These days the way we consume entertainment is rapidly changing, with many of us moving away from conventional physical media in favour of the convenience afforded by an entirely digital media library. After all, who wants to mess about with finding the disc when you could just double click a file?
With plenty of applications out there now making ripping your DVD collection to high quality AVI files as easy as ripping a CD, not least of which is Nvidia’s CUDA accelerated Badaboom, and digital video recorders becoming an increasingly familiar sight thanks to the popularity of Sky’s Sky+ service, we’re becoming more and more used to our media being accessible at the press of a button.
Managing and playing all that media on your TV can be tricky though, especially if you’re sitting on a hoard of recorded TV shows and DVD rips spread across multiple PCs or backed up to network-attached storage. Enter AC Ryan’s Playon! DVR TV, combining the function of a DVR, NAS and high definition digital video player into a single black aluminium box. Is it worthy of a hallowed place beside the bit-tech TV? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
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Unboxing the Playon! DVR TV reveals the first glimpse of the wonderful black aluminium casing, which looks and feels fantastic and certainly wouldn’t look out of place beside a grand's worth of HDTV. The unit itself isn’t too large either, and has a surprisingly small footprint, so squeezing it into your existing setup shouldn’t be a problem.
This particular Playon! DVR TV doesn’t ship with any hard disk drive pre-installed, but you can buy them with a 500GB or 1TB drive pre-installed and it all comes with a two year warranty. Or, like we did, you can select the drive of your choice. On one hand you can make sure you get the very fastest and quietest drive available if you want, but on the other...well, you've got to buy it yourself. Any SATA hard disk drive will do the job, but our drive of preference for home theatre and media PC duties is the Western Digital Caviar Green series, thanks to their whisper-quiet operation and low power consumption. We fitted a 1TB Caviar Green without issue, but the device supports capacities right up to the current maximum of 2TB if you absolutely must have the biggest hard disk in the room.
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Booting up the Playon! DVR TV for the first time, the device quickly found our installed hard disk drive and gave us plenty of portioning options, allowing the option to specify the size of partitions available to the DVR’s live TV time shift function (up to a whopping four hours), recorded TV library and separate FAT32 and NTFS partitions for use as file storage. The last inclusion is of particular note, as many digital video players are limited to only FAT32 partitions, with the maximum supported file size of 4GB not big enough for a lengthy high definition video file.
With the drive partitioned we hooked up the unit via its HDMI port, but there’s an enormous array of connectivity on the rear of the Playon! DVR TV, easily enough to suit any setup. As well as HDMI AC Ryan has also included Composite out, Component out and Composite in, as well as both optical and coaxial SP/DIF outputs. Connectivity is rounded off with a 100MB/s Ethernet port, RF input for the twin TV tuners, two USB 2.0 ports for the connection of flash drives or external hard disks and a USB-B port for PC connectivity.
There’s also a healthy bundle of included cables and connectors, with two sets of composite AV cables, an HD component cable, USB-B to USB-A and a mini aerial connector. There’s also a USB 802.11G Wireless adapter should you wish to connect the Playon! To your home network wirelessly and AC Ryan even throws in a braided HDMI cable. It’s a generous package and means that, besides the hard disk, there’s everything here you could possibly need to get the Playon! DVR TV up and running regardless of your needs.