A couple days ago I posted the unboxing of my just arrived Popcorn Hour C-200. So now the question is, does it live up to the hype? Going into this I tried to keep an open mind. I am an owner of Popcorn Hour’s A-110 and have had a mixed experience with it (device played everything I threw at it, had issues with firmware updates and eventually the NIC died on me with only minimal use). I realize that the C-200 is still for the more tech savvy person and being part of the first batch (also known as early adopters) there are probably going to be several bugs I will encounter along the way, but given the price tag and the hype I must admit that my expectations are high. For this review I decided to focus on getting the C-200 up and running as is out of the box. The only modification I will make is to add a Blu Ray ROM drive and USB Stick (necessary for BD Live features unless you also install an internal HDD). I plan on doing a separate review in the coming days testing out some of the popular jukebox add ins.
Before being able to start testing the unit I needed to do a few things. The first thing I did was pull out a Blu Ray / HD DVD Combo ROM drive from one of my HTPCs and installed into the C-200 ( I rarely used this drive in my HTPC). The process was very easy to do, and there is a great video on You Tube to walk you through this as long as you ignore the bug that kept flying through the field of view (reference to the video can be found in the “Links” section at the end of this post). The ROM drive does not perfectly fit in with the look of the C-200 but it is good enough for my taste.
Also, as I mentioned earlier since I wasn’t planning on installing an internal HDD I needed to install an internal USB thumb drive for use with BD Live. A minimum of 2GB of memory is needed, so I went with a 4GB HP USB drive I had lying around (I really think this is something Syabas should have provided). The following steps need to be followed to prepare the USB drive:
- Format a USB Stick with 2GB or more to fat32 or ext3
- create directories “bdj/ada” and “bdj/buda” (case sensitive) on the Stick
- plug in the USB device and it will be automatically mounted as PERSISTFS
- Now you can playback BD’s with BD-J and BD Live
EDIT (Oct 7) – I ended up getting an internal 2.5″ drive to replace the USB stick, see below picture:
With the BR ROM drive and USB drive installed, the final few steps I had to do was to update to the latest firmware and set up a network share via samba for testing. You can update to the latest firmware from the Setup menu in the C-200 but for whatever reason this was not working, so I had to do a manual firmware update (see “Links” section).
Setting up the samba share is very easy to do in the “Network Share” section of the Setup menu. It is not necessary as my MSS already has DLNA compliant UPnP media server software (PVConnect) which the C-200 can see, but PVConnect has a lot of limitations with the types of files it recognizes (such as mkv, Video_TS as a DVD, etc…).
With everything now set up I can focus on the areas that were most important to me while testing out the unit:
Not much has changed from the A-100/A-110 aside from the coloring. Although functional, I am not a big fan of the stock UI as it is just too outdated and has too much of a Windows Explorer feel to it. There are plugins such as YAMJ that can enhance the UI experience, but in my opinion it is time Syabas step up to the plate and create a stock UI that shows some thought/creativity was involved without requiring the consumer to search out plug ins. There was mention on the NMT forums that Syabas is working on obtaining a license for RichObjectBasedGraphics (possibly meaning Flash based?) which once obtained could lead to some changes/enhancements to the UI.
Sounds good on paper, but that is pretty much it. The contrast ratio is pretty bad so unless you are 6 inches away from the screen it is hard to read (even that close I had a hard time reading). I guess an LCD screen could be useful if you want to play back music without having to turn on the TV to navigate, but that is all that comes to mind. As far as I am concerned you already have a perfectly fine LCD screen to use, it is called the TV.
One gripe I had with the PCH A-110 was the poor responsiveness when navigating through the UI. I always felt like button strokes were constantly missed with the IR remote, and jumping from one item in a list to another was always delayed. I am happy to report that that with the new Sigma chip in the C-200 much of this poor responsiveness is now gone. I have been able to navigate through the list of my entire movie collection seamlessly with little if any delay. Also, Syabas opted to go with an black RF remote for the C-200. This may have helped resolve some of the responsiveness issues since line of sight was no longer required. The one potential issue with an RF remote being included is that many people use Universal Remotes to control their equipment via Infrared. To accommodate these people a separate IR Receiver/remote can be purchased for USD 12.00, yet I have no idea why the IR remote is not black (maybe they figure that if someone is going to get the IR kit they are only looking to use the IR receiver anyhow???).
Right now this is probably the single biggest bug many owners are dealing with, including myself. It appears there is an issue with the NIC of the C-200 negotiating over a gigE network, in particular when streaming via smb. For folks who have a gigE network the result is choppy/stuttering playback of high bit rate content, which pretty much means my entire HD collection. Some suggestions to temporarily fix the problem have been to throw a 10/100 router into the mix, change the MSS NIC setting to 100FULL, or change the streaming protocol being used. I prefer not to mess around with any network setting on my MSS, so instead I set up an HTTP stream using myiHome. Any stuttering I was getting over smb went away with myiHome. The main drawback to HTTP streaming is that you cannot play back correct DVD Structure folders (Video_TS, BDMV, BD ISO). For example, if you have a Video_TS folder HTTP streaming will just view this folder as a bunch of vob files that you can play back individually whereas smb recognizes the Video_TS folder as an actual DVD. Syabas is aware of this issue and hopefully it will be resolved in an upcoming Firmware update. About half of my video collection is in Video_TS so using myiHome is not the optimal solution.
This is probably one of the first things people ask when they hear about a new media player being announced, does it play x format in x container at x fps… One thing that the PCH A-110 was known for was the ability to play back almost anything thrown at it. I am happy to report that the same goes with the C-200. I tested different file types from my collection (ranging from basic xvid avi files to high bitrate Blu Ray mkv/ts to 1080p Apple Trailers) and not once did I have a problem with playback. There are also some good HD clips that frequently get asked to be tested, so I got hold of some of them and tested out, all passed with flying colors.
The key here for me was to see how the C-200 would handle HD Audio (such as DTS-MA and TrueHD) from my Blu Ray files. I connected the C-200 directly to my 5 year old Sony LCD TV via component. I was able to play back all my Blu Ray movies with sound which means that the C-200 was able to successfully downmix the HD audio tracks to stereo. This is a big plus for me as I will never buy another media player again that does not support HD audio downmix.
The next test was to see if the C-200 hooked up via HDMI to my Onkyo receiver would correctly bitstream HD audio, from both the Blu Ray ROM drive and from files stored on my MSS. I grabbed my Gran Turino Blu Ray disc, which has Dolby TrueHD audio, popped it into the C-200, and a few minutes later the Onkyo confirmed that TrueHD was being bitstreamed by the C-200.
Next I grabbed my Quantum Of Solace Blu Ray disc, which contains DTS-HD audio. Once again, the Onkyo confirmed that the C-200 was bitstreamining the DTS-HD audio directly to the receiver.
With Blu Ray discs out of the way, now was time to test out my mkv/ts Blu Ray rips stored on my MSS. Unfortunately the C-200 was unable to bitstream the HD audio from these files and instead only sent through the core audio. Syabas has acknowledged this issue and it is hopefully something that gets fixed in an upcoming firmware update.
I did confirm as well that the C-200 does not support multi channel FLAC currently.
DVD ROM Playback:
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I installed an LG Blu Ray/HD DVD combo ROM drive into the C-200. The first thing you need to do is set up the Region Code for both DVD and Blu Ray playback (refer to the links section on how to set up). With the Region Codes set up properly I tested out a few Blu Rays which played back with full access to the menus without any problems. I have read on the NMT forum of people having problems with audio dropouts, but I did not experience any of this. The one issue I had was when I exited from the Blu Ray movie back to the C-200 main menu the screen size would not refresh properly (as seen below) so I had to make some adjustments to get back to normal. This could be due to some setting that I need to set, but I haven’t had a chance to investigate further (issue only occurred on my TV connected via component).
Unfortunately all wasn’t rosy with the DVD ROM playback. When I tried to play back standard DVDs the ROM drive would think for a few seconds and then nothing would happen. If I attempted to do anything other then eject the DVD the C-200 would freeze and I would need to do a manual shutdown. I am not sure if this is a C-200 issue or if there is a problem with the ROM drive, I hope to do a few more tests to draw a better conclusion on where the problem lies.
To add to the confusion, there is no official list of what ROM drives are compatible with the C-200. This is something I believe Syabas should have worked out prior to releasing the C-200 and not left up to the consumer to do the dirty work.
I only spent a few minutes in this section. I tested out a few You Tube videos as well as some of the other sites. Everything worked as expected. Netflix and Hulu is missing which is a bummer but not unexpected. There was a hint on the NMT forums that once RichObjectBasedGraphics was implemented this could eventually lead to Netflix, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I took advantage of the 50% off on Media Mall’s PlayOn but have read that PlayON isn’t working well with the C-200 so I will probably hold out a little longer before actually testing.
I have had the C-200 for about a week now and have mixed feelings. On the one hand I can see a lot of potential with the new Sigma chip and the integration of a Blu Ray ROM drive. On the other hand there are still bugs to be worked out, some more serious than others. The stock UI needs to be dumped already in place of a much more feature rich UI. There is also a sense that the C-200 was rushed to the market a little earlier than it should have been (case in point the lack of a compatible DVD ROM list). Being in the first batch I am considered an early adopter, so I am comfortable with the fact that I may have to deal with some growing pains as the product matures. However, as Popcorn Hour products grow in popularity I have a feeling that more and more consumers are not going to accept this and will expect a polished product upon release. Also, in the long run it will be interesting to see how the C-200 fairs as the competition at this price point (assuming USD 400+ with BR Rom drive) now includes very capable HTPCs. Overall I am glad I made this purchase and am very interested to see where this goes, but I would recommend that most people hold off on purchasing the C-200 until it has a chance to mature and work out the kinks.
- Latest Firmware Update
- Installing 3.5″ HDD or Rom Drive/2,5″ HDD – Part 1 / Part 2
- Setting up region code
- Audio Settings per Receiver
- C-200 FAQ
- Issues with Gigabit streaming.
- Issues bitstreaming HD audio from streamed/local files.