Not long ago DigitalReviews reviewed the Popcorn Hour Network Media Tanks, now we have the Elektron EHP-606 in our hot little hands. The Elektron is the re-branded sibling of Popcorn Hour A-110 Network Media Tank based on the same platform with identical file support and user interface. What sets the EHP-606 apart in this sibling rivalry? Read on!
Based on the packaging the Elektron EHP-606 came in, I was expecting an unit that was going to be on par with a standard DVD player. I was more than surprised upon the unboxing to find a slim and svelte unit. The sleek black metal casing gives the device with a solid and quality feel. I have to admit, the first impression was pretty good!
The remote control at first glance is slightly bewildering with its array of buttons but upon closer examination is clearly labelled. I managed to use it without undertaking a 4 year degree course.
Under the Microscope
Packed into a box measuring 26.7 x 15.24 x 3.8 cm (WxDxH, 10.5" x 6" x 1.5") is a staggering array of features. The front panel features a slim indicator panel backlit by blue LCDs showing the status of power, standby, web, USB, IDE and SATA.
The left side of the unit near the front is two easily accessible USB ports. On the same side towards the back of the unit is a power button.
Out the back is the business end of the unit, from left to right: VGA out, YPbPr Video Out, Composite Video Out, 2CH Audio Connection, Coaxial SP/DIF, HDMI (1.3), USB Type B, Network Port (10/100 Mbps), 12V power input.
The EHP-606 uses the Sigma Design SMP8635c chipset, same as the Popcorn Hour A-100, which our reviewer Paul Moons has run through the gauntlet of 200 different file formats with almost flawless results.
The Elektron has no cooling fan, cooling has been designed in such a way the heat is transferred onto to body of the unit which helps keeping it operate within reasonable temperatures. The benefit of this design is the completely silent operation of the EHP-606. During my usage of the device, the casing certainly gets a bit warm (and it was not helped by the 3 days of 43C+ (110F+) temperature we had in Melbourne).
Hooking up to my television was simple, all that I needed was to do was to plug in the HDMI cable. The EHP-606 fires up and displays "Networked Media Player. Loading ..." then the screen turned black. There was no sign of life on the Sony Bravia but the unit seems to be powered on. Power cycling the EHP-606 a number of times had the same result until I decided to connect the Composite Video Out ports as well.
Finally the EHP-606's home screen is showing on my screen via the Composite Video input on the Bravia. A note here, the indicators for the battery polarity on the remote itself is actually reversed to what it should be. Without the remote control there is nothing one can do with the unit as there are no controls at all on the device itself.
Interesting enough, it seems only the Power and web indicator lights seem to ever light up out of the 6 possible indicators. Further, the IDE light seems to be a hangover from another model as there is only a SATA connector inside the EHP-606.
The next hurdle came after I successfully got the EHP-606 to display the home menu on screen. The unit was shipped with the system set to traditional Chinese language. Whilst I could read a bit of Chinese characters, I am by far more fluent with English. On the bright side, it was not particularly hard for me to change the language to English in the preference menu which incidentally is the first option on the list.
The rest of the setup screen separates the options into Audio/Video, Network, Network Share, DVD/Audio CD and Maintenance.
At this stage, the menu of most interest to me is the video output. Once I set it to 1080p at 60Hz, the HDMI output works happily with my Bravia. As far as the audio mode, the option is either stereo or 5.1, without my home theatre system in place I left the rest of the options to default of stereo.
The network configuration was simple as it is set to DHCP which should work in most home networks. In my case I cheated and set a DHCP reservation in my DHCP scope.
Given our other reviewer's thorough testing of video and audio codec in the Popcorn Hour units, I felt that this review is better spent concentrating on the experience of using the EHP-606.
My first playback of a standard AVI file went reasonably smoothly via an USB thumb drive. The thumb drive was recognised quickly and all that was needed was to browse to the USB drive icon (which at this stage was the only recognised device). A list of files which matched the supported formats was displayed and it was simple to highlight the entry and press enter to start the playback.
There was a slight glitch at the start which I initially dismissed as a once off issue but it occurred with every video I tried. Some 8 seconds into the playback, there is always a 2 seconds loss of audio at this point. After which the rest of the video plays back without problems whether it is a 30 minute clip or a 2 hour long affair. It is a minor thing but slightly annoying.
The picture that was displayed on screen was stunning with good contrast, bright colours and fantastic details. Naturally the video source needs to be of good quality video file but the EHP-606 handled the image and sound beautifully.
With the unit proven to be working in the simplest of configuration, it was time to try connecting it to a network share. This was an area which frustrated me for a period of time as the unit automatically detected the various workgroups I have active on my local area network. However, despite detecting most of my active machines, it steadfastly refused to see my primary Windows machine and the dedicated share that I created.
For a time I removed all security to the share, tried to add it manually via the Network Share menu but nothing would work. Even a few minutes on Google did not uncover and answer to my problem. More than a bit frustrated I upgraded the firmware to the latest revision available on the Elektron website but still no progress.
Eventually I created a share on an alternative OS and all of a sudden the EHP-606 would see Network Shares and attempt to create a mapping to it. This was the big break I needed as the screen now displays the syntax for adding a network share (which was smb://servername/sharename rather than the Windows syntax of \\servername\sharename). This was not documented in the menu that was provided, and not anywhere else apparently.
One gem of the latest firmware upgrade is that the "media source" icons now displays the share name or system name under the icon, whereas in the shipping version of the firmware, there was only generic PC icons for the workgroups and machines that the unit was aware of. It made it pretty hard to guess what I was really trying to connect to.
Aside from media playback which I have tested, the Elektron EHP-606 has a number of additional features. The device itself has the space and interface to handle an internal SATA hard disk, which is then manageable via the onboard file mode, or connect to a PC via the USB port.
With an internal hard disk connected, the EHP-606 can become one of the following servers: Samba, Torrent, UPnP AV and myiHome. The installation of any of these modes involves a hard disk format. There is also two BitTorrent clients built into the device.
The USB port can also handle a portable hard disk, flash drive, DVD drive, a Wi-Fi dongle or a keyboard and mouse.
Personally with a home network setup, I find it easier to stream from my network share rather than dedicate another hard disk to the device. For those who not have this need or luxury, the internal drive is a flexible option.
The device also has a web browser interface built in which I briefly used to try and update the device firmware, but never got really far with using the remote to navigate the screen. If one was inclined an USB keyboard and mouse would certainly cross that hurdle.
Differences with the Popcorn Hour A-110
There are only minor differences between the Elektron EHP-606 and the Popcorn Hour A-110, minor being a subjective word depending on your particular needs.
On the interface side the A-110 features HDMI 1.3a versus the EHP-606 HDMI 1.3, the A-110 also features an S-Video and TOSLink optical digital port whereas the EHP-606 features a VGA output.
The A-110 has a hardware reset button whereas the EHP-606 has a hardware power button.
As always there are generally some issues with gadgets I am lucky with to test on our reader's behalf. One of which has been noted earlier in the review regardless the brief loss of audio during playback.
The second issue I found which was more of a nuisance was that the unit did not display subtitles in the SUB format despite it being listed as supported. It works fine with SRT format though.
The third issue which is a major annoyance is that it appears in my case, the first time I power up the EHP-606, it will initialise and display the home menu. After a few minutes my screen will go blank and the Bravia will complain about an unsupported signal. Power cycling the EHP-606 fixes the issue and it will work perfectly until the next "cold boot". It is a bit baffling and really annoying.
There was one instance where the unit refused to play a file that had been working, but again a power cycle fixed the issue. I chalked this down to an anomaly as it did not occur a second time.
Lastly, the included menu could do with some serious quality assurance with the english. It is readable, but is a bit amateurish and glosses over some finer details which would have made life easier.
The box came included with:
* Elektron EHP-606 Networked Media Player
* Remote control (including batteries)
* AC adapter
* USB A-B cable
* A/V cable (composite video, stereo audio)
* HDMI cable
* User manual
* Dimensions: 268 x 155 x 38 mm (WxDxH) (10.5 x 6.1 x 1.5 inch)
* Power: 12V DC, 3A
* Weight: 2.2 kg (4.8 lb)
Technical Parameters (from menu)
* CPU: Sigma Design SMP8635
* EMS memory: 256MB DDR RAM, 32MB Flash ROM
* I/O ports: 2 x USB 2.0 Type A, 1 x USB 2.0 Type B, 1 x 10/100 Mbps ethernet port
* A/V ports: HDMI 1.3, YPbPr, Composite Video output, VGA, Coaxial 5.1 (Optical SPDIF), Dolby stereo audio output
* Supported video containers: MPEG1/2/4 Elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V), MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG), MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS), VOB, AVI, ASF, WMV, MKV, MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4
* Support video decoding: XVID SD/HD, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (MP@HL), MPEG-4.2 (ASP@L5, 720p, 1-point GMC), WMV9 (MP@HL), H.264 (BP@L3, MP@L4.0, HP@L4.0, HP@4.1), VC-2 (MP@HL, AP@L3)
*Supported audio containers: AAC, M4A, MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA), WAV, WMA, FLAC, OGG
*Supported audio decoding: AC3, DTS, WMA, WMA Pro, AAC, MP1, MP2, MP3, LPCM, FLAC, Vorbis
* Supported RAW audio output: DTS, AC3, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus
* Supported photo formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
* Other supported formats: ISO, IFO
* Supported file formats: NTFS, FAT32, EXT4
* Supported subtitle formats: SRT, SMI, SUB, SSA
* HDD: internal SATA HDD support (HDD not included)
* UPnP SSDP
* Windows Media Connect
* Windows Media Player NSS
* HTTP servers: myiHome, WizD, SwissCenter, MSP Portal, Llink, GB-PVR
* BitTorrent P2P
* NAS access : SMB, NFS, FTP
* Video : YouTube, Google Video, MetaCafe, VideoCast, DL.TV, Cranky Geeks
* Audio : iPodcast, Radiobox, ABC News
* Photo : Flickr, Picasa
* RSS feed : Yahoo! Weather, Yahoo! Traffic alerts, Yahoo! Stock, Cinecast, Traffic Conditions.
* Peer-to-peer TV : SayaTV
* Internet Radio : Shoutcast
The Elektron EHP-606 certainly seems to be the bee's knees of Networked Media Tanks at the moment. There is a comprehensive array of supported formats that is packaged in a slick and classy little unit. The basic aspects of getting the unit running can be achieved without major trauma.
In the brief 8 days or so that I had this device, I can already see it becoming a key component in my home theatre system which is still in its infancy. There were no shortage of niggling issues which lends the feel of an unfinished product hurried into the market. So far the workarounds have been simple and far from show stopping with a little bit of know-how in some cases. On a brighter note, the folks at Elektron seem to be pretty industrious at releasing firmware updates.
The Elektron EHP-606 is priced at around USD$260 making it a cheaper alternative than a dedicated HTPC. I could just see this as a viable solution for someone like my parents where I don't have to remotely support a physical PC. Lastly I would like to take the opportunity to thank Elektron for providing the EHP-606 for this review.