Review: Popbox V8

by Damian on October 5, 2011 · 13 comments

in Reviews

About 1 month again at IFA 2011 Syabas announced the Popbox V8, their latest entry into the media player market. Syabas was nice enough to send me a review unit, so let’s take a look at what the Popbox V8 has to offer and see if it can have a more successful launch then the original Popbox.

Specifications:

Price: EUR 139 (available at the following retailers)

Hardware
  • Sigma Designs SMP8671, 700MHz CPU
  • 256MB DDR2 DRAM
  • C256MB NAND Flash
Audio/Video Output
  • HDMI v1.3a (1080p/1080i/720p)
    12-bit xvYCC processing and HDCP 1.2 content protection
  • Component Video
  • Composite Video
  • Stereo Analog Audio
  • S/PDIF Optical Digital Audio
Networking & Connectivity
  • Ethernet 10/100
  • Optional 801.11 N/B/G Wi-Fi
  • UPnP
  • Samba
  • NFS
  • Bonjour
Other Interfaces
  • 1 x USB 2.0 port at the front
  • 1 x USB 2.0 port at the back
  • Power LED
  • Infra-Red Remote Control
DVD / Blu-Ray Formats
  • DVD ISO & IFO navigation
  • Blu-ray ISO & IFO Simple Navigation
Video File Containers
  • MPEG1/2/4 Elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V)
  • MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG, DAT, VOB)
  • MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS)
  • AVI, ASF, WMV
  • Matroska (MKV)
  • MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4
Video Codecs
  • XVID SD/HD
  • MPEG-1
  • MPEG-2 MP@HL
  • MPEG-4.2 ASP@L5,
    720p, 1-point GMC
  • MPEG-4.10 (H.264)
    BP@L3
    MP@L4.0
    HP@L4.0
    HP@L4.1
  • WMV9
    MP@HL
  • SMPTE 421M (VC-1)
    MP@HL
  • AP@L3
Audio File Containers
  • AAC
  • M4A
  • MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA)
  • WAV
  • WMA
  • FLAC
  • OGG
  • APE
  • TTA
Audio Decoders
  • Dolby Digital
  • DTS
  • WMA
  • WMA Pro
  • MPEG-1 Layer 1, 2, 3
  • MPEG-4 AAC-LC
  • MPEG-4 HE-AAC
  • MPEG-4 BSAC
  • LPCM
  • FLAC
  • Vorbis
Audio Pass-Through
  • TS
  • DTS-HD HR
  • DTS-HD MA
  • Dolby Digital
  • Dolby Digital Plus
  • Dolby True HD
Subtitle Support
  • SRT
  • MicroDVD SUB
  • SSA
  • SUB/IDX
Content Security
  • HDCP 1.2
  • CGMS-A
  • WMDRM
Photo formats
  • JPEG
  • BMP
  • PNG
  • GIF

*12,000 x 8,000 maximum resolution supported

Hardware:

In the Box
  • 1x PopBox V8 Full HD Media Streamer
  • 1x IR Remote Control
  • 2x AAA Batteries
  • 1x 5v DC 2A Adapter
  • 1x HDMI Cable (1.5m)
  • 1x Component Break Out Cable
  • 1x Composite Break Out Cable
Height and Weight:
  • 128mm (W) x 30.5mm (H) x 100mm (L)
  • 250g

The front of the Popbox V8 is fairly basic. To the left is a USB 2.0 port. To the right is the power LED and  reset button.

The back of the Popbox V8  includes 1 USB 2.0 port, Ethernet 10/100 port, HDMI, Optical, Composite, and Component output (using the provided breakout cable).

There is no power brick, just a 5v DC Adapter. One thing to keep in mind though is that the Popbox V8 ships with only an EU plug. Fortunately the power plug from the original Popbox works with the Popbox V8 so I was able to use that. Otherwise if using in the U.S you would need to buy an adapter (although if Syabas eventually brings the Popbox V8 to the U.S I would expect this would be taken care of).

Here is a picture comparing the Popbox V8 to the original Popbox.

As you look at the Popbox V8 case you may be thinking to yourself, where have I seen this before? Well, if you go back to my SageTV HD300 review you will notice that the HD300 and Popbox V8 share the same chassis. This is a great little design that packs a punch in a small package. The size means you can place the Popbox V8 virtually anywhere, although you may want to be careful since it is fanless it is silent and you may have a hard time finding! Currently though the Popbox V8 does not support an IR extender similar to what the HD300 had which is a shame since the size just screams “Mount me on the back of a TV”. Hopefully this is something that can be added in the future via a driver update.

UI Appearance:

The Popbox V8 goes with a very simple and clean interface, with a horizontal toolbar displayed to access the various Popbox V8 functions. The available options from the main menu are “Apps Market”, “Settings”, “Setup Wizard”, “Network Browser”, and “USB Attached Drives”. In the upper right hand corner is a Weather/Time widget.

The settings are laid out in a clear manner and there is a “Setup Wizard” tool available to help with networking if needed. However, settings are boring, so let’s get to the good stuff and most likely what is on your mind, the UI for media navigation and playback. The best way to describe the Popbox V8 UI for media is a sort of hybrid jukebox that combines a basic file browser with the inclusion of metadata/fanart. Let’s take a closer look at what is offered.

All local media can be accessed via the network browser. The easiest thing to do if set up your shares (assuming your media is stored on your network) so you don’t have to dig through the network browser each time. As you can see below I set up a share for my Videos, Music, and Photos.

Once you enter a share you navigate around through a typical file browser view. If there is a folder.jpg present (and you have thumbnail view enabled) you will see jpg displayed to the left of the highlighted folder.


My video library is made up of a combination of folder rips (DVDs and Blu-rays), mkvs, m4vs, avis, etc… with each movie in its own folder. As with the screenshot above if folder.jpg is present you will see the coverart for each respective movie displayed

Once a movie or TV show episode is selected, hitting the “Info” button will bring up metadata/artwork for the selected title. There are a couple of things that go on here. First thing the Popbox V8 will do is look to see if there is supported local metadata/artwork (nfo, moviename.jpg, and moviename.fanart.jpg). If present the Popbox V8 will display this information. If not present then the Popbox V8 will do its best to pull in the correct information from TMDB or TVDB. The first screenshot is for a movie and the second screenshot is for a TV Show episode.

With my setup where each movie is in its own folder and is a mix of folder rips and standalone files, using the Info function can be inconsistent. When highlighting a folder rip the Info button is enabled and when pressed will bring up the movie metadata/art. However, when then highlighting a folder with a standalone file in it, the Info button is not enabled. Instead you need to enter the folder and highlight the actual file to get the Info functionality. Of course how this works will depend on how each user sets up their library.

Once in the Information screen there are a couple things that can be done. First off, if the incorrect metadata/artwork is pulled in, you can edit it by clicking on the edit icon (looks like a pencil). When you do this a screen appears where you enter in the name of the movie and can do a search to find the correct information:

Once selected you can download the correct metadata/artwork to be used. However, there is one caveat to this. When browsing my shared I do so via a guest account where I have restricted access, including no write access. With these restrictions you will not be able to download metadata/artwork as the Popbox V8 will be unable to write to the shares. This is not a big deal for me since I manage my metadata/artwork locally on my PC, but I thought it worth mentioning if you should encounter the below error message.

One other unique feature is the ability to download subtitles from opensubtitles.org. Once again though, in order to use this feature you will need to have write access to where your media is stored.

When it comes to playback there are a few different information screens you can access. During playback hitting the Info button will bring up information on the file being played back, such as the audio and video codec, timeline, fps, and resolution.

For Blu-ray folder rips a BD-Lite menu will appear that will allow you to change subtitles, audio tracks, scenes, and titles. The titles in particular are handy for those people who rip their Blu-rays as full discs as this allows an easy way to navigate to the various additional features on the disc.

You may notice that I didn’t go into music or photos. Well, like many media players on the market music and photo playback typically takes a back seat to video playback, and with the Popbox V8 this is no different. Navigation is done through the file browser with limited flexibility and broken/confusing controls. Hopefully this is something that can either be enhanced in the future either via the native Popbox V8 UI or through a 3rd party App.

Overall the UI on the Popbox V8 is a nice step up from the stock UI seen in so many media players. The  metadata/art display and retrieval is a nice addition, especially for someone who would like to create/maintain a jukebox feel without the need for managing on a PC. For someone like myself who is used to using a more feature rich video jukebox this hybrid jukebox doesn’t quite fit my needs. However, I always view it as the more choices a user has the better.

Responsiveness/Remote Control:

Navigating around the UI on the Popbox V8 was noticeably quicker then the previous generation Sigma players. This can especially be seen when navigating through the file browser.

The remote control is IR based which means direct line of sight is needed. As long as the line of sight is maintained I noticed no issues with dropped commands or needing multiple clicks. However, and as I mentioned in the hardware section, it would be great if support was added for a USB IR Receiver/Extender.

Network Performance:

For anyone who plans on streaming their local media to the Popbox V8, network performance is always a top priority. The Popbox V8 is not gigE but instead 10/100. For file playback this is perfectly fine. The Popbox V8 was able to automatically recognize both smb and nfs set up on my Windows Home Server. Using the infamous “bird scene” from Planet Earth I was able to play back without issue the 60 Mbps clip via smb and the 90 Mbps clip via nfs. I had no issues accessing any of my network shares and did not encounter any issues playing back some of my favorite high bitrate scenes (such as the opening scene of Quantum Of Solace).

Audio/Video Playback:

I tested playback using the latest PopboxV8 beta firmware at the time of this post, and below are the results:

  • mkv w/ chapters – (PASS)
  • mkv w/ 480p internal IDX/SUB subtitles  (PASS)
  • mkv w/multiple SSA subtitles (PASS)
  • mkv w/ internal PGS subtitles (PASS)
  • HD Audio downmix to stereo (PASS)
  • mkv w/ forced subtitles –  (PASS)
  • mkv/(m2)ts with DTS(MA) – bitstreamed without issue (PASS)
  • mkv/(m2)ts with TrueHD Audio Track – bitstreamed without issue (PASS)
  • mkv/(m2)ts with Dolby Digital Plus – bitstreamed without issue (PASS)
  • mkv w/ VC-1 encoded video – played without issue (PASS)
  • Forced Subtitles in a BluRay Structure – forced subtitles (using District 9) did not automatically display (FAIL)
  • BluRay ISO (main movie only) – played without issue (PASS)
  • BluRay Folder (entire disc) – played movie, only main movie with bd lite menu support (PASS). However, if the BluRay is a seamless branch (i.e. the main movie is broken up into multiple files) playback issues were encountered (FAIL)
  • DVD ISO and/or Folder Structure – played with full menus (PASS)
  • 1080p quicktime (.mov) trailer – played without issue (PASS)
  • avi/mpeg/m4v clips – played without issue (PASS)
  • mkv w/ FLAC – played w/ multi channel PCM (PASS)
  • mkv w/ header compression – played without issue (PASS)
  • 3D SBS mkv – played with autoswitch (PASS)

As expected the Popbox V8 handled nearly every file I threw at it. There does appear to be some issues with bd lite that resulted in some playback issues (such as stuttering while switching titles, forced subtitles not being displayed, and also stuttering with seamless branch Blu-rays). I also did encounter an occasional hiccup during playback, but nothing that I could consistently reproduce, and overall playback was solid for a variety of different media. With PGS subtitles in mkvs a few people mentioned that with the current PCH players there were issues where the PGS subtitles would linger on after the scene was over. I did a brief test and did not notice  this with the Popbox V8. However, this was only one quick test, and to be honest I rarely use subtitles.

Third Party Jukebox:

One option I always like to have available with media players is access to 3rd party jukeboxes. Fortunately, thanks to the hard work of Accident, YAMJ/Eversion is available via the App Market (you can find more information on Eversion, a flash lite based YAMJ jukebox, here). Installing YAMJ was as simple as selecting the App in the App Market, and of course the assumption is you already have YAMJ set up on your server/PC/NAS. Below are a couple of screenshots of Eversion displayed on the Popbox V8:

What is nice about having a 3rd party jukebox like Eversion is that it gives you the ability to manage your jukebox remotely (important for me) and you can get a consistent UI across any media player that supports (I believe right now Popbox and PCH are the only media players supported). Hopefully we will see development of a music and photo app down the road to compliment Eversion.

Online Content:

One feature of the Popbox V8 is the App market. This is an area where the user can install free and premium content. Of course one of the first questions asked is “Does it have Netflix”, and the answer is No. As currently the Popbox V8 is not targeted at the U.S. market obviously Netflix becomes a lot less important. The focus instead is bringing on premium content from the European markets, and I am sure if Syabas gets to the position where they can also bring in premium U.S. content then you would see the V8 make its way to the U.S markets. You can find a list of current content partners here.

From the main menu you can access the App Market which will bring up a list of all available apps (or you can filter based on a variety of categories). Simply scroll through, choose the App you are interested, and click on it to begin the install process. Once done all installed Apps will appear under the “My Apps” selection. There is also a Login section where you can create a username for future purchased Apps.

For owners of the PCH 200 series, you are probably already aware of the App Market as it is available on those devices as well. The big difference is that the App Market for the Popbox V8 will also support premium content, whereas the PCH 200 series App market will not.

I tested a few of the Apps and overall they provide a very clean and straightforward UI, as you can see below with the Revision3 App.

Once a video is selected for playback, it automatically launches into full screen mode. Of course the type of content will determine the picture quality, but from a few clips I tested the quality was very good.

Overall, the Popbox V8 does a very nice job aggregating a variety of online sources into a visually and user friendly interface.  If Syabas can continue to bring in developers and premium content, then the App Market could be a very focal point of the Popbox V8, especially for users who are looking for more then just a local playback machine.

Final Thoughts:

Given the rocky road that the original Popbox encountered at first release I wasn’t sure what to expect with the V8. I am happy to report that for the most part the Popbox V8 met or exceeded my expectations. As is typical with new players there are still some bugs to be worked out, but nothing that I came across during my testing that I would consider a deal breaker.

A question may come up about why choose a Popbox V8 over the PCH series of players. Well, there are a variety of factors that can help with a decision. The Popbox V8 is probably better suited for someone who is more conscious about cost or who is looking for access to premium content understanding that this will come at the expense of a locked down system, no internal hard drive capabilities, etc… Given the size of the Popbox V8 combined with a portable USB drive, it could make a great portable jukebox. I don’t consider the Popbox V8 as a replacement to the PCH series or vice versa, but instead just an addition to the product line for consumers to choose what fits better their needs.

Also, regarding availability, as mentioned earlier the Popbox V8 is currently not offered in the U.S market. You could still purchase it from an oversees vendor, but given the exchange rate it would most likely come out to USD 200+ and at that price point not really worth it. Syabas has mentioned that they will monitoring the success of the Popbox V8 in determining whether to bring it to the U.S, and I would think getting premium U.S content would be a big driving force to U.S availability.

You have probably seen a few mentions about the original Popbox. I am still debating whether I do a review on it for a little side by side comparison to the Popbox V8. I will give it some thought if I think it will add value (the main reason being the original Popbox is available in the U.S, but in many respects the feature-set is different from the Popbox V8).

Once again a big thanks to Syabas for providing the Popbox V8 for review.





Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 11 comments }

Brajesh October 5, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Great review as usual Damian!

Syabas, please bring this to the U.S. ASAP at v1′s price-point! I don’t care about Netflix and premium Internet apps. Hard to top Roku on all that anyway.

lcw October 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm

60 MB/s = 60 megabytes per second = 480 megabits per second. That is not possible on 100 megabit ethernet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_rate_units

Damian October 9, 2011 at 5:16 am

Typo, should be Mbps, not MB/s

Karl February 21, 2012 at 6:20 am

Hi Damian,

Thanks for you review. I just got my V8.

Even though my external, USB-connected HDD has read + write permissions, I still get an error message saying

“Operations failed. File system is read only”

every time I try to download poster art etc.

Is this in any way related to what you wrote? I.e. “When browsing my shared I do so via a guest account where I have restricted access, including no write access. With these restrictions you will not be able to download metadata/artwork as the Popbox V8 will be unable to write to the shares.”

Did you try to download poster art to your HDD connected by USB?

Damian February 21, 2012 at 8:31 am

Hi Karl,

The issue I was talking about was a setting specific to my server (i.e. the guest account I set up on my server only allowed for read only access). On my PCH A300 (which should function the same as the V8), I had attached a USB Thumb Drive and had no issues downloading to. Possibly try connecting your External Drive to your PC and via windows explorer see if some sort of read only access is set up. Also, check to see if there is any pre installed software possibly on that drive that may be causing the conflict.

Karl February 23, 2012 at 2:56 am

Thanks for your prompt feedback, Damian. I figured out the problem: The HDD must be formatted in a Windows format (e.g. FAT32 or NTFS) to enable Popbox to write to it (I use Macs exclusively).

However, I have another and much bigger problem – and yes, I have installed the latest firmware and spent hours on Google :) Popbox doesn’t load my external USB-connected HDD consistently. I have three partitions on it, and sometimes the player loads all three, while sometimes it loads just one of them (which one it loads, varies). Sometimes their names appear correctly under Local Media (e.g. “Backup” and “Movies”), but I’ve also seen “USB_DRIVE_A-1″ and “USB_DRIVE_A-2″. Now and then Popbox removes the HDD for no apparent reason, which obviously is a problem when watching movies etc. I have tried another USB HDD with only one partition, and some of the same problems still remain.

I’ve tried to disconnect the HDD and reconnect it, but the Popbox rarely manages to load the HDD correctly. Disconnecting and reconnecting the power cord on the Popbox doesn’t help much either (simply turning it off and on with the remote doesn’t do anything of course, since it’s not actually turned off).

The Popbox seems rather unstable and the problems are not consistent. I just wanted to watch the movies I have stored on my external HDD connected via USB, but it seems the Popbox can’t handle that. I had no problems with my old Popcorn Hour (A-110), but it died on me a few weeks ago, so I decided to try the Popbox.

I might try to post more questions on some of the user forums. I guess this is not the place to discuss bugs and problems. Sorry for this long message and for my poor English …

Damian March 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Hi Karl,

Definitely make sure you post your issue on the Popbox forum and even call their customer support to ensure that the problem gets logged (although I would expect that you are not the only one experiencing this issue)

awakened May 17, 2012 at 3:29 am

Hello there,

Thank you for this review. I´m thinking of getting V8 and have a question. Could you please tell me, if it is possible to stream audio from NAS server to V8? Cannot find anything on this. Also I would like to know, if V8 handles stylized *.ASS subtitles properly, mainly fonts and position, I don´t care about karaoke effects etc. Thanks a lot.

Damian June 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Sorry, I somehow missed this. Did you get this answered? I only tested .ASS subtitles in an mkv and the v8 displayed properly

Ben June 12, 2012 at 12:16 am

Is it true that the Popbox only output 720p using Component cable? I read this in the supplied user manual. I want to know if it does 1080i over compononent. I have an older HDTV without HDMI.

Thanks.

Damian June 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hmmm…. Honestly not sure since I only connect with HDMI anymore. If it says in the manual I would assume true (you could ask on the Popbox forum as an admin over there should be able to give a better confirmation then my guess)

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

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