It's arguably near the end of the road for the home theatre PC. Bespoke media players are taking over the home theatre market with force and beating them in price and ease of use. There are always some of you which will always enjoy the customisation of a real HTPC, doubling it up as a storage server, but for many who just want HD quality video or audio playback, there's a plethora of devices out there to handle these tasks.
One popular choice is the WDTV Live, although AC Ryan has been making some very interesting products recently.
The O!Play includes many of the features we'd expect to find in a media player: support for HD resolutions, HDMI 1.3 with LPCM HD audio support and h.264/mkv playback. It's a small, fanless device with a smart looking design. However, when you pick it up, the design is let down by a greasy plastic outer surface.
Click to enlarge
Asus O!Play Air Media Player Features
One USB 2 port
One USB 2 / eSATA Combo port
One RJ-45 Ethernet port
Card readers CF, SD+MMC, MS+MS Duo
802.11n Wireless Networking
Composite Video output
Composite Audio L/R output
Optical S/PDIF output
We really like the powered eSATA port, because it means less wasted space for extra sockets, and you can still use a normal USB stick to stream HD content - eSATA is not a requirement. The card inputs are always a bonus for families that have lots of cameras. Alternatively content can be streamed straight from the network over the included 802.11n WiFi (no external aerial required/included) or the Gigabit Ethernet connection (which tests the network speed before every playback).
Click to enlarge
Despite having HDMI 1.3 there is no HDMI cable in the box. Instead Asus throws in a composite cable for maximum TV compatibility, but at the obvious expense of this being the worst quality connection possible. It will inevitably lead to disappointment in the quality of the video, since most people simply use what's in the box. We've scrawled through the Asus manual and nowhere does it recommend using the far superior HDMI instead of composite, a serious omission.