We've long moaned that there's no such thing as the perfect media streamer. We've tested , which is hopeless unless you exist totally in the Apple universe, and even then only if you're a US resident. We enjoyed the , 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. 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