AppleTV with XBMC vs Popcorn Hour, which is the winner?

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by netdefilr, Feb 16, 2009.

  1. netdefilr macrumors newbie


    Feb 16, 2009
    I currently have an AppleTV with XBMC. I love it for the following:
    - divx/xvid
    - Streaming over Windows File Share
    - digital ac3 out over optical
    - thumbnails of tv shows/movies that I have to watch
    - Podcasts/Pictures directly on it.
    - Youtube

    I'm looking to either buy another AppleTV for my wife, or buy a Popcorn Hour, or if anyone has any suggestions on a different device please let me know.

    My unclear thoughts on the Popcorn Hour:
    - Not sure how streaming works, from what I heard it may be slow to list dirs
    - I don't think it shows thumbnails of videos, this really made the XBMC mod awesome.
    - Not sure on what other "cool" features like Youtube might be available. Is it easy like AppleTV?
    - Can I put a 2 TB hd in the PH and mount this drive on my Windows box to transfer files over to it?

    Since the prices are very close, and the need for a hard drive in the AppleTV isn't really there in my situation I'm totally not sure which device is the clear winner. One negative about the AppleTV is it's remote size and the inability to use a universal remote -- as far as I know. I lose the remote a few times a week.

    BTW -- I used my AppleTV for xvid for ~1.5 years now. It really lacked codecs among other things until XBMC was released. But at this point the AppleTV fits all my needs. If it could be done better on the PH, then I really want to know. The only possible "want" in this department is an emulator that's not difficult to setup and that uses standard controllers.
  2. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    I have two PCH devices (an original A-100 and a new A-110) and an ATV.

    I'm just using the ATV for music, so I'll just comment on and answer your questions about the PCH.

    In general, the PCH's reason for existing is its ability to play HD video (mkv/m2ts) either via streaming or from an internal hard drive. The hard drive is not a necessity and neither of my PCH devices has one.

    To answer your specific questions:

    1. "Not sure how streaming works, from what I heard it may be slow to list dirs"
    There are three ways to stream media to the PCH. Each as its advantage and disadvantage:
    a. SMB - regular windows sharing. Currently 2nd in terms of maximum throughput according to the PCH guys. Can't map to a folder within a share, only to the share itself. Browsing isn't lightning fast, but neither is it unusable. Can stream all supported formats, including DVD iso images.

    b. HTTP via myihome software. This is the fastest method of streaming supported by the PCH. It's currently the only way I can flawlessly stream an uncompressed BD m2ts stream. The downsides are that you have to have the software running on a host machine and that it doesn't support DVD iso. I run it off of my always-running HP EX470 WHS, so that part isn't a big deal to me. I rip dvd's as vob files, so the lack of iso support doesn't bother me either. Browsing is a little bit snappier than under SMB.

    c. NFS. It used to be faster than SMB in earlier firmware revs, but no longer. Don't see much of a point in using it these days.

    2. "I don't think it shows thumbnails of videos, this really made the XBMC mod awesome."

    The latest version of the myihome software includes a video jukebox plugin. This will give you the movie info and cover art browsing/genre sorting. It's not perfect, because whenever you add movies to the library you have to uncheck and recheck a box for the software to scan the watched folder. I usually just browse as text unless I'm showing my wife what's currently available and she can read the move descriptions.

    3. "Not sure on what other "cool" features like Youtube might be available. Is it easy like AppleTV?"

    It does have a YouTube interface, but you have to go in a couple of layers into the menu system. It also has some other internet stuff, but I never use it. Basically to me it's a means of playing back my HD content.

    4. "Can I put a 2 TB hd in the PH and mount this drive on my Windows box to transfer files over to it?"

    The A-110 version uses a sata interface and I don't think there's a limit to drive size. The PCH does indeed provide for SMB sharing of content on the hard drive.

    So... I think if you want to stick with divx/xvid you're fine with the ATV. The UI of the ATV of course blows away the PCH, even on a bad day. The PCH is an "enthusiast" product and it has the spelling typos, sometimes broke-ass fw revs, minimalistic (putting it politely) hardware construction, and a dumb name that probably sounds better in another language.

    However, if you want to play HD (ie 1080p mkv or your own remuxed m2ts bd rips) then your only choices are the PCH or the Mediagate MG800. The MG800 has a much better UI, but it was just released and they're going through some growing pains on some of the core functionality of the device.

    One downside of the PCH is that unless you buy one off of ebay at a premium, there's usually a wait time of 3-4 weeks between when you order it and when you get it.
  3. Donar macrumors 6502


    Jul 12, 2008
    I still have the impression that nfs shares are a tad faster than smb shares - but i did no shootout between the different options.
  4. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    This is from the NMT Wiki:

    SMB: ~38Mbps
    NFS: ~33Mbps
    HTTP: ~42Mbps (same clip peaks at 47Mbps)
    USB HDD: ~ 42Mbps
    USB DVDROM (8x): ~42Mbps
    Internal HDD: ~42Mbps
  5. Capt Crunch macrumors 6502

    Aug 26, 2001
    Washington, D.C.
  6. netdefilr thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 16, 2009
    So settings up a smbfs on the popcorn hour could solve my having to leave my pc on all the time problem (I also use vpn software which breaks my local network)? What I'd do is map the AppleTV to it. May or maybe not a great idea.

    I tried a BR mks file before on my pc and the AppleTV and the video framerate just wasn't there on either. Have you compared the quality of a PH and a Blueray player playing a Hi-Def video?

    I think at the end of the day, the AppleTV with XBMC fits the bill right now. The only thing I'm worried about is a firmware upgrade push that wipes it out one day and renders the plugins useless where this device isn't hacked it just plays.

  7. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    I'm not really sure about the ATV being able to map SMB shares. Is that something that XMBC allows for?

    Regarding the comparison of MKV to actual BD, MKV files are compressed. There are instances in which compression aritifacts are visible. For the most part they look pretty good, though.

    What's even better is an uncompressed remuxed M2TS stream ripped directly from a BD. I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between one of those streaming on my PCH and an actual disk playing back from my BD player.

    Let me put it to you this way: I haven't used my BD player in months because I prefer the playing m2ts. For one thing, no stupid trailers and advertisements to skip through. Also, many Bluray disks take a really long time to initialize while the pointless java menu stuff gets loaded. I HATE that.
    The third reason is that often times (more than DVD) the BD I get from Netflix have either some type of DRM problem or defect that prevents the movie from playing at all or kills the movie in the middle.

    I'd rather know that when I'm ripping the disk than when my wife and I are in the middle of watching a movie.

    Not sure why you'd have problems playing mkv on your PC, unless it underpowered or the codec settings need tweeking.
  8. chander06 macrumors newbie

    Feb 19, 2009
    Is Apple upgrading Apple TV?

    I read about a news that Apple has started asking feedback on this great product. I am not a techie but love the experience of using everything apple. And my favorite apple product is Apple TV. Can anyone comment on what could be the future changes in Apple TV?
  9. blueroom macrumors 603


    Feb 15, 2009
    Toronto, Canada
  10. matuscg macrumors newbie

    Feb 19, 2009

    After much research I went with WD TV, I wanted to be able to play 1080p blueray backups MKV and didn't want to drop to much cash. I can still stream itunes movies through my 360.

    WD TV worked out great because I already had an external usb harddrive full of media. I use the WDTV and mybook to store all my 1080p bluray rips, and dvdrips. I also keep some movies in itunes for use on the ipod.
  11. netdefilr thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 16, 2009

    smbfs works through mounting via ssh (pain in the ass) or XBMC browses your network for open shares. That's truly when the AppleTV became perfect.

    One last Q, If I put a hard drive in a PH, and gave it to someone could they then copy the contents of a usb stick onto the hard drive? That would be killer.


    I was looking at the WD TV, but it didn't fit my needs. I do need 1 more device like the AppleTV or PH, but I am looking to get someone a device that needs little management so that it will just play the videos. This is where the WD TV or the PH with an HD might be awesome. How does the WD TV compare to my pros for AppleTV?

    I think I might get a PH for that someone else, but my wife loves my AppleTV setup and I do too. I just love new/different technology but I just don't want to get disappointed in my purchase.
  12. netdefilr thread starter macrumors newbie


    Feb 16, 2009

    I bought a WD TV at Best Buy today. As planned I was going to test it out and give it to my mom. I used the standard red-white-yellow cables to play Mars Attacks! in xvid format. Right out of the box I did the firmware upgrade so I wasn't disappointed with the box. Then I played around with all of its settings.
    There isn't a whole lot of settings, or options. Here's my pros and cons on this in case anyone cares.

    Plays movies, views pictures, and plays music.
    Has HDMI
    Plays 1080p video (haven't tested.)
    Very small device, was expecting the size of my My Book.
    Video features like zoom in and out
    Plays with any usb device, not just WD stuff.
    Smaller than the AppleTV

    Interface is very basic

    No bookmarking feature like the XBMC. I use it all the time to pause what I'm watching and go on to something else then go back to it later on at that point.
    No network hookup for fileshare access
    I put in a usb stick and it gave me an error that said it cannot aggregate. But it found the firmware on the stick immediately. After the upgrade it allowed me to play media on the usb stick.
    Has no "Extra Features"
    Menus look like crap(jaggy lines) under composite video. I can imagine they look better under HDMI.

    With that said, I copied over my xvid movie of Mars Attacks to the usb stick and it played the movie with no problems what so ever. Should be perfect for mom. And I'm also changing my mind about the Popcorn Hour for my Grandpa which got me thinking about this thread. This WD TV will work fine for him as well. This device was brand new at $99 at Best Buy. My friend pointed out that he just got an Xbox 360 refurbished for $137, which should play xvid as well. While I'd love to play with a Popcorn Hour this device for over $120ish less does what most people need (including my wife.) Where the AppleTV plays everything over the network and does the Youtube stuff I think it's a no brainer to go with this but this cheaper device fits everyones bill.
  13. cleric macrumors 6502a


    Jun 7, 2008
    Minneapolis, MN
    Popcorn Hour wins easily
    WDTV comes in second since its basically a nerfed PCH
    and the appletv slums in at the 3rd
  14. TuckBodi macrumors 6502

    Jan 10, 2007
    Really? You sound like one of the fanboys up on the AVSForums so I guess I'll sound like one of the Mac fanboys here. I can't speak for the PCH but I own both an AppleTV and WDTV. I've had the ATV since it first came out and while I'm disappointed in Apple's lack of attention to it, putting XBMC on it has breathed new life into it. I bought a WDTV a few months ago thinking it would fit a niche for me with the hi-def content but I have to tell you I'm very disappointed.

    Yeah, the WDTV can play a lot of formats right out of the box but so can the ATV if you hack it (now pretty easy with ATVUSB-Creator). Yeah the WDTV can play 1080p but do you need this with the size screen you have? I have a 46" Sammy and 720p files look great on it through the ATV.

    WDTV Cons:
    - Menus and navigation suck - it's like using a Mac versus a PC, just not elegant and very clunky
    - cannot handle hi-rez cover art in meta data - what's the use of promoting 1080 if the cover art can't display nicely?
    - meta data is non-existent - you get the filename and that's about it (and in library mode you get the cover if it's low-rez enough)
    Note: To see an example of what XBMC can do check out the forthcoming skin from DJH (4th link, info view is best):

    And I can go on and on. Pro's are of course price (which is why I jumped on it), size and composite connection but after I got frustrated with the menus it's gathering dust.
  15. danny_w macrumors 601

    Mar 8, 2005
    Austin, TX
    I just wish that :apple:TV had native 4:3 support; both the WDTV and PCH have this nailed. I know that if I install XBMC I can get it to display in 4:3, but the rest of the :apple:TV will still be 16:9 (and therefor squished on my 4:3 tv). If the WDTV only had S-Video or Component (not Composite) out I would go for it.
  16. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    I have two PCH units (a-100 & a-110) and an Apple TV I upgraded to 250gb, so do I get to be immune to being called a fanboy of either?

    These two devices are very different in hardware, file support, interface, and well.. ideology.

    I think the PCH is unmatched (the MG800 is a strong up and coming contender) for playing program material in mkv, m2ts, vob, and dvd iso on a network from a central storage system.

    For me, the Apple TV is unmatched for playing my 100gb+ iTunes library on the main home theater system with a slick interface and support of the Apple Lossless files I rip to.

    I sort of don't get the WDTV. It has no ethernet port? So, everything has to be sneaker-netted over to it?

  17. portishead macrumors 65816

    Apr 4, 2007
    los angeles
    +1 for Popcorn hour. Best device for video. I can't speak for audio, because I don't use it for that.

    Only thing that comes close is Plex on my Macbook Pro. But it's a pain to have to hook it all up when I have the popcorn hour that is more powerful, and easy to use.
  18. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    For what WD TV is, its a steal. It is primitive, playback is just "okay" and audio is stereo only. However, for some this is more than enough. Glad you enjoy it and again - the price can't be beat.
  19. toolbox macrumors 68020


    Oct 6, 2007
    Australia (WA)
    I have been using XBMC for about 1 month and it is so awesome. No more converting of videos for me!
  20. Tenorsaw macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2008
    The Popcorn Hour wins hands down for HD playback and sheer flexibility.

    AppleTV wins with user interface and integration with iTunes to play music through my a/v receiver and control with my iPhone.
  21. Otterkop macrumors newbie

    Sep 3, 2008
    Apple TV rules... with XBMC

    It is always hard to judge when you only try one option. However, after a lot of 'research' I bought myself the ATV and extended it with XBMC. My decision to go for the ATV is based on several thoughts:

    1. The ATV is wireless and it connects easily to SMB shares.
    2. The combination ATV + XBMC is very powerful: XBMC plays almost every format, it outputs DTS / Dolby Digital to my home cinema set.
    3. I do use i-Tunes and I wanted to be able to play DRM material. And ATV automatically syncs all my music, photos and podcasts. Great stuff!!
    4. I do like the ATV and XBMC interface .. a lot.

    See for more info:

    So Apple TV rules, for my account!

    iMac 20"; ATV 40GB; Time Capsule 1TB
  22. johnnj macrumors 6502a

    Dec 11, 2008
    Not here
    Bingo. That's exactly why I have each of these devices.

    Horses for courses, as they say.

  23. DAMAC3 macrumors regular

    Feb 6, 2009
    Noblesville, IN
    I was considering getting a popcorn hour or refurb mini. I have several Blu-ray & DVD rips, a ton or recorded HDTV, and some mkv files.

    My question about popcorn hour and the m2ts files from my Blu-ray rips is this: are people able to get all m2ts files to play or just the MPEG2 encoded ones? Will the blu-ray rips encoded with the newer codecs play? Does Plex on a mini play m2ts files?

    One more question (and I think I know the answer): has anyone been able to stream m2ts files through wireless N? I am building an unRAID server (hosting my media) that will be wired gigabit to my AEBS which I will probably not be able to hardwire to a popcorn hour or mac mini. It will probably have to be wireless N (a fairly short distance but wireless nonetheless).

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