The Popcorn Hour A-100

Watch out! Here comes the Networked Media Tank.

Linux-powered devices are everywhere. They're so ubiquitous that Linux often isn't even mentioned. It's just there. One case in point is the Popcorn Hour A-100. Linux isn't mentioned in the technical specifications of the device at all. What is mentioned are the formats and codecs and other capabilities of the device, and what a device it is.

The Popcorn Hour is a reference hardware implementation for a new Linux-based middleware layer from Syabas Technology called the Networked Media Tank. According to its Web site: “The Networked Media Tank (NMT) is a state-of-the-art integrated digital entertainment system that allows you to watch, store and share digital content on your home network.”

Think of tank in terms of fish, not Abrams or Sherman. The NMT is designed to be able to access all your media, no matter what computer or networked storage system it resides on, and display it on whatever television you connect to it. According to Syabas, other devices are in the works from other manufacturers that will be using the same NMT middleware and similar hardware.

Figure 1. Popcorn Hour and Everything That Comes in the Box

The Popcorn Hour is not designed to compete with your TiVo or MythTV box; it can connect to on-line video streams and podcasts, but it doesn't do live over-the-air (or cable) television. The closest device it competes with, at least partially, is the Neuros OSD. The Neuros can encode video though, which is something the Popcorn Hour can't do—it's strictly a playback device.

For me, the encoding capabilities of the Neuros OSD are not needed. I've already digitized most of my DVD library. I have a mix of media in both MPEG-4.2 and H.264 formats, and the Popcorn Hour's support of both formats was one of the things that attracted me to it over the MPEG-4.2-only Neuros OSD. For more on the differences between MPEG-4.2 and H.264, see the When MPEG-4 Isn't MPEG-4 sidebar.

Another thing that caught my eye on the Popcorn Hour were the various outputs, which include composite, component, S-Video and HDMI. I currently have a standard-definition television, but we plan on replacing it with an LCD-HDTV before the end of the year, and the Popcorn Hour will work on both. It can output NTSC, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p among others.

Figure 2. The Ports on the Back of the Popcorn Hour

The Popcorn Hour casing is sleek and rather empty inside. Only about one-third of the case is the actual hardware for the device. The other two-thirds is reserved for installing your own ATA hard drive.

Figure 3. The actual hardware takes up very little of the case.

Under full operation, and especially with a hard drive installed, the Popcorn Hour becomes quite warm, so although the nice flat top of the unit seems to be begging for something to be stacked on it, it's probably a good idea to give it a little breathing room all the way around.

Installing a hard drive into the Popcorn Hour is essential if you want to use it as a file server or BitTorrent client. For those uses, there needs to be some sort of local storage. Installing a hard drive is as easy as sliding it in and screwing it to the bottom of the case. All of the necessary screws and cables are provided. One nice touch is that the top of the case is attached with thumbscrews, so accessing the interior is easy.



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the wifi post

Anonymous's picture

Looks like they fixed that issue. Their sales page states wifi adapters will be shipped from fremont california?.

PCH A-110 and Ubuntu filesharing

Tommi's picture

Thanks for the article. It's useful. But I still have a problem with this device. I'm not really having any problems with the PCH A-110 that I recently bought used on ebay. My problem seems to be filesharing with Ubuntu. I cannot get the PCH to see my Ubuntu files. Every time I try to set it up with Sharing Options I get this effor message:

'net usershare' returned error 255: net usershare add: cannot convert name "Everyone" to a SID. Invalid parameter.

I'm new to Ubuntu/Linux and this reminds me of the old day when I tried to get Macs connected via ethernet. Do you have input regarding how to set up file sharing?

I have Samba and NFS installed (I think). I also have an external USB drive connected to my Linux machine which I'm trying to access with the PCH. Thanks for any help.


Popcorn Hour Buyer Beware

Kaboda's picture

Hi I want to actively make people aware of how dangerous it is to purchase this POPCORN hour media player online,

Below are extracts of my experience after ordering the A110N and then their poor ass reply.
I recommend WDTV which is half the price and less painful for the non wifi experience.

My email
Hi Jason,

I hope this reaches the correct people do expect a call back regarding this issue from a higher management. I hope you still realise that the phase "the customer is always right" should always apply.

Hi, I am bloody unhappy customer, I order this product nearly a month ago. And after such length google checkout process I finally get yet another obstacle that stops me from getting this product.

Please refer to the attachments, both of my order and UPS shipping information.

I had a call about 2 weeks ago from UPS that A110 is unable to be posted out, this is due now to the additional USB wifi card I ordered with this product.

I have spoken to your technician / sales guy Jason and he is fully aware that Malaysia has a monopoly on these cards and whatever product that comes in with a USB wifi card will be stopped. And a government import permit is required (in another words huge fine of 300 ringgit) is required before this product is released.

I have been between calls from UPS and Sirim both which I have to call 9 times a day before i speak to someone or stretching from days at a time to handle this issue. I am furious about that but what makes matters worse is.

Your company is in Malaysia it knowingly knows about this proceedure with USB wifi adapters yet it did nothing when I clicked and added this accessorie. Jason tells me you disclaim all responsiblity from DUTY on your website before ordering. Is this proper practice when you know issues will occur such as mine. What if tomorrow another unknown consumer does the same and he faces the same issues as me. Is this the kind of customer service traits you wish to display. To have unhappy customers such as myself calling up and barranging yourself and you just disclaim yourselves and pass on the cost to the consumer.

My only risk was to buy your product. Your risk is to ship the product to me successfully, that has failed. Now your company passes the buck to me. The frieght transport back to China I would have to bare. How is this at all professional.

Instead of passing the buck I feel we both should share this responsiblity. If I had know the information your company knew about the usb wifi adapter then I wouldnt have added that option. That risk would have been mine and I would be more than accepting of this circumstances now.

To Chinese reputation is very important. I was thinking of marketing your product here, and doing some business with it. But this experience has made me lose total confidence in your product.

You have a duty as a firm with reptuation to make the consumer aware if possible.

If I see no reply to this email from someone higher than Jason, I will make other consumers aware and to beware of your product. And that your proceedure is to pass the buck. Instead of sharing the responsiblity and assisting like good companies should.

From your unhappiest customer

Low Chung Boon

Popcorn Hour reply to my email

We would like to note you that Jason note you that possible USB Wireless
adapter will be unable do the custom clearance Malaysia is his own opinion
because based on his own malaysian experience who purchased item from
online ship. So there are possible risk that need to be take care of when
place the order.

Also we have some customers who place the A-110 + WN-100 order are
received it without problem because they might asking their own forwarder
to pickup and the forwarder might have good relationship with local custom
to do the custom clearance.

We also have a lot users which different country that have their own
custom issue, we just cannot simply stated in our main website that listed
what country may have problem, its not our procedure. We already listed in
[url][/url] that which courier
service for which country, all these courier are suggested widely from our
users. You may refer to [url][/url] to check whether
possible other Malaysia users have this type of problem.

We already asking UPS to come out a solution whether the A-110 can be
remove from the package and if cannot be we will ask UPS to return back to
China. $250 sure can refund to you for the return freight charges we will
ask UPS to give us a discount for it and it could be possible responsibile
by customer.


The Popcorn Hour Sales Team

Will you take the risk to buy this product ? No matter if reviews are good ?

They will pass the buck onto you if any problems occur.
They will wipe their hands clean if any issues occur with shipping.
They will knowingly keep information from you about duty in your country.