Posts tagged media player

Popcorn Hour C-200, a brief review

What do you do when you start getting a large collection of movies, videos, music and photos? Shuffling around DVDs or audio CDs gets old very fast and if your house is fully wired, you definitely want to also pull content off your PCs, Macs, NAS boxes, USB sticks, internet, whatever. I went with the Popcorn Hour C-200 since my workplace has a couple of their A-200 and S-210 store front units. I chose the C-200 because it had the ability to put in a BD player or two hard drives (2.5″ and 3.5″).

I’ve had the C-200 for about 3 weeks now. In a nutshell, the C-200 is still not ready for prime time. It’s still too rough a product, doesn’t do what it advertises on the box (Yet!). There’s pending firmware updates though but that should not be the case for a shipping product. You advertise 10 functions and it should deliver all 10 functions. Firmware updates are good and can bug-fix, polish-up or add new features but to back-fill functions it suppose to do when shipped is wrong. It, however, works for people who are willing to live with the rough edges, quirks but the ability to play a large set of media types. Tested firmware version is 02-01-091113-19-POP-408-000 (19 November 2009). There’s a new version released last week but I haven’t had chance to upgrade yet.

Poor viewing angle and distance

Here’s a summarized list of what works, what needs a bit of work and what doesn’t work.

What works:
– Plays almost everything I threw at it. That includes AVI, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, WMV, MP3s, JPEGs, MKVs and even complete DVD ISO images.
– Playing media off the hard drive, USB sticks or portable disks work perfectly.
– Good quality playback (can’t test the audio properly since I don’t have a good audio receiver) but HD content looks awesome. Anything less than 720P pales in comparison now.
– USB ports front and back along with HDMI interface

What needs a bit of work:
– Gigabit ethernet connection seems flaky and unstable. Wired it to a 100mbps switch and it was faster to transfer data across. Go figure!
– Interface is still on files. While that may be the underlying structure and may be used for the technical users, content should be the primary means of the UI. Why should you navigate to the videos folder on your disk and then into the folder named Transformers_HD and then select the appropriate MP4/MKV file to play? Give me a catalog of movies, songs and photos, not a directory structure!
– File-based interface means using it as a jukebox is also quite poor. No shuffle, no selection of genre, artist, etc.
– Photo support and slideshow support is again also poor out of the box
– One or two AVI files had problems and required some patching/fixing in VirtualDub. Not a big issue if you’re the one ripping/extracting your own videos.
– Stability. Lock-ups on network hiccups or corrupted videos/images/music is more frequent than it should (I’ve to hard reboot the unit 5 times so far)

What doesn’t work:
– The remote is too laggy. Anything over 100ms is noticeable and the lag can be as long as a second. Don’t know if it can be fixed in firmware.
– Size. While the need to be able to accomodate a Blue-ray drive and 2.5″ hard drive is good, there’s a helluva lot of empty space inside.
– The network services is terribly slow and buggy
– The display panel is totally not viewable/readable from a distance greater than 2 feet.

Conclusion, it’s expensive for what it does along with all the rough edges. At this price point (USD 299), I’d expect a much more refined product. Would I buy one again if I had the choice? Not really. I’ll probably build a HTPC next 🙂