Review: Popcorn Hour A-300

by Damian on December 20, 2011 · 75 comments

in Reviews

It has been over 2 years since I reviewed the Popcorn Hour C-200 (boy how time flies), followed shortly afterwards by the Popcorn Hour A-200. The successor to the 200 series (namely the 300 series) has just been released, with the A-300 hitting first (slightly different from the 200 release where the higher model C-200 hit first). I have been using the PCH A-300 for over three weeks, so let’s take a closer look at to see what’s in store.

Specifications:

Price: USD 219 (available here)

Connectivity

  • Bonjour,UPnP SSDP, UPnP AV, Windows Media Connect, Windows Media Player NSS, Samba,NFS
  • Media Servers: myiHomeLite, myiHomeMS (UPnP)
  • Third-Party Jukebox: Eversion/YAMJUMC
  • BitTorrent P2P, Usenet downloader
  • NAS Access : SMB, NFS, FTP

Supported Media File Formats

  • Video 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 Decoders: 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 Containers: AAC, M4A,MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA),WAV,WMA,FLAC,OGG
  • 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,TrueAudio,APE Audio
  • Audio Pass-Through: DTS, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD MA,Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD
  • Other Formats: ISO, IFO navigation,AVCHD navigation,Simple BD navigation
  • Photo Formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
  • Subtitle Formats: Opensubtitle support, SRT, MicroDVD SUB, SSA, SUB/IDX

DRM

  • Cardea DRM (WMDRM-ND),Janus DRM (WMDRM-PD)

Chipset

  • Sigma Designs SMP8647 800MHz with L2 Cache.

Memory

  • 512MB DDR2 DRAM, 256MB NAND Flash

Audio/Video Outputs

  • HDMI v1.3a, YPbPr, CVBS, Stereo Audio/PDIF, Digital Optical

Other Interface

  • Power LED and Attention LED, 1x USB 2.0 Host Front and Back, 1 x USB 3.0 Slave, Internal mounting for 2.5″ or 3.5″ SATA HDD, Infra-Red Remote Control, Full power down, standby and power up by remote control, Service pin hole for TV Mode switching and shutting down without remote control.

Network

  • Ethernet 10/100/1000 Mbps

Power

  • 12V DC, 3A Max

Dimension

  • Width x Depth x Height : 265mm x 135mm x 45mm (10.4″ x 5.31″ x 1.77″)

Weight

  • 1Kg (2.2 lbs)
  • High Quality Vented Aluminum Case, Fanless Operation

Package Content

  • Popcorn Hour A-300 (HDD not included),IEC 60320 C13 power cord, 12V 3A AC-DC Adaptor, 1.5M length HDMI cable, USB cable,IR Remote Control with 2 “AAA” batteries,Screws for 2.5″ / 3.5″ HDD, Quick start guide,Installation Guide,There is 2 USB cables, one is a short cable for USB extension purpose, one is a USB slave cable.

Warranty

  • 12 Months


Hardware:

The box, what else can I say :)

At the front of the box you will find the IR LED and USB 2.0 port

If you look to the sides you will see vents have been cut out to allow for airflow (important note, the A300 is fanless)

To the back you will see your usual array of inputs and outputs.

Here is a picture of all the goods, which includes a cat5e cable, HDMI cable, remote control w/ batteries, and power brick.

The A-300 can house an internal harddrive (2.5in or 3.5in). This can be done by removing the tray from underneath.

The tray slides out and allows you to install the internal drive before placing in the A-300.

The A-300 feels solid in the hand, most likely due to the aluminum casing. During operation the case would get warm but not hot to the touch (note, I did not test with an internal drive). Of course the case is a big step up from the horrid plastic case and fan that came with the A-200 (and the reason why I had to go with a case mod). Otherwise the only other significant difference between the A-200 and A-300 is the A-300 is running the SMP8647 800MHz with L2 Cache (versus the SMP8643, 667MHz CPU in the A-200). This is not a major upgrade but should allow for a snappier experience navigating around the UI. Also, the A-300 comes with one USB 3.0 slave for connecting the A-300 to a PC for file transfers.

UI Appearance:

The UI of the PCH A-300 has undergone a significant change/upgrade from the 200 series. What has changed you ask? Well, let’s dig a little deeper to see what we find.

The first thing you will notice is that main home screen now consists of several horizontal icons (as opposed to that circular type menu in the 200 series). The available icons are “Apps Market”, “Settings”, “Setup Wizard”, “Network Browser”, and “USB Attached Drives”. In the upper right hand corner is a Weather/Time widget.  If the home screen looks familiar, it is most likely because you saw a very similar screen when you read my Popbox v8 review (there are a few other traits that both the Popbox v8 and PCH A-300 share which I will discuss shortly).

Going into the “Settings” screen are your typical options for adjusting your audio, video, and network settings. Nothing too exciting so I won’t be spending anymore time there :)

When it comes to viewing your local content, the A-300 comes equipped with two “jukeboxes”. The first uses the same “hybrid” jukebox that the Popbox v8 uses, and  the second is a more feature rich jukebox called NMJ (Networked Media Jukebox). I will discuss the latter shortly, but for now let’s take a quick look at the “hybrid” jukebox.

The reason why I call it a “hybrid” jukebox is because some of the attributes are similar in feature  to a standard jukebox (such as metadata/art) but some of the more advanced features (such as grouping across multiple shares/folders, advanced sorting, etc…) are not present. Accessing the hybrid jukebox is as simple as browsing your local content in file mode.

Where it gets tricky though is if you have a mixed structure. For example, in my Movies folder each movie is in its own folder. However, some movies are standalone files (such as mkv) whereas other movies are folder rips. For the folders with standalone files the A-300 will display cover if present ( i.e. folder.jpg). However, for a folder rip you will just see a generic icon as pictured below.

In order to pull up the metadata/art of a movie simply press the Info button (the caveat here is that for folder rips you simply press the info button when the folder is selected, whereas with standalone files you need to actually dig down and select the file before pressing the info button).

One nice feature is that if the wrong art or metadata is displayed, you can edit it by initiating a search for the correct movie. Note that in order for this to be done you must have write access to the share where the movie is located.

Another interesting feature is for those who use subtitles, you can actually download subtitles for any movie in question (in cooperation with opensubtitles.org)

Aside from the UI, it is worth pointing out that when it comes to playing back Blu-ray folder rips the PCH A-300 comes with the option to play back in either BDLite mode or Full Disc mode (some sort of attached storage is required). In BDLite mode (SimpleBD) the movie begins immediately (or at least whatever the longest playlist is will start). A menu bar can be accessed if you want to switch scenes, titles, audio, and subtitles. However, when looking to switch scenes or titles you will only see a generic timecode or chapter number and not full descriptions (so it may be a bit of a guessing game).

In Full BD menu mode (Full navigation)  the Blu-ray rip (assuming it is a full disc rip) will play just as if you were playing from a Blu-ray player, with full access to the menus, trailers, features, etc…

Overall I have found the UI of the PCH A-300 to be improved over the 200 series. Much of the navigation is similar to the 200 series, but the removal of that main menu wheel in place of a horizontal menu along with some of the other nice touches like the hybrid jukebox make for a better experience. As I mentioned earlier, there is also the Networked Media Jukebox (NMJ) to take into account, and I will discuss that shortly.

Responsiveness/Remote Control:

The remote control is IR based which means direct line of sight is needed. The layout is exactly what you would expect from a PCH remote, and being backlit is always a positive.  I found the A-300 to be very responsive to the remote and didn’t find myself having to click multiple times just to send a command over.

As far as navigating around, this is the one advantage the 300 series with the newer Sigma chip has over the 200 series. Navigating around is noticeably faster. Not lightning fast, but an improvement. It was much quicker to scroll through the file browser, although I did find that when scrolling through a list the A-300 would pause/load for a few seconds after going through around 8-10 items (so it wasn’t completely fluid).

Network Performance:

The PCH A-300 has a gigE NIC. The 200 series were also advertised as gigE but I believe there was an issue where for many people gigE did not work, or it did not live up to anywhere near expectations of what file transfer speeds should be. Although from reading around on the forums it appears transfer speeds on the A-300 has improved, it appears that true gigE speeds is still not achieved. When it comes to video playback this is irrelevant and really should only matter for those who are transferring files to/from their A-300 over the network (I did not have a spare hard drive to test this). The PCH A-300 was able to 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 70 Mbps clip via smb and the 100 Mbps clip via nfs. I also did not encounter any issues accessing my network shares.

Audio/Video Playback:

I tested playback using the latest PCH A300 public firmware at the time of this post (7-Dec-2011), 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 – DTS(MA) (PASS) / TrueHD (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 – (PASS/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) or full menus (PASS/FAIL)*. However, if the BluRay is a seamless branch (i.e. the main movie is broken up into multiple files) playback issues were encountered (PASS/FAIL)*
  • DVD ISO and/or Folder Structure – played with full menus (PASS)
  • 1080p quicktime (.mov) trailer – played without issue (PASS)
  • 1080p WMV w/ WMAPro Audio – (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)
  • 1080p60 mkvs- played without issue (PASS)
  • L5.1 mkvs – played without issue (PASS)
  • 16 Reference Frame mkvs – - played without issue (PASS)

As you can see, the A300 played just about everything I threw at it, and in most cases playback was flawless. However, I did run into several issues that weren’t show stoppers, but were bugs at the time of my review:

1) Audio issues with HD Audio – I tried playing back my Star Wars main movie Blu-ray rips, and as soon as the opening sequence starts I would get some horrible crackling/audio distortion (this is from downmixing HD audio to stereo). As soon as I switched to the secondary AC3 track the crackling went away. Many of my other movies did not have this issue, but it is an issue nonetheless, and I believe Syabas has confirmed as well.

2) As I was testing out various movies I would randomly get an error message “10353 could not play”, and playback would not work. I would either have to restart the A300 or switch playback modes.

3) I use Toy Story 3 as my seamless branch test. When I tried playback in SimpleBD mode I had a lot of issues with the audio, getting similar crackling noises. I switched to the AC3 track and then crackling went away, but then it appears when the movie moved on to the next m2ts it switched the audio track back to the Original HD Audio track (with the crackling). When I switched from BDLite to Full Disc mode the issue went away.

4) I don’t have too many full disc rips, but I switched to full disc mode and played back a couple of test files (District 9 and Disney WOW). With District 9 it would just get caught in a loop during the opening trailers. With Disney WOW once I got to the main menu everything would go into extreme slow mode

5) I encountered issues with Forced Subtitles being displayed for my Avatar 3D Blu-ray disc (the 2D version is on the same disc). When in Full Navigation mode the full English subtitles would appear (not just the forced). If I switched the subtitles to off then the French forced subs would appear. If I then switched back to the English subtitle track at this point only the English subtitles appear. When I played back in SimpleBD mode I could not get the forced subtitles only to appear, and even worse whenever subtitles would come on the screen the entire picture would go black with the exception of the subtitles which would appear encased in a yellow box.

6) On various occasions I would lose audio altogether, requiring a reboot of the A-300

So overall the A-300 did a great job at playing nearly everything I threw at it. Downmix of TrueHD works which is something that was missing in the 200 series. The A-300 is not without bugs though, and although not showstoppers, hopefully something that gets addressed in a firmware update relatively quick.

Networked Media Jukebox:

One feature of the PCH A-300 is access to an internal jukebox called NMJ (Networked Media Jukebox). Instead of having to rely on a third party jukebox which requires maintenance on a separate PC, you can use NMJ to manage your jukebox directly from the PCH. After creating your media shares you simply highlight and choose the “J” option which will begin the NMJ process. As you can see below a message appears warning you that this process can take a while, all depending on the size of your library.

When you start up the Jukebox manager you will have the option to either have the entire folder you selected scanned, or filter down what folders are scanned.

Once the scan is complete you should hopefully now have a pleasant looking jukebox waiting for your.

From here you will have 3 different views available, Category (pictured above), Wall (pictured directly below), and List (the second picture below)

Selecting a movie will bring up a synopsis and additional information

From within the jukebox you can further filter your video collection by categories such as Genre, Movie and TV Series.

Here is a view for TV Series as well as episode view

NMJ doesn’t just apply to videos but it also applies to music and photos. The concept and views is nearly the same, so instead of going into more detail here are a few more screenshots.

NMJ is a step in the right direction, especially since I have always been overly critical of media players focusing little to no attention on the UI. To be honest NMJ is not really my cup of tea as I find trying to manage a jukebox on a media player via a remote very cumbersome (even though there are tools to help manage from a PC) and at times navigating around to be a little sluggish , but for someone who doesn’t want to deal with a secondary PC to manage this may be ideal. The process of editing movie information/artwork is the same as with the “hybrid” jukebox, although I did notice that for my Blu-ray folder rips no poster or backdrop was showing (and when I tried to update/edit via NMJ) I would get a message that two of the three processed failed (i.e. getting the metadata worked but poster/fanart failed). I tested this on a standalone mkv and in this case had no issues, so I am assuming this is a bug related to how NMJ interacts with Blu-ray rips.

Third Party Jukebox:

The first item worth mentioning, and a big difference from the 100 and 200 series, is that the 300 series no longer supports HTML jukeboxes (such as the Aeon jukebox I wrote about a few years ago). Instead you will need to use a Flash based jukebox such as YAMJ/Eversion (my fave), the brainchild of Omertron via YAMJ and Accident via Eversion, or UMC. Installing YAMJ was a piece of cake on the A-300, simply go to the App store, download, and install. Once installed, launch it (and assuming you actually have YAMJ/Eversion set up on your server/PC) Eversion should appear.

I have talked plenty of Eversion/YAMJ in the past so no need to go into further details. Here are a few more screenshots for your viewing enjoyment.

One of the benefits of the A-300 over the 200 series is that Eversion does run quicker due to the newer Sigma. It is not quote up to HTPC standards by any means, but it is a nice upgrade nonetheless. I have never tried UMC so I cannot comment on, but the ability to add a third party jukebox can only be seen as a benefit as it gives the user more options on how they want to view and manage their library. Right now the third party jukeboxes are strictly for videos, but hopefully down the road we will see some local music and photos jukebox apps emerge as well.

Online Content

Next up is the App market. Before I dive into this, let’s get this out in the open first. There is no Netflix, there is no Hulu, there is no Vudu, there is no Amazon on demand. For many U.S. Customers that is usually one of the first things asked when talking about the online experience of a media player. I don’t know whether it is a possibility that any of these services will be added down the road, so the best bet for anyone interested in the PCH A-300 is to assume that none of these services will be added, and if they are later on consider it a pleasant surprise.

The App store experience should be nearly identical that that of the 200 series and Popbox v8. You can choose from over 60 free and premium apps (typical ones being Youtube, Shoutcast, YAMJ, Revision3, etc…). Installation takes merely seconds to do, and the layout is very clear/concise.

Once an App is installed it will show under your “My Apps” section. Simply click on an App to launch and away you go.

Of course one of my favorite Apps to test out is Revision3, and sure enough I had no issues accessing HDNation, with a very easy to navigate UI.

The App market is a nice addition to the PCH. Premium content for the U.S market is missing, but there are plenty of apps to choose from if you are looking to kill a little time. Right now it appears that most of the premium content is geared towards the European market (such as Kartina.tv and OnlineTVRecorder.com). There have been some interesting Apps just added such as Youtube Leanback (I think my boys will get a quick out of this since they are always on Youtube watching Thomas the Tank videos). This is an area where if Syabas can grow and bring on board more premium content could be a big selling point for the PCH series.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I feel that Syabas has done a solid job with the PCH A-300.  If you recall from my 200 series reviews, it was a bit of a disaster at first launch, with bugs that simply made the players unusable. Although the A-300 is not without bugs, I would say none of them are show stoppers, and the A-300 already has a mature feel to it. The 300 series is not quite the next gen player I am sure some people were hoping for (as usual there were a few gripes about it not being HDMI 1.4 and not supporting Blu-ray 3D, but there is no Sigma chip out that currently supports so it is a bit of a moot point), but it is a nice step up from the 200 series, especially for people who are looking to add a media player to their home setup. If Syabas can continue to update firmware to address all bugs and expand their online offerings via the App market, then the A-300 could end up being a very well rounded player.

Now this brings up two questions which have been asked to me. The first question is whether it is worth upgrading from a 200 series to a 300 series. For the most part I would say no as the change from Sigma chips is marginal. However, for someone like myself it is worth the upgrade for one specific item, TrueHD downmix. Unfortunately I don’t have an AVR and killer speaker setup in every room in my house, so being able to downmix HD audio becomes critical. With the 200 series I would have to resort to switching to a secondary AC3 track (and more importantly making sure I included one in the first place). With the A-300 I no longer have to worry about this, which goes a long way when I have the wife or other family members operating.

The second question is whether or not it is worth paying the premium for the A-300 over the Popbox v8. This is a little more of a challenging question to answer. The Popbox v8 runs on the Sigma SMP8671, so that means it will be running a different firmware versus the A-300, and thus may have its own upgrade cycle and/or bugs. Looking at the specs the v8 can also only play files up to Level 4.1 and limited to 4 reference frames. For those people who just have plain vanilla Blu-ray and DVD rips this is not a problem. However, if you rely on “external” sources for content it is not uncommon to run across files that are above these specs. And of course, the obvious item, if you are looking to use an internal hard drive or use the player as a bittorrent client, then the A-300 is the one for you.





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


{ 73 comments }

Vincent Van Vandergriff December 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Damian,

Is the skip back on the A-300 still 30 seconds/Is there a way to adjust it?

My biggest gripe about my A-100 is that 30 is way too long. Most DVRs skip backs are 15 seconds or less.

Thanks.

Damian December 21, 2011 at 9:40 am

Just tested and it is still 30 seconds, and I didn’t see a way to adjust. The only other way around would be to use the time seek function.

hans January 12, 2012 at 1:43 am

There is an option to jump to a spezific time, you can enter it seperate hours and minutes up down.

john December 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Damian,
Quick question. I have just built my home server using WHS11 and will start ripping my dvds and blurays to the server soon. I want to buy a media streaming device that will stream from my server. Keeping in mind I need the ability to down mix to stereo, if the prices were the same, which would you recommend: pch A-300 or the Dune Hd D1?

Thanks for your help and I enjoyed this review.

Damian December 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

John,

Hmmm…. they are both solid products. It probably comes down to how you want to use it. For example, if you want to have access to online content (even though not premium yet for US) then the PCH is a better choice. However, for local playback the Dune HD D1 I would say is more stable (which makes sense since the Sigma 8642/8643 used has been around for a few years and is much more mature)

Jon December 21, 2011 at 7:35 am

Damian … I am also Moving away from WHSv1 to WHS 2011 (both in a new HP Micro server i just supped up and my Tricked out EX495)… the only way i could stream to my A-300 was NFS .. Is the set up of NFS on WHS2011 the same as v1 ? or It there a Built in NFS in WHS2011 ? I loved your old Guide on NFS on WHS .. Is there some Updated one ?

Thanks Buddy

Damian December 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

Good question, and tbh I am not sure. I am actually in the process of installing WHS 2011 on a mini itx server I just built (will be putting together an article about), so once I get that up and running I will dig around with regards to NFS.

Damian December 22, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Jon,

What if I just told you I watched a video from WHS2011 to the PCH via nfs :D

Jon December 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I would ask you very nicely to tell me what i need to do … and I love you

Just before you wrote , i just got everything ready to Turn my EX495 into WHS2011 using Alex’s Guides … Just waiting for that last 3TB USB drive to finish being removed from it (Takes FOREVER lol)

Damian December 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Love for everyone!

If I can get enough time I will post a guide tonight. Otherwise I will aim for tomorrow. I am actually a little worried as it was too easy compared to WHS v1 (of course I spent hours digging around), but I was able to successfully locate my NFS share on the PCH and play back a movie without issue! Stay tuned…

Damian December 23, 2011 at 7:24 am
Funksultan December 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

Is there a “Random Play” option? I know it’s picky, but one of my big wants for media players is to be able to say… play all my Music Videos or Seinfeld episode in random order.

WD Live just missed out on this feature, so I’m still sticking with good ol HTPC and Media Browser. :)

Tim Hale December 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

I’ve got a PCH-A200 and the whole thing feels like beta software. The NMJ can only handle one network share (useless for large media libraries in WHS2011) and I could never get Metabrowser / My Movies created meta data collection to work; no matter how long it was left it would get stuck and hang. Moving films out so it wouldn’t scan them would cause it to choke on the next, and so on. No Wake-On-LAN, random refusal to play films, and trying to solve all this getting an error message and finding myself in a UI cul-de-sac the only way out of which was to unplug it and reboot.

Brajesh December 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm

NMJ v1 is pretty bad, but I hear v2 is much improved (haven’t tried it myself). But, don’t really need either when you can use Eversion+YAMJ, which is excellent.

Damian December 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I like having the option to use NMJ but personally don’t ever see myself using for my video collection.

Damian December 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Been getting a real annoying bug. When in standby and I turn the PCH back on my TV gets no signal and I need to reboot the PCH… Not happening all the time but enough to be frustrating.

aaronwt December 23, 2011 at 5:50 am

thanks for the review. This sounds like this will work great as a replacement for my C200. The only thing I will miss from my C200 is the RF remote. Hopefully I won’t have problems selling my C200.

Damian December 23, 2011 at 5:51 am

Hey Aaron,

My C-200 will be going up for sale as well :) I would expect there shouldn’t be any issues selling, especially since the C-300 will be selling for a $50 premium over the C-200

Jon December 23, 2011 at 5:58 am

I Sold my launch C-200 on Ebay in October for $339.99 once i pre ordered the A-300 … there is def still a market for it

Hallvard December 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Wht has the update stopped on a-200?

Damian December 26, 2011 at 10:50 am

I know there is still another planned update for the A200, not sure how far along they are though

Rey December 26, 2011 at 6:53 am

This is very helpful review. Thank you! I’m planning to buy this prod (PCH A-300) but I’m having a second thoughts before because this is only release a few days ago and I’m not sure if this really worth but now I’m sure after I read your blog. I just want to ask if the wireless portable keyboard compatible in this product?

Damian December 26, 2011 at 10:54 am

I would say for a new player it is more stable then most new player releases. The main bugs myself and others are dealing with are:

- Issues with HD Audio dropping out/screeching for BR Folder rips (doesn’t happen for all, only certain ones such as Star Wars). Switching to a secondary AC3 track seems to fix the problem. I think this issue only relates to folder rips and not standalone files (i.e. mkv, mp4, etc…)

- No signal when resuming from standby (only happens occasionally, reboot fixes)

I haven’t tested with wireless keyboards. If I have a few I can try a couple of mine but I don’t know what compatibility you will get for a variety of keyboards.

Rey December 29, 2011 at 8:02 am

Hi!
I have another question. I have already bought this media player with Samsun hd204ui as my hdd (2TB). Can I connect the media player to PC using the 3.0 slave cable? I already tried it but my PC is not detecting the hdd.

Damian December 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Hi,

I think the issue might be that the drive is formatted as an ext3/linux drive, so you need special software on your PC to see it. Not sure what the best way to do is though since I don’t have an internal drive with my A-300

Lilbisqit January 3, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I have had my unit for over a months & the A300 is getting more frustrating to use. Between the audio drops & frequent lock ups, slow to browse media, So, I have spent more time waiting for the unit to reboot than I have watched media on it.

Damian January 11, 2012 at 8:06 am

The audio drops is the most troublesome issue for me

Jon January 11, 2012 at 8:09 am

I Agree .. Having Bought Launch A-100,C-200 and now A-300 .. i understand what i got myself into with the Always Beta Software .. But to releases players that are not even close to prime time is getting old .. The random times when the audio turns garbled and screeching and drops out is the worst

Damian January 11, 2012 at 8:11 am

One person I spoke to already returned theirs. Fortunately I have a secondary AC3 track to switch to which fixes the issue, but this is just a temporary fix and annoying to even have to do (and not everyone has a secondary AC3 track to switch to)

Stratos January 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Hi Damian,

I was about to buy Popcorn Hour A300, as i have now the WD Elements which has compatibility problems, but from what i read it seams that PCH A-300 has many problems too…
What I need is to play mainly mkv files (1080p) with external subs and some iso & vob files, with 5.1 sound. My MP is connected to the AV amplifier (hdmi) and the movies are stored to HDD & NAS HDD.
Do you think that PCH A-300 finally worths or not?

Thank you for your time!

Damian January 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

It is tough to say. It seems like more and more issues are popping up with the A-300. The major issue I encountered (as well as others) is issues with audio dropping out or severe screeching. It didn’t happen all the time, and it appears that it happens to some people more then others.

I am also hearing that some of t he A-300s may actually have bad motherboards t hat need to be swapped out.

So as of now it is hard to say. It is definitely not bug free, even if it is more bug free then when the 200 series got released.

Right now for me the most reliable/stable player out there is still the Dune Smart players. You could try the A300 and I believe if you encounter these bugs that become deal breakers Syabas should accept back for a refund.

Stratos January 14, 2012 at 2:07 am

Thank you mate!

Two more questions.

Does it have problem with srt subs (PCH A-300)?
And when you are talking about Dune Smart player, which specific model you would recommend for the use i want (i don’t care about 3d).

Thank you

Bob January 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Hi Damian,
Can you test if, for blu-ray rips, the A-300 sends the DTS core for a DTS-HD track over optical/coax to the receiver? Ditto for blu-ray TrueHD tracks, does it send the AC3 5.1 interleaved track over? I have a legacy receiver, and this has been the biggest pain for the 100 and 200 series. If you can test this in simplebd and full nav mode, that’d be great! Thanks for your time!!

jester February 3, 2012 at 12:47 am

I have 1200 avi files on a 1tb wdc mybook, where does all the cover art get loaded to? The mybook or the pch? Is browsing around a 1tb drive fast or painfully slow? If the coverart found is not the right one is it a pain to adjust.manually? My avis are all in one folder, do I need to create 1200 folders?

Damian February 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

The cover art can get saved on your WDC mybook or on an internal drive in your PCH if you use. I browser my library which is over the network and it moves relatively fast (not as fast as if you were navigating on a PC but faster then the 200 series). It can be a pain to get the right coverart, depends if you are trying to use the internal PCH jukebox (NMJ) or YAMJ

Kev M February 7, 2012 at 6:21 am

I found the 1080 50p playback TERRIBLE!
It stutters along and drops audio!

What gives?

Updated firmware on 7/feb/2012

Damian February 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Latest fw is 7/dec/2011, is that what you meant?

May be worth posting on the nmt forum. i don’t play back 50fps content so I cannot confirm

Zaphod February 7, 2012 at 5:15 pm

How would you compare this to a Boxee box in terms of functionality, compatibility and user experience?

Damian February 8, 2012 at 4:59 am

If you are looking for a robust online content experience Boxee Box definitely is the way to go.

The jukebox for the Boxee Box is better IMO then the internal NMJ jukebox on the A300, and navigation is much more fluid.

The remote on the Boxee Box is absolutely atrocious (once again, just my opinion) and proper integration with universal remotes can be problematic

As far as local playback of videos, I prefer the PCH. The Boxee Box has had issues with HD Audio dropouts and it appears buffering issues have resurfaced. Of course the PCH is not without its own set of bugs.

Really no right answer

Fennec February 10, 2012 at 1:48 am

Hi – great article.

Just wondering what the cover art thumbnail quality is like on the A-300 NMJv2?

Is it high definition or low quality?

tvaddict February 10, 2012 at 6:01 am

What is SSA subtitle support like? Do you get full styling/positioning?
I have a PCH A100, and it just displays the text in standard font, which is really nasty.
I am now watching a lot of anime, and would like the full effects like I see on a PC (but my PC cannot play at full 1080 without jerking).

Damian February 10, 2012 at 6:03 am

This test I do:

mkv w/multiple SSA subtitles (PASS)

Is actually with a sample that has multiple SSA subtitles that appear in various positions and in various colors. The A300 handles this properly

tvaddict February 10, 2012 at 6:51 am

Thanks Damian – that was a quick response!
I wasn’t sure what that test includes…
I recently bought a Sumvision Cyclone that said it plays mkv with SSA, but they are worse than on PCH-A100 – (ie: one font at screen bottom, with multiple subtitles overlapping)
I shall go looking for a PCH-A300 to buy now.

Fennec February 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm

So Damian – Didn’t get a response.

Would you be able to comment on the quality of the cover art thumbnails for the A-300 NMJv2?

Would you say they look 720p or standard definition?
Also what do you think about Yamj/Eversion? How would you rate the A-300 vs other media players on the market?

Damian February 16, 2012 at 2:55 am

Aside from writing this review I don’t use NMJv2 (not really a fan of), but instead use YAMJ/Eversion. I will check back later to take a closer look at the covers to give you some ideas of quality

I have been using YAMJ/Eversion for a while (on the 200 series originally and right now on the 300 and Popbox v8). I have always been a big fan of, it is a very robust platform with a lot of options/skins/customization. For anyone using a PCH or Popbox I would highly recommend.

The A300 is a solid player. There are still some annoying bugs (some issues with HD Audio, HDMI handshake issues, etc…) that I expect to fixed in upcoming fw updates. For me to date the Dunes have been the most reliable players I have used, with the PCH right behind. Hope that helps.

Cheers
Damian

Jash March 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hi, I have got Popcor Hour A-300. I often listen to the music. But I can not find an instruction how to turn on first piece of music on CD and wait for an automatic turning on after the end of first hit on CD or mp3. When I enter the directory with CD, open it and turn on first piece of music, it stops and does not reproduce next pieces. What steps should I follow to see on tv screen: what music is to be palyed, what is being played at the moment, cover of CD, time of reproduction, and so on.Could you help me?
Jash

rek de March 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

When playing a music album on a Popcorn machine, try using the “play” button instead of the “enter” key – this way it plays the whole album/CD.

Anders May 31, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Still waiting for the Xtreamer Prodigy review as you promised…would be great if you compared it to the PCH A300.

Any idea when you will get your hands on the Prodigy?

Damian June 1, 2012 at 6:32 am

I have had the Xtreamer Prodigy for a few months now actually. I was waiting for the big 3.5fw update to come out which wasn’t too long ago. I just need to load up so I can start testing, so probably a few more weeks.

Scott Bowman June 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi, Just got one of these A300 set up, via a mate who receommended it and set it up for me ( thank the gods for techno savy friends).
However having downloaded the youtube app, whilst I get video I cannot get audio… is there some specific setting I need to adjust?
Secondly whilst the first movie we watched played OK (via wireless to home Netgear network, pulling from my 1TB Elements external harddrive from my PC , all movie files are .iso format), second and third attempts resulted in jerky play back and audio drop out.
Is this likely to be an issue with the popcorn device (does it need rebooting between movies, if so how, just power off at the wall?), or is it more likely down to network issues (its winter here now and we have all doors closed, to keep heat in rooms, between movie lounge and study where home PC and Network) router are.
Would an internal hard drive fitted in Popcorn help this problem?

Thanks for any help.
Regards
Scott

Damian June 18, 2012 at 1:32 pm

The Youtube App might be buggy. Did you check to see if there was an update and are you running the latest fw?

As far as playback, it is a tough call. Anytime you stream wireless you are rolling the dice with steady playback, so that very well could be your issue. What type of files were you trying to play back? Otherwise, there are actually some bugs still out there (such as HD Audio dropouts) that may be affecting it is well.

If the issue is solely due to streaming wireless then using an attached or internal drive would solve your issue. If you have a USB drive that you can connect to the PCH to test out the files that are stuttering , you can try that first.

Cheers
Damian

Jan Mencl June 17, 2012 at 8:28 am

Hi Damian, thank you very much for the review.
Before reading the discussion forum I was convinced to order the A-300. However after reading it, the number of bugs seemed too many for me. Most of the bugs were reported in Dec/Jan though so my question is – did the manufacturer upgrade the firmware enough to fix most of the bugs? Or is the situation still the same (bug-wise)?

Damian June 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I haven’t seen any new firmware come across since Mar 1. The HD Audio bug and others is still out there. Supposedly this has been fixed and the new FW is just going through QC, but I heard this a while ago (so not sure where it stands now)

Roland June 20, 2012 at 1:32 am

Hello Damian,

first of all thank you for the great review! I’m thinking about buying a media center for my 46″ TV. I can’t decide between the ASUS O!Play HD2, Xtreamer Prodigy Silver and the A-300. If you got some tips (or even some other players), I’d be grateful.

I have a question though about the A-300: in your review you tested the subtitling function mostly with MKVs. How about AVI/MPG? My entire collection is almost SD, just started to get HD movies recently, and since I’m not a native english speaker I have most of the time 2 subtitles for each movie. For example:

Movie1.avi
Movie1.en.srt
Movie1.hu.srt

or even some very old VCDs (.mpg) with .sub subtitles.

Will they display properly? Also, if I have multiple subtitles for the same movie (e.g. different file names, like the above example), can I choose which subtitle to display?

Thanks,
Roland

Damian July 7, 2012 at 5:55 am

Hello Roland,

I am not a big subtitle user, but my understanding from reading around is that the A300 does in fact support external srt subtitles as you have listed above. It should then allow you to cycle through from the on screen display to choose which subtitle track you want to see.

Paul June 26, 2012 at 10:13 am

Hi Damian,
I am about to get the home media, then i read both of your review Mede8er 500×2 and A300. Compare between the two, which is better stability, better graphic arts and ease of use? All my files are iso and located throughout network driveswhich one is easier to configure for jukebox?
is Dune (which models?) better than 500×2 and A300? Is
Thanks.

Damian June 27, 2012 at 3:17 am

They are all solid players. I saw in your Mede8er comment you asked about full bd menus. Since it sounds like something you would like I would rule out the Mede8er and look at either the PCH or Dune. Between the two I find the Dune to be the most reliable (there are still some bugs with the PCH that need to be worked out). However, I think you will be fine going with either

Paul June 27, 2012 at 6:38 am

PCH-A300 supports full BD menu? what about A300 jukebox? is it good for multiple NAS hdd and shared hdd on different network drives?
thanks.

Damian June 27, 2012 at 6:58 am

Yes it supports full bd menus. For multiple NAS drives/shares you will want to use a 3rd party jukebox (i.e. YAMJ/Eversion) as the stock jukebox (NMJ) does not support

Paul June 27, 2012 at 6:49 am

Hi Damian,
Is PCHA300 is also a NAS device? DLNP ceritified? if it is a NAS device, i can see the PCH internal hdd remotely from my PC?

Damian June 27, 2012 at 6:59 am

Yes, it can act as a NAS, you can see the files on the internal drive from a PC. I personally would not use it as a NAS (as far as streaming movies to another device), but it is accessible

Paul June 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hi Damien,
1. Can A300 support internal hdd to 3TB or 4TB?
2. Any built-in Favorite Manger feature?
3. Can A300 do alpha/jump search in Media library feature
4. Can A300 sort video/music collections by genre, artists, year capable?

thank you.

Damian July 7, 2012 at 5:58 am

Hi Paul,

1. I believe it is supposed to support anything greater then 2TB, but TBH I have never tried
2. Not that I have seen, but I don’t spend too much time with the stock UI
3. Not sure I follow what you are asking here
4. If you look at my screenshots in the review for the NMJ you can see you can sort by various options.

Paul July 7, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Hi Damian,
I have multiples separate NAS hdd (WD mybook live),
1. Can NMJ join/link multiple separate nas devices/folders so that it can seen as one big jukebox?

2. Is it true that in order to use NMT, you have to format the internal hard drive? once you formatted, it can not be used with PC due to different file types?
thanks.

Damian July 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Hi Paul:

1. Last time I checked NMJ could not handle shares spread across multiple drives

2. Not positive. I know a long while back t he drive would get formatted to EXT/3 or something like that, and then you would need special software to see the drive when connected to your PC. I believe more players now allow you to format to NFTS which should then be viewable by a PC

Cheers
Damian

Paul July 15, 2012 at 12:38 am

Hi Damian,
I just recently installed 2hdds created as JBOD as one disk in Zyxel NSA320 media server. Loaded rip bluray movies. A300 message is ” Can’t play BDJ , insert hard disk …?
Wondering if you can shed some ideas why is this happen.
thanks.

Damian August 2, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I think because it has to be attached storage and not networked storage (i.e. just attach a USB thumb drive)

Paul November 2, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Hi Damian,
I have a very hard time to setup YAMJ/Eversion. Could you please assist/guide me step-by-step how to install and setup to create a single jukebox?
I have popcorn A300.
thanks.
Paul

Thomas November 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Hi Damian,
I currently own Popcorn a300. Please assist me with these question:

1. How to execute or run YAMJ on A300. I already download YAMJ on the box, but just unable to run YAMJ

2. If you run YAMJ, do you need to leave PC on 24X7 ? Can you run YAMJ without PC on?

3. I ripped regular dvd and playback on A300. I see that video is 720P.
Is there any setting on A300 that you can make it to upconvert to the best resoulution available (i.e. 720p to 1080i) ? (I have hdmi from a300 to my receiver).
Please assist.
thanks.
Thomas.

Damian November 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

1. You can download YAMJ/Eversion here (aio_eversion_r0179.zip ):

https://github.com/accident12123/eversion/downloads

Here is a wiki on how to set up:

https://github.com/accident12123/eversion/wiki

Let me know if you get stuck anywhere and I can try to help

2. The PC just needs to be on when you run YAMJ (to create the jukebox). You don’t need to PC for anything else (unless you plan on storing your YAMJ index on your PC)

3. There is no control over how the PCH outputs the video. I believe it does upscale, but really don’t know much else about what it does,

Hope this helps

Cheers
Damian

John January 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Damian,
Any update on a review for the A-400? I am anxiously waiting for that review.

Damian January 6, 2013 at 8:23 am

Hi John,

Just about wrapped up with my testing. Just have to take some photos and get the writeup together, so hopefully no later then next weekend (sorry for the delay, finding some free time has been a bit of a challenge of late)

John January 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

Thanks Damien! No need to apologize at all. I’m excited to read it.

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