Worthy descendant of the PCH A-210, the PCH A-300 has, it has to be said, the same stamp of quality. The casing is still entirely in aluminium and you can only tell the A-210 and the A-300 apart by the air vents. The A-300 runs in perfect silence as there's no fan.
Either a 3.5 or 2.5-inch hard drive can be easily inserted but it is a shame that screws and screwdrivers are needed to mount it. We'd have preferred a rack system without any screws.
but it requires a screwdriver.
The infrared remote is identical to the one used on the 200 series and quite right too! It's a high end model that we particularly like: excellent handling, a soft touch coating on the back and, above all, backlit buttons.
Power consumption hasn't really changed in comparison to the old generation and there are still two standby modes. Prolonged pressure on the On/Off remote button turns the device off completely (0.7 Watts) and it then takes 20 seconds to turn it back on. Pressing on the button for a short time puts the A-300 into the standby mode (7.8 Watts) from which the machine can be turned on in 2 seconds.
New, faster menuSurely Syabas didn't simply add four or five holes to the casing and release their new Popcorn Hour under a different model number did they? Of course not! First of all, the navigation interface has been revisited somewhat. It's now the same as the one used on the Popbox V8 and has been designed using Flash.
It's quite fast to move between the various menus and display of files is particularly well handled. You just hold down the 'Info' button while you're over a film or series episode to view a full info page (plot summary, poster, actors, illustrative image).
Though this information is retrieved online on request, it comes up pretty quickly. You can download the different elements so you don't have to go get them online each time you consult your titles. An edit option allows you to choose the cover or background screen or correct the films or series that haven't been properly recognised.
You can then choose a poster or correct errors...
For music, both internal and external album covers are recognised, as is track information (excepting M4A). The only sin is that the photo interface can only be displayed in list form.
NMJ v2: the true strength of the A-300So much for the basic interface... because, yes, there is another one, the NMJ interface. The NMJ (Network Media Jukebox) is in fact an automated catalogue system of all types of files. It allows you, for example, to display photos in the form of thumbnails or consult your music in the form of a wall of album covers, which then allows you to carry out searches by various criteria: date, genre, artist and so on.
For films and series, cataloguing is also included with various display possibilities and the option to refine search results by changing a poster or the name of a film. A little marker flags up when you've watched a film or episode of a series.
Cataloguing is of course a demanding exercise for the media centre's processor but it is nevertheless faster than on the 200 series (around 20% more processing power) and a good deal less time is required.
One of three types of film display.
The first catalogue is nevertheless long and varies according to the number and type of files to be indexed. In our case, for our test files, it took an hour and a half to carry out the operation: 1322 audio files, 103 videos (films and series) and 3403 photos. A second test on 500 videos (films and series) took twenty five minutes. The new files were indexed automatically in under five minutes.
Not everything worked perfectly however. First of all, missing music album covers aren't downloaded automatically, unlike on the D-Link Boxee Box. Next, as the interface for series is similar to that for films, it isn't as well adapted to this type of video as it could be and you have to click four times in succession to start an episode.
Menus of saved Blu-ray files are displayedMammoth throughput Full-HD videos, multiple audio tracks, subtitling, the Popcorn Hour A-300 (like its predecessors) handles it all without blinking an eye. There's support for side-by-side 3D video but MVC format of 3D Blu-rays isn't always supported.
DTS and Dolby can be decoded or sent to an external audio amp in bitstream. The same goes for the lossless formats, namely DTS HD MA/HR and Dolby TrueHD. The best discovery was however that there's support for saved Blu-ray files. This was quite unexpected and very welcome. While PiP mode is supported, BD Live is not. Note also, heavy menus (Java type) aren't always displayed fluidly.
You still get various other welcome features such as automatic detection of video image throughput (23.976, 25p and so on), lip sync, subtitle synching and online retrieval of subtitling.
Increased Gigabit mode speedWhile the absence of a card reader is still regrettable, we do salute the introduction of a USB 3.0 port. It's in micro-USB format (a cable comes with) and allows you to link the media centre up to a computer. This is practical when you want to copy large amounts of data: throughput jumps to around 60 MB/s in comparison to barely 10 MB/s using USB 2 via an external peripheral (USB key or USB HDD).
You still get an Ethernet Gigabit socket for the network and speeds have been more or less doubled to 20 MB/s. This is a good deal better than what you get with pretty much any of the competition but quite a bit down on the maximum possible with this network mode. The reason for this is that the processor used can't support anything faster, in spite of the fact that it's a high end chip.
To sum up then, no surprises here. Syabas has given us another excellent media centre. Although not perfect, you won't find better anywhere else. Nevertheless, we're still hungry for more! The innovations in comparison to the old generation and the advances from the A-200 or A-210 to the new A-300 only just justify a new release.