It's easy to be critical of a product like the Patriot Box Office that is designed to perform many different tasks instead of focusing on being best on a handful few. To be fair, however, at $100 it is hard to ask for everything, especially if you have been following the HTPC scene over the past year or so.
All in all, we are impressed with what Patriot has put together here. It wasn't long ago that devices capable of delivering the level of performance and flexibility demonstrated by the Box Office simply didn't exist. This and similar products have raised the bar for what a media player should be capable of and they really owe it all to the very capable Realtek RTD1073DD SoC.
This is Patriot's first attempt to enter the consumer electronics market, and while it's a very good attempt, we cannot help but feel they have jumped in the deep end first. Products like this need a great deal of support and already it seems the company is falling behind some of their competition when it comes to firmware updates.
Asus for example has released over half a dozen updates for their Realtek-based media player, the O!Play HDP-R1. Some of these updates have added very useful features such as Internet TV Channels and RSS News, as well as the ability to access online services like Flickr, Picasa and Weather information. There are a few things in the works on Patriot's front, but updates take long and there are many things that could use a refresh -- like an improved GUI, a search function, and most importantly, work out the kinks with network support.
When it comes to navigation the Asus O!Play HDP-R1 and Patriot Box Office are virtually identical. They'll both take some time to scroll through a large folder of files, and at the end of the day, neither is ready to replace more powerful HTPC systems. However, they are cheaper, easier to use, and more compact solutions for media consumption in the living room.
Where the Box Office stands up strong is in its ability to play virtually any media codec you are likely to come across, and do it well. Patriot's digital media player blows most budget players out of the water. We were amazed by the clarity of its 1080p playback. In the end that's what it's all about, being able to play all forms of media with good quality results and at this price.
Update: Although we are not fans of mail-in rebates, there is a substantial one on offer considering the price of the Box Office. Amazon and Newegg among other retailers have rebates that drop the price of Patriot's media player to $58 and $65, respectively.