Given the advent of the ever-more-capable instant on, low power media players that can stream data from any one of a dozen sources, it does make me wonder. The likes of Western Digital TV Live or Popcorn hour are the most well known, but virtually every networking or storage manufacturer is dipping their toe into the market, so there's a huge amount of choice out there The A.C. Ryan's PlayON! HD is, in some ways is no different to what you'd expect - it's a media player capable of High-Definition playback from a number of different sources.
A.C. Ryan has gone a bit further with the design though, including as complete a set of video playback encoding and file wrapping support that you'll find anywhere, plus space for an internal hard drive and a nice interface to boot.
Previously we've looked at A.C. Ryan's PlayON! DVR TV, that included many of the same features, in addition to a TV tuner for recording DVB-T and analogue TV to its internal hard drive, as well as playback for other media formats too.
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Just as with the PlayON! DVR TV, the HD has a very generous bundle that adds to its value. Composite, audio, component and HDMI are all included - the HDMI is particularly nice in its cable braid - and there's also the much needed remote plus batteries (that load shotgun style! Yes, it's the unusual things that amuse me).
Playback support includes:
Video: AVI / MKV / TS / TP / TRP / M2TS / MPG / MP4 / MOV / M4V / VOB / ISO / IFO / DAT / WMV / ASF / RM / RMVB / FLV with resolutions up to 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
Even BD-ISO for those of you making full backups of your precious discs, and if you're using HDMI it even includes LPCM Multi-Channel, DD Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio passthrough too!
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While we didn't go to the lengths of testing all the more exotic codecs, we did test the usual MOV, WMV, DivX AVI and MKV h.264 - even with DTS-EX audio - and in every case it took two seconds to start playing it back flawlessly. Very nifty. Admittedly we couldn't check the multi-channel audio, and the only option of using it is over HDMI, so if you have a more unique setup that requires multiple RCA inputs you're out of luck.
The device itself is bigger than most media boxes out there, but that's warranted by the fact that it has a 3.5in hard drive inside. As for the design, well, it is very smart and European with its minimalist, single button fascia. In comparison, a lot of the competition clutter up the front with "marketable features" at the expense of simplicity and usability. Here we just have the central A.C. Ryan logo, an on button and a backlight that changes from blue to red to show the machine's ‘on’ state. The metal box certainly feels solid and its construction is very good, but we liked the brushed finish of the older DVR more. The plastic is still a little cheap for the lounge, at least if you've got pricier amps and other equipment in there.
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Underneath the unit the hard drive can be accessed via releasing two (clearly marked) screws, and despite the whole thing standing on four rubber grommets and A.C.Ryan shipping it with green/low power hard drives, the disk still evidently vibrates the box quite a bit and is its loudest part. Despite Harry's strong objections to 40mm fans in principle, the one included at the back makes next to no noise, and if you don't use a hard drive, you can manually unplug it.