Just a quick review while the thoughts are fresh in my head. I’ll hopefully fill this in later with more details and some screen shots.
So, I get a lot of e-mail from Amazon, trying to convince me to buy things. Well, earlier this week they sent me one about a rebate on something I’ve never heard of, yet it’s the first time I’ve jumped on one of their offers. The device was the Patriot Box Office. What convinced me to order one was the fact that I’ve been considering building a home theater pc for quite some time to stream a growing library of content in numerous containers using several different codecs for video and audio. I have a PS3 and a Roku media player, but so far my experience has been less than satisfactory at getting this mishmosh of random media files to play back on my TV using my devices. My thought was that the only way to guarantee you’re not left with some sort of odd compatibility issue is to have a full PC, hence the idea for a HTPC. Well, I saw the PBO, and it claimed to play everything I could throw at it and then some. It also said it could do it for $99 minus a $35 rebate, so I figured what the heck and I ordered one.
The PBO arrived the day after I ordered it. Way to go Amazon Prime 2-day shipping! I got it home, plugged it into my network — I have an ethernet switch in my home theater, attached it to my receiver and hdmi switch and turned it on. After a brief bootup, I was at a screen where I could browse various locations for media. This includes USB drives (if any are connected), an optional 2.5″ internal hard drive, “net” (SMB/Windows shares), and UPnP (aka DLNA) servers. I already have functional SMB (samba on linux) shares and a DLNA server (mediatomb), so I went right into Net at first, entered some login credentials to get to my share, and I was in my media library. The browser is pretty much the same no matter what medium you use to store your files.
As you scroll through the media browser, it shows all compatible files in whatever category you selected. The options are All (default and what I usually stick with), Music, Photo, and Movies. You drill down through directories (assuming you don’t have media in a top level directory) as you would with any typical file browser on a computer. Once in a directory with files, they’ll be listed under the directories and you can scroll down and select them. By default, when you select a file it begins to grab the file and plays a preview on the right side of the window. I’ve turned that option off so it speeds things up a bit. It will still show the complete file name along with the file size. Once it plays video (whether in the preview or hitting Enter on the remote to open the file), it displays your current network speed. I’m not sure how it determines it, but I imagine it’s useful if you’re having issues playing back files over a wifi network. I’m not sure what else I can say after this point, except it just works. Coolness.
What have I thrown at it so far? Well, let’s see… MKV containers with H.264 encoded video as well as both AAC and AC3 audio tracks. The great bit is through the options, you can have it pass the audio stream unmolested through either the HDMI connection or, as is my case, via the toslink optical connection. This lets me hear the standard 5.1 audio stream as it should be, decoded by my receiver. You can also have it convert the stream to linear PCM and send that out instead. I’ve had to do this with a few files, I think due to the fact that the AAC audio wasn’t a stream which my receiver natively understands, and that’s fine. I do wish there was a faster way to switch between raw out and lpcm out than having to jump through the setup menu, though. Other files I’ve tried are m2ts avchd files created by my Sony HX5v, and some standard mpeg2/ac3 files pulled off cable. All worked well.
So things work, are there any issues? Well, yes… so far my biggest complaint is the speed and layout of their menuing system. Scrolling through lots of files takes a long time. It also has this odd habit of checking the file before it lets you play it. I had a few files which I thought it was refusing to play until I realized you have to scroll to a file, then wait a few seconds for it to “detect” the file type. Then you can play it just fine. Drilling through directories is a bit slow too. I wish it would cache more data locally. I think there’s some hacked firmwares available which do that, but I’m not ready to risk bricking my PBO quite yet.
I also wish there was a skip X seconds setting available on the remote. Some things I have recorded contain commercials, so a skip feature would be great. Update: I completely missed the “CM SKIP” button on the remote which does exactly what I want. Excellent! I can fast forward through video at up to 32x on SMB shares, though only 2x on DLNA servers. A little annoying, but not the end of the world. I’m sure there’s other things which may annoy me, but these are the two issues which jumped out at me after using it for a few days.
So that’s about it for now. I’ll update this as I either find solutions to problems I’ve encountered or thought of other things to mention. For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of the unit sitting in my home theater.