Popcorn Hour C-200: Hot, buttery media streamer

Streaming media devices for your home theater are quickly becoming a dime a dozen, so any company that doesn't already have a big name needs to stand out in order for anyone to pay attention. Popcorn Hour certainly has a moniker that's easier to recall than competitors like Roku or Vudu (and that of its parent company, Syabas), and its approach is a little different as well.

Streaming media devices for your home theater are quickly becoming a dime a dozen, so any company that doesn't already have a big name needs to stand out in order for anyone to pay attention. Popcorn Hour certainly has a moniker that's easier to recall than competitors like Roku or Vudu (and that of its parent company, Syabas), and its approach is a little different as well. Instead of having partnerships with Netflix or Hulu, Popcorn Hour sticks in your teeth (metaphorically) with support for a huge range of codecs.

Following up on its predecessor, the Popcorn Hour A-110, the Popcorn Hour C-200 is due next month. In addition to streaming content from your networked PCs through an Ethernet port or an optional $37 Wi-Fi adapter, the C-200 also comes with an open 3.5-inch drive bay for a SATA hard drive or for an internal Blu-ray drive you can install. Since it has BitTorrent support, a hard drive could come in handy for storing your downloads directly to the device. It also sports a whopping four USB ports to attach external storage devices, along with a full array of A/V ports: HDMI v1.3, component video, S-video, composite video and optical and coaxial digital audio. The unit thankfully comes with an HDMI cable, along with a RF remote control. A front-panel display provides an alternative way to see your media collection.

While the C-200 comes with YouTube and Flickr support, its other content partners aren't anything too exciting: no Netflix for streaming movies (but a number of online news broadcasts), no Last.fm, Pandora or Sirius for streaming audio (instead you get Radiobox and Live365 Internet radio). It makes up for it with its variety of supported multimedia formats, including: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, WMV9, and Xvid (SD and HD) for video (but no DviX, apparently); unsecured AAC, FLAC, MP3, OGG, and WMA for audio; and Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS, DTS-HD HR, and DTS-HD MA for surround sound.

The Popcorn Hour C-200 is available for pre-order for $299, though you'll have to pay extra elsewhere to make use of that open drive bay.

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