Does the world really need another media player? With the market flooded with models of all shapes, sizes and prices it would seem not, but no technology sector is ever content to rest on its laurels. More to the point, Syabas, creator of the hugely successful Popcorn Hour range of media players, is convinced there are a few more tricks left in the old dog yet.
The Popcorn Hour A-300 is among the company's latest range of flagship players (we shall be reviewing the cream of the crop, the C-300, shortly) and as such it comes full to bursting with features. Out of the box perhaps the biggest surprise is the A-300's size. In an era of sweet-tin proportioned players, the A-300 is a more hefty 265 x 135 x 45mm and weighs in at 1kg. Part of the heft is the switch from the plastic casing of its predecessors to a more substantial aluminium enclosure. The rest is down to the A-300's ability to house a 2.5in or 3.5in internal hard drive (more of later).
Being as long as a netbook means the A-300 can pack a raft of connectivity. To the casual observer the rear of the player may look like something from the space shuttle or a sound studio's mix desk, with component video, composite video, audio out, SPDIF (coaxial and optical), S-video, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, HDMI and Gigabit Ethernet it may not be embarrassed by such company.
In contrast, the front of the player is far simpler with just a single USB 2.0 port and indicators for disk access, power and response to the remote control. One notable omission is integrated Wi-Fi and while a separate connector (the 'WN-160') is available for £25, to charge extra we feel is a bit mean spirited - and wireless performance for Full HD content can be patchy.
More to the point, build materials aside, none of this is any different from its predecessor the A-200. Thankfully where the real differences start is the most important place in any media player: the software. With the 300 series Syabas has completely overhauled the Popcorn Hour user interface making navigation simpler yet adding more functionality. Now upon switching on the A-300 you are presented with just five icons: 'Apps Market', 'Settings', 'Setup Wizard', 'Network Browser', and 'USB Attached Drives'.