Popcorn Hour A-210 Review
The world of advanced storage and networking was previously reserved for heavy brains or those eager to learn. However, Syabas, a Hong Kong company, didn’t want any of that and released a box called Popcorn Hour. We’re in advanced versions now, with advancements like a passive cooling design, a better chipset, and even broader file support, but is this the best media box available?
The box certainly thinks so, when you open it you will find all the essentials to get started. It even comes with an HDMI cable, which is no longer a given. The book is minimalist, but enough to get you started. Syabas also included a laminated card with instructions on how to change the hard drive. I found the handling easy and straightforward, especially with the manual in hand. Finally, the device comes with a USB extension cable, a USB slave cable, and an AC adapter, and of course a power cord. In general, I think the content is enough to keep most users satisfied, despite not being the best.
The Popcorn Hour A-210 is the successor to the A-200, a very well received player except for its plastic design. They responded to the shouts and redesigned the A-210 from scratch. This time you get a full brushed metal case that is completely passively cooled. That means there are no fans to ruin your movie experience. I love the minimalist approach to syabas and consider the Popcorn hour A-210 to be among the most attractive players out there. That is, in large part, thanks to the lack of buttons or indicators on the device. Plus, the dimensions are suitable for small homes at 270mm x 132mm x 32mm, making it one of the smallest enclosures available while still offering enough space for a bulky 3.5 “hard drive. .
Also inside is the Sigma Design SMP8643 667mhz CPU. This chipset is specifically designed for playing media. The heart of the machine supports 512MB of DDR2 memory and 256MB of NAND flash memory. What does this all mean? Well, in human terms, it is about a year less than the best, but it is very understandable by all your means.
Honestly, I can’t fault its design for anything. It looks very modern and clean, it is definitely a design that I would like to see on my devices. The fanless approach doesn’t compromise on cooling, now they’re left with only one audible challenge: the hard drive.
No polished metal is the remote control. Syabas felt no reason to change it from the A-200, a risky move. My opinion of the remote is ambiguous because I actually really like the way it looks. The silver with black color scheme works very well, and this is one of the few backlit remotes on the market. The button layout takes some getting used to, but in the end it feels pretty logical. That said, the buttons have a lot of leeway, it just doesn’t feel firm and modern. Overall, it definitely could have been better; maybe they should copy some designs from companies like LG, Samsung or Apple.
Popcorn Hour uses its own unique software package, which is great. The update can be done via USB or the Internet and often adds many new features or fixes to the device. Syabas has done a great job creating his own ecosystem of media player software.
I experienced some crashes along the way, especially while using the YouTube app. Very unfortunate because the device is very stable in general, but these small problems limit the user experience.
Navigating the software suite is also a mixed experience. Everything is wearing a NEON style suit, which means that the design contains many reflections, highlights and colors from the outer rings of the color spectrum. If that’s your thing, it’s something very personal. I think it’s decent but not great, the style has probably passed its expiration date in favor of sleek and tight.
What is more objective is the fact that navigation is sometimes not very intuitive. The home screen is stripped down and shows the HDD layout of files and folders. Internet functionality and additional applications are a couple of menus away, which can be kind of a search. The media portal software is a nice touch, here all your media will be sorted with descriptions and covers, all automatic. It is not bulletproof and having clear titles definitely helps you progress.
Fortunately, the most important part of the operating system is well done. Menus respond quickly to the remote control, an issue that has plagued most media players in the past.
Popcorn Hour A-210 contains its own app store (@Apple, or can’t I use that term?). It allows users to download a large number of different applications to improve the experience. The offering is extensive for a media player and I really love the initiative, but it obviously falls short compared to Android / iOS platforms. My personal favorite is the CNET app, which grants access to all the tech shows they have, including Apple’s top5, reviews, and byte. The usual is present too, including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, all of which work decent enough to be useful.
Perhaps the most practical and useful application for Popcorn Hour A-210 does not even come from the device itself. People who own an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad (> 70%?) Can download an app and use it as a remote or streamer. Works instantly with no additional settings. I could even use my iPhone to browse YouTube and send the video straight to my Popcorn Hour. This is ideal for family gatherings and demonstrates the fact that this media player enjoys a lot of general support from the community.
The NAS function of the device has been proven to work very well. It was easy to set up, aside from some difficulties getting it to work with Windows XP. The transfer speed over the cable is approximately 4-7 MB per second, which is the best I have seen in an Internet cable. I have experienced zero difficulties in terms of instability when using the device as storage; perfect scores here.
Playing music is still a very silly experience. Popcorn time doesn’t support playlists, EQ, or advanced stuff like lyrics, no karaoke here folks! However, Syabas tried at least to implement music while surfing, signs that a perfect world of audio is on the horizon. The sound quality is not outstanding; I’ve definitely heard better devices in my time.
Of course, movie playback is where these devices should shine, and popcorn time does it with sparkles. You can play virtually any format without any problems. Avi, Mpeg, MKV; whatever, and you can probably reproduce it. I did notice a couple of minor difficulties, most noticeable stutters, and audio sync issues on some of the files. However, keep in mind that these issues are minor and occurred in about 1/20 of the movies.
The Popcorn Hour A-210 media box is a mature product that does what it says on the box, a lot. It is a NAS (network access system) that can send and receive media from the entire living room and display it in perfect HD. Some issues limit the experience, most notably the occasional instability and silly user interface. Still, Syabas has created the best media player available today, a title that will remain in Hong Kong for some time to come.