Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

Popcorn Hour C200

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Popcorn Hour C200

Popcorn Hour C200 official image

Popcorn Hour C200 official Image

The trip we have taken to the popcorn hour has been a long and interesting journey. Over the last three years I have been trying to find the best possible solution to what I see as a simple problem. I want to be able to watch a wide variety of content on my TV without the need to have computers to configure, software to manage etc. While that sounds like a simple problem it seems to be simply too difficult for most people to get it right. Over the period of time we have tested the following software/appliances so we can have something to compare it with.

  • MediaTomb running on Ubuntu
  • Serviio running on Ubuntu and Windows
  • Samsung Wiselink Pro
  • Windows Ultimate (Mediacenter)
  • xbmc media center

While all of these products have their strengths and weaknesses and are all fairly capable in their own right none of them worked perfectly with all the media formats that we had to play on the Samsung 37inch High Definition LCD TV that we run at home. Unfortunately the DLNA functionality on the Samsung TV is buggy at best and updates are not forthcoming from Samsung. In fact I would say that the software running on the Samsung TV is only usable if your plug a hard drive directly into the TV. When using DLNA even with their own Wiselink software we would regularly loose the ability to fast forward, rewind and pause. It was even so poor that at times it would work once and then never again on that format, further more some of our own video’s that we encoded from DVD would not work despite having exactly the same settings using exactly the same software on the same PC. Anyway this is not a review of the Samsung TV but rather the Popcorn Hour C200.

Initial Install

After unpacking the device the system fits into a standard Hi-Fi slot in most TV Cabinets. The clean black finish fits in well with our Samsung TV and overall the appearance of the system looks very classy. Our install is fairly basic power, Ethernet (100Mbps) and a HDMI cable to the TV. Once the system was plugged in and ready to go we turned the device on and the initial setup was simple and easy to follow. Once the system was on the network it automatically received an IP address using DHCP. Once on-line we checked for software updates and they easily downloaded and installed with no effort at all. I have to say that the initial user experience was excellent. Once the updates had finished we configured the system to access our network file shares with both Samba (Windows Shares) and NFS (*nix) shares. Both share types worked perfectly with no issues at all. In both cases the share performance was more than satisfactory which is more than can be said about some of the other solutions we played with.

Usability

The initial welcome interface on the device is excellent, the carousel style interface makes it easy to find the various options. There are Internet Apps, Media, Setup and other options which are all easily discovered and clearly understood. The network browser however is not the nicest interface although it is much better than some of the other options. In our configuration we share our media in a single tree from each of the devices. In many devices we would have to traverse the entire tree to find the media which is a cumbersome task and thankfully not a problem on the Popcorn hour. One big wish is the ability to integrate our movie collection with IMDB, that way we could look up the movie and remember what the movie was about. That only becomes a problem when there are hundreds of movies in a single folder.

Quality

The Popcorn hour is built extremely well, I cannot fault the sturdy quality. All of the interfaces are well built and the components seems to be high quality. The brushed black aluminium finish on the front looks fantastic with the Samsung TV. The controller is easy to use and the plugs are all well labelled. The audio quality coming through the HDMI is exceptional on all our personally ripped movie content. The video quality is also superb, many of the other systems we tested tended to have artefacts appear as a side effect of poor quality software or codecs, not something we have experienced on the popcorn hour.

Codec Support

Overall the codec support on the Popcorn hour is exceptional, I am yet to find something that it does not or cannot play. So far we have tried

  • AVI
  • Matroska
  • DIVX
  • MPEG4
  • XVID
  • ShoutCast
  • Flash (YouTube)

I am still trying various apps to identify if there are any which do not work, so far its been superb.

Summary

If you are looking for a high quality product to stream your media content across the network to a TV then it is very difficult to go past the Popcorn hour product line. In our case we chose to buy the C200 as we wanted to have a device that we could keep for several years and not worry about changing formats. With the increasing popularity in High definition content the popcorn hour C200 was really the only unit that we found which could handle it with ease. After some time testing we can’t find any faults with the product and highly recommend it to anyone.

Codec Support: ★★★★★ 

Build Quality: ★★★★☆ 

Interface: ★★★★☆ 

Support: ★★★★☆ 

Flexibility: ★★★★★ 

Overall: ★★★★☆ 

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