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68 Popcorn Hour A-110 ➜ £260 Approx ➜ www.ripcaster.co.uk

Perfectly delicious Have you joined the Popcorn Hour fan club yet? Chris Jenkins explores the multiple functions of a media server that’s causing an online storm

B

eing a media server which will play practically any digital video format, and deliver it to your TV in HD quality, the Popcorn Hour A-110 Networked Media Tank (NMT) has developed a cult following amongst networkers and torrent freaks. A step up from an earlier model, the A-100, it’s even prompted forum comments such as ‘I love mine more than my wife.’ And after using one for a few week, I can see why. Of course, it helps if you’re PC-savvy – its terse instruction booklet can be bamboozling. However, before long you’ll have the

NMT on your home network and be transferring all sorts of digital media to any connected device, be it PC, laptop or networked TV – much like   a NAS box. Where it differs is that it also connects to your AV system   via HDMI and digital audio allowing you to watch stored video, listen to music files, etc. But why use an A-110 rather than   a full-blown lifestyle computer?   Well, it’s smaller, quieter, and cheaper – just the thing for your living room.   In many ways the A-110 gives you Media Center PC functions without the hardware or reliance on Microsoft Windows (it runs on the Linux OS).

Popcorn Hour A-110: The only media gizmo with its own cult following

Home Cinema Choice June 2009

AV/CV Product: Network NAS and media streamer with added frippery Positioning: Upper-end of the burgeoning multimedia NAS market Peers: DViCO TiVX-HD 6500A, Western Digital WDTV, Seagate Freeagent HD

Supporting both UPnP and Samba protocols, it can see and be seen by pretty much any device you have networked, included the Xbox 360 and PS3; it will also access files stored on USB devices, via a front-mounted slot. A raft of very cool ‘Web services’ are available, too, via the simple yet elegant menu system, including the online Media Service Portal community (which allows you to browse YouTube and scores of other IPTV services), and Saya TV, a sort of video blog site.

The possibilities seem almost limitless. In just days,   it ousted my fuddy-duddy


Reviews 69 conventional NAS box, and began to give my subscription box a run for   its money. Our sample from Ripcaster.co.uk shipped with a 500GB drive, but even without an HDD it can be used to stream media and browse Flickr etc. Install a drive, though, and you can even torrent directly into the box, using sites like Vuze to quietly download hundreds of hours of fascinating TV (I only looked at fan films, honestly), while your PC does something else. The A-110 can take up to a 1TB SATA drive (priced at £300). It will handle almost any digital file format you can imagine, including 1080p video formats, and since the firmware can be updated, it will probably support any format or codec in the future.

Output options to a TV include PAL/NTSC, 50/60hz, from 720p to 1080p on the component or HDMI outputs. The A-110 is technically capable of sending DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD to a compatible decoder, but as it can’t decode these formats internally, you have to make sure your AV equipment can.

Pop quiz

Inside out: You can buy the A-110 with or without a hard drive

I found playback of DivX HD files from a USB stick to be very smooth and flawless in quality. However, transfer speed from the internal drive can be slow. Geeks will waste no time getting into the A-110’s advanced functions, setting up favourite websites on its Web Services menu, scheduling torrent downloads, and installing new functions from the extensive user forums. Technically the A-110 is no slouch. The case is a basic ‘cage’ with a removable top held on with thumbscrews – containing a motherboard featuring a Sigma Designs SMP8635, and 256MB DDR SDRAM. On the back are a host of connections, including  – among other analogue options – HDMI v1.3a, component video and optical digital audio outs. Plus there’s a USB 2.0 slave, and USB 2.0 host sockets   – there’s another USB on the front.   A (rather non-responsive) remote control handset is also supplied, and a wireless dongle is an option to the included LAN port. In use, the A-110 integrates well with more conventional kit, but   it’s technically involved and not something you could recommend to your granny. You can find plenty of discussion of the system at the forum www.networkedmediatank.com. You can order one without a drive direct from Ripcaster for £200. Ripcaster also supplies a wireless dongle for £40.

➜ Specifications

Connectivity: Bonjour; UPnP SSDP; UPnP AV; Windows Media Connect; Windows Media Player NSS; SMB; NFS; HTTP servers myiHome, WizD, SwissCenter, MSP Portal, Llink, GB-PVR, BitTorrent P2P NAS access : SMB, NFS, FTP Web services: YouTube, Veoh, Videocast, PodfinderUK, etc Audio : Live365 Radio, iPodcast, Radiobox, ABC News, BBC Podcast, CNN News, Indiefeed, Jamendo Photo : Flickr, Picasaweb RSS feed : Bloglines, Yahoo! Weather, Yahoo Traffic Alerts, Traffic Condition, Cinecast, Yahoo! News, MSNBC News Peer-to-peer TV : SayaTV Internet radio : Shoutcast Media files supported: MPEG-1/-2/-4 Elementary; MPEG-1/2 PS; MPEG-2 Transport Stream; VOB; AVI; ASF; WMV; Matroska; MOV; MP4; RMP4; XVID SD/HD; MPEG-1; MPEG-2; MPEG-4.2; WMV9; H.264; AAC; M4A; MP1; MP2; MP3; MPA; WAV; WMA; FLAC; OGG; Dolby Digital; DTS; LPCM; Vorbis; JPEG; BMP; PNG; GIF; ISO; IFO Audio pass through : DTS, Dolby Digital, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus Chipset: Sigma Designs SMP8635 Memory: 256MB DDR SDRAM; 32MB Flash Audio/Video outputs: HDMI v1.3a (up to 1080p); component video (up to 1080p); S-Video; composite video; stereo analogue audio; S/PDIF optical digital audio Interface: 1x USB 2.0 slave, 2x USB 2.0 host, SATA Dimensions: 270(w) x 132(d) x 32(h)mm Weight: 1Kg Other features: Hardware reset button, Ethernet 10/100

Simply brilliant Despite some initial scepticism   – primarily caused by the confusing and impenetrable instructions   – I was bowled over by the PCH A-110. It’s very quiet in use, and insanely versatile. Since getting one, I’ve pushed my Blu-ray player to one side and now struggle to find time   to watch regular telly; there’s just too much fun to be had watching all those internet TV shows. For digital media warriors it’s the best thing since… well, popcorn

 Verdict Popcorn Hour A-110  £260 Approx (with 500GB drive)  Price check: www.techradar.com/592095 Highs: Flexible; upgradeable; powerful media server/streamer Lows: Simple construction; inadequate manual Performance: Design: Features:

Overall: June 2009 Home Cinema Choice


Popcorn Hour A-110 media server review  

Have you joined the Popcorn Hour fan club yet? We explore the multiple functions of the media server that's causing an online storm

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