Popcorn Hour is one of the biggest names in media boxes, made for those with gigantic collections of downloaded movies and TV shows. Yes, they’re popular among pirates, but the Popcorn Hour C-300’s claim to be able to play any video or audio file you can throw at it should appeal to at least a handful of other folk too.
An update to the C-200, this is the top-end model in the Popcorn Hour line-up. It’s big, versatile in at least a few senses and costs more than £300. And while capable in its field, missing features mean it simply isn’t worth if it you’re remotely legit.
The Popcorn Hour C-300 is a serious-looking piece of kit. As long as an old-fashioned Hi-Fi separates system and with edges sharp enough to take an eye out, this is not a device to please partners and housemates who would complain about surround sound system wires littering the lounge.
With an imposing black brushed metal front and an all-metal frame, it’s undoubtedly solid. But attractive? Not really. This is a box that largely trades gorgeous design for the practical needs of its intended audience – those with full-to-the-brim media libraries.
On its front are two unashamed, uncovered USB 2.0 ports, there to quickly stick pen drives into, and an easy release 3.5in/2.5in bay door. This lets you – quite literally – shove in a hard drive or Blu-ray player. At the end of the bay are the power and connector plugs waiting for their arrival. The Popcorn Hour C-300 doesn’t come with either drive as standard, though.
Having to spend more to unleash all of the box’s potential is a running theme of the Popcorn Hour C-300. Although it’s eye-wateringly expensive compared with some media boxes, such as the sub-£100 Western Digital TV Live, Wi-Fi does not come built-in. You’ll need to buy a £25 Popcorn Hour WN-160, which helpfully seem to be out of stock in the UK at present. We tried using a handful of non-official sticks but none worked.
Not willing to splash out on accessories? You have to use the LAN port on the C-300’s rear. Popcorn Hour and media enthusiasts may argue that a wired connection offers much better reliability and streaming quality, and they’re not wrong. But the idea that HD-quality streaming over Wi-Fi is impossible is wrong. And not everyone keeps their router in the lounge.
For a more reliable signal than the WN-160 Wi-Fi USB stick provides, Popcorn Hour also offers a three-antenna internal Wi-Fi card, the MN-200. Once again, though, it seems to be about as easy to get hold of as bigfoot’s phone number.
Also on the Popcorn Hour C-300’s rear are composite, S-video and component video outputs, coaxial, optical and phono audio outputs and – most likely to be used these days – an HDMI 1.4 port, which of course handle both audio and video. There are two additional USB 2.0 ports to plug-in drives, external hard drives or the Wi-Fi dongle. This is the same spread of audio/video ports as was seen in the C-200. But, then again, it’s all you need in a device like this.
The most important hardware change in this new generation is the 3.2in colour LCD on its front. For the first versions of the box's firmware, this screen did precisely nothing, but with the latest it shows a cropped version of whatever's on the main screen. We found it a bit of annoyance during normal usage, but it does enable skipping through a music library without turning your TV on. But isn't peering into a teeny screen a bit antiquated in the days of AirPlay and other forms of wireless streaming?
Popcorn Hour proves the point itself, offering an app for Android smartphones and iOS devices. However, it's not free (£1.99) and doesn't have a particularly slick interface.