I think it would be fair to say that BitTorrent has already begun to radically change the viewing and spending habits of the connected world. I know how much I hate watching adverts and having my attention disrupted by non-public service channels. I also dislike having my viewing schedule dictated by television station controllers. Broadcasters are starting to awaken to this, and the BBC seems to be leading the way with its iPlayer offering. However, the content available on this conduit isn't exactly premium viewing.

So, along comes an interesting company by the name of Syabas with a product that will potentially change the way you enjoy your living room. The PopcornHour is a small box, maybe twice the size of an external hard drive. It gets delivered from China for about £100, but comes without an internal hard drive. The model I received at the end of last year accepts an old-fashioned PATA hard drive, whilst the newer A110 model takes the better-performing SATA types. You don't need to get a hard drive if you have some fancy Network Attached Storage on your home network, but I don't think you get all the extra applications without the internal drive.

I went for a 500GB Western Digital, which is excellent in terms of quantity of media that it can store. Unfortunately a bug exists in combination with that drive, so don't buy it! Details here. A better buy might be one of these. Don't worry if you do pair the errant drive with the PopcornHour, there is a preference to stop the remote from repeating itself, which is annoying, but does solve the problem.

So, what does it do? Everything!!! You can watch virtually any format of media on it, from .mkv to quicktimes, from DIVX avi's to DVD backups. You name it, it seems to play it. It even has an interface to watch YouTube and other online video sources. It plugs into any television via SCART or HDMI, so it works nicely with the new LCD high definition screens starting to creep into our lives. Perhaps the biggest boon is that it has a scheduled BitTorrent daemon running, so you can queue up your .torrent files and let it happily chug through them overnight, without having to leave your laptop turned on. What would be nice is an unrar utility built in, to unpack the compressed downloads that are so prevalent.

The really cool bit is that Syabas keep adding features. Every month or two a new firmware update is released, which packs even more utility and bugfixes into the small box beneath your telly! The latest update includes the Transmission web client for visual pleasure. However, it does seem to be a bit slow at the moment, compared to the previous, but still present, BTPD. I'm sure this will be fixed in the next update though!

So here are some pros and cons:

PROS

  • Plays everything you can throw at it
  • Relatively cheap
  • Commitment to future updates from Syabas
  • Makes BitTorrent a pleasure rather than a file download nightmare
  • You've got one before any of your friends!

CONS

  • No wireless networking built in
  • Interface is a bit cludgy
  • Requires a bit of technical know-how to get going
  • Remote is painful with my chosen hard drive
  • USB ports at the front of the box

In conclusion, get one!