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!)