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Appeared on: Thursday, December 03, 2009
PatriotMemory Box Office Player


1. About the PatriotMemory Box Office HD Media Player

Portable media players have become a best selling product since they combine small dimensions, a lot of features and are generally easy to use no matter if you are not very familiar with such devices. PatriotMemory has released the "Box Office" product, a media player that promises to playback all of your media files and stream them through an v1.3 HDMI output at the highest possible quality, while it is also offering many networking options.

The Patriot Box Office is a media player that frees your digital media library from the constraints of a PC and bridges digital media to your home entertainment system to bring your entire media library to the comfort of your living room. Box Office is optimized for full 1080P HD video playback, includes the latest in video processing technology, and a Dolby®/DTS™ encoder to create a high-quality HD video and 5.1/7.1 channel surround sound experience on your home entertainment system.

The device supports the most popular media formats (H.264, ISO, VOB, DivX, xVid, MKV, MOV, MPEG and more). Box Office offers a variety of ways to connect to your media library: 3 USB ports for any USB storage device, internal 2.5" hard drive (not included), UPnP streaming, 10/100 Ethernet connection and optional WiFi USB adapter.

Works with any USB storage devices - Play content from most USB drives or any portable device that can be recognized as a mass storage device.

Expandable internal storage - Use the internal 2.5" SATA drive slot with any SSD/HDD to increase the storage capacity for your expanding media library.

Full HD video playback and navigation - Up to 1080p - Experience the highest quality HD video possible and crystal clear audio with Dolby and DTS surround sound. Use the included remote control to navigate and control your media collection with ease.

Network Streaming - Stream media files through your wired or wireless (optional wifi adapter required) home network from desktop PCs.

File transfer - Copy or transfer files between connected USBs, the internal hard drive (not included), network PCs or other network attached storage (NAS) devices.

PC less download management - Download files via P2P sharing for easy access to media from the web.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) - Support for UPnP streaming on UPnP capable devices such as Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox

Picture viewing - Create custom slide shows and add your own background music to create a truly unique experience. Zoom and pan on each image to view hard to see details.

Movie preview and playback - Quickly preview video files prior to playback. Once selected, control movies at your own pace... Fast forward, rewind, pause, zoom, and pan. Supports subtitles.

Music playback - Listen to your entire music library with fast forward, rewind, pause, repeat and shuffle options.

HDMI and composite video connections - The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port lets you connect to the highest quality HDTV or home theater. Additional composite (RCA) outputs ensure compatibility with virtually all television sets.

File Formats Supported Music - WMA, MP3, Real Audio (RA) Graphics - JPEG, BMP, PNG Video - [MPEG-1] MPG/MPEG/DAT, [MPEG-2] MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/TS/TP/M2TS, [MPEG-4] MP4/AVI/MOV, WMV9, FLA, [H.264/AVC] MKV/TS/AVI/MOV/M2TS, [DviX 3/4/5/6, Xvid] AVI/MKV, [Real Video 8/9/10] RM/RMVB

Inputs: 10/100 Ethernet, 3x USB 2.0 ports & internal 2.5" SATA HDD connector (HDD not included).

Outputs: HDMI, composite A/V, S/PDIF

System Requirements: External USB storage device or internal 2.5" SATA SSD/HDD with supported video or audio content stored on it. Standard or high definition television with HDMI or composite video connections.


2. Opening the package

The PatriotMemory Box office can be purchased online for $99 after Amazon's rebate. The price is quite competitive to other products, such as the WD Live TV!.

For our tests, Patriot Memory supplied us with a WLAN adapter that is actually a USB2.0 Wifi adapter based on the Realtek chipset with drivers for PC systems. Since it is not bundled with the main device, you need pay some additional $15 to get it. However, it would be recommended to buy it in order to avoid any possible incompatibility issues with other USB wifi adapters you may already have or plan to buy.

A sticker informs us that an HDMI 1.3 cable is included and that the device supports subtitles - both very useful:

Let's open the box. As you can see below you will find the Box Office Media Player, a remote control with batteries included, a composite AV cable, an HDMI v1.3 cable, an AC adapter, a quick install guide and a manual/transcode media center software CD. Both the software and manual can be also downloaded from the PatriotMemory's website in case your CD is broken. The package is complete for a $99 product.

The device looks good and the metallic outer shell makes it look quite solid.

A USB port (input) and several LEDs are placed on the front panel, as you can see in the pictures below:

USB2.0 ports, ethernet, optical and composite outputs and of course the HDMI port are found at the rear side of the device. All these ports should be enough to allow you to connect the player with your flat panel TV and enjoy your videos:


3. Powering up the player

After connecting the power and the corresponding cables with our TV panel (either HDMI or composite) it's time to power up the player. The on/off switch placed on the the back side gets our player up and running. The noise coming out of the box is due to the fan running inside to box. Some of you may find it frustrating but we will say more on this later on.

A better and more ergonomic design for the remote control could be a good idea. While the center four arrow buttons make navigation easy to work with, it will take you some time to get familiar with the the play/stop, FF/FW and volume up/down buttons due to their small size and their awkward position on the remote control. Maybe it's a matter of personal taste, but anyway there is space for some improvements here for sure. The player's reception to the signal of the remote control could be also better. To get an immediate response, you will need to point the remote control directly to the main unit.

Once the player is ON, the Patriot Box Office logo appears on the screen. After ~10secs, the first menu page is comes up. In the first time boot up you will be prompted to select the menu language, data/time and the TV system (PAL, NTSC). Shortly after that the main menu will come alive, offering access to three main functions: "File Copy," "Browser" and "Setup."

Let's plug a USB key or USB HDD on the device and try to play back some files. The Box Office player will seek for compatible files and will show you a preview of them on the the right area. Pressing the "Enter" button will put the selected file (i.e. movie) into a full screen mode for you to enjoy it.

Pressing the "Browser" button on the remote control will get you back to the folder selection menu where you can navigate among your files. The player can seek for compatible files in devices plugged into the USB ports, HDD, local network (wired or wireless), UPNP devices and the Playlist, which is actually direct shortcuts to your favorite clips:

The menus are quite simple although we would like them to be somewhat more responsive. To speed things up you may disable the "preview" option in the "Options" menu. Going up/down using the centered four way pad on the right will show you information about each media file such as its size:

During the full screen reproduction of a video you may also get some on screen information about it ( video/audio properties.)

Using the corresponding button, you can select the available audio modes/channels (Dolby, DTS, etc) or different languages:

During movie playback you can fast forward/backward gradually from 1.5x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x and 32x. However, you cannot jump to a specific part of the movie at once - i.e jump from the beginning to the end of an .avi movie file- something you can do with a software player for a PC. This is probably a limitation for all the currently available media players.

You can also zoom on the videos by pressing the "enter" button (0.9x, 1x, 2x, 4x and 8x zoom).

Zooming to get the black borders removed is not a good idea since you will loose a part of the video's frame:

The "goto" button allows you to skip to a specific title, a useful function for DVD ISO files mostly.

The "File copy" function is very easy to understand. The Box Office is able to copy files stored on your USB, HDD and Network devices (source files) and paste them to the desired destination/medium. The "Source" files can also be easily deleted:

- Installing a 2.5" HDD disk

You can easily install a 2.5" HDD to your Box office player. Just remove the two screws found on the back side remove the case of the player. You can fasten the HDD using two screws in both sides. Format the HDD and in a few minutes, you are ready to use it. Installing a HDD allows you to "unlock" several features such as the Bitorrent client as well as shortcuts.

If you have no plans for an HDD inside, you may want to unplug the yellow and black wire from the board. This is the power connector for the internal fan. The specific cooling fan is available there in order to increase the air flow inside the player when a HDD is present.


4. Setup Menu

The Setup menus are easy to understand. In each tab you can change various important features of the player.

In the "Audio" section you can set various output audio modes/levels according to your system' s hardware:

The "Video" tab allows you to change the Aspect Ratio and choose the correct and TV system:

The "System" tab holds the local system settings, such as the menu language and text encoding for the subtitles:

Another important feature there is the BT client and system the update option, which is very useful for firmware updates.

Finally the "misc" tab allows you to enable/disable various menu features such as the preview, resume play etc...


5. ISO Support

Patriot Memory has released a new firmware update for the player (Ver.P02) adding support for ISO Video files. This means that you can playback DVD-Video and Blu-Ray discs. One major issue here is that the content must not be copy-protected but for sure, there are many "workarounds" for these issues available many years now :)

The DVD-Menus were working perfectly:

A Blu-Ray disc image also played just fine. However, as you can read over the PatriotMemory forums, an additional Bootcode update is required in order to get Blu-Ray menus working.


6. Subtitles

The Box Office player supports various subtitle formats as well as many languages. The default English language is very well supported as you can see below:

Pressing at the "Subtitle" menu will get you to the subtitle properties window. There you can choose among the available subtitles of the movie, change the text encoding, color, size, offset and of course disable them:

But how does the player deal with other complicated languages like ..Greek? Well, the Greek subtitles appeared on the screen although the letters had an annoying extra space between them making reading really hard:

In addition, letters using a punctuation mark won't appear at all, no matter if you have chosen the UTF-8 or any other character encoding. In any case, this is something that PatriotMemory should fix.

The good news is that DVD subtitles appear just fine:

No problems with Greek subtitles of a Blu-ray based ISO:

..although you cannot change any of the properties:


7. Network

Let's move on to some more advanced stuff. You can plug a UTP cable to the player and connect to other devices of your local network, like a NAS server or a computer. This can be also done using a Wifi adapter. You can either set the local IP manually or choose the automatic option and allow the player do the settings for you. The player will automatically seek and find all the compatible devices plugged into your LAN. If you choose to make the settings manually, have in mind that the you cannot enter the IP of each networked device and let the player recognize it. You can only search using the name (ID) of each device.

For our tests we used the PatriotMemory Wifi Adapter. The "Network" section allows you to set the name of your WiFi network and the connection mode (Infrastructure or P2P):

A quick scan will unveil all the available nearby WiFi networks. We set the WPA security for our WiFi network:

A wizard will prompt you to enter a WPA key:

After entering the WPA encryption key you are immediately connected to the wireless network without any problems:

Under Windows 7, you can easily share your files allowing the the Box Office player to access them. However it is important to read this thread over the PatriotMemory forums to get things done. Don't miss to make the appropriate Registry changes as well. It seems that XP and VISTA users don't have to do any changes at all to get things working.

The next step is to enter the network, workgroup or any connected PC. In our case, the workgroup is named "Alex-PC" :

The available shared folders will appear and by selecting a video file, playback starts almost immediately. On screen information about the intensity of the WiFi signal is also available as you can see below:


8. Final thoughts

The Patriot memory Box office is a well designed player capable of playing almost all the Video/Audio formats available today - from DVD-Video (mpeg2) to Blu-Ray movies (Mpeg4 AVC). The player offers tons of features and connectivity options, including wired LAN and Wifi, while it also allows you to install an internal 2.5" HDD to keep all you media contents locally. The available HDMI v1.3 and composite outputs will satisfy everyone and are very usable .

So are we talking about the perfect media player here? Well yes, but there are some features that need to be improved in order to get a perfect experience. In our case the internal fan was making lot of noise, an issue we dealt with and solved it after pulling the power off it. PatriotMemory should revise the cooling mechanism for the player and make it quieter if not silent.

Passing to the video playback performance, we played many video files found around the net, starting from MKV files and also Blu-Ray ISOs we made ourselves. No problem at all for the player - it willingly played them all. Clips with DTS sound are not a problem for the the Box Office player. An exception would be a Dolby Digital+ 7.1 and a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 clip we tried. Both were muted during reproduction. We are not very sure whether it is a hardware limitation of player or it could be fixed with a firmware update.

As you realize, all your favorite TV series and movies can be played without needing to install a costly HTPC near your TV.

Continuing with more features, we saw that the player will quickly resume playback after you stop it for some a reason, while the FF/FR functions work fast and accurately. We noticed some issues with the image stretching function when we tried to play some 1440x1088 p WMV clips from Microsoft's web site. The player did not stretch the image but perhaps this could be improved with a new firmware release.

The player offers a great support for subtitles, although we had some problems with the Greek language. Again, these small issues can be addressed with future software upgrades. Another neat feature is the support for ISO files. You can backup your DVD-Video and Blu-Ray discs to a HDD and playback them perfectly.

We would like to see a better design for the menu as well as and some missing features such as the time remaining when you playback a file, a menu indicating the firmware revision of the device, an automatic firmware update through the internet and perhaps some Web widgets.. While most of these features are not essential for the main operation of the player, they would give the product a special touch. PatriotMemory is always there to improve their products with new firmware updates so keep an eye at their forums!

Overall a great, fully-featured player that offers the efficiency of an HTPC while it remains a compact and stylish device. It's definitely an 'Editor's Choice' product.

Positive

- Small Dimensions
- Full retail package - HDMI cable bundled
- Can playback almost anything from mpeg1,2,4 ASP & AVC formats
- Can playback almost all audio formats (mp3, AAC, Flac, Ogg, WMA, RA)
- 1080p and DTS soundtracks are not a problem for this player
- Supports 2.5" USB HDD installation
- Supports both Wifi and wired local networks
- Generally stable playback
- Supports playback of DVD-Video and Blu-Ray ISOs with menu support
- Built in P2P file download management
- Support for UPnP streaming
- Can be used as a network storage medium after installing a 2.5" HDD

Negative

- The design of the remote control could be better
- Support for Greek subtitles needs some work
- Included fan makes lot of noise unless you disconnect it
- No Internet Widgets
- Menus and overall graphics could have a better design
- Windows 7 sharing needs registry hacks to get everything working
- More information about the reproduced files should be displayed (remaining time, etc...)



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