The quest to find the perfect solution for playing your multimedia files on your TV has been a long and hard one and has seen its heroes take all manner of different paths; some include storage, some stream over a network, others include PVR capabilities, while some just play files from USB devices. There's no answer to which is the best solution as that will depend upon how you prefer to store and organise your files but what we can say is which devices are the best at doing certain combinations of those tasks.
Today, then, we're looking at the Popcorn Hour A110, a device that combines three out of four of the above capabilities. Namely you can pop a hard drive in it to store all your multimedia locally, you can also stream media from network locations and it has a couple of USB sockets for reading media from USB storage devices. All in all that's quite a bit of functionality but what really sets the A110 apart from the competition is its format support. This device supports just about every audio, video, and image format under the sun. In other words, it has some serious potential. Let's see if it lives up to it.
Well, if design is a key consideration for your AV equipment you'll be sorely disappointed by the Popcorn Hour A110. Its utilitarian metal case is more reminiscent of a cheap external hard drive than something that would look at home under a TV. That said, if you have a smoked TV cabinet or can in some other way keep the A110 reasonably hidden then the front panel looks suitably sleek and minimalist with just a single USB slot, tiny reset button, the product name, and a few status LEDs breaking the otherwise plain glossy black surface.
It's here that the A110 shows its first differences to the original, but still available, A100. The latter having two USB ports on the front, no reset button, and an extra status LED in the form of a network activity indicator. The status LEDs have also been improved with less light bleed, from one logo to the next, and clearer logos. From left to right, the indicators are for standby, power, and USB activity.
At the back along with a sturdy on/off switch and power socket there is an impressive array of clearly labelled connections. Again, from left to right there are Component, S-Video, and Composite (CVBS) video outputs, then stereo analogue and optical digital audio outputs, HDMI, a B-type USB connector, an A-type USB, and an Ethernet port.
The optical digital audio is another change from the A100, which used a coaxial connector. We're none too fussed as to which is used as they both have their plusses and minuses - optical is a bit more common but coaxial is less fragile. The HDMI has also been upgraded to the 1.3 standard so brings support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio output, as well as Deep Color and automatic audio syncing. Incidentally, the A110 also now decodes DTS audio, something that the A100 couldn't do. None of these changes from the A100 to A110 are things we count as hugely important upgrades but if you're after the best quality signal to be passed to your AV setup then you know which to choose.