A 'networked media tank' sits on your home network, acting as an intermediary between the internet, your television and your PC. The Popcorn Hour A-110 is one of the most flexible examples we've seen yet.

The box itself looks like it's been assembled on someone's kitchen table in the Far East. It is basically a circuit board, a few connections including composite, component, HDMI V1.3 and Ethernet outputs, cage sides and a top held on with thumbscrews.

Low marks for style, then, and also for the six-page instruction booklet, which is extremely rudimentary considering that it could clearly do with a 100-page manual.

It comes without any internal storage, but you can add a SATA hard drive of up to 1.5Tb to enhance its functionality.

You get an infrared remote control, and a wireless dongle is an optional extra.

Wide scope

Using a Linux operating system, the A-110 will play a staggering range of video, audio and image file formats, including MPEG1/2/4, VOB, AVI, WMV, Matroska (MKV), MOV (H.264), XviD SD/HD, WMV9, MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, JPEG, BMP, PNG, and subtitle files – the list goes on and on (and will be enhanced by firmware updates).

It will also pass through for external processing DTS, Dolby Digital, DTS-HD MA, DTS-HD HR, Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus sound formats, and handle PAL or NTSC, 50Hz or 60Hz, at up to 1080p resolution.

Streaming material

The A-110 can stream material from a PC on your network to a television, and act as a network media server, or as an internet portal to services such as YouTube, FlickR, Vuze, and SayaTV.

Theoretically, it can browse any website, but there are currently severe limitations on what browser languages it supports.

It can also act as a torrent device – happily downloading countless files while you are away doing something else.

Users are in raptures over the A-110, and we do agree that it's remarkably powerful and flexible – but you require lots of PC savvy and patience to get the most possible from it.

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