Coretron’s Tech Blog

October 21, 2008

Popcorn Hour Media Server A-110 Review

Filed under: Technology — coretron @ 2:15 pm

The best device out there if you want to watch TV and movies in your living room. I currently have it setup to automatically download every show I want, in HD if available. It plays almost every file format under the sun up to 1080p with 7.1 dolby sound. It’s got HDMI, component video, S-Video, composite video, optical audio, and analog audio. It also comes with a nice 5′ HDMI cable. In short it does everything you can imagine. Here is a pile of images including the unboxing. The face plate has a few noticeable sctratches on it.

Setup was easy. I popped in the monster 1TB drive I just picked up for $130 w/ no rebates at Micro Center. The initial boot took about 90 seconds, however when you shut it down it goes into standby and only takes 8 seconds to bring you right back to whatever screen you were on when you went into standby. Right from the initial boot it recognized the internal drive, our network hard drive, and all the computers on the network.

First thing I did was update the firmware. Sounds hard, but it was just a matter of clicking update in the settings. They give you a complete change log where they list all the new features, codecs, and bug fixes which is always appreciated.

The first video I played was a 1080i .mkv episode of weeds which is shared on my computer. It took about 10 seconds to start and played fine. The menu initially took about 10 seconds to load a page while browsing for files, but the subsequent times were much faster. Fast forwarding is very smooth, but it does pause for a second when you hit play. Rewinding in HD was not smooth :(. However, you can use the D-pad and seek forwards and backwards. After scrolling the audio would play, but the video wouldn’t play for about 8 seconds. For non-hd files it worked fine.

There seems to be a lot of web services. The youtube client works quite well, you can browse or search. It also supports flickr, picasa, veoh tv, yahoo weather, revision 3, streaming podcasts, cnn, live365 (the largest internet radio network),  msnbc news (text), abc news (audio podcasts), and about 20 services I’ve never heard of. Still noticeable absent is Hulu, but who needs them anyways when you have RSS torrents to download all your shows in HD for you. If you really want Hulu you can install PlayOn on your PC and use that, but in my experience it is buggy. 

The server functions as well as the torrent client have to be installed. It’s pretty easy, you just click a link in the settings and it installs. Here is the crappy part… Since it runs on linux it needs to reformat the drive to ext3 or ext2. The drive can still read and write to NTFS and FAT32 but for the server functions, even samba (windows file sharing) you have to let it reformat the drive. The Samba, or Windows File Sharing server has a default user/password of NMT/1234, which wasn’t listed in the documentation. It even has a Usenet client.

The torrent client is probably the best part about the Popcorn Hour. I browsed the forums and found a program called TorrentWatch which installs a torrent client on the Popcorn that supports RSS. Installation was a breeze, just downloaded the .exe, ran it, and it installed its self on the Popcorn. It then opened a web page where I could manage it. It lets you know that you should just bookmark the page so you can easily manage your torrents in the future. To add a show for automatic download I just clicked “Favorites” then the name of the show, then a filter term so it would know what to download (just picking the most unique word from the title of the show usually works), then tell it where on the Popcorn Hour to download. That’s it. It already scans EZTV’s RSS feeds so all you have to do is add the filter. Way easy. If a show is available in HD and standard definition you can tell it to either exclude the HD by adding “720” to “not” on the filter, or exclude non-HD by filtering something that identifies those files. It asks for a password, but I just told Chrome to remember it and it hasn’t prompted me since the initial setup. It uses the same user/password as the SMB server, NMT/1234.

Adding torrents that are not RSS feeds, such as movies was quite easy. I went to isohunt.com, and found the torrent I wanted. But instead of clicking the torrent file and running it locally, right click it, copy address, open the torrent manager (you did bookmark it like it told you to right?), click open and paste the URL to the torrent. 

Having a Central location for all your apartment’s torrents not only saves power, but it also makes it easy for anyone on the network to throttle down/up the torrents. The web interface is very user friendly and runs smoothly, you can hardly tell it’s not an application. One thing was slightly annoying, you pick a download location for the files in the main settings, then when setting up the automatic downloads through RSS you have to save them in the default download location. It’s really not that bad It just takes getting used to. So my download location is /share/TV/ which is where anything I manually download goes, then when telling where to auto download each show you only put /Colbert Report. In addition it will never create the directory, you have to make sure it’s already there. It’s a speed bump but the end result is still automated downloading of all your TV into their respective folders. 

The remote is required for operation, which can sometimes be annoying if you happen have a drunk roommate who looses it. They should have put minimal controls on the unit. It has a number pad which is useful for entering text for things like youtube searches. No T9 support though, and to enter a space you have to press “0” twice, they really should have made “0” a space first and a number second. It’s got a caps/num lock, volume controls (it just changes the output volume, not your TV), and a full array of buttons you’d find on any DVD remote. Subtitles and multiple audio tracks are supported as well. It has a nice rubberized back and rests nicely in your hand with your thumb naturally positioned on the large directional pad with enter in the middle. 

I think that’s about it for now. The device is very open and has a large and active community found at networkedmediatank.com. It’s constantly being updated and there are many applications people have made for it. I’m sure there is still lots of features and possibilities I haven’t explored yet. Easily worth the money, and will probably pay for its self due to the power savings of not leaving our computers on to run our torrents.

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3 Comments »

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