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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi folks. I have a Popcorn Hour A100 in for review:

http://www.popcornhour.com

What does it do? Short Version, it plays every single video file you can think to throw at it, up to 1080p. Plays from a networked server, or a local thumb/hard drive, USB CD/DVD Drive. Think AppleTV, no file type restrictions, less polished interface, no content delivery system (yet).

So, I'm finishing up the first phase of the review, and will have an unboxing video up by the end of the week, with the full review up early next week. The unit will be shipped back shortly there after.

My question: While I have this for another week, does anyone have any specific functionality they want me to test out, or any specific video clips they want me to test out. Like I said, it plays most anything you throw at it, but I have found some clips (High Bitrate VC-1 especially) that stutter a little.

Just thought I'd offer before I ship it off. Frankly, this unit is pretty exciting to me, I just don't know if I want one yet...
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Short answer: Discs, no. Media Files, yes (with limited audio support)

While it will play unencrypted DVDs from a USB drive, it will not play CSS protected DVDs (could certainly be worked around, don't tell the MPAA). It will play VOB and ISO files, so you could easily set up a library on a central server and serve your movies around the house to these units.

Now, on the HD side. It will play H.264, VC-1, and Mpeg-2, the formats used in HD-Discs (with VC1 and H.264 being the most popular of course). It will play these in MKV, TS, and a variety of other containers as noted on their specs:

# Video containers:

* MPEG1/2/4 Elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V)
* MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG)
* MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS)
* VOB
* AVI, ASF, WMV
* Matroska (MKV)
* MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4

# Video codecs:

* XVID SD/HD
* MPEG-1
* MPEG-2
o [email protected]
* MPEG-4.2
o [email protected], 720p, 1-point GMC
* WMV9
o [email protected]
* H.264
o [email protected]
o [email protected]
o [email protected]
o [email protected]
* VC-1
o [email protected]
o [email protected]

So on the Video side of things, if you can get the video off your disc and onto a server (easier on HD-DVD than Bluray...right now), you are in business. however, on the audio side of things, things don't look so good. The A100 is only HDMI 1.1, so no passing compressed DD+, DTHD, or the DTS variants to a receiver to decode.

Could they be decoded in the A100 and sent as PCM? Not right now, and it's unlikely that Dolby and DTS would allow them to. The A100 passes DD and DTS just fine, though, so they can be decoded in your receiver. So the short version is that currently, you can get DD and DTS, but no Advanced Audio codecs.

Hope on the horizon?

Word is that FLAC support will be forthcoming in the next firmware. Would it be possible to, when preparing the media to be put on the server, encoded DD+ and DTHD as 4 streams of FLAC (7.1)? Time will tell as I'm not sure the A100 has the processing power to decode Highbitrate VC1 along with 4 streams of FLAC, in fact, I would be surprised if it did.
 
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Thanks for your great review of the popcorn hour a100. Did you say that it plays divx? I don't see it on the spec. Another question, have you tried the popcorn with the latest firmware from March? I was thinking of getting the D-Link DPG-1200 but I'm seriously considering the PopCorn after watching your review. Any plans on reviewing the DPG-1200? Thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I'll review whatever I can get my hands on. I contacted the DLink folks about their DSM-750 media streamer last year (a few months before it was supposed to be out). That product still has not hit the shelves, to my knowledge, butthey did email me about a week ago. I emailed them back, but nothing as of late. I'll email them again about the D-Link DPG-1200.

As for the popcorn hour, DIVX is essentially Mpeg-4, and is supported, in HD, by the popcorn hour. I have used the latest firmware, but most of the changes have been bug fixes (with the notable exception of adding FLAC support). Still, music and picture playback aren't any fun, video is really where it's at.

If you are willing to put up with the cludgy interface and wired-only networking, I don't know of anything that can beat the popcorn hour for video playback.
 

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This is similar to the klegg media playback device they sell in the USA at Frys.

I've got one and I'll try and post a review of it soon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Looks good Matt,

I've actually run into a network bug with mine. It appeared suddenly after the last firmware, but rolling back to previous firmware didn't solve it, so I'm not sure what the solution is.

Here's a post detailing the problem, and a potential solution which I haven't tried yet (and may not be able to until a few days from now, been getting killed at work, 12+ hour days for a couple weeks now.)

http://www.networkedmediatank.com/viewtopic.php?p=31329#31329
 
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nice review!

a couple of questions:
- there was only a glimpse inside the box in the video.. can you confirm that it indeed does not have any fans and is 100% noiseless?

- how does it handle videos that are not perfectly scaled to the output resolution? can you zoom in and out to make them fit/fill screen nicely?

- (probably not pertinent to the review) you seem to do a bunch of these reviews.. what are the best other competitors when looking for a completely diskless and noiseless box to play back music/vids off a network drive? 1080p is not a must, the other criteria are.

thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
W/O a hard drive it is 100% noiseless. With a Hard Drive, you have the noise of the Hard Drive.

Zoom options: original size, fit to screen (will zoom until one dimension meets the output resolution, i.e. fill screen while maintaining aspect ratio), fill screen (regardless of original aspect ratio, zooms to fill entire screen resulting in wide faces on 4:3 content and 16:9 TV).

The Tvix folks have been making Multimedia boxes for years. Poor support, but a good user base. Popcorn Hour wins here, but check out Tivx or Mvix if your curious. If you don't mind asking Steve for permission to watch you media, Apple TV is the best experience by far, but are not diskless (but are quiet). Windows Media Extenders are coming soon (they promise this time), but require vista media center edition to run. Still, a good experience.

I can't recommend anything more highly than the Popcorn hour for video, as long as you are not turned off by the interface, and having to do a little config work. For music, I can't recommend the PH. Go with the Apple TV or Win Media Extender.
 
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Marshall, As many have said, thanks for the great review. A couple of questions for you. Up until now I had been considering the SageTV, STX-HD 100. My goal is to find a top notch option for playing Video_TS files from my PC. I don't really need the place shifting ability that SageTV provides, but it is an added bonus. I'm curious if you have or plan to do a review of this device.

The A-100 seems to do the #1 priority of playing back video extremely well. However, I would like a device that provides me with the ability to playback music and possibly play lists (not sure if the STX-HD 100 does this well either). Have you heard if the Popcorn Hour will improve upon this in the future? (I know there are other extender type devices that do this well, but none that I know of that playback video_ts files. Also, have you or anyone else on the forum for that matter heard if the folks over at the Popcorn Hour are going to be coming up with a more slick GUI. I agree with you that a smooth playback experience and being able to chose what formats you want to use rather than "Steve" choosing for you is paramount. However, I would like to see the addition of cover art rather than scrolling through dozens if not hundreds of file names. Has anyone heard whether this will be a possible feature in future firmware?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I have not been in contact with the Sage folks, but I'll look into it. I haven't seen any reviews with photos of the music interface.

I wouldn't hold my breath on the Popcorn Hour getting a better native music interface. There hasn't been much discussion of it, the closest thing was this post made 4/6/08:

[PH] Syabas will assign engineering resource in music playback improvement on mid April. This may takes about few weeks to develop.


You could spend a lifetime catching up to Apple in th music department, it's a Fool's Journey. Syabas is focusing on what they already do better than anyone out there: play video.

It's an annoyance, for sure, but you may want to consider an separate, inexpensive solution for music. For $130, I like my Zune with AV dock/remote and wireless sync, but that's certainly a hacked together solution.

Hopefully Syabas will come through with a better native app, or better http server software to address the music interface, bu if you want the video, I wouldn't hold off on buying a Popcorn hour until they do.
 
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Any idea on how this compares to the Playstation 3? I'm getting the PS3 anyway soon (for games and Blu-Ray) but would like a media player for MKV's, AVI's, DVD images and the like. I'm not sure if the PS3 can do this for me.

Also, what type of HDD does the Popcorn take? I currently have a PixelMagic Mediabox but it's only OK for standard def files, doesn't play MKV's or WMV's.
 
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I went ahead and ordered this, it appears the HDD is a standard internal 3.5" HDD, which is great, I can use the one from the MB200 (linked above).

For the benefit of other users, it appears the PS3 isn't that great as a media centre, which is disappointing. It'll play xvid and divx but no images, VOB's, H.264's or MKV's :(

I hope Popcorn include support for wireless pretty soon as the box is way to far away from my wireless router!
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The HDD is a 3.5" IDE or ATA100 or PATA, which ever you prefer.

There is an extensive thread on converting your files for use on the PS3 here:

http://www.hometheatershack.com/for...ver-media-server-preliminary-setup-tests.html

That's just what the process is, extensive. Now, if you want/have a PS3 anyway, by all means, you should look to use it as a media center. But if first what you want is video playback, then you've made the right choice.

Also: wireless is on the way...http://eugovector.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=337690
 
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Brilliant, thanks for the help. Great to know Wireless support is on the way! The more I research this (post purchase) the more pleased I am, support of this product is excellent
 
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