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Popcorn Hour C-200 review

Although Popcorn Hour’s C-200 Network Media Tank was released in September last year, its initial firmware was a little patchy. Let’s see how it performs now it’s had ample time to bed in…

This article originally appeared in issue 88 of Linux User & Developer magazine.
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Price: $299 / £204Popcorn Hour
Processor: 667MHz  SMP8643 processor
Memory: 512MB DDR /256MB NAND Flash
Dimensions: 425 x 290 x 80mm
Weight: 3.7kg
LCD display: 192 x 64
Connectivity: HDMI, component, S-Video, composite,S/PDIF, coaxial, Gigabit ethernet
Expansion: miniPCI MII slot, 5xUSB2.0 (inc. 1 internal), 2xSATA
Website: Popcorn Hour

Popcorn Hour devices are well known to support among the widest range of file types and feature the most impressive array of extra-curricular features
It’s not the quietest NMT on the market with a hard drive installed and the front panel LCD suffers with low contrast making it hard to read at a meaningful distance

The Popcorn Hour C-200 represents the company’s most advanced Network Media Tank (NMT) to date. For those not familiar with the relatively young company (that opened for business in 2001 as a middleware provider for the likes of Netgear, HP and D-Link before launching the Popcorn Hour consumer brand just three years ago) the biggest draw is the promise that their devices will play pretty much anything you can throw at them.

The entire range of video and audio containers and decoders supported on its latest device would probably bore you to tears, but the fact that it has managed to conquer the entire NMT market since just 2007 with its own-brand take on network media should be enough to satisfy your curiosity (those determined to see the full list need only point their browser here). Still, it’s much more than a dumb player supporting a wide gamut of file types; it’s the host of other features that really makes the C-200 such an intriguing proposition. Besides being a HDD player and a full gigabit ethernet network streaming NAS box, it’s also a media server (including Samba, NFS, UpnP, Bonjour and myiHome) and plays host to the MSP Portal, not to mention other third-party media server apps. On top of this it comes with a remote managed BitTorrent client, support for web video, podcast and internet radio playback and it can even act as an RSS reader.

One of the most impressive features native to the C-200, however, is the fact that you can sacrifice the 3.5” hard drive slot (still leaving room for a 2.5” SATA drive in its wake) to fit a DVD or Blu-ray ROM drive for instant and painless FullHD movie support. Advanced audio is fully supported straight out of the box too, including DTS-HD and TrueHD – this alone making it well worth investigating as a viable option for those wishing to combine NAS and HD playback functions in a single device.

There’s little doubt that the C-200 is aimed quite specifically at advanced users though, and the fact the painfully brief bundled instruction assume previous NMT know-how stands as testament to that. While it contains all the most important information (web-config addresses and passwords etc.), it fails to get down to the nitty gritty, for example it doesn’t provide directions for removing the fiddly hard drive rack to install a DVD or Blu-ray drive in the first place. Still, with the popularity of the NMT product umbrella you’ll find the associated online community offers all the support you could possibly need, not least a decent YouTube instructional video for the Blu-ray installation. For a full list of supported hard drives, ROM drives and to access to the all-important community forum we heartily recommend you check Popcorn Hour’s website.

The chassis itself is very well finished and is a perfect fit assuming you already have a stack of audio/video equipment. Connectivity (fully listed in the technical specifications above) is thoughtful and installing a hard drive is as simple as opening the hinged arm door and pushing your SATA drive firmly into the SATA-socketed rack. While the body is sturdy and solid looking, HDD noise does ring through it and the buttons on the front bezel are a little plastic and ill-fitting for our taste, if forgivable so. Less forgivable is the omission of a rear exhaust fan – please don’t be tempted to use it with a 3.5″ hard-drive without one since heat build up in the C-200 can be a drive killer. The remote control provided is RF so there’s plenty of scope for hiding the device out of sight without concern and is fully featured, including backlit keys and a button for utterly everything you’ll need. The main unit also comes replete with a small LCD display. It’s a welcome addition to the feature set since it allows you to navigate files, folders and general settings on the C-200 without needing your TV to be on, but it lacks sufficient contrast to be readable at a truly useful distance (like your sofa).

Popcorn Hour

Verdict: 4/5
There’s no doubt that the C-200 is the most advanced and fully featured NMT on the market today, making it a must for videophiles. That said, it doesn’t dampen HDD seeking noises particularly well or feature a rear exhaust fan to keep temperatures in check. Also the finishing touches like buttons and LCD screen let it down a little (enough to deny top marks, but certainly not enough to dissuade a purchase).

Click here to see more reviews, or see what else featured in issue 88 of Linux User & Developer here