Saturday, July 17, 2010

Popbox Arrives – With Early Firmware Issues


The Popbox from Syabas has been one of the more anticipated media players for 2010 and it seems to have arrived a few days ahead of schedule.  Matter of fact Syabas, the company that brings us Popbox says they were “surprised” by the early availability on Amazon.  That brings us to the not-so-positive part of the story:  Many consumers who have the Popbox already have had a pretty tough time with the media player so far. 

What is the Popbox?

Popbox is a $129 media player that builds on the popular enthusiast-centric Popcorn Hour and attempts to make the Popbox a more general-consumer-friendly device.  It has a brand new interface, many online content plugins (no Netflix yet folks), a SDK, 100Mbps bitrate support, 1080p video and an attractive form factor.

Key Facts:

  • Cost: $129
  • Shipment ETA: March 2010
  • Newer UI than current C200
  • Size: 15.9 Oz, 8”x6”x1.25”
  • 1 USB 2.0 on front and 1 USB on back
  • SD Card Slot on back (2GB SD Card included)
  • Video: M1V, M2V, M4V, MP3G1, MPEG2, TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS, AVI, ASF, WMV, MKV, MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4, FLV, F4V
  • Video Output: HDMI (1080p/720p/480p) and Component Y/Pb/Pr
  • Apps: Netflix 2.0, Shoutcast, Revision3, Twitter etc
  • Network: Ethernet 10/100, WiFi 802.11 N/B/G (option), and UPnP

Where can you purchase the Popbox?

Amazon seems to be the go-to place to purchase your PopBox Media Player and they are already shipping them.  Price is $129 with free shipping.

Early Firmware Issues

Now for the bad part.  The first reports – from what I can tell all of those who have received their preorder Popbox already are having major issues so far.

Anyone who has dealt with a new-to-market media player knows that beyond the actual hardware specs inside, the success or failure of a device like this is the firmware/software that runs the thing and the diligence of the company to update and improve that firmware.  Typically there is a private beta where the device is given to testers to report and assist the developers in fixing most problems with the device before it goes out to the general public.  Unfortunately it appears the beta process wasn’t as far along as they had hoped and to make matters tougher, the shipments of the device happened a week before expected.  I expect they will catch up on this and get the necessary firmware updates in place, but it is doing some damage on the PR front – especially since this has been marketed as a end-user type device and not an enthusiast-device like the PopcornHour.

Examples of issues being reported:

  • Turning on the Popbox without a SD card inserted causes lock-up:  “Just hooked unit to my LCD in my office and was met with a screen that says " //Firmware Recovery" Please insert USB Drive.... Just blinking waiting for a USB drive with the firmware.. I checked the website and nothing is available for download... I will call @ 9:00 am to tech support to get the firmware it needs.... A slight bump in the road is all..... Lets hope they can send the firmware I need to recover whatever is wrong. All I did was turn it it.....????????????”.  Hard reset in the front.. Did nothing. The unit is not locked up.. The firmware is corrupted.”
  • Firmware Update Issues: “Not sure what's up.... FW downloaded and rebooted.... the menu came up> and music was selected> now for 5-10 minutes I get "loading". I don't have the many songs on my drive. Tried turn on/off still get "loading" message.”
  • Switching to Invalid Video Mode with no way to reset:  “i changed video mode on accident to something not supported and there's no instructions on a safe mode type or reset.”

Check out the harsh Amazon reviews so far – whether these reviews are totally truthful or not, it’s no doubt quite damaging to future sales


Despite all of the bad examples there is hope.  A few of those with their Popbox have been able to get things working after receiving firmware updates.  If you have purchased a Popbox expect some early issues, but have patience as I expect Syabas will get things working eventually.  That being said it doesn’t seem like this was ready for mass consumption by any means.  The Popbox website has no user forum for troubleshooting so they threw one up on the NetworkMediaTank forums for now.

How to get support

Popbox Website – there is a sparse support page on their website with a quick-start guide, recovery firmware and a few other tidbits.

Phone Support – You can call 888-9-PopBox (888-976-7269) from 9am – Midnight PST to get live support.  Note this is an outsourced (Read: other country) support so your mileage may vary

Email -

Temporary Support Forum at NetworkedMediaTank – This is a good place to post your issues and questions as it appears you’ll get more official help and it’s being moderated to keep out the over-the-top complaining to a minimum.  It’s also a good read if you’re planning to purchase ;)

AVSForum Thread – Lots of information and misinformation in this one, but it’s an entertaining read at least.  There is a host of people complaining about the many issues in here.

Bottom Line

Syabas planned to bring out the Popbox to be an end-user/consumer-centric device and this may well be that device eventually, but they certainly didn’t start out well.  The firmware doesn’t appear to have been ready, support wasn’t prepared to deal with issues and there was no user manual was included – only a quick-start guide.  I expect they will get things in order in the coming week or so – I just hope they recover from the PR damage that seems to have been done already.

If you are at all interested in the Popbox the one place I would go to for a good first-impressions and review of the device is Damian’s Digital Home Blog who writes for MediaSmartServer.  He’s knowledgeable about media players and has his Popbox scheduled to arrive Monday.