In terms of raw specs and playback performance the Popcorn Hour A-300 is near-faultless, but where its flaws lie is in the detail. For a start the media player's ability to fit an internal hard drive for many will be a significant bonus, but it papers over a more substantial crack: the device is a 'homer'. This phrase is often used to describe sports teams that can't perform away from home and the A-300 is a technological extension of this as it is far happier with locally stored content. This content is indexed, tagged and (as the screenshots show) looks fantastic but networked content is little more than a list of files and metadata for them must be re-downloaded each time.
In addition to this, while the A-300's revised software is a significant improvement over previous iterations it remains far less intuitive than it should be. Some flaws lie with the remote control where there is no single 'back' button that can be used in every context (requiring one of 'return', 'stop' or 'home') and frequently used commands like 'menu' are small buttons given no positional or size priority making them hard to find without looking.
Some of these issues are corrected with the Android and iOS Popcorn Hour remote control apps manufacturer Syabas has created, but again the company has been penny pinching charging customers £1.99 to download it. This would be borderline acceptable if it worked perfectly, but we found it crashed a number of times and many commands simply didn't work. This isn't surprising as it was last updated in February 2011, before the A-300 series even came out.
Price also comes to haunt the A300 in the big picture. At £180 is it one of the more expensive media players, but this is exacerbated by the need to spend another £50 on a capacious HDD to allow it to work at its best, potentially £25 on the Wi-Fi adaptor and even £2 on the remote app.
Syabas has certainly covered all the basics with the Popcorn Hour A-300. It has extensive connectivity, vast codec support, good build quality, the remote control is well featured and playback is excellent. The problems instead lie with the finer (though no less important) details: the remote control's layout is unintuitive, networked content is only displayed in basic lists and add-ons raise the already premium pricing a little too high for our liking. The A-300 is so nearly a fabulous media player, but it just misses the mark.