Patriot Box Office Review (Page 3 of 4)

Page 3 - A Closer Look - Software

Upon initial power up of the Patriot Box Office, the user will be greeted by the initial setup screens, allowing for quick setup of basic features and settings. You will have the option to skip the steps and adjust the settings a later time.

Subsequent power ups will bring the user to the home screen, as shown in our photo above. Start up time is generally very quick, and takes no more than ten seconds. There are three icons on the home screen; their names are quite self-explanatory, haha. If it does not become obvious at first, further description will be shown at the bottom of your television when you move over the respective icons with the D-pad on your remote control.

Although its home screen incorporates a generally simple design, I felt that it is a bit too basic and primitive for my likings. There is nothing particularly wrong with it -- but even with the smooth switching animations of the enlarged icon display that occupies the upper portion of the screen, it still does not invoke any awe in the usage experience (Ironically, this is the only thing that animates). Again, as a home entertainment device, the user interface can definitely use improvements to provide better overall experience -- looking at Microsoft's Windows Media Center and Apple's multimedia devices would surely bring positive inspiration in the right direction.

Since the first item on the main screen is File Copy, I'll go through that first. Basically, it allows the user to select files from a source location, and then copy the files into a target location right from the device. It is definitely a useful feature -- for example, if you have media files on an external hard drive connected to the Patriot Box Office via USB, you can easily copy the data onto your network or internal hard drive straight from your media player.

The next option on your home screen is Browser, which is, logically, a file browser, haha. From here, you have the option to find your media files from various supported sources, such as a USB drive, an internal hard drive, a network location, UPnP devices such as a Sony Playstation or Microsoft Xbox, and a predefined playlist, as shown in our photo above. I had absolutely no issues locating my network attached storage drive on my network from the Patriot Box Office. For network drives that require logon such as mine, a dialog screen will pop up to allow you to enter your username and password using an on-screen soft QWERTY keyboard. The Patriot Box Office will save your logon credentials for future use, so you won't need to enter them again. It automatically saves a shortcut to the root folder of the network drive into My Shortcuts in NET, but it will not save the location of subsequent folders where media files may be located. Therefore, at least for me personally, I would need to dig through at least five to six subfolders to get to the root folder of my media files on the network every single time. It's actually quite tedious if you don't want to compose any playlists. Also, every time you select a folder, it will display an animated 'loading' popup briefly -- it goes to show how it can be a bit slow to list files in a network folder.

A high level filter is available in the form of tabs at the top of the user interface, which has the ability to distinguish between audio files, image files, or video files. Of course, the All tab is also available and may be more convenient if your media files are already organized in file structure. The tabs are navigated by the left and right arrows on your remote control, while the up and down keys are primarily used for going through the file structure.

The screen is separated into two distinct areas -- the left side is for listing all files and folders at that particular location, and the right side shows video previews or song information, which we will get to in just a moment. Our image above demonstrates a live video preview of an episode of Top Gear Season 14 in HD. Overall, I found the video previews to be a bit slow at times, but it's understandable since my 720p Top Gear episodes are nearly 1.5GB each!

To improve performance and usability, it would be excellent if the interface displays a generated thumbnail of the video in the preview window immediately when the user hovers over the file. If the selection bracket stays over the video file for a couple more seconds, then it would start playing a series of random short clips from the video, rather than starting from the beginning every time. This would prove to be much more useful for the end user, since most TV shows will start with the theme song, and most movies will have opening credits at the beginning. The live preview is definitely a nice touch, but previewing from the beginning has very little value. This would also significantly reduce scrolling lag.

By default, videos are scaled to your screen resolution, but played in its native aspect ratio. The Patriot Box Office is capable of decoding MPEG-1 (MPG/MPEG/DAT), MPEG-2 (MPG/MPEG/VOB/ISO/TS/TP/M2TS), MPEG-4 (MP4/AVI/MOV), WMV9, FLA, H.264/AVC (MKV/TS/AVI/MOV/M2TS), DviX 3/4/5/6, Xvid (AVI/MKV), and Real Video 8/9/10 (RM/RMVB) encoded files. Its vast video decoding capabilities have played pretty much everything I've thrown at it without any problem at all. Patriot's Box Office also has a resume play function that remembers where you last left off from the video. Video control is fairly simple with the hardware skip/play/pause/stop functions; the input response is shown at the top left corner of the screen by a small flashing icon. My only complaint is that every time a file is accessed over network, it flashes a tested network speed box (Including during video previews) at the upper left corner of the screen. Most consumers probably would not worry too much about the network speed of their device at that time, unless diagnostics are being run -- so a bit more user 'isolation' from the workings of the device during normal usage would be generally acceptable for the Patriot Box Office, in my opinion.

The music selection menu is the same as the video selection menu. You will still get the same file browser window on the left, but the video preview window now displays ID3 tag data of the song. It lists the artist, title, album, genre, and year, but surprisingly does not show any visualizations or album art. When a song is playing, an opaque box appears near the bottom left corner to show the file name and play duration. This makes the music playing interface extremely raw and uninspiring, and while it will continue playing the song when you navigate to another folder, the opaque box overlays a portion of file listings in the browser. It's pretty annoying when you want to scroll to another song on the screen, and the box interferes with the view. I would highly recommend to them that they relocate the opaque box to a better location, or at least make it semi-transparent.

The last option on your home screen is the Settings menu. From here, you can adjust options according to the categories separated by the tabs at the top. Again, it is fairly straightforward, so I won't go into the details -- basic settings such as audio output source, video aspect ratio, network configuration, system features, and other miscellaneous settings as shown in our photo above can be adjusted. Just a quick worthwhile mention -- you can save up to three wireless connection profiles on the Patriot Box Office.

Overall, the device is responsive; I have noticed little lag other than the quick "loading" dialog every time a network folder is accessed. The usage experience is smooth, and in general it is quite intuitive to use. However, I found the overall experience not quite up to par for something designed to integrate into your living room and handle media files. The interface is very primitive to say the least, and, to be honest, not very well thought out by the developer. For one thing, since the purpose of the Patriot Box Office is made to handle media, the main screen should be separated into categories such as Music, Movies, and Pictures right from the start -- features such as File Copy and Settings can be moved to the end of the menu, because they aren't as important. Having a file browser so the user has to go through a series of menus to find their media files every single time is tedious, and really not my type of thing. Instead, the media sections should rely on a generated index of the corresponding media files to enhance their file listing performance, usability, and experience; a significantly improved graphical user interface to be more "media like" is also highly recommended. It is actually preferred to have the media library interface isolated from the lower level workings of the device for the most part -- a Linux computer browser/interface will inadvertently put off many consumers. As I have mentioned earlier, if you look at something like Windows Media Center, and how it is done, for inspiration is definitely a step in the right direction. The current Patriot Box Office media interface certainly works, but it doesn't provide the type of experience desired.

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look - Hardware
3. A Closer Look - Software
4. Performance and Conclusion