Pop­corn Hour c-200 HD me­dia player

Me­dia play­ers may well be sound­ing the death knell for op­ti­cal discs.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By SUJESH PAVITHRAN

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.

Vis­ual thrill

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.

Get savvy

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.

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