PopBox 3D set-top media player
Review Now that playing digital files from USB keys, or streaming them over a network, is a feature built into many TVs and almost every new gadget that plugs into one, it's inevitable that standalone players will become cheaper. The PopBox sits at the bottom of Syabas Technology’s Popcorn Hour range of media players.
PopBox 3D: a nondescript black slab of a box only 2001 fans would love
The PopBox is a compact and rather nondescript black slab, about the size of a chunky paperback. While the remote control is friendly enough – and brightly backlit in case you're using it in the dark – the box is a mixed affair when it comes to setting up.
Unlike some of its Popcorn Hour stablemates, it doesn’t have a built-in hard disk, though you can attach hard drives or Flash memory sticks to its two USB ports, including drives formatted in NTFS. Any content stored on these is indexed and categorised so you can find things quickly in the library menu. It matches movies and TV shows against IMDb data to show a poster graphic alongside the name and a brief description for each title.
Plenty of ports - but the SD slot is for the box's personal usage
It can get confused, though. I had a bunch of saved QuickTime trailers which the PopBox’s index thought were the actual movies, so it’s only matching key words in filenames, even if the name goes on to contain the word "trailer" or the running time is a couple of minutes rather than hours. It can also get categories wrong, using Home Movies as a dumping ground for what it can’t identify.
Next page: Disconnected
I tried out a Popcorn Hour A-210, trying to connect it to a Windows home server and it was terrible.
Lots of people think they're wonderful and maybe it's my fault but I found it to be horrendous. Hanging while reading meta data, getting stuck in loops of error messages, freezing on MKVs that played back perfectly fine elsewhere. Not to mention that the whiz-bang interface only supports one network share! I had that 'beta software' feeling, not that '£200 of quality, dedicated, device' feeling.
Companies need to understand this should work out of the box with an easy to use, attractive, accurate, interface and not a list of network locations and filenames or mismatches.
Media Browser on the PC is a good example. Tell it where your stuff is and it'll never bother you with the detail again.
Can we please have a box (or a TV)
with integrated iPlayer, itvPlayer, 4oD and Demand5? That's really all I want (along with the usual PVR functions, but I've no chance of getting that built into a TV) - on demand films/streaming off a network/playback from USB is icing. Even Vista Media Centre can't handle this, which is beyond disappointing.
I get the feeling that I'll end up having to build my own HTPC, but that it'll fail the family acceptance test, as no one wants to fire up a web browser just to catch up on a missed programme.
Best of a bad bunch...
I decided to make space in my living room by ripping all my DVDs/Blurays to a NAS. I then started looking for a network streamer - my requirements:
1) User interface simple enough to be operated by signifcant other
2) Plays all my video files without stuttering
3) Supports iPlayer access
So far I've tried a PS3, an Apple TV (with FireCore hack), a WD Live TV, and a PopBox. The PopBox is the only device that fits the bill. It seems to have excellent codec support, competently playing anything you throw at it (even 40Mbps 1080p Bluray rips) and the iPlayer app is the best I've seen outside of a desktop - looks great on a large screen and easy to navigate.
My only gripe is that the UI isn't as polished as it could be, especially for initial config. Getting the PopBox to see your SMB shares is a painful process - e.g. you can't just browse shares on a given server, you have to type in the correct share address/directory name. It feels like the admin/config functionality just hasn't been finished yet.
Popcorn aint that bad
@Tim Hale, Can't comment on your messages and errors as I don't suffer any, but your comment about Network shares only supporting 1 is tosh. I have 3 Nas's and several PC's connected to various SMB/NFS and Upnp locations, thats 5tb of stuff and nothing fails to play, I admit the interface is a bit old hat but press RED on the recent firmware and you get the whizzy Thumbnail/Cover "graphical" interface, which is cool, but I prefer my own front end. yamj (Its skinnable u know)
Popcorn isn't a saint but its not as bad as you care to flag.
The Boxee Box costs a bit more (£190 compared to £140) but it's a lot more stable, data scraping for the most part works, and you can build your own NFO files for stuff it doesn't know about.
It worked first time with my ReadyNAS, and has played everything I've thrown at it so far - XVID, DIVX, M4V. MKV and DVD ISO. Only issue is my power line ethernet kit being marginal for 720p/AC-3 5.1 MKVs.