Mini Review of Popcorn Hour A500 Media Player

Last month I received Popcorn Hour A500 high-end media player powered by Sigma Designs SMP8758 dual core Cortex A9 processor, and in the firtst part of the review I posted the specifications, and pictures of the devices and its internals. Today, I’ll write a short review of the device, as it’s basically an update of Popcorn Hour VTEN which I reviewed last year with a faster processor, more memory, and an internal SATA bay for 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives.

User Interface, Remote Control, Internal HDD, and Technical Support

The user interface is basically the same as on VTEN with two home screens to select: Media or Music.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

The performance is a little better, but if you want to find out more about the user interface, I propose you watch the video I shot for Popcorn Hour VTEN

During the first boot, Music Home was selected, and I soon got asked whether I wanted to upgrade the firmware, and OTA firmware update worked just fine.

Popcorn_Hour_A500_OTA_Firmware_Update

One difference with VTEN is that the number of apps to install has decreased from 59 to 52 with YouTube, Russia Today still there, and working as expected.

The remote control provided with Android TV boxes is normally pretty useless, with since Popcorn Hour A500 is a pure media player the remote control is the only input option you have, and it’s actually pretty good for the task as you have quick access to various features such as audio track, video zoom, play/pause and other trick modes, subtitles, and so on.

Backlit Remote Controls are cool
Backlit remote controls are cool

Another thing that pleasantly surprised me is that the remote control keys are backlit, so it’s more convenient to use in the dark. I think it’s the very first time I get a backlit remote control.

I tried both a 1TB 3.5″ HDD with an EXT-4 partition (and some bad sectors) and a 128GB 2.5″ SSD with two partitions (NTFS and EXT-4) in the SATA bay. The hard drive was not detected, but the EXT-4 of the SSD could be mounted and and I could play some video using “Local Media” option. Others had no problems with larger hard drives.

Popcorn_Hour_A500_NASPopcorn Hour A500 can also be used as a NAS running UPnP AV, NFS, Samba, and FTP servers, and it can download torrents using a web based torrent interface using Transmission BT.

This brings me to the last part of this section before I carry on with video and audio testing. Cloud Media offers email support to customers, and well as a detailed user guide for Popcorn Hour A500, and their other devices. You can also check Network Media Tank forums to get some help.  I can also see the company has been working on firmware updates for their devices for well over a year, so you get a level of support that’s higher than with most other manufacturers, which should be reassuring. However, I’ve also read a few people write they would never buy a Cloud Media device again, as they could not fix the bug(s) that affected them on older devices.

Video Playback and Audio Pass-through Testing

The first video samples are the easy ones from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus H.265 videos by Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container 1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – Network Media app reports “No content found”, as  .rmvb files are filtered out
  • WebM / VP8 – Network Media app does not show any file (only another directory), as .webm files are filtered out
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

Exactly the same results as in VTEN. Then I switched to videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Most videos played fine over Ethernet, even the 120 Mbps one. I could also clearly notice that the video quality is superior to most Android TV boxes as the device appears to be able to clear some “white noise” on some videos, notably in the bottom right corner of the “birds” video, possibly with some clever post-processing performed with the SoC’s VXP video engine.

I’ve checked audio pass-through capabilities with Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver via HDMI and optical S/PDIF, and I’ve also tested PCM downmix for people who connect the device directly to the TV.

Video’s Audio Codec HDMI PCM downmix HDMI Pass-through optical SPDIF Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 No Audio OK
Dolby TrueHD 7.1 No Audio OK
Dolby Atmos No Audio Dolby TrueHD 7.1
DTS-HD Master OK OK
DTS-HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X OK DTS-HD MSTR 7.1*

* TX-NR636 does not support DTS:X, so fall back to DTS-HD Master 7.1 is expected.

I’ve added Dolby Atmos and DTS:X since last year, but apart from that the results are exactly the same as with VTEN which I tested a year ago. The fact that they did not fix TrueHD downmixing is unimpressive.

Sintel-Bluray.iso and amat.iso (unencrypted Bluray ISOs) could play fine, and MPEG2 videos too. However, Popcorm Hour A500 does not support Hi10p (10-bit H.264) video, as all I got what a black screen and audio for the two anime videos I tried.

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK, but not 100% smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Plays, but not very smoothly.
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK. It’s perfectly watchable by obviously plays at 30 fps during to hardware limitations.
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Video OK, but no audio
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Black screen only (normal since hi10p is not supported) and audio heavily saturated
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Plays, but in slow motion.

That’s not too bad, but the results are fairly similar to other devices that sell for a fifth of the price.

Finally I tried some 3D videos. My TV does not support 3D, but my A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D MVC videos and shows a 3D icon:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Plays but not smoothly
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Black screen + audio
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – Plays in 2D only
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – Plays in 2D only

Conclusion

Popcorn Hour A500 capabilities are quite similar to Popcorn Hour VTEN, but it’s a little faster, features a SATA bay, and ships with a backlit infrared remote control. The video “smoothness” is comparable to what I get in Android TV boxes, but the video “quality” appears to be better in some videos, probably due to VXP engine and some post-processing. Audio quality should be better too, but I could not hear noticeable improvement. I don’t quite have “musical” ears though…  The main downsides I experienced were that the player did not recognize my (old) HDD drive (SSD OK), and it also rebooted twice as I tested videos. It’s also possible to setup PCH-A500 as a NAS server with UPnP AV, torrent client, NFS, SAMBA and NFS services. Another positive point is that Cloud Media provides support by email, decent documentation, and access to NMT (Networked Media Tank) forums as mentioned in the first section of this review.

Cloud Media sells Popcorn Hour A500 directly on their website for $269 plus shipping, and through resellers.

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Aaa
Guest
Aaa

I think raspberry pi 3 + mele f10 remote + some (hopefuly existing) NAS is much better option.

roel
Guest
roel

CNX,

is the remote IR or RF? Do you have a type nr. for the remote?

Harley
Guest
Harley

Popcorn Hour A500 does not support Kodi / XBMC which is I think reason enough not to buy it.

Oren
Guest

The age of NMTs based on customized Linux versions is gone, in my opinion. I don’t know if sigma SOCs can handle android well, given the small amount of RAM all or most designs include, but they should really step it up. Android is much more flexible and its wide user base makes it much more attractive. Not to mention the lower pricing.

szkzs
Guest
szkzs

Thank you for taking the time reviewing this player, but sadly your review it’s just to “simple” or i like to call it, a little lazy!
Your reviewers now just doing this “job” …… ok remote have light…… let’s run through some video…. ok, ok,……
audio….. ok, ok…… then your conclusion. 🙁
In the process, who really want to know a little more about this player, this review was not helping them!
Actually, this review is only helping the Kodi lover to feel better! I really hope that Cloudmedia didn’t awarded the
player fof you guys, for your “honest review”? (I am sorry, but i don’t really see the point asking you to review anything
if you can’t take your time. For me, the “mini” review is the term when you are too comfortable and lazy, because
you think, “we are too reputable, therefore it is a mistake not taking us seriously”!

This player, the A-500 is deserve so much more, (i don’t inspire you to be dishonest, and biased, that would be unfair
and illogical also) this player is more than just playing some predetermined video and audio.
Actually, it is sad that you completely forget to mention, that in the “Audio” playing side how many new and improved
features this player have. With the help of the icluded NMJ Jukebox, and with some optional 3rd party programs, like
(NMJToolboxv2) this player can be just as important, if you’re a music oriented person! CM development invested an
afoul amount of time, recognizing peoples who like to use this player equally for HQ Audio listening also!
And in the present state, the VTEN and the A-500 is just perfect for that too!

Well, sorry for my tones, but i alwas try to live by some rules…… examples, if i take a job, i going to do it perfectly,
otherwise for me, there is no joy to doit. (Especially, if that job is a “free” job!)
And please, if your TV can’t play 3D, what is the meaning of testing it…….?

Thank you for listening. szkzs.
Please, forgave me for my English!

Aaa
Guest
Aaa

@cnxsoft
Ok, so if you have 4K TV and 4K content then you can consider a500. Otherwise a big waste of money.

Bbb
Guest
Bbb

@Harley
I have messed with Kodi again and have come to the same conclusion. If you want to watch your files rather than playing around for hours with Kodi don’t us eit. It’s becoming bloatware and has abandoned Android development. Cheap Android boxes and Kodi wont last as Kodi seems no longer interested on Android. Probably getting too much attention for those illegal streaming services due to the numbers.

The only way to watch Kodi in anything approaching the same Picture Quality as the more expensive media player using the Sigma chip is to use a high powered PC and Kodi. That takes it way out of the budget for most and in comparison to the tailored lower powered SoC media players makes it look very unattractive.

Bbb
Guest
Bbb

Aaa :
@cnxsoft
Ok, so if you have 4K TV and 4K content then you can consider a500. Otherwise a big waste of money.

Simply zero logic to this statement.

I dont have a 4K TV and have a A500. The picture quality is far better than any other media playing device and the VXP processing comes into its own on standard SD material.

H265, believe it or not it comes in non 4K, is supported and loks great given small file size.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Guys,

I have both Raspberry Pi 3 with Kodi and an older Popcorn Hour a210. Most of my movies are full Blu Ray Remux or ISOs. I really value video quality so I play all my movies still on the popcorn hour. The Pi is nice for TV shows in low quality but the motion, colour, smoothness if far better on my old PCH A210. I’m in the market for a new player because I would like H.265 support so again I’m looking at the Sigma design options. The movie presentation is the most important thing, not how slick the user interface is to load them. The linux OS is perfectly fine to sit in the background and provide a stable media “server” base.

Ideally I would only have one device but the image quality of the Pi is not really up to scratch.

Thanks,

Ben