Digital media players look to be the way of the future, but their development has been slow and somewhat painful, particularly for the consumer. For years I have personally been trying to find a digital media player that can do it all with aplomb, but so far no such device seems to exist. The swift adoption of HD content has also become a challenge for media players, as we are now asking a lot more from the hardware that drives them.
To date every affordable digital media player that I have come across suffered from multiple flaws. The biggest issue has been compatibility, which is extremely limited in most cases. Supporting a wide range of video and audio codecs seems to be a real challenge, and thus far has been the downfall of every single device I've tested.
There are more expensive digital media players that seem to work well, providing plenty of power and intuitive user interfaces. One good example is the Popcorn Hour C-200. However, at around $300 it costs more than most are willing to spend. More expensive high-end media players also face competition from HTPCs (Home Theater Personal Computers), which depending on your needs and experience level can be more practical, while offering greater compatibility and power.
Complete HTPC systems such as the Asrock Ion 330HT can be had for a little over $400. The downside to products like these is that they are typically larger, make more noise, can be harder to use, and cost more. Users that are serious about media seem to rely on them nonetheless, but digital media players are an easier way to enjoy movies and TV shows.
One of the last affordable media players that I met with enthusiasm was the Western Digital TV HD. For just $100 and with the ability to play full HD 1080p movies it appeared to be a cost effective and powerful solution that I could recommend to friends and family. Unfortunately, my hopes were quickly shot down by a long list of compatibility issues and average quality video output. To make matters worse, it's been a year since I first tried the devices and many of these problems are yet to be addressed by Western Digital.
With the WD TV failing to satisfy, the prospect of acquiring a capable digital media player for around $100 appeared bleak, until now. The search for the perfect affordable solution was reignited when Patriot sent us their new "Box Office" media player.
This small unit boasts full 1080p support along with a wide range of media formats, including H.264, ISO, VOB, DivX, xVid, MKV, MOV and MPEG amongst others. The Box Office supports internal and external storage along with wired or wireless network streaming for HDD-less operation.
Read on as we explore the Patriot Box Office features inside out and fire up a few videos to see how it performs in a real world scenario.