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Popcorn Hour A-300 - Cost and Verdict

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

7

User Score:

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.

Verdict

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.

Overall Score

7

Scores In Detail

  • Build Quality 8
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Usability 6
  • Value 6

@Bostons

May 9, 2012, 5:35 pm

Just a couple of comments: The Syabas remote apps are free
Android: https://play.google.com/store/...
IPhone: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app...

You can use NMJ over the network (on networked drives) and it will store the information for later use.

You complain that "to charge extra we feel is a bit mean spirited, especially as wireless performance for Full HD content can be patchy"
So why would they provide a wireless function (inbuilt or external) if the wireless performance is "patchy"

No player is going to perform well over wireless as the bandwidth is too high for standard wireless to cope with (even "n" will struggle)

Hamish Campbell

May 9, 2012, 6:30 pm

So it's ok they charge extra for a wifi dongle as it's not going to perform very well?

Chris

May 9, 2012, 9:33 pm

I think his point is that no wireless solution will perform flawlessly when streaming HD video (not just this particular dongle), therefore PH shouldn't be criticised for omitting a feature that many users will never use.

Hans Gruber

May 9, 2012, 9:57 pm

Hey Gordon, bearing in mind the limitations of this device what would you suggest might be a more worthy purchase for those of us (like me) who'd like to have a device like this that can play pretty much anything and also interface with the likes of BBC iPlayer but who prefer a more usable & intuitive interface?

I didn't find the AppleTV a suitable alternative and know very little about all these IPTV type smart tv box things... did this popcorn thing really fall so heavily on usability/internet viewing? Cheers for your informative review btw.

Hamish Campbell

May 10, 2012, 1:23 pm

Just as some extra info, Apple TV of course misses a fair bit of extra functionality, but I've seen you can fork out 30 US for aTV http://firecore.com/atvflash-b...
And this adds a fair bit of 'standard' media player functionality. It has the ability to install the xmbc iplayer plugin, though I'm not sure how simple that is.

Don't know if that helps, or is an option, but is likely to have a decent UI.

I just use miniDLNA from a cheap NAS and play via a bluray/hdd recorder, not all that fancy and not pulling anything off the net, so I'm not the best to answer this.

accident

May 10, 2012, 1:34 pm

I'm extremely confused by this review. You missed a lot of what is built into the unit. You should take a few moments to look over the manual because all the features you reviewed is all the popbox v8 can do and you missed all of the additional features the A300 adds to that budget unit.

I would link to a more rounded reviewer to get an idea how much you missed but I don't want this comment to look like spam and be dismissed..

I'm also very confused by "add-ons raise the already premium pricing a little too high for our liking". What raised the pricing higher for you?

Gordon394

May 11, 2012, 5:23 pm

If you could go into more detail that would be helpful. You state we missed "all of the additional features" but don't give any examples.

This is a strange perspective as we were contacted yesterday by Syabas to thank us for such a well rounded review. As we state the A300 is a powerful system which does many things well, but we feel it could be more intuitive and the price is high.

Gordon394

May 11, 2012, 5:25 pm

I would take a look at the Boxee Box which is more intuitive (though similarly priced)
http://www.trustedreviews.com/...
Or Western Digital's comprehensive range of WDTV media players which cross all budgets.

evanlewis

May 12, 2012, 6:38 am

Hi Gordon - I am looking into purchasing a Media Player and really require the ability to adjust audio sync on the device. I view a lot of downloaded content which every so often suffers from audio sync issues. For the reason I have stuck using a laptop connected to the TV via HDMI and used VLC to playback all content as it offers the ability to adjust the audio in + or - 100 milliseconds increments.

Is this an option on the Popcorn Hour, D-Link Boxee Box or other Media Player you are aware of and is it available for all file types including DVD ISO's?

I understand that it is an option on the WDTV Live but even then a owner and ex sound professional has commented that he would prefer greater control (http://community.wdc.com/t5/WD....

Thanks for a solid article and your response to my query.

Gordon394

May 15, 2012, 5:07 am

Hi Evan, I would argue for your situation you arguably have the best solution. A slightly more elegant one would be a laptop supporting WiDi (http://www.intel.com/content/w... as that connects automatically and wirelessly. Media players offer great convenience and user friendliness, but I have yet to find one which offers the same level of control as a PC. Apologies for the late reply.

@Bostons

May 16, 2012, 3:40 pm

@evanlewis
All the popcorn hours can adjust the audio sync +/- 5 seconds is 500ms increments.

I have mine set at -0.25s because of the delay through the amp and only rarely change it

teflonmonky

June 5, 2012, 9:56 pm

hi,

Can you confirm for me if the A300 will tag and catalogue movies held on my Linux based NAS (QNAP 412)? Or is it only possible on the internal drive as suggested.

Thanks,

mediadummy2012

June 14, 2012, 12:55 pm

I have been trawling through various products for a while now and don't know if I am looking in the right direction. I need to digitise about 400 DVDs and 50 blu-rays as I have no more space to keep them. I have a Sony Bravia SMART TV and a Sony 5.1 home cinema with integrated blu-ray player. Should I be looking to the likes of WD TV Live Hub/WD Elements/Popcorn A-300/D-Link Boxee Box or is there a simpler solution if I simply want to have simple retrieval and viewing of these films? Is it a case of copying the DVDs onto my laptop and then transferring them to a media device? If I am going to throw the physical copies away, should I actually copy them to an external hard drive (as a back-up) and then batch them over to one of these three. And final (silly) questions: what storage size will I need to fit all of this?

Guest

March 23, 2015, 6:56 pm

I'd like to know if I can run Yet Another Movie Jukebox (YAMJ) on this, like I have done for years on (4) A110's I need to replace. Better still, what do I want to replace it with if you have a suggestion? A-410, VTEN, this? There seems to be options a plenty and all I really want to do is play my YAMJ + Aeon library reliably. The files keep growing and the processor and 10/100 jack are both weak links at this juncture. Thanks!!!

Taster'sChoice

March 24, 2015, 6:14 pm

I'd like to know if I can run Yet Another Movie Jukebox (YAMJ) on this, like I have done for years on (4) A110's I need to replace that stream from my NAS. Better still, what do I want to replace it with if you have a suggestion? A-410, VTEN, A-300, A-200? There seems to be options a plenty and all I really want to do is play my YAMJ + Aeon library reliably. The files keep growing and the processor and 10/100 jack are both weak links at this juncture. Thanks!!!

Taster'sChoice

April 9, 2015, 3:45 pm

I answered my own question.. The A200 and A300 can run the Eversion skin from dentedboxes.com - Which, once you get that working, this is an incredible device.

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