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Home Entertainment

Photos: Popcorn Hour B-110 DIY media motherboard

If you're looking for a home cinema PC that can decode virtually every format, is quiet as a mouse and has a pretty decent price, we might have the very thing

We've been hugely impressed with the two Popcorn Hour media streamers so far, the A-100 and A-110, but the company has another trick up its sleeve. Not everyone wants a specific case, and not every user needs the same amount of storage, so the Popcorn Hour B-110 is simply a home cinema PC motherboard with a customised processor and chipset.

The idea is, you'll buy your own case, fit the motherboard and add all your own storage as you see fit. To this end, the B-110 board can accommodate two SATA drives, has a single IDE channel and four USB connectors. You also get 10/100 Ethernet, and an HDMI socket.

Curiously, the B-110 has analogue 7.1 outputs, but this baseline model won't have them enabled. Using the power of deduction, we assume there will be another version along later that will make use of them. Although this sounds silly, there is a cost associated with decoding every surround-sound format, and it may be that rather than do a bad job, Popcorn Hour would rather wait and get it right. Still, it's slightly frustrating having them sitting there looking up at us without being operational.

The good news is there are both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, which means you can pass Dolby Digital and DTS out to a separate AV receiver. There are also stereo RCA jacks too, if you don't want to faff about with surround sound.

Like the A-110, the B-110 has HDMI 1.3a, so it can pass Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD out. Be aware that it can't decode them, so you'll need compatible hardware to make sense of the output. That said, you can't find a whole lot of HD audio at the moment, unless it's attached to a Blu-ray disc. In the future we might get DRM-free HD downloadable movies with DTS-HD soundtracks -- oh, and pigs, they might fly too.

Because the motherboard is Mirco-ATX compliant you can put it in any case that supports such boards, and you shouldn't struggle to find a custom home cinema case if you look around. SilverStone seems to have a few that would fit the bill quite nicely.

The board also has the ability to accept a mini PCI Wi-Fi card, so should the need to access wireless media become pressing, you can add one at a later date. There's no word from Popcorn Hour about which cards will be supported, but its Web site and active user forum are good places to check for up-to-date information and ask questions.

The B-110 is aimed at people who want a more customisable home cinema experience. It might also be useful if you don't want to stream media from another PC, and just want to build a quiet, low-power system that can access quite a large amount of internal storage. It's available for pre-order now, and costs $199 (£105), but you'll have to pay shipping and tax to get one here for the time being.

Now, geek out with us, as we show you all the nooks and crannies we could point a camera at. -Ian Morris

The motherboard is tiny, which is great if you want to get a home cinema PC that can be hidden away under a TV and not cause a fuss. The remote control supplied is the same one that comes with the other Popcorn Hour devices.

You get power, SATA and IDE cables included in the box. There's also the traditional high-quality Popcorn Hour HDMI lead supplied. The black thing is a remote extender, which simply plugs in at the rear of the board.

Personalised warning labels. This makes us happy.

Here you can see the SATA and IDE connectors. This should provide enough storage options to keep all but the most space-hungry happy.

There is, as you would imagine, a 100Mbps network connection, HDMI 1.3a and even composite and S-Video sockets, if you're using a standard-definition TV. In the foreground is the infrared socket for plugging in the extender we saw earlier.

Here are the unused 7.1 analogue audio outputs, as well as the RCA stereo out and both optical and coaxial digital connections.

Finally, this little connector is for hooking up an LCD screen. We hear it's not implemented yet, but we're pleased to see it anyway.