Although its format support and basic functionality are good, the A-210 is expensive and lacks polish.
Syabas’s Popcorn Hour streamers are known for their adaptability, and were among the first to include built-in BitTorrent and Usenet clients. Further development comes quickly thanks to a keen user development community constantly producing new apps and features.
The A-210 is a basic but well-constructed black metal box with HDMI, component, composite and S-Video outputs, plus stereo phono and both optical and co-axial S/PDIF outputs. It has Gigabit Ethernet and has two standard USB ports for connecting external storage, a wireless adaptor or a USB keyboard.
A USB Type B port allows you to connect it to your PC as an external storage device. There’s room to fit either a 2.5in or 3.5in hard disk; the A-210 makes little noise with a disk installed and none without one. Once you’ve attached either internal or external hard disks, you can use the Popcorn Hour’s built-in NAS features to share its content via Samba, UPnP, FTP or NFS file shares. The remote control is an ugly wedge of silver plastic with loads of clunky and confusing buttons. It lights up in the dark, though, which is handy for midnight movie sessions.
There are two main interfaces; one is a file browser, which shows all the media files on a local drive or network share. The other divides files by type – audio, video, pictures and playlists. This works automatically for viewing UPnP content, but the A-210 has to write a small file to any target SMB share you want to view like this. Your files are only displayed as a list – you don’t get thumbnails, album art or any additional information. The features you get depend on how you’re sharing your content. The A-210 works best with the official myiHome UPnP server – album art and track information didn’t displaying properly when we used Windows Media Player’s UPnP sharing.
Popcorn Hour’s format support is legendary and the A-210 played everything we threw at it, although we noticed a couple of minor frame skips in our 1080p H.264 MOV file. We were impressed by the streamer’s support for both DVD and Blu-Ray discs and ISOs, including fully functional menus.
The A-210 can play almost any kind of media file, but doesn’t have all the features we want. Video playlist support isn’t built in, although you can add it with an app. Photo thumbnails are only available in media browser mode and you can’t manually advance between slides. Supported internet media services include Shoutcast internet radio and full access to your Flickr and Picassa accounts, but Syabas is no longer allowed to provide YouTube access, which is a major loss.
The A-210 works well for video and audio and it’s an obvious choice for those who like to tinker with their media devices but its features and functionality aren’t sleek enough to make it friendly and easy-to-use option for most users. At £209, it’s also very expensive when you can buy the D-Link Boxee Box or Western Digital WD TV Live Hub for less.
|Media Streamer type||streaming multimedia receiver|
|Audio MP3 playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA playback||Yes|
|Audio WMA-DRM playback||Yes|
|Audio AAC playback||Yes|
|Audio Protected AAC playback||No|
|Audio OGG playback||Yes|
|Audio WAV playback||Yes|
|Audio Audible playback||No|
|Other audio formats||FLAC|
|Other video formats||MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, APC, H.264, WMV9, XVID, DIVX|
|Image BMP support||Yes|
|Image JPEG support||Yes|
|Image TIFF support||No|
|Wired network ports||1x 10/100/1000|
|Wireless networking support||Yes|
|Minijack line outputs||0|
|Minijack headphone outputs||0|
|Stereo phono outputs||1|
|Coaxial S/PDIF outputs||1|
|Optical S/PDIF outputs||1|
|Total SCART sockets||0|
|Other connectors||2x USB, 1x USB (client)|
|Power consumption standby||6W|
|Power consumption on||9W|
|Warranty||one year RTB|