Thursday, June 17, 2010

Patriot Box Office HD Media Player

Anyone with kids will attest to the fact that letting the young ones handle DVDs is a recipe for disaster. The DVDs don't last long from sticky fingers, drops and scratches. And what about the players, they don't hold up well to being man handled. I think one day I should encourage my grand kids to mess with my kids media equipment, just to get them back. Anyway back to the present.

To overcome these issues, ripping your DVDs to a file, and storing the file on a hard drive, then using some form of player to play them is the way to go. This is relatively easy if you have a PC, and you can use the PC to play back the files. That's all great, if you like sitting at your desk in the study and watching a movie. But the lounge or TV room is a lot more comfortable. You can of course carry your PC through to the TV, and connect it up. Many new PCs have plugs to connect to the newer TVs. That's got it's pros and cons, but many people do have a great deal for success using a PC connected to their TV, for media playback.

What out weighs things for me on the PC vs Media Player debate, is cost. You just cannot build a dedicated HD capable PC for the cost of a media player.

If you decide to purchase a media player, you are currently spoiled for choice. A short list of those I looked at were: Popcorn Hour, WD Live, MVix, Mede8er, Playon!HD and Patriot Box Office.

At the time, the best cost to perfomance model was the Patriot Box Office (PBO), which I purchased from Kalahari.net (my buying experience was hassle free).

Patriot Box Office

Most of these players use the Realtek Media chipset, and perform very much the same way. An odd one out at the moment is the Popcorn Hour C200. It uses a different chipset and I do feel it is probably the best media player you can get, the "Mac Daddy" as some have called it. It is however also the most expensive, by a long way. One of the major benefits is it's ability to run Yet Another Movie Jukebox. YAMJ is all about the user interface, it looks good and runs well on the Popcorn Hour. This alone could justify the cost, if you have money to burn. But for the rest of us, we will need to choose from the others.

In a resent "beta" release, the Playon!HD now also supports YAMJ, but not to the extent that the Popcorn Hour does, but they are working on it. The Playon!HD is now available in South Africa through a local distributor, which makes it top of the list to consider.

I decided on the PBO, because it was the cheapest at the time, and I had read that quite a few people were having great success running the Playon firmware (AC Ryan Firmware) on the PBO. All these players run the same chipset, so theoretically you should be able to interchange the firmware, but the problem comes in with how each manufacturer has configured their hardware. Hence the reason that someone needs to hack the firmware to work on a particular player. The hacked AC Ryan firmware for the PBO is based on the beta release, with support for YAMJ.

Flashing the firmware is real simple, and getting back to the original PBO firmware is just as easy. You do run some risks with this type of thing, but there are methods available on the net to un-brick your PBO if you mess things up.

The big differences that this will bring your PBO are:
  • YAMJ. It works great, however it is a bit slow and takes numerous clicks to start.
  • Media Library. Another way to browse your media on the local drive only.
  • Internet Services
  • Flickr
  • Picasa
  • Weather
  • RSS News
  • Streaming Radio
  • NFS shares support
  • DVD support (still need to test this, would be great if it supported an external BluRay drive)
This unit has played every type of media file I have without a problem. It plays files over my Ethernet network, from Linux and Windows PCs. It supports UPnP, which I have tested from Windows7, TVersity and MythTV.


Because the PBO is so compact, it is quite easy to transport, and with a 500GB internal hard drive (2.5"), I can put all the kids stuff on there and take it with us when we visit family, instead of packing a bunch of DVDs in the car, that are invariably going to get tomato sauce on them.

At the price, you could even hook up one of these on each TV in the house, and create a HD media network.

So I have only had the PBO for a few weeks now. I will post more about it, should I discover something of real interest, otherwise it's movie night every night. Where's the popcorn!
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