Patriot Box Office: A Shocking Good Value When I first received the Patriot Box Office, I had pretty low expectations. Available for $99, selling for $89 locally, this media streamer featured a VERY small form factor, 2 USB ports, HDMI output and that was it. It opens up to allow for the install of a HDD (not included). It ships with no apps – so there is no support for Netflix, or other content like that. You won’t browse the web from it. You won’t post facebook updates from it. There is no Twitter client. No cool interface. It supports RSS Video Streams (built in with ESPN, MSNBC, and several news sources) but not a Youtube client in sight. So, without all of the “cool” and hip factor, what did the Patriot Box Office Core really have going for it? I have to say, this review may come as a bit of a surprise because with all of my low expectations, the Patriot Box Office flat out blew me away. It’s hard for me to say that, because my view on most of these products is pretty blah, but the Patriot Box Office Core is an outright steal at $99. I cannot think of a better value I have found in the media streamer format, and I mean that seriously. But before I get to why, let me go over what the Patriot Box Office does. Formats Come Easy Most of the modern media streamers will now handle all of the basic formats. XVID, AVI, DIVX, Quicktime, X264, VC1. It’s just the way they work. But most also stop short there, only handling those functions, not really going beyond that. Well, the Patriot Box Office really steps it up to the next level. The PBO (I will abbreviate from here on in) will mount the standard formats, but it will also scan network shares and mount ISOs.. as in BLURAY ISOs. The included remote manages all Bluray functions, and so entire, full function bluray can be streamed from network shared ISOs of the discs. This is a one of a kind function I haven’t seen anywhere else. Want more? Connect an external USB DVDROM drive, and the PBO becomes a DVD player, with decent quality. Because the Patriot Box Office offers an optional internal HDD, high bandwidth content can be copied from your network onto your local hard drive – an easy task to manage using the remote control. In this format, the title streams from a local HDD with plenty of speed to manage even the highest bitrate. I’ve found that copying a title over a 10/100 network took a matter of minutes, but then resulted in stutter free 1080P content. Even better, the PBO offers options I’ve found nowhere else in how to watch back the content, like 1080P/24Hz modes, as well as providing you the options to setup color and other output settings, turning on and off different performance modes to get the results you want. The PBO’s MPEG2 output and X264 output do not look quite as good as the D-Link Boxee. And of course, it doesn’t have the features of the Boxee.. but the ability to have access to full BD menus when I want them is an incredible perk. The unit also provides perks I haven’t seen in anything but my Oppo. Want to freeze frame a Bluray and then zoom in, up to 8X zoom on an area of the picture? It’s one button press from the remote. Wanting to step forward or back frame by frame? One button on the remote. Fast forward –works-, and works well, in increments from 1.5X to 16X. You can also clip ahead at a better 15/30 second interval. Flat out, the functionality of the Patriot Box Office is very, very good. How fast can you go? One of my chief complaints of the D-Link Boxee as well as other streamers is that the time they took to enumerate network shares was long, meaning the end user had to stare at a screen that showed them the unit “working” while they waited on results. The PBO doesn’t provide the splashy menus or metadata that the Boxee does. As a result, the connection to a network and it’s performance are FAST. As in, lightening fast. The unit managed to boot to a usable screen in right around 6 seconds – about 10 times faster then the Boxee. I was able to connect to network shares in under 10 seconds, and the PBO was able to see everything on my network instantly. The PBO doesn’t offer me pretty titles to show me what I have – just a plain text list. However, PBO offers one very nice feature – when I highlight a show, it shows me a “preview” in a window of what that show is, I can watch for as long as I want and this starts instantly. A nice perk. And like all things on the PBO, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off. The menu and setup system is very utilitarian but easy to understand. It took me no time to find the functions I wanted and change them. Handling HD Audio The PBO had no big issue passing HD audio over HDMI, handling a pass-through or LPCM decoding. Some boxes support a firmware upgrade which allows for bitstream pass through (mine did) which made passing through DTS-MA/DD-HD a snap. The remote is truly fantastic for a device at this price level, a straight forward Bluray remote. When you buy a media streamer under $100, you figure everything about it will feel cheap. And the unit’s menus are Spartan enough to remind you that it isn’t a high end box.. but just like the performance, the remote control on this unit is fantastic for a unit at this price level. Everything you want from the unit is easily accessible on the remote. All functions related to media and most of the functions of the main unit are one button press away. The remote control has some heft to it – it feels in your hands better then a cheap Bluray remote. And compared to every other media streamer I’ve tried, I was surprised someone actually thought this through. If you have to go with a cheap media streamer, this is the one. I’ve seen quite a few, and there are lots of functions that the PBO doesn’t get. It won’t handle online media (Youtube, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix) And so if those are critical functions for you, this is a pass. But if you are looking for something to stream your network stored content to a TV, I haven’t found anything that even competes with PBO. PBO does a better job, faster than I ever expected. Frankly, I am more impressed with this unit the more I use it, and I find that the way it basically functions is a real homerun. If you need Vudu/Netflix/Etc. to make a unit a media streamer for you, then the Patriot Box Office is a pass. But if you’re looking for anything in the under $150 price range that just works out of the box, I can think of quite a few options that are considerably – and I mean considerably – worse than then PBO. This does everything it is cracked up to, and it does it with amazing ease. The fact is, it supports a broad range of formats and it does a hell of a job with them. It offers cool features that just work. If you’re only looking for a way to get your digital media out to your TV, and maybe hook up a DVD player to it later (or a HDD to store more) then the PBO is a winner. This is a great product at this price point, and even if I were to have found it at its original cost ($129) I’d still recommend it.