Perfect for getting video from your PC on to your TV with minimal effort, we've always thought the Popcorn Hour was the answer to our media-streaming prayers -- and now it seems things are about to get even better.
The Popcorn Hour C-200 builds on the terrific system that earned itself our coveted Editor's Choice award and pumps in some incredible new features too. Here's the headliner: the C-200 comes with a slot ready to accept a Blu-ray drive, meaning that with a simple modification, you can turn your Popcorn Hour into a fully featured Blu-ray player. We've been waiting for so long for this to happen in reverse -- via a networked Blu-ray player -- we never imagined the Popcorn Hour team would simply add support for the format instead.
Working with Blu-ray means, of course, the new C-200 will need to cope with DRM. So there's no chance you'll be able to use the system to rip discs to a built-in hard drive. But we're prepared to forgo that, just to have an all-in-one media solution for our TV. Crucially, the ability to deal with DRMed files might eventually mean the Popcorn Hour could handle movie rentals and purchases. It could, in effect, show Apple TV how it's done.
You still get all the brilliant features of the older Popcorn Hour models. It can cope with 1080p video without breaking a sweat and every major codec and container gets support -- and quite a few minor ones too. We've never been able to find much the A-110 couldn't play, and we use it every single day.
There have been a number of other changes too. The remote control, for example, is now an RF model, which surprised us -- but it's a welcome addition considering how insensitive the IR receiver was on the A-100 and A-110. There's also now gigabit Ethernet included, which will assist with streaming high bit-rate files, assuming your network can support it. Wi-Fi is still only an optional extra though, which we think is a terrible shame -- it would be great if 802.11n support was included in the box.
Another addition is the multi-line LCD display -- which could be quite a handy feature, as long as it's used for useful information. The front of the machine also has a pair of USB sockets, with another pair at the back. There's even a proper on/off switch on this one. You also get two internal SATA connections, one for the optional Blu-ray drive, the other for an optional hard drive.
If you do fit a hard drive, you'll get access to the Usenet and BitTorrent clients, which enable you to download files directly on to the Popcorn Hour -- all administered from a simple Web console. You'll also need at least 1GB of storage to take advantage of the Blu-ray functionality too, which is certainly not much of a problem, considering the low cost of memory these days. If you don't want a memory card sticking out of the external ports, you can fit a memory card internally instead, which is very neat.
The C-200 is due next month, and will cost $300, which would make it around £183 here in the UK if you ignore import duty and shipping. We're hoping to have a review model soon -- and when we do get our hands on one, you can expect a gallery of breathless action shots and a thorough probing in our reviews channel.