Somewhat unimpressed by the front screen, the most important change the Popcorn Hour C-300 brings, compared to its predecessor, is a re-designed interface. The clunky and clumsy UI of the C-200 has been replaced with something much faster and more modern.
Its front-end is still fairly basic, however. The home screen is a horizontally-scrolling list of icons that lets you pick between basic types of content – local content, network-streamed stuff, apps and so on. Content is no longer split into video and music, which is an improvement over the Popcorn Hour experience of old. It’s fairly quick, reasonably attractive and has animated transitions to avoid the cheap, gloss-free feel of some media players.
The main menu
However, stack it up next to something like the Boxee interface, or those of the Xbox 360 and PS3, and it looks pretty glum. There’s no customisation of how it looks, and while the Flash-based feel is fine, it lacks the fun, lifestyle-oriented vibe of some boxes more geared towards full streaming from services like iPlayer and Netflix than streaming movies from a NAS box full of nicked flicks.
If getting to your content quick is all you’re after, the Popcorn Hour C-300 performs pretty well, with quick reorganisation of inserted media and much snappier overall performance than oldie Popcorn Hour boxes. If you're going to keep a largely static library of music and films on the box - you can also employ the neat Jukebox Manager software.
The Jukebox Manager UI looks great, but isn't practical for all
This scans through your files and grabs artwork and additional information from the net, arranging it into a swish, image-led grid of covers. We found it works much better for films than music - powered by IMDb - but it roped-in music info just fine too. Ideally, we'd like to be able to boot to this view and see software clever enough to add new content on-the-fly, but as-is this interface isn't really suitable for those using rapidly-growing or changing libraries, or those streamed from NAS drives - a shame.
Running an 800MHz Sigma Designs SMP8647 processor, the C-300’s numbers may not sound all that impressive, but this chip is more-than capable of playing virtually any video and audio file. All popular video codecs are supported, including the basics of MKV, Xvid and DivX, and more exotic types such as MKV3D with side-by-side and top/bottom 3D.
Of course, what’s actually more important than including headline-grabbing codecs like this is on-going support, with updates that will cater for any tweaks made to the main codecs. Between December 2011 and February 2012, Popcorn Hour maker Syabas released an update each month, but they seemed to have dried up since. However, in the past its product have been supported for at least a few years.
Music/audio support is also very good, with favourites like FLAC, APE in as well as the more common lossy types. For movie soundtracks, DTS and Dolby Digital decoders are in, while HD format pass-through is supported. Load one of the C-300’s internal bays (another is under the casing) with a Blu-ray drive and you have a pretty decent home cinema hub on your hands. It lets you correct audio sync issues too, which is helpful for correcting the delay caused by home cinema receivers, or problems with specific videos.
Image quality of the C-300 is excellent, with HD pictures looking supremely sharp and detailed. It also upscales content, but if you’re not going to be primarily watching HD content, we can think of few reasons to purchase as high-end a box as this.
There’s no fan inside the Popcorn Hour C-300 – it uses passive cooling instead. This means it’s more-or-less silent. That’s more than we can say of the Sony PS3, which is commonly used as a less-capable Popcorn Hour.