Are you sick of sitting in front of your computer to watch your downloaded movies and HD content? Well, here are three products that we shall review. They allow you to get files, including HD files from your computer to your television. We’ve got the WDTV HD Media Player from Western Digital, the DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player from D-Link, and the Popcorn Hour A110 Network HD Media Streamer.
The WDTV is the most basic media player of the three. It has two USB ports, Optical out, HDMI out, and composite video and audio out as well. The other two units have all of that and more. The DSM-330 has coaxial audio out, S-Video out, composite video and audio out, and it also has a LAN port and a wireless antenna. It is a network only unit, so it has no internal storage. The Popcorn Hour has the same basic configuration as the DSM-330. It has component video out, and S-Video. It has no coaxial audio out but it does have a couple of USB ports. One of those you can use for a USB storage device like the WDTV, and the other one you can use to turn the Networked Media Tank into a USB storage device itself. You simply put a hard drive inside, plug it into the computer, and you simply drag and drop files to and from your computer. It has an Ethernet port because it is a network media player as well. The Popcorn Hour has the most advanced remote out of the three devices we are reviewing in this article. The D-Link is the second in sophistication and the WDTV has the least advanced of the three.
You may be wondering to yourself, how in the heck do these things work? Well, you basically plug a USB hard drive or USB flash storage device with files that you have taken from your computer and plug it into the WDTV. Then you can navigate your files on the WDTV and play them on the TV. It is quite simple. The only disadvantage is you can’t stream over the network, and you have to actually physically pick up something and walk across the room to load it into the WDTV.
The DSM-330 will take about a half an hour of tinkering to get it to work. Out of the two, it has wireless capability, so that means even though you can’t use a physical medium like a hard drive or copy files directly onto the device, you can stream everything. The disadvantage is you have to have a PC on all the time. The DSM-330 has a great user interface. It is pretty snappy compared to the WDTV and the thumbnail previews are helpful.
The Popcorn Hour is the cream of the crop for the three. It has the best user interface of the three. You have all the connectivity of the other two, plus more. You can actually put a hard drive inside it and copy files to it, so you don’t need to have another computer on and you definitely don’t have to keep moving back and forth across the house to transfer files having to take your Popcorn Hour with you.
Now the inside of the Popcorn Hour really gives us some insights into the Do It Yourself (DIY) heritage of this device. You can compare it to something that you could build if you could buy a tiny motherboard and stick it into a tiny enclosure. Speaking of which, there is a “B” version of the Popcorn Hour that you can install in an ITX PC case. Inside the Popcorn Hour you’ve got a slot and rails so you can put in your SATA hard drive. You can browse the Popcorn Hour website for a long list of compatible hard drives. The Popcorn Hour also has a huge cult fan base of a community, so you can pretty much find people to provide you with support for anything you want. You can work with custom user interfaces, custom programs and many other things. It’s also got support out of the box for things the other two products in this review don’t support. This includes weird aspect ratios and using a regular computer display. It is the best one of the three if you can afford its price.
Although the Popcorn Hour does everything under the sun and has the best features, it is also the most expensive, which means it’s not right for everyone. It is also the biggest and hardest to use. The WDTV is the smallest and the easiest to use out of all three, not to mention the least expensive. So if you don’t mind going to and from your computer for your files, the WDTV might be perfect for you.
The DSM-330 is a good compromise, because it does offer the network capabilities that the other two can’t quite match due to it offering Wireless-G connectivity as well as Ethernet. It also runs off a DivX server. This tells us the community support through DivX is actually quite excellent. At the price, it also offers a wide variety of outputs including almost all of the cables for them, unlike the other two products.
Because the DSM-330 is dependent on a server computer running a DivX server, there are a couple of advantages and disadvantages. You can do everything wirelessly. That means you can take your media from your PC to your router and then stream it directly from the router to the DSM-330 with no wires at all. The other two products can’t really compete with that. The DSM-330 does depend on the speed of the CPU on the server computer and this means all the decoding of the media files is done on the server computer and then streamed to the DSM-330. So that means if you have a very old computer then it’s not going to work very well especially for HD content.