We've long moaned that there's no such thing as the perfect media streamer. We've tested Apple TV, which is hopeless unless you exist totally in the Apple universe, and even then only if you're a US resident. We enjoyed the DivX Connected system, but noted it's far from perfect, and like Apple TV, won't play many formats out of the box. Now we've found another system, called the Popcorn Hour A-100, which promises to do everything we want -- and we're properly excited.
For a start, it will play everything. Yes, that's right. It's not the product of a multinational corporation, so it doesn't have a media file agenda to push. You get support for QuickTime, MPEG-4 in all its flavours, including things wrapped in MKV containers. You can also play MPEG-2, WMV and DivX -- including their HD variants, up to resolutions of 1080p.
The A-100 will also connect to your network via Ethernet. There's no wireless option, so if you must go wire-free, you'll need to use a solution of your own to achieve that, or use Homeplug. You can also plug in a hard disk -- the unit doesn't ship with one, but the installation is easy and tool-free.
You also get access to online services such as YouTube, Flickr and a metric tonne of news and other stuff. You can even download torrent files, which opens up a multitude of options for accessing media.
If you opt to install a hard drive, the A-100 then becomes a network-accessible storage device, and you can copy files direct to the drive. If not, you can still play media over the network from a PC, or you can simply use USB to store and play media.
Buying an A-100 in the UK is not without some minor challenges. There are a few European companies importing it, who will ship to the UK. Or you can opt to buy it direct and have it shipped over here. The unit costs around $180, which is about £100, but you'll need to pay import duty and postage on top of that. -Ian Morris
Update: Read our full Popcorn Hour A-100 review.