Form or functionality? It was once argued the two cannot co-exist. The high sheen of the polish on Apple TV attempts to blind users from its limited feature set. Conversely the breakthrough of WDTV's advanced functionality came at the cost of a basic UI and deep submenus. Happily in recent times the WDTV Live Hub and the D-Link Boxee Box have shown the two are not always a trade-off. So it is with some surprise we find Patriot's PBO Core multimedia player trying to teach us an unwelcome history lesson.
This cautionary tale isn't obvious at first sight. The PBO (Patriot Box Office) Core is the former memory specialist's latest generation media player and on the surface it appears to get everything right. The compact (17.1cm x 16.8cm x 13.5cm) device is a box of tricks capable of fitting a 2.5in SATA HDD, connecting to a USB drive or network via Ethernet or WiFi. It also supports copying between storage sources and UPnP streaming from devices such as a PS3 or Xbox. Furthermore, like many media players today its format support is almost unlimited.
For video [MPEG-1] MPG/MPEG/DAT, [MPEG-2] MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/TS/TP/M2TS, [MPEG-4] MP4/AVI/MOV, WMV9, FLA, [H.264/AVC] MKV/TS/AVI/MOV/M2TS, [DivX 3/4/5/6, Xvid] AVI/MKV and [Real Video 8/9/10] RM/RMVB pose no problem. Choices for audio (WMA, MP3, Real Audio) and images (Jpeg, Bmp, Png) support is more limited, but metadata, album art and picture slideshow options are all provided.
Vitally 1080p playback is supported and there is connectivity in the form of HDMI, composite RCA, 10/100 Ethernet and 3x USB 2.0. Furthermore switch the PBO Core on and it is virtually silent. This applies both to lightweight tasks like cycling through photos and when viewing Full HD content. Even the remote control is extensive, its large array of buttons look more like the full fat controller of an expensive TV than the cut down remotes typical of most media centres.
Performance is excellent too. The Core handled every video file we threw at it and even high bitrate 1080p proved no problem with no frames dropped. Music was equally adept with tagging and album art displayed (though obviously with reduced format support) and slideshows cycle with a number of simple, but visually pleasing transition effects.
Unfortunately the flaw in the Core is not what it can do, but the battle to get it to do it…