1.11.2009

Popcorn Hour A-100

This is a long overdue review that I meant to write shortly after I received the unit- which was back in August. 

The Poporn Hour A-100 is a network device that is networked media player- similar to AppleTV and Windows Media Extenders but not requiring a dedicated 'media server' (although it can connect to Windows Media, iTunes, and DNLA media servers).  It can connect to SMB and NFS shares and server up the media.

It supports a wide range of formats, including:

Video containers: Audio 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
  • AAC, M4A
  • MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA)
  • WAV
  • WMA

  • Video codecs:

    Audio codecs:
  • XVID SD/HD
  • MPEG-1
  • MPEG-2
  • MPEG-4.2
  • WMV9HL
  • H.264
  • VC-1
  • WMA, WMA Pro
  • AAC
  • MP1, MP2, MP3
  • LPCM

  • Other

     
  • Audio pass through : DTS, AC3
  • Photo formats : JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
  • Other formats:  ISO, IFO
  • Subtitle formats : SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA
  •  

     

    It is a fairly unassuming device- resembling some of the inexpensive hard drive cases I purchase from MicroCenter:

    popcorn_a020 

    On the back there is a plethora of video output options: Composite, S-Video, Component and HDMI (v1.1 spec on this model; v.1.3a on the A110 model)- and a 10/100 Ethernet and power connector:

    popcorn_a023

    The system opens to accommodate a 3.5" PATA hard drive (the A-110 model supports SATA) for internal storage for movies/music/pictures:

    popcorn_a016

    Additionally there are two USB ports to allow you to connect USB drives for media playback (including a DVD drive for non CSS DVD movies).

    Once you connect the device to a TV and power it up, you are presented with a fairly basic media screen:

    popcorn_010

    The included IR remote is used to navigate around:

    Clicking on one of the icons to the right (Movies, Music, Pictures, Play lists) brings up a folder browser for the media source you are connected to (in this scenario, I am connected to a 'videos' share on my sever named 'Jupiter'):

    popcorn_011

    Drilling down a level shows the actual files (in this case, videos):

    popcorn_012

    One small disappointment is that there are no alternate views- so there is not a 'thumbnail' view or similar.

    Video playback is awesome; it plays almost everything I have thrown at it- especially MKV files!  It does not officially support DiVX (due to licensing considerations) but it does support XViD- so chances are it will play most DiVX files.  I had three situations where a movie would not play:

    • WMV-HD with a 5.1 audio track; video play correctly but without audio
    • Two DivX files (out of a few hundred that I have tried) would not play properly
    • QuickTime MOV files are very jumpy during playback.

    The video playback has found me abandoning my Window MCE system and my PS3 for video playback; this unit will play 99% of the videos I have with no problem.

    The music playback works, but the menu interface is very, very crude- almost to the point of being unusable. 

    Photo viewing is about the same; it works, but it would be easier to view it on another systems.

    Unencrypted DVD playback is supported (CSS is not supported) via USB attached DVD Drive, VOB/IFO files or ISO files (local HD or network share).

     

    On the left side of the screen there are options for Media Sources, Web Services and Setup.  After adding network shares in the 'Setup' screen, they will appear on this screen and can be selected as the source that can be accessed from the main menu (for Music, Movies, Pictures, Playlists). 

    Changing between the sources can take 50 sec - 1 minute.  One big limitation (in my eyes) is that you are limited to a total of six network SMB/CIF shares. 

    popcorn_001
    The second option brings you to the 'Web Services' menu.  From here you can open the Media Service Portal (or MSP), which is a collection of 'channels' comprised of various web audio/video/photo/rss applications and fees such as YouTube, Yahoo Weather, Flickr, Pocasts, Traffic Reports, etc.  Not all 'channels' work that well, and when they do the performance is fairly sluggish.  I haven't spent much time in this since the first day I received the Popcorn Hour.

    The MSP Community is essentially a 'What's New' page with various items related to the MSP.  You can also listen to the top podcasts from Podcast Alley (if it will work) or view Apple movie trailers.  It appears to be a community forum that has not really caught on as of yet.

    The Torrent option is only available if you have a hard drive installed into the Popcorn hour.  It is basically a BitTorrent client that runs on the Popcorn Hour unit and downloads to the internal HD.  (haven't used this yet).

    The last option is SayaTV witch is a pseudo IP-TV service- featuring shows ranging from a webcam facing a beach in China to concert footage in France to news broadcasts (and even some infomercial channels)

    popcorn_002

    Under Setup there are several screens:

    popcorn_003

    popcorn_004

    popcorn_005

    popcorn_006

    Note: NMT Applications is only available if a hard drive is installed in the unit.  This option allows the Popcorn hour to also function as a media sever for UPnP devices.

    popcorn_007

    popcorn_008

    popcorn_009

    Little issues that this unit is subject to includes:

    LED Lights- there is no separation between the indicators and the IR receiver- giving a display of this:

    popcorn_a004

    With the addition of a few pieces of split heat-shrink tubing I was able to resolve this:

    popcorn_a014

    popcorn_a011

    (I went back and replaced the heat-shrink with a mold I made out of play-dough.)

    HDMI reset issues:

    Occasionally the HDMI will 're-negotiate' during movie playback, causing as screen of static for a few seconds before the picture returns.  This also occurs when leaving the menu and starting up a video.  Occasionally this would get 'stuck' and require a reboot of the unit. (I believe is is fixed with the HDMI 1.3a on the newer A110).

    To fix this I reverted to Component cables; now I rarely have to reboot.

    All-in-all the unit is a fantastic video player; I am considering purchasing another for my roommate (or maybe buying an A110 and giving her my A100).  It does not excel with music or pictures, but these both appear to be add-ons to make the device cover a wider range of media;  The SMP8635 processor is basically a video decoder that has been made to do other things.

    If you are  a fan of the old XBMC and you have been struggling to find something that can replace that seamless video experience you can finally stop searching for the right Audio/Video codec combination for Vista- the Popcorn Hour will satisfy all your video playback needs!

    1 comment:

    1. > It does not officially support
      > DiVX (due to licensing
      > considerations) but it does
      > support XViD

      PHC is not officially certified by Xvid or DivX. Many people don't realize that xvid.org sells logo certification just like divx.com. PHC uses neither. PHC products will not display DivX subtitles or DivX menus created by DivX software such as DivX Author or DivX Converter. PHC will not play DivX Video On Demand titles from studios like Warner Brothers (see http://warnervideolive.com). PHC will probably work with popular tools like Handbrake which is why most of your "test" videos play. However, nearly all my videos have DivX subtitles and multiple audio tracks so PHC is not an option. It's a shame PHC isn't a genuine DivX certified device like the PS3.

      ReplyDelete