Testing - Great Over Wired, Iffy Over Wireless

For me, the holy grail for this type of box is to be able to stream the full uncompressed video and audio from a Blu-ray movie. I have a vast DVD and a growing blu-ray collection as I imagine many home theater enthusiasts do. The amount of storage needed to house these movies cannot be found on a single 2.5” drive, nor on an external USB drive. With that in mind, I decided to look at files in a few different formats and bitrates to see what the maximum bitrate was I could play over each type of connection supported by the Patriot Box Office (Wirelss, Wired 10/100, USB and SATA).

I started by producing an .mkv of The Dark Knight including the unaltered VC-1 (a Microsoft developed WM9 derivative) movie and Dolby digital core audio only. I also made an .mkv of Zombieland containing only the untouched AVCHD video which is a high def H.264 encode and the DTS core audio. These will be my highest quality videos, weighing in with an average bitrate of around 26 Mbps. I now have two .mkv files containing the two most common Blu-ray video types and core audio types. From here, I encoded these into smaller files and tested to see where the video playback began to stutter based on connection type to the Patriot Box Office. During the encoding I used .avi, mpeg2, m2ts, and WM9 formats.

Before testing these files I also attempted playing back a small .m4v file from iTunes and a few .vob DVD rips, as well as music from my mp3 collection and looking at jpeg, .png, and .bmp files from my camera. All files types were streamed over wireless and played without difficulty. Even both my high end .mkv files and subsequent encodes were recognized and displayed on my TV. The Patriot Box Office did, as advertised, play back everything I threw at it, and with impressive picture quality, although not always without issues as I will discuss in the next section. Below is a picture of the full bitrate Dark Knight .mkv played off my external USB drive. Nice!

Over the wireless G connection I maxed out at an 8.5 Mbps file before the video playback began to stutter. It even stutters a slight bit during .vob playback of ripped DVDs. That's not the most encouraging result. I was only able to pass 30% of the bitrate needed to play back a full Blu-ray movie. Your mileage may vary depending on the state of your wireless network. In this case the Box Office was a mere 5 feet away from the D-Link DIR-825 access point.

As long as both my source PC and the Box Office were on wired ethernet I could play full bitrate Blu-ray on the Box Office over the network. However with my PC on wireless in the other room I noticed some stuttering. Given the high bitrates of most 1080p content you'll want to consider how robust your wireless setup is before relying on it for any sort of HD streaming.

Over a USB external HDD or an internal HDD all files played without stutter. I also tried playing back an .iso of The Dark Knight and was rewarded with seamless playback by the Box Office. Not that the .iso has a higher bitrate, it should be the same as the .mkv I made, I just wanted to ensure an .iso would be recognized for those who like their Blu-ray rips complete with all the extras. Switching the audio track during .iso playback with the remote to the True-HD track gave an Unknown Format message. But it was easy to switch between audio formats and subtitles with the included remote. That March firmware update adding hi-def audio support would add even more value to this device.

So this device will stream my music, videos, pictures and standard def movies over the network, as well as 720p encodes of Blu-rays for $100. It will even play the uncompressed Blu-ray movies if I put them on the device’s hard drive or on an external USB drive. What else could I want? What about the ever growing area of internet based media content you say? Is there any help there?

It does support a bittorrent client which allows you to download torrents to the local (internal) HDD of the Box Office only. You’ll have to add the seed via PC, similar to the function of NAS bittorrent solutions. It also supports UPnP, which can be used with programs like TVersity to stream content from Hulu or Youtube onto the Box Office, which is great. Again, you’ll need a PC to set up the media server. This whole process can take a bit of tweaking to get working, but it can be done. In testing out the UPnP it can take a bit of time for TVersity to prepare some of the Hulu queue files for playback, making watching internet based content feel quite sluggish.

Delving Deeper - Chipset & GUI Final Words
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  • GokieKS - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Can you test to see what's the subtitle support (SRT/SSA/ASS) like?

    The thing looks pretty cheap (the power switch being tilted is quite jarring), but that's a minor issue. The working bits seem solid, and if subtitle support is good, could be just what I'm looking for.
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    I'll take a look at it this evening and post the results back here.
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    ART and SSA are definitely supported, and switching is actually quite easy, same goes for the audio. I didn't have anything available with ASS subtitles. But browsing through the manual I saw the following...Box Office supports srt, sub, smi, idx+sub, ssa, ass. So it looks like you should be covered
  • Director - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    A couple of media streaming boxes (ahem Netgear) won't stream from W7 machines, something to do with the way Samba shares work on windows 7. How did this box go?

  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Umm, that is made pretty clear both in the text and the conclusion that a few registry tweaks are necessary on the Win7 machine for streaming to work.
  • gigahertz20 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    This Patriot media device doesn't sound up to par with the Popcorn Hour line of media players or even the WD TV Live. I'd go with one of those before going with this thing.

    With the D-Link Boxee Box and Sybas Popbox coming out soon, this Patriot media box is dead in the water. It seems like 2010 is the year of stand alone digital media players, I wonder which one will come out on top.

    If Microsoft and Sony would have made the X-Box 360 and PS3 into true digital media players, there would be no market for stand alone players like Popcorn Hour, WD TV Live, and all these others coming out. It would have been great if I could have filled up a portable hard drive with movies in several different codecs and just plugged it into a USB slot on my X-Box 360 and have it play everything back perfectly, but the X-Box 360 doesn't even support movies that have 5.1 audio, FAIL!

    Microsoft and Sony could have really made their console systems great and gave people another reason to purchase them. I wonder why they don't add a plethora of video codec/audio support? All they need to do is send out an update to add the support, imagine being able to play back every digital file you have through your game console and not have to buy a separate box just to do that, come on Microsoft and Sony, what is stopping them?
  • chdude3 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    OK dude, look at the price of a Popcorn versus a WDTV or the Patriot. Different class of player and not a fair comparison.

    And I think one big selling point that was overlooked is the fact that the Patriot box fully supports DVD Menus for your ripped movies (and I think for Blu Ray as well - if not right now then with the coming firmware). I don't think ANY of the WD units do that.
  • Suntan - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    If they can get full BR menus and/or HDA bitstreaming with a firmware update, I’d be extremely impressed. They aren’t the first company to use this chipset (it’s all over out there) and they aren’t the first company to have their customers ask for menu support and HDA bitstreaming.

    That said, they also wouldn’t be unique if they promised new features would be added with a future firmware update only to string their customers along for months on end… (PCH I’m looking right at you….)

  • Penti - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Popcorn Hour C-200 supports retail (encrypted) BD's and DVD's. Thus also menus. But I'm sure Patriot will not release anything of the sort. Simple BD is possible though I guess.
  • ajlueke - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    I think Realtek deserves a lot of credit here. Bringing out a multimedia decoding chipset with this kind of capability at this price? A year ago, to get HDA on the PC required the purchase of $100 blu-ray software, and then a $200 soundcard.

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