Popcorn Hour A-500 Review - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 82 Old 07-29-2016, 05:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Popcorn Hour A-500 Review

The Hardware:

The Popcorn Hour A-500 uses the latest Sigma Designs SoC, namely the SMP 8759. This SoC can also be found in the new Dune HD Solo 4K, but the one in the PCH is clocked higher with 1.2Ghz versus the 0.99Ghz of the Solo. In addition, the SoC features 1GB of RAM.


The package and what’s inside:







Included are:
  • PCH A-500
  • Remote control (backlit)
  • Batteries for remote
  • HDMI cable
  • AC power cord
  • AC power adapter
  • USB 3.0 slave cable
  • Key for HDD tray

The I/O is as follows:
  • On the right side:
  • HDD tray for 2.5”/3.5” HDD which can be locked
  • SD card
  • USB 2.0
On the back:
  • IR port for an IR eye
  • USB 3.0 slave
  • 10/100/1000 Network
  • USB 2.0
  • HDMI
  • Analog audio (cinch)
  • Digital audio (optical and coaxial)
  • Power in
  • Power switch

Case:

The very solid case of the A-500 is made by SilverStone, a company which is well known for its PC cases. It features an all-aluminum body with a brushed finish which not only looks but also feels premium. The case is optimized for cooling so that no fan is required, even in case an HDD is installed. On the right side of the device is the HDD tray which can fit 2.5 and 3.5 inch HDDs and can be locked with a simple key. The built quality of this case is nothing short of amazing and no other media player comes close to this quality. It is basically on the level of high end BD player manufactures such as Oppo.
The feet of the device resemble the quality of the casing as well and look like the usual HiFi feet with a rubber sole. This is especially important if an HDD is installed, so that vibrations are not transmitted.









Remote:

The remote is ergonomically shaped and therefore fits very well in the hands. The buttons are placed perfectly with the most used ones (play, pause, info) easy to reach and the haptic feedback is decent. What is more, the remote is illuminated for a few seconds every time a button is pressed. This is indeed a very neat feature and rarely found on media devices, let alone media players.






Graphical User Interface (GUI):

The GUI is based on flash and thereby limited to 720p. This resolution is too low for
today’s standards and should be increased as soon as possible. That said, the GUI looks
modern, is easy to use and highly customizeable.
The first choice the user has is which the default home screen is. The choice is between the
newly added Music Home and the Media Home which will be examined in detail:

NOTE: Please don’t mind the bars on top and above, these are due to the capturing method
being used. They are NOT present when using the A-500!

Music Home:

The Music Home displays your most recent and most played songs with their cover art which looks quite nice. It is possible to change the wallpaper and also the color of the upper row which displays the most important aspects (local media, etc.).
Very handy is the option “shortcut” where you can put shares, folders and apps so that they are accessible very fast.




Media Home:

This home screen is more versatile than the Music Home: It is possible to completely customize the lower bar where you can put your shares or apps and remove the default items like settings or setup wizard. In the middle it is possible to setup the weather widget which can be customized regarding the forecast period (1,3,4,7 days).





As you can see in the above pictures the home screen is highly customizable due to the fact that weather, widget, text colors can be changed to the users liking. In addition, the
wallpaper can be freely chosen by the user or linked to the weather. When choosing this option, the wallpaper changes according to the weather.


The explorer:

The explorer is an essential part of a media player due to the fact that this is the place where you navigate to your media and start playing it. Cloud Media made it again possible to change this aspect of the player to make it yours: It is possible to set a media filter:
The user can select which kind of media should be visible when browsing folders. The options are “show all”, “video”, “music” or “photos”. This is especially neat in case you have folders with a huge number of items in it.



Here it is possible to add you shares. In this case Media and Download have been added:


Display additional features about your shares:


Media filter:


Sorting by name, date or size:


Personalizing options:


Option between two different view modes:


Select which information is visible for files:


It is also possible to perform operations like copy, move, delete or rename:


Overall, the explorer has a nice look and the most important operation like copying and moving files can be done within the unit itself so that no computer is required for these tasks. What is more, the scrolling speed inside the explorer with large folders has improved significantly. There is no stutter anymore whatsoever which can be seen in the video.
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post #2 of 82 Old 07-29-2016, 05:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Networked Media Jukebox:

The A-500, like other Popcorn Hour devices, has a built-in Jukebox which can display your media, that is TV shows, movies, music and photos. Unlike most other solutions it is not only possible to display your media, but automatically mark movies or episode as watched and update and edit your media on the player itself so that no additional software is required. Particularly the ability to mark episodes as watched is a simple but essential features which works flawlessly and makes it very easy to keep track of your episodes and movies.
Furthermore, the NMJ can be setup so that it starts automatically when the A-500 boots up.
This aspect of the NMJ is again, rather simple, but very effective and makes it a very good option as a family player.


The following pictures show the setup of NMJ:





This is the screen presented when updating the database. It indicates which file is being scanned and shows the overall status:




How NMJ looks when it finished scanning:

The NMJ menu where you can go to TV shows, movies or apply filters like genre:


List of available genres:


Season overview of a show (tip: to go straight to the overview of episodes just press the blue button on the remote when a season is selected):


Additional information about a specific season:





Overview of episodes: The circle indicates that the first episodes has been watched:


Plot of an episode:


Editing the database:

Either completely re-download all information about this show or edit specific items like poster or fan art:


View of different fan arts you can choose from:


Options of NMJ:


It is also possible to select between three different views (wall, category, list):

Category:


List:


Wall:


Search function:


Detailed view on movies:


Info bar opacity can be changed as well.

The NMJ is very easy to use and can be fairly customized as well. The biggest advantage of it is that it can run on its own and doesn’t require any third party application to update its database.

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Playback:

The overall playback of this device is flawless. Starting or stopping a video happens basically instantaneously. The same is true about skipping chapters or using time seek. There have been numerous fixes and improvements to subtitles, ranging from SRT to PGS which are displayed correctly and forced flags are honored.
The A-500 is one of a few hardware media players which are supporting MVC inside mkv. In addition stereotags are supported as well. This means that there is no special tag in the name of that file required for the player to detect that the video is 3D and send the signal to the TV to switch to 3D.
Although nowadays it shouldn’t be mentioned, but since there are still media players which are struggling with that: HD audio is working flawlessly. DTS-HD MA/HR, DTS:X and Dolby TrueHD, Atmos are supported. There are also no dropouts of audio while playback whatsoever.

The picture below shows the info panel which is displayed when pressing the info button on the remote while playback. This panel is not only highly esthetic but shows all relevant information. This ranges from a graphical representation of the time as well as codec and bitrate of video and audio. In addition the resolution and framerate of the video and of the output are displayed as well:


This shows the menu which is displayed when pressing “title” while playback. This menu shows different aspects of the video like audio, subtitles and chapters:


Chapter selection:


Audio selection. “DTS-HD MA 2.0” is the name of the audio track and “German” represents the language of the audio track:



Picture quality:

In order to evaluate the picture quality of the A-500 it will be compared to the Pioneer BDP 450 which uses a Marvell Qdeo chip. These are high end chips which can also be found in devices from Oppo. In addition, the VTEN will be used as well in order to see if there are any difference because these two devices are using a different SoC.

Chroma alignment:

A-500:


Pioneer:


VTEN:


A-500 and VTEN are using the superior Bicubic/Bilinear method whereas the Qdeo uses the inferior nearest neighbor. VTEN and A-500 don’t produce an identical image and its hard to say which of them produces a better image.


A-500:


Pioneer:


VTEN:


This again shows that the Sigma SoCs of the A-500 and VTEN are clearly able to produce a better image. Moreover, the A-500 delivers a sharper image than the VTEN.


Upscaling:

A-500:


Pioneer:


VTEN:


The result for upscaling are the same. Both, the A-500 and VTEN, are able to display a sharper image while also creating less noise. Especially the horizontal bars look fuzzy on the Pioneer whereas they are very sharp on the Popcorn Hour devices. A small differences can be seen between the A-500 and the VTEN as well: The white cross has a little bit more noise on the VTEN when compared to the A-500.


A-500:


Pioneer:


VTEN:


When looking at the blue C it can be seen that the Pioneer introduces more noise and the color is not as homogenous as it should be. The differences are not as drastically as before, but nevertheless the Pioneer presents the worst image of the group. The VTEN tries to sharpen the image a bit too much which introduces noise as well. This is not visible on the A-500. The difference between VTEN and A-500 are small in this case, though.


The next comparisons of picture quality are only between the A-500 and the VTEN.

Upscaling from 720p to 1080p and VXP on 10/10:

A-500:


VTEN:


The image of the A-500 has less artifacts than the image of the VTEN.


1080p video and VXP off:

A-500:


VTEN:


Not a significant difference, but the VTEN’s pictures appears to be a bit noisier in the blue sky than it is the case on the A-500.


Same video with VXP set to 10/10:

A-500:


VTEN:


Again, not a huge difference: One has to look very closely, but VTEN has a little bit more noise in the picture again.


720p to 1080p upscale and VXP off:

A-500:


VTEN:


Same video, VXP set to 10/10:

A-500:


VTEN:


In both these cases the image of the A-500 is basically identical to the VTEN's.


A recently added feature is the ability to disable upscaling by the A-500 and send the video in its native resolution to the AVR, video processor or display device. This is important for users who have a device in their chain which has very good upscale capabilities such as a Lumagen video processor.
Several different video resolutions have been tested throughout the review process and this features works very well. For uncommon resolutions like 328p the A-500 upscales it to the nearest resolution, in this case 480p and let the external processor do the rest.
After all this praise about the video capabilities of the A-500 it is no wonder that this device has also zero problems with different frame rates. The A-500 detects the frame rate of the current video and automatically switches the TV to this frame rate. This makes sure that the video plays as smooth as possible. Every frame rate has been tested, from 23.976 over 24p to 60p and in each case the A-500 set the TV to the correct frame rate.

To summarize the video evaluation, it can be said that the Sigma SoCs on the VTEN and the A-500 are clearly superior to the Pioneer’s Qdeo chip. In some cases, the A-500 is also superior to the VTENs image, but then there are cases in which the image is near identical. No instance could be found in which the VTEN produces a better image than the A-500 so that it can be concluded that the picture of the A-500 is the best of this group.
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post #4 of 82 Old 07-29-2016, 05:14 AM - Thread Starter
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Music playback:

The first important aspect to note is that this player uses an ESS SABRE ES9023P DAC which is quite uncommon for a media player. This shows that the A-500 is not only aimed at people who want a perfect picture but also appreciate good audio quality.
To further facilitate the audio capabilities, the A-500 supports a vast variety of sound formats, which is also uncommon for media players:
  • 2 channel SACD.iso
  • Multichannel dff
  • Multichannel dsf
  • aiff (MCH not tested)
  • Multichannel alac
  • Multichannel FLAC
  • Mp3 (MCH not tested)
  • Multichannel wav
Luckily the A-500 also supports gapless playback so that the transition between songs is instantly. I’m happy to report that starting and stopping a song is also pleasantly fast.


Apps market:

The A-500 includes an apps market where it is possible to download apps like Plex, YouTube or TED:




Miscellaneous:

Other aspects that should be mentioned are the great community on the official Popcorn Hour forum (www.networkedmediatank.com) which does not only help in case a problem arise or you need advice but also offers community apps. Those apps further improve the possibility of your device. For example there is a trakt.tv program which runs ins the background, tracks your watched videos and syncs them with your trakt account.
For a media player it is essential that the company behind it supports the device and releases FW updates in order to fix problems. This is another aspect where the Popcorn Hour A-500 shines. Since it uses the dual core version of the VTENs SoC and both use the same SDK, every fix of the VTEN is already included in the A-500 and also in the upcoming A-500 Pro. There have been numerous firmwares out and almost every Friday a new beta firmware is available. Also, in case there is a problem found, CM usually fixes the problem within the next few beta FWs.
Furthermore, the A-500 and other Popcorn Hour devices come with a torrent and usenet client built-in. This means that you can download your content with your low power media player rather than using your PC which uses way more power.


Overview of the settings:




















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Comparison of case and remote between A-500/VTEN/Solo 4K:

From left to right: VTEN, Solo 4K, A-500:



Images of cases:













Conclusion:

This player is the perfect choice for people who value great picture and audio quality. Playback delivers a flawless picture quality that rivals higher end devices for a lower price point. The GUI, although only 720p, is intuitive and customizable and the built-in jukebox represents the video collection nicely while being easy to use and maintain. The ESS SABRE DAC, high quality aluminum casing and the backlit remote control are just a few aspects which separate the A-500 from the masses.

Here are some videos that show NMJ, Music and Media Home as well as settings:

Sorry for the sub-par picture quality.

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post #6 of 82 Old 07-29-2016, 07:34 AM
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Excellent review Sledge!

One thing I'll give CM kudos for is basically releasing FW fixes pretty much once a week for the A-500.

I've had my A-500 for over a month now, and have been using it almost every evening. Other than some judder issues (that may be due to my particular LG brand TV?) IMO the A-500 has a more vibrant picture vs. my Dune Smart.

One thing that I'm still noticing is a slight "flickering" ie.. rapidly modulating/changing brightness during some scenes with a static background (think of a wide non panning scene with two people standing still having a conversation in front of a blue colored wall) where I never saw this with the Dune on the same TV. Hopefully CM will address this soon.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by replayrob View Post
Excellent review Sledge!

One thing I'll give CM kudos for is basically releasing FW fixes pretty much once a week for the A-500.

I've had my A-500 for over a month now, and have been using it almost every evening. Other than some judder issues (that may be due to my particular LG brand TV?) IMO the A-500 has a more vibrant picture vs. my Dune Smart.

One thing that I'm still noticing is a slight "flickering" ie.. rapidly modulating/changing brightness during some scenes with a static background (think of a wide non panning scene with two people standing still having a conversation in front of a blue colored wall) where I never saw this with the Dune on the same TV. Hopefully CM will address this soon.

That is a known issue you have VXP turned on if you turn it off it will stop. CM has been notified and they notified SIGMA of the problem as well as the fix has to come from sigma. A new SDK should be coming soon so hopefully the fix is in it.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by halfelite View Post
That is a known issue you have VXP turned on if you turn it off it will stop. CM has been notified and they notified SIGMA of the problem as well as the fix has to come from sigma. A new SDK should be coming soon so hopefully the fix is in it.
Excellent.
I'll turn VXP off and look for the change.

Thanks for the info!

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Very nicely done...I have a V-Ten and am very happy with it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sledgehamma View Post
A recently added feature is the ability to disable upscaling by the A-500 and send the video in its native resolution to the AVR, video processor or display device.
Regarding the above, is this now, or will it be in the future, a feature of the V-TEN (via firmware)? I'm working overseas so can't check?

Thanks

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The A-500 and VTEN are based on the same SDK and have basically the same FW. Everything fixed or added on the one unit, is then also fixed or added on the other one. To answer your question: The VTEN already supports the native resolution. You can find it under video settings, its called "external scaler".
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sledgehamma View Post
The A-500 and VTEN are based on the same SDK and have basically the same FW. Everything fixed or added on the one unit, is then also fixed or added on the other one. To answer your question: The VTEN already supports the native resolution. You can find it under video settings, its called "external scaler".
Thank you!

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Dear Sledgehamma,

Thanks for the nice review.

I have asked this question also in the Dune Solo review topic.

Can you test if this player also clip in the green contrast file which is on the second edition
of the Spears Munsil calibration disc.

Thanks.
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Question

Can anyone compare either the Vten or the A-500 to the Nvidia Shield?
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Great review Sledgehamma -- it looks like you have both the Dune Solo 4K and the A-500. Can you compare them or if you don't have time, just give an opinion as to which is better or worse and why? It's interesting to find out exactly why some people prefer one player over another. Most of the reasons are actually important because they may or may not apply to how a person uses their player. Still, it looks like this could be the player I'd get to replace my WDTV when it dies or if I upgrade my system to use ATMOS or DTS-X.
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post #15 of 82 Old 08-01-2016, 02:45 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AMG_Roadster View Post
Can anyone compare either the Vten or the A-500 to the Nvidia Shield?

I did a less thorough review here:
http://www.networkedmediatank.com/sh....php?tid=73053

I stopped since the picture quality wasn't great at all. I heard that Nvidia fixed a lot of issues, but I can't test it. I don't have the unit anymore.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Briguy65 View Post
Great review Sledgehamma -- it looks like you have both the Dune Solo 4K and the A-500. Can you compare them or if you don't have time, just give an opinion as to which is better or worse and why? It's interesting to find out exactly why some people prefer one player over another. Most of the reasons are actually important because they may or may not apply to how a person uses their player. Still, it looks like this could be the player I'd get to replace my WDTV when it dies or if I upgrade my system to use ATMOS or DTS-X.
Thanks!
Yes, I had both units. I don't have the Solo anymore, though. I was thinking about making a comparison between those units, not sure if I have the time to do so.


The only significant advantage (from my point of view) that the Dune Solo 4K has are DVD and BD menus. If you don't need them get the A-500.

The Solo UI is 1080p and a bit faster to navigate on the homescreen. When browsing shares they are pretty much the same.
If you are into music, then the A-500 is your clear choice. It supports more codecs/channels and displays covers.
Case (brushed aluminium vs plastic) and remote (good fit and backlit vs no good fit and no light) are better on A-500 as well.
A-500 fits 2.5/3.5 HDD which are connected via SATA, Dune only 2.5" up to a certain height and is internally connected via USB.
A-500 has built-in Jukebox, Solo doesn't but it should come "this summer".
Solo can't display 60p content naively which results in stutter since it will display it at 59.95.
A-500 has an official forum and official channels. With Dune everything is more informal and its always that somebody heard from somebody who heard if from somebody....

These are the things that were on the top of my head. Pretty sure there is more.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by koestuiv40 View Post
Dear Sledgehamma,

Thanks for the nice review.

I have asked this question also in the Dune Solo review topic.

Can you test if this player also clip in the green contrast file which is on the second edition
of the Spears Munsil calibration disc.

Thanks.
Are you talking about the same evaluation pattern?
I guess you are referring to the "clipping" and the ", are you?

If so, I will investigate and report back.
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post #17 of 82 Old 08-01-2016, 10:59 AM
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Any idea if they are currently working on moving to a 1080p interface?

I had complained about this years ago on their forums and never got a response. (Well technically I did get a bunch of responses, but they were all negative. Other users didn't see a need for a 1080p interface and seemed offended I would ask for such an unreasonable thing. )

I never had any issues with the popcorn hour's playback or hardware but never cared for the interface since cover art was always fuzzy when using a projector. This was one of the main reasons I ended up switching to the Dune players years ago.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sledgehamma View Post
I did a less thorough review here:
http://www.networkedmediatank.com/sh....php?tid=73053

I stopped since the picture quality wasn't great at all. I heard that Nvidia fixed a lot of issues, but I can't test it. I don't have the unit anymore.





Thanks!
Yes, I had both units. I don't have the Solo anymore, though. I was thinking about making a comparison between those units, not sure if I have the time to do so.


The only significant advantage (from my point of view) that the Dune Solo 4K has are DVD and BD menus. If you don't need them get the A-500.

The Solo UI is 1080p and a bit faster to navigate on the homescreen. When browsing shares they are pretty much the same.
If you are into music, then the A-500 is your clear choice. It supports more codecs/channels and displays covers.
Case (brushed aluminium vs plastic) and remote (good fit and backlit vs no good fit and no light) are better on A-500 as well.
A-500 fits 2.5/3.5 HDD which are connected via SATA, Dune only 2.5" up to a certain height and is internally connected via USB.
A-500 has built-in Jukebox, Solo doesn't but it should come "this summer".
Solo can't display 60p content naively which results in stutter since it will display it at 59.95.
A-500 has an official forum and official channels. With Dune everything is more informal and its always that somebody heard from somebody who heard if from somebody....

These are the things that were on the top of my head. Pretty sure there is more.
Hi sledgehamma,

Very good review.

Pretty accurate with differences with dune.

1. Is the speed difference between the gui from solo 4k vs a500 slightly slower? I thought it would be big difference as popcorn a500 is flash based?

2. With NMJ could you create custom categories ie with yadis I have a category called "To Watch" ?

3. I heard that popcorn will change the flash based system to html 5, Do you have any more info on that?

Thanks

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TV: Sony 65" A1E OLED Surround: Yamaha RXA3070 + Orbs Audio Mod 4/2 7.1.2 + SVS SB12-NSD Stereo: Yamaha AS500 + Kef Q300 Processor: DVDO Iscan Mini + Darbee 5000S Players: Oppo UDP-203 / Dune Solo 4K / Apple TV 4K / VU+ Ultimo 4K NAS: Qnap TVS-871 Pro i7 10GBE
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post #19 of 82 Old 08-01-2016, 12:39 PM
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^^.

2. There is no custom categories one of the number one asked items is to make an unwatched category.

3. No word yet on this they are still looking into it. Its a big change and will take some time. They invested 4+ years into the flash UI.
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post #20 of 82 Old 08-01-2016, 12:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi sledgehamma,

Very good review.

Pretty accurate with differences with dune.

1. Is the speed difference between the gui from solo 4k vs a500 slightly slower? I thought it would be big difference as popcorn a500 is flash based?

2. With NMJ could you create custom categories ie with yadis I have a category called "To Watch" ?

3. I heard that popcorn will change the flash based system to html 5, Do you have any more info on that?

Thanks

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1. I don't think that it is big, but then again "big" is a subjective term . You can also have a look at the youtube videos I made. There you can see the performance of the GUI. I think it is most noticeable on the home screen when browsing through the different items. Open shares is about the same.

2. Not that I know of.

3. It was asked in the forum and CM said that they will discuss it internally. That's about everything we know. I guess they will decide after the A-500 Pro launch has settled.
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post #21 of 82 Old 09-23-2016, 04:51 AM - Thread Starter
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post #22 of 82 Old 10-03-2016, 01:11 PM
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Is PCH 500 worth an upgrade from VTEN?
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post #23 of 82 Old 10-03-2016, 01:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Depends on what you need. The PQ is a little bit better and its also a little bit faster. Case and remote are better as well.
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post #24 of 82 Old 10-04-2016, 09:46 PM
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Depends on what you need. The PQ is a little bit better and its also a little bit faster. Case and remote are better as well.
Wow u have all 3 I tried NVIDIA, did not like it and am using V ten back in my system. I like every thing about Vten except flickering freezing on 4k because of frame sync perhaps? and I am anticipating it shall upgrade for DTSX too
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post #25 of 82 Old 10-04-2016, 11:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Yes, Im quite happy with all of them

For the flickering its best to go to the official forum http://www.networkedmediatank.com/

Describe you video settings on the VTEN and also post a mediainfo of those files that flicker
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post #26 of 82 Old 10-05-2016, 10:38 AM
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Yes, Im quite happy with all of them

For the flickering its best to go to the official forum http://www.networkedmediatank.com/

Describe you video settings on the VTEN and also post a mediainfo of those files that flicker
many thanks. would u mind guiding me to the resolution pick for 4k, 30hz or 24hz. more so settings in external scaler , and frame sync?
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post #27 of 82 Old 10-05-2016, 11:32 AM - Thread Starter
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I suggest you set it to 4K24 and frameratesync should be PAL/NTSC/24p (If you have a USA TV set it to NTSC/24p). External scaler depends on your other video equipment, but usually you should set it to disabled.
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post #28 of 82 Old 10-05-2016, 09:09 PM
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I suggest you set it to 4K24 and frameratesync should be PAL/NTSC/24p (If you have a USA TV set it to NTSC/24p). External scaler depends on your other video equipment, but usually you should set it to disabled.
Yes! I have US TV, it is LG OLED 65 EF/EC 9600( 2015 Flat tv model). Denon AVR X4300H
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post #29 of 82 Old 10-07-2016, 04:29 PM
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I need help with last beta 5 my player became unstable keep on rebooting. I can't play any thing;(


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post #30 of 82 Old 10-09-2016, 01:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Try to factory reset the device and see if that helps. Also, there is a new FW out, the RC1.
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