The world of set top devices just took a great leap forward in the evolutionary process! Patriot Memory has released their set top media player they call the “Box Office.” Although it still hasn’t reached the point of being the best all-around device for the home theater, it has taken two giant leaps toward becoming that end all device. The Patriot Box Office comes fully loaded with support for nearly any content or codec you can throw at it, boasts support for DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-Ray ISO images, and it is backed by a company that has made the effort to listen to its users feedback. They are the first company that I have seen take this initiative and stance with their products. Instead of brushing off user complaints and suggestions, Patriot Memory seems to taking them seriously and trying to implement as many as possible into their future firmware releases.
Some of the more notable features that stand out on this box in addition to its massive codec support are that it offers up to full 1080p output, will stream across the network via any standard UPnP media server, and will support playing DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-Ray ISO images. This last one is quite possibly the feature I am most excited about! For those that backup their legally purchased DVD and Blu-Ray collection to ISO images, the Patriot Box Office will support playing videos directly from the ISO image with full menu and disc functionality as if you had the original disc in a traditional player. This is great because you no longer have to worry about setting XBMC or WMC to launch an external application such as PowerDVD 9 to play those movie formats.
Let’s take a look at the codec support the Patriot Box Office comes with.
- MPEG1 in the AVI/MKV/TS/DAT/MPG/MPEG/VOB containers
- MPEG2 in the MKV/DAT/MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/IFO/TS/TP/M2TS containers
- MPEG4 in the AVI/MP4/MKV/MOV/WMV/ASF/FLA containers
- DivX 3/4/5/6, Xvid in the AVI/MKV/MP4/MOV containers
- H.264 in the AVC/TS/AVI/MP4/MKV/MOV/FLV/M2TS containers
- VC-1 in the TS/AVI/ASF/WMV/M2TS containers
- WMV9 in the ASF/WMV containers
- REAL VIDEO 8/9/10 in the RM/RMVB containers
Audio Codecs (Video Files):
- Dolby™ Digital AC3
- DTS (Doesn’t Support Pass Through)
- MPEG-I Layer 1/2/3
- MPEG-II Layer 1/2
- Real Audio
- HDMI® RAW and SPDIF RAW output to Amplifier for decoding 5.1/7.1 audio
Audio Codecs (Music Files):
- Real Audio (RA)
The Patriot Box Office does have HDMI output with full 1080p video output and LPCM/RAW audio output. It also has component A/V and S/PDIF outputs as well. As for inputs, you get: a front and rear USB 2.0 port, a rear mini-USB port, and a 10/100 FastEthernet port. Although the FastEthernet port should be more than enough to hand a single stream in full HD, it would have been nice to have full gigabit ethernet jack for transferring files either to or from the Patriot Box Office over your home network.
The front USB port is apparently recommended for use with a wireless USB dongle for connecting up to your wireless network. A lot of users have reported issues of the Patriot Box Office being very picky about what wireless adapters it will work with. Lucky for us, Patriot Memory makes one that just happens to work flawlessly with their Box Office. However, their wireless USB adapter only supports 802.11 b/g. This is a perfect example of Patriot Memory listening to their customers. A number of users have complained about this and Patriot reports that they are currently working on an 802.11n adapter that should be released soon. File transfers and streaming full 1080p across even an 802.11g network could be rather tedious and choppy. This is where the 802.11n adapter will really come in handy.
While the new Box Office device from Patriot Memory sounds great so far, it does still have some downsides. As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t the greatest end-all set top box just yet. For starters, it falls a little short on its extensive codec support. There is no TrueHD audio support for the newer blu-ray movies being released and, although it offers LPCM and RAW output via HDMI, there is no support for pass through of the Dolby Digital and DTS audio codecs.
The GUI on the Patriot Box Office is rather barebones with no thrills or much eye candy. At times, it can also seem a little sluggish. Additionally, it does include a bit torrent client for downloading torrents directly to the Box Office. My only question though, is why? Why would anyone want to download bit torrent files from their set top media device; and over a measly 802.11b/g or 100Mbps connection? I think most people will continue to use their desktop machines for bit torrent, especially with most modern home networks being gigabit ethernet. The Box Office does not support any online content though, such as streaming Hulu or YouTube videos. Regardless, you could still get those streams to it via TVersity.
The Patriot Box Office does not come with an internal drive for local storage, but does have a 2.5″ slot for installing your own hard drive. While the use of a 2.5″ slot allows for going with a solid-state drive, it prevents you from using a large capacity 3.5″ drive such as the WD 2TB Green Series hard drives. Users have reported issues with the internal fan being annoying loud. It is fairly easy to access and disconnect, though this isn’t recommended if using an internal hard drive. It may be possible to replace it down the road with the a quieter more effective after-market fan.
I won’t go into much detail on the last issue as I haven’t had to deal with it yet myself, but there are reports of Windows 7 machines not wanting to play nicely with the Patriot Box Office and requiring some registry hacks to get things sorted out. The upside to it all though, is that Patriot Memory has an active Media Player Community and play a large role in providing assistance alongside other users. This includes the thread discussing the steps to get Windows 7 and the Patriot Box Office playing nicely, which can be found here: http://patriotmemory.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2080
So while the Box Office does have its flaws, Patriot Memory has come about with a really nice first attempt at an effective media player for the home theater. The majority of current issues reside within either the GUI or firmware. These can easily be resolved via future firmware upgrades and the remaining minimal hardware issues could be fixed in future revisions. If you are listening Patriot Memory: replace the RJ-45 jack with a gigabit ethernet port, add pass through and/or bitstream support Dolby Digital and DTS audio codecs, add TrueHD audio codec support, rethink your GUI improving responsiveness, and add support for basic online streaming services such as Hulu, YouTube, and possibly Netflix Instant Streaming. Do these things and you will be well on your way to dominating this market!
The Patriot Box Office can be picked up at amazon for $130 shipped. What do you think of the new Patriot Box Office? What do you want in your ultimate set top box media player? Let me know in the comments!