When it comes to media players there are few brands that carry as much weight as Popcorn Hour does. Cloud Media (makers of Popcorn Hour) have been in the media player business since the very beginning and are known for producing some of the best media players around. With the launch of one of their newest devices, the Popcorn Hour A-500, Cloud Media is still going strong.
While Android boxes may be all the rage at the moment, they can come with some pitfalls such as poor file support, buggy 3rd party aps, issues with manufacturer support as well as being difficult to use for some people. Some people simply want a great media player that they can plug in and start watching their local TV shows and movies that they have downloaded. This is where Popcorn Hour devices enter the fray, aimed at catering to those people that want a killer device that plays everything you can throw at it whilst being simple to use.
Popcorn Hour devices are known for their premium quality and amazing file type support, something which they aim to carry over to the Popcorn Hour A-500. Can Cloud Media keep up the trend with the Popcorn Hour A-500? Let us take a look with our Popcorn Hour A-500 review.
Popcorn Hour A-500 Review – What’s in the Box?
When I received the Popcorn Hour A-500 media player I was impressed with the weight of the box. So many media players ship in flimsy boxes that weigh next to nothing thanks to the cheaper construction of the media players themselves. Opening the box the media player shipped in I was greeted by the great looking orange and white packaging of the Popcorn Hour A-500.
The orange and white packaging looks stunning with the orange and white colours complimenting each other nicely. The orange pops nicely on the white background. There is some really nice simple illustrations on the packaging with I think helps keep the premium look. A less is more approach was a great move from Cloud Media.
The packing is very sturdy and I couldn’t feel or hear anything rattling around inside the box which means that everything should be protected during shipping, this was confirmed when I opened the box and found everything securely packed away inside.
Once opened I found the following inside of the box:
Popcorn Hour A-500 media player
USB 3.0 slave cable
Screws for 2.5” and 3.5” SATA support
The Popcorn Hour A-500 – A Premium Looking Media Player
The thing that instantly stands out to me is how amazing the Popcorn Hour A-500 looks. With its black brushed aluminium design and it very sturdy feel to the construction you can instantly tell it is a premium device. This thing would easily feel right at home sitting in the middle of your home theatre setup. The aluminum chassis utilizes fan-less architecture and uses passive cooling and for silent operation.
You can tell that the product design team at Cloud Media spent a lot of time refining the look and feel of the Popcorn Hour A-500 and that they intended to put out a premium product which I feel they completely nailed.
The Ins and Outs of it
The Popcorn Hour A-500 comes with a range of inputs and outputs to ensure that the media player will fit in seamlessly with your current home theatre setup and provide you with all the things you should require. On the front of the device you find the small and subtle Popcorn Hour logo along with the receiver for the included remote control as well as activity lights.
On the right hand side of the device is where you will find the included SATA hard drive bay which allows you to install a 2.5” – 3.5” SATA hard drive. This is a great inclusion as it allows you to store all of your media locally on the hard drive inside the Popcorn Hour A-500. This in turn makes it very simple to access your content and also eliminates any issues you might face streaming the content over your network. It also means that whenever you relocate the media player you also take your media files with you.
Below the SATA hard drive dock is where the SD card slot is located enabling you to expand storage capacity easily along with a standard USB 2.0 Port.
Turn to the rear of the device is where you will find all the necessary inputs and outputs required to hook up the device. There is a Gigabit Ethernet LAN port, additional USB 2.0 port, HDMI 1.4 output along with component video outputs, stereo jacks, coaxial and optical audio out. Finally you will find the power switch and power adapter connection.
One thing of note when it comes network connection is that the A-500 does not come with WiFi capability out of the box and only supports Ethernet. This was not a problem for me as I always use an Ethernet connection however should you wish to use Wifi you can purchase a WiFi module separately.
The Popcorn Hour A-500 Remote Control
When it comes to remote controls that come with media players we are used to seeing the same remotes with a different brand name stamped on them being provided with the devices. The issue with this is that whilst there are some very good remote controls, the majority of them are generally pretty average and offer little functionality. When I removed the Popcorn Hour remote control from the box I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was not the case, in fact is was the polar opposite.
The included remote control is certainly larger than most of the other remote controls but this is for a very good reason. The Popcorn Hour A-500 remote control comes with all of the buttons you could possible need.
Although large the remote control fits nicely in your hand and the navigational controls and select button is located in the middle of the controller making it easy to reach with your thumb.
Located at the top of the remote control is the power button and alpha numeric buttons. The alpha numeric buttons allow you to skip through parts of the TV show or move that you are watching. The remote control contains 4 coloured buttons that allow you to access the various media types (Video, Music etc.) quickly and easily.
The Popcorn Hour remote control contains the most common media playback controls such as volume, play and pause etc. which is something that is often missing from other remote controls that are supplied with Android boxes.
Setting up the Popcorn Hour A-500 is a straight forward process that requires no technical knowledge, it is simply a matter of connecting your video and audio cables, connecting to your TV and powering it up. Once I powered on the A-500 the boot time took roughly 25 seconds before I was greeting with the dashboard.
As the Popcorn Hour A-500 is not running the Android operating system but is instead powered by Linux the dashboard is quite different to what you may be used to if you are familiar with Android boxes. The launcher is designed from the ground up for the Popcorn Hour and you are able to select from 2 available launchers, Media Home and Music Home. Media home is catered towards video playback whilst Music Home is more designed towards audio playback.
There are customization options available allowing you to tweak the dashboard to suit your needs more closely. The customization options allow you to pick and choose the Widgets that are displayed at the bottom of the screen. As I am used to the Android interface it took a little while for me to get used to the Popcorn Hour launcher however I got the hang of it pretty quickly and I found that navigating between screens and accessing my media was a simple process.
You are able to install apps on the Popcorn Hour A-500 by access the Popcorn Hour app store where you can browse and install the apps that you would like, similar to how the Google Play Store works. There isn’t a large number of apps available but there is enough there should you want to expand on where you access media content from. The good thing about the included app store is that the apps are designed for the Popcorn Hour which ensures you get the best experience possible when using the apps.
The Popcorn Hour A-500 connects to your local media files via attached storage or network attached storage and allows you to scan for media files which then adds the content to the Popcorn Hour Jukebox which is what is used to playback all of your media. As I have about 8TB of media on my network attached storage I let the scan run overnight as it was going to take a while. Once the scan is finished you can then browse all of your local content similar which will show posters and information for all of your media files, similar to how Kodi works. I don’t mind the interface when browsing media however I would have loved to have seen a more slick and feature rich interface like that of Kodi.
One great thing about the Popcorn Hour A-500 is that you are able to turn the media play into a network share using SAMBA, NFS or UPNP which in turn allows you to share the contents of a SATA drive inside the A-500 with other devices on the network such as your computer. This essentially means that you can have a very affordable NAS.
The most surprising feature that I found on the A-500 was the ability for the A-500 to be used as a BitTorrent and Usenet client. This means that you no longer need to download torrent or from Usenet on your computer and then transfer the files across, you simply download your content directly to the HDD in the media player. This is an amazing feature to include.
Popcorn Hour – Firmware Updates
When it comes to updating the Popcorn Hour A-500 firmware the process is simple. Simply go to the settings of the device, ensure you have an active internet connection and check for updates. The update process is automated which means that you don’t need to worry about having to manually flash the latest firmware.
For those of you that prefer the manual process of updating the firmware you can manually flash the A-500 by downloaded the latest firmware and flashing via USB.
When the Popcorn Hour A-500 was designed and developed Cloud Media had one main goal in mind, media playback. Popcorn Hour devices have always been known for their incredible file type support and handling pretty much everything you can throw at it. The A-500 is no different, this thing is a beast when it comes to media support. I tried the following file types and each played great:
720 x 576 MPG
1280 x 720 MP4
1920 x 1080 MKV
192 x 1080 ISO
3840 x 2160 MP4
3840 x 2160 MKV
264 1080p MP4
MPEG2 1080p MPG
MPEG4 1080p AVI
VC1 1080p WMV
265 1080p MPEG TS
4K H.265 MP4
4K H.265 TS
4K HEVC MKV
1920 x 1080 ISO 3D
1920 x 1080 MKV 3D
When it comes to audio support I found the following worked also worked great:
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1
Dolby Digital+ 7.1
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Dolby TrueHD 7.1
I have the Popcorn Hour A-500 connected via Ethernet cable to my home network. My internet connection is a 100Mb fiber connection and I have an older QNAP TS-410 NAS setup sharing media all of my local media files. The network performance was great with the A-500 and I noticed no issues of lagging, stuttering or buffering when streaming my content across my home network.
The Popcorn Hour A-500 certainly lives up to its predecessors when it comes to quality and functionality, this things handles pretty much everything you throw at it. The A-500 is certainly a more premium device with its stylish design and strong feature set but this does come at a cost, and that cost is $269. While not a huge sum of money it is more expensive then other market leaders such as the Nvidia Shield TV however you do certainly get what you pay for, and for what you get I feel the price is well worth it. There are not many other media players that will aesthetically fit so seamlessly into you your current home theatre setup and there certainly are not many other devices on the market that cater for both the general user and the media enthusiast at the same time. If you are looking to get a serious media player then I can certainly recommend the Popcorn Hour A-500.