Popcorn Hour c-200 HD media player
Media players may well be sounding the death knell for optical discs.
THE media player is fast becoming an essential piece of kit in many a home theatre system, what with the profusion of high-and standard-definition content – legal and illegal – on the Internet.
You don’t have to stretch your budget – RM300-odd will get you started. However, more ambitious videophiles may set their sights on the other end of the price spectrum, where more sophisticated machines from the likes of Divico and Popcorn Hour rule.
Cynics may ask why they should pay three or four times more for these “high-end” players, so let’s find out – here’s the Popcorn Hour C-200 media player, from a company with its heart in Malaysia.
All on board
Although sold as a media player, the C-200 can be expanded along the way. For example, you can slide a 3.5-inch hard disk into the front slot, or opt to mount a BDROM drive in it. An Ethernet port on the rear means it can be turned into a network media server once the necessary appliactions are installed.
This apart, the C-200 has one HDMI output, and one optical and coaxial digital output each. Four USB slots are provided as well, as are S-Video, component, analogue stereo and composite video outputs. A short antennae mounted at the back communicates with the remote handset.
The list of supported formats is long, among them, Matroska (MKV), AVI, WMV and various MPEG codecs. Similarly, with audio – MP3, AAC, FLAC and WAV files are accepted. Movie soundtrack modes like Dolby Digital/ True HD and DTS/DTS-HD are also supported. Get to the site ( www.popcornhour.com) for the full specs.
The onboard decoding chipset is from Sigma Designs.
The C-200 is pretty well made, my one question being how long the compartment door for the hard-disk will withstand repeated operation.
One of the pitches about high-end media players like the C-200 is how you can transfer your personal collection of Blu-ray titles to one media, creating a video library for easy access. The C-200 allows fullf-eature transfers, complete with menus, but on playback, access can be slow, akin to Blu-ray players. Disabling full-access navigation in the player’s set-up and opting for the “simple” option makes it speedier. Smaller files, however, are much less cumbersome to access.
The C-200 takes a while to get started, even without a hard disk installed – the cheaper players are usually good to go in a few seconds. This is the price to pay for more complex software.
If you’re willing to put up with this little inconvenience, and have a HD or HD-ready display, then the C-200 promises to be a rewarding experience. My plasma TV is only HD-ready, but comparing the C-200 with a cheaper media player showed the former to have significantly superior picture quality, thanks to the more advanced video chip. High-definition images were already impressive on the cheaper unit, but with the C-200, the results were more breathtaking – worth paying multiple times more for the sheer visual thrill.
I used the HDMI output always, even for digital audio (fed to the amp), and didn’t find the C-200 lacking one bit in both areas – a far cry from DVD and as revealing as a Blu-ray player. Once you have high-quality content, the C-200 works at its best; even with movie tracks, the step-up from the cheaper machine was obvious. However, having yet to acquire high-resolution music content, I was unable to test the C-200 out on audiophile material – that’s something I’ll keep for the future.
If you’re an enterprising and tech-savvy user, you’re already familiar with what the cheaper media players can do, and how well. Well, the Popcorn Hour C-200 takes this a few notches higher, trading off only in ease of use.
The fact that it can be expanded to take your home entertainment set-up into new realms is just the icing on the cake.
Plays everything well: Well, at least, everything you would want a media player to ... the Popcorn Hour C-200.