Popcorn Hour NMT A-100: A Hilariously Capable Network Media Streamer

ph_a-100.jpg

I made a little squawk and clapped my paws as I read down the spec sheet for the “Popcorn Hour NMT A-100,” a badass little media streaming front end that appears to do just about everything you’d want out of a set-top box and is inexpensive to boot. Not only can it stream from just about anything on your network—PCs, NAS, attached USB mass storage, even internet streams—but you can also toss in a hard drive (not included) to download movies directly to the Popcorn Hour via BitTorrent. (Yes!)

The A-100, the current model, has enough horsepower to decode MPEG2, H.264, or VC-1 at 1080p. (Some media streamers do not, even if the network can push out a fat enough video stream.)

Network-wise it does pretty much everything you’d expect: UPnP, Bonjour, Windows Media, SMB. You can browse photos on Flickr or watch video on YouTube. I don’t see a major codec it doesn’t support, including Matroska containers and Xvid. (No Ogg video or audio, but that could probably be patched in.)

HDMI out. Component out. S/PDIF coax digital audio out. (Although strangely only 10/100 Ethernet, not gigabit. And no Wi-Fi.) All with a custom on-screen interface that looks capable if not stunning.

I have absolutely no need for one of these with my current setup, yet I’m still considering getting one. Unfortunately, there’s some sort of weird first-come, first-serve setup to allow people to buy the units online, so picking one up looks to be a bit of a chore.

Kolbu reviewed one of these a couple months ago and gave it generally high marks for the price. It exposes a lot of the same rough edges as many cheaply made Asian do-everything boxes. (And seeing how little hardware is actually inside the box is both impressive for its economy but saddening for how little actual hardware you’re getting.) It’s not going to be an Apple TV killer for most—too many little quirks, like dropped video signals while switching between modes—but for those willing to deal with the occasional snag it looks like you’ll get a lot more capability in return.

If only Popcorn Hour would get enough of these units produced that you could just order them straight off the website!

Product Page [PopcornHour.com] (Thanks, Joakim!)

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10 Responses to Popcorn Hour NMT A-100: A Hilariously Capable Network Media Streamer

  1. Mr. Gunn says:

    Ahhh…found this thread, suggesting Pandora support may be quite some time away. Apparently they’d be more interested in Pandora using their tools to create something that works with their existing system, rather than taking the Pandora API and integrating it on their end. To work around this you’d have to cache Pandora’s stream locally, which I think they’ve taken pains to prevent people from doing.

  2. GizmoDaddy says:

    Just to help keep the community informed. Popcorn Hour has released a new model… the A-110.

    Popcorn Hour A-110 Specs

    Some differences between the A-100 and A-100.

    A-100
    Hard Drive: IDE
    S/PDIF: Coax
    USB Slave: No
    DTS Decoding: No (Pass-through)
    Hardware Rest Button: No

    A-110
    Hard Drive: 2.5″ / 3.5″ SATA
    HDMI: 1.3a
    S/PDIF: Optical
    USB Slave: Yes
    DTS Decoding: Full Decoding
    Hardware Rest Button: Yes

    Does this mean that the A-100 is obsolete? No. For those with with an IDE drive, a receiver that supports DTS decoding, and a little less money to spend, the A-100 is still a great choice.

    -Tim
    http://www.gizmodaddy.com/

  3. nicksak says:

    Well, having used the XBMC for quite some time, and having gone through three different HTPC builds (and spent a ridiculous amount of money doing so – but hey, it’s a hobby), I was hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

    Playback of 720p/1080p content is close to flawless. Seriously, stop reading here and go get one – if you can find one.

    Setup and interface leaves a lot to be desired. I would rather view this as a hardware proof-of-concept, and I doubt that future firmware revisions will add the thing I feel it lacks the most: An intuitive interface with a smooth flow. But for this price I am not going to complain, and who knows… these guys may surprise us down the road.

    Unboxing pics at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickandcatta/sets/72157603906724839/

  4. Anonymous says:

    HMDI out?

  5. cat0 says:

    #3: I got mine a few weeks ago as well, but I find the interface to be rather snappy, and no slower than XBMC when browsing/opening files. Are you using myiHome, smb or nfs?
    I’m using myiHome, and besides of being unable to play .iso files, I find it pretty good. I mostly play 720p mkvs anyway.

  6. nprnncbl says:

    Mine arrived a few weeks ago, and it is pretty amazing what it can do. The interface is a little slow and clunky, but I expect it will improve.

    What interested me in addition to the laundry list of capabilities is the fact that the manufacturer, Popcorn Hour / Syabas, is using Linux and has demonstrated willingness to embrace homebrew development.

    As it stands, it’s a cool and capable appliance, but, as you say, perhaps not an AppleTV killer — yet. But give it a few months to take off, and I think it will be.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I just got mine 2 days ago and it is great. I agree with Nicksak above about setup and the interface, but you can find user created interfaces for your media that makes it a lot easier to browse. Playback is so smooth and it is great being able to rip DVDs in ISO and play them back as if I had put the disc in my DVD player with full menus. Rewind and fast forward have no lag, it’s more responsive than my TiVos. It does have its quirks, but I hope some of these are ironed out in future firmware releases. I was planning on building a HTPC, but this is significantly cheaper.

  8. Anonymous says:

    how would you compare this to the mediagate mg-250hd? i am a newbie interested in making a dvd jukebox from my dvds. i have a friend doing this with a playstation 3 and 1 terabyte external. i don’t have enough cash to just write this off if it doesn’t work, i would rather just do it once. any advice. i am finding the mediagate MG-450HD for about 229, this is a little less, but i feel i am sacrificing by not going with hdmi 1.3a and mpeg4 formats… i know someone who is selling theirs because they just bought the popcorn hour.

    another question is do you think there is any upconversion by playback through these devices? thanks in advance!

  9. Mr. Gunn says:

    Looks nice. I see they mention Shoutcast. Anyone know if this works with Pandora, as well?

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