It seems that every brand is coming out with their own media streamer, and, to their credit, things are getting better, with support for nearly every decent codec and media file out there. After doing our due diligence and research (and a recommendation from a friend), Gear Patrol decided to check out the Popcorn Hou A-110. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the product, the Popcorn Hour is designed to stream and plays all kinds of video and digital media from your PC, storage device, network or the Internet, directly to your TV or home entertainment system.
Instead of doing the initial testing it at home, I decided to get my first impressions of the unit on vacation. If there’s a better time when you need something to work straight out of the box, its when you’re heading to Puerto Rico on vacation during the rainy season. Not arming yourself with some “when it rains” entertainment weaponry is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Besides, you can only get some much sun and drink so many fruity umbrella drinks in one day… right?
Once at the hotel, I found setting up the Popcorn Hour A-110 a breath of fresh ocean air. A few thumb screws and the top panel popped right off. The Popcorn Hour A-110’s modular design allows you to choose the size of drive you want to install, in this case, a 500GB Western Digital 2.5″ hard drive preloaded with my favorite movies. With an HDMI cable things were good to go. Good to go, that is, except for the hotel TV settings, which are on lock down and force you to pay $5+ per movie. Fortunately, with some research (read: Google) I found a helpful article, that showed me how to solve the problem that only involved a universal remote.
The rest of my vacation? Soothing my sunburn in full 1080 bliss.
Once back to the states, I felt compelled to setup the A-110 as my primary media device, which has been used for the past last month. Basically, it’s what you always wished your PS3 could do, besides the occasional round of video games. Never once were there any issues with the device, and it played everything from MKV to VOB to file types you’ve probably never heard of. The user interface is simple, no fancy thumbnails or album artwork, but it is user friendly and effective (my preference). It’s also got HDMI 1.3, and DTS decoding – a big plus if you like HD audio to go with your home theater system.
One thing confusing though, is the on/off light. Crazy I know, but orange is on (why not blue?). Red is off, but not really, its actually standby. To turn it completely off, you have to either use the switch in the back or you can press power and delete on the remote. Problem there is you can’t turn it back on with the remote and are relegated to using the actual switch to turn it back on. A minor annoyance in an otherwise seamless user experience.
For speed junkies, know in advance that the Popcorn Hour also takes some time for the initial start up, and then to access different drives. While, it doesn’t take much longer than the time it takes your computer to start up and access an external hard drive, it is something you’ll notice if you prefer to completely shutdown the Popcorn Hour A-110 when not in use. Starting from standby is rapid, which most users will most likely keep the unit in when not in use.
While there are a few quirks, none are glaring weaknesses and once you become more familiar with the device, they go unnoticed. Bottom line, the Popcorn Hour A-110 flat out works and is a great device worth every penny. For media junkies it’s It’s easy to use and costs only a fraction of what it would take to build your own HTPC plus you won’t go bald pulling out your hair tweaking settings and installing drivers. It’ll be very exciting to what the recently announced C-200 holds brings to the table with its beefed up processor, RAM, and ability to add Blu Ray but in the meantime at its current price point you’ll be hard pressed to find something better for less.
Editor’s Note: Some users report issues with units overheating but I had no problems after running Ironman in 1080p on repeat for over 12 hours. Yes, I tried it.