Photos: Popcorn Hour A-110 does media streaming even better

It's no secret that we had an unhealthy love affair with the Popcorn Hour A-100 media streamer, so when the A-110 landed, we were very excited indeed

When we first got our hands on the Popcorn Hour A-100 we were salivating with excitement. The A-110 landed today and once again our salivary glands started pumping so hard we had to be careful not to allow any seepage. Seriously, if they're going to send us stuff this good, the least they could do is provide complimentary bibs.

The A-110 isn't radically different to the A-100, but the changes that have been made to the hardware all appear to be seriously worthwhile. The box itself is the same style, with the Popcorn Hour logo still emblazoned across the top in bold white print. The cover is still held on with four thumbscrews and inside the case there is space for a hard drive, if you so desire.

Instead of IDE, this version of the Popcorn Hour accepts an SATA hard drive, which is good news if you're one of the few people in the cosmos who doesn't own any IDE drives. The bad news is this isn't pure SATA, it's just a bridge, which means you won't see massively increased transfer speeds.

On the front of the machine, one of the USB sockets has gone, but it's not far away, having been relocated to the back of the machine. This is a great idea, because things with cables, such as portable hard drives, are better suited to being plugged in at the rear, whereas memory sticks work better at the front.

USB has also been improved -- now you get two USB host sockets and a third USB target, which means you can use this machine as a portable hard drive enclosure, hook it up to your PC and drag files directly to the installed hard drive, with no need for any special software.

In terms of outputs, there are two more changes, the most important of which is the addition of HDMI 1.3a, which means in theory, DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD output. And finally, the digital audio output on the A-110 has changed from coaxial on the A-100 to optical on the A-110.

One of the biggest improvements is the ability to internally decode DTS surround sound and downmix it to stereo, although this feature will be added via a firmware update at a later date, so if you get an early model, remember to update. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you have a media server with DVDs and DTS sound, you'd need to pass the audio to an external receiver with the A-100 -- now you'll be able to watch (and listen) on any standard TV.

The A-110 costs $215 (£113) -- the A-100 is $180 (£95) -- and we do think it's worth the extra, especially considering the inclusion of DTS downmixing, USB target and HDMI 1.3a. You can pre-order it direct from the US (you'll have to pay duty), or buy it from a European retailer (the exchange rate might make this more expensive). The first shipments are scheduled for 15 August, so you should be able to get one hooked up to your telly by the end of the month.

We'll treat you to a full look around the A-110 now. Any questions, lob them in our forums or bung a comment below and we'll try and answer them. -Ian Morris

Update: Read our full Popcorn Hour A-110 review here.

The box the A-110 ships in is a little more fancy than the A-100. It's an almost Apple-like package now, with a flip open lid, which when opened presents the A-110 to you like a precious pearl.

There were rumours that the A-110 would ship with an improved remote control, but this seems not to be the case. That said, we've been using the A-100 and its remote since we first took delivery of the machine, and we've never had any problem with it.

The inside of the A-110 is very similar to the A-100's, but as we mentioned, the hard drive connection is now SATA, so power and data connections are now provided as well as drive mounting screws.

On the front there's now a single USB, and a reset switch, which is handy if you need to re-boot the machine. We found that although our A-100 is very reliable, Web services can sometimes cause it to have a fit. The status LEDs are also slightly improved now. With the A-100, it was sometimes hard to tell what mode the machine was in.

At the rear of the machine you can see the newly added USB target connector. This greatly increases the flexibility of the machine, and allows you to drag and drop files on to the hard drive without copying across the network, which can be a little slow.

You can still do FTP transfers to the A-110, and there's still a built-in BitTorrent client, which can download files without a PC.

In the box you get a USB cable to hook the machine up to a PC, a high-quality HDMI cable and mounting screws to attach a hard drive. You also get the remote control, with batteries and a power brick that will work anywhere in the world.


Click play to watch our video review, and read our full Popcorn Hour A-110 review here.

 

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