legitimate customer review that I found on this product: “i have had this item now for over 3 years and it has been used on a daily basis, i am very impressed and would advise you to get this item, worth every penny as the volume for a speaker like this is great and surround sound is amazing too. you would be making a mistake if you did not buy this item.

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