the bundled two-metre HiFX Evolution HDMI cable, which is pricy on its own and is a nice touch
Reading the spec sheet of the PlayOn!HD media player is like reading a who's who for the most requested feature list of any top end media player. It supports every video format in imaginable, including not just MOV and MKV but also ASF, FLV and RMVB, all at up to 1,080p over both HDMI and component - and for home cinema buffs there's even 1,080p 24 support. Reading on, it caters to both Dolby and pass-through or down-mixed to stereo (DTS) and offers both wired and wireless-n networking with NAS functionality, YouTube and BitTorrent.
All good so far, but that's not all, the Playon!HD comes with a very generous bundle. A highlight is the bundled two-metre HiFX Evolution HDMI cable, which is pricy on its own and is a nice touch. There are also component and composite video cables and a USB cable to connect the Playon!HD up to your computer. Wireless is supported once you purchase the wireless USB dongle, costing less just than €30 and supports speeds of up to 802.11n standard.
On to the the PlayON! HD unit itself, which is far larger than we were expecting, but it's for a good reason. At 227 x 165 x 60mm and weighing a considerable 1.5kg, the extra space allows access to a 3.5in hard disk drive bay inside. With this you can add almost any disk you like, with support for disks up to 1.5TB in size. It's not a necessity however, as the PlayON! HD is able to stream media files over a network or play them from USB external storage devices as well. The demo unit we got came pre fitted with 1 TB which is sizable enough for any home network attached storage (NAS) needs.
One cool feature we found was the ability to plug in an external USB DVD/CD drive, after which it will happily read any multimedia content off the disc. This is an incredibly handy feature that will be welcome for many - the only issue is that it can't play regular movie DVDs because of their protection which would have effectively turned your media player into a DVD player too. However, a region-free DVD we tried played just fine, and of course ripped DVDs, backups and pictures or home movies that you may have on disc will all work just as well.
The large casing means there's plenty of space for ports. On the side are two USB ports for attaching storage devices, as well as a memory card reader with support for SDHC and Memory Stick Pro formats. At its rear, there includes composite, component and HDMI ports for video; stereo analogue outputs and optical plus co-axial digital audio outputs; an Ethernet port, and the power input.
On the front, a single blue-backlit power button, with 'Playon!HD' illuminated in blue below it, is the only control, with everything else dealt with by the remote control. The buttons on the remote are clearly labelled and make it easy to navigate the menus. Volume controls mean you can tweak the levels without reaching for another control. However, the playback controls are a bit awkward with tiny play, stop and volume buttons positioned between large green track control buttons, making them hard to get at.
In use, the Playon!HD boots up very quickly into a main menu that allows you to browse files on USB devices, memory cards, any internal hard disk or from network devices like NAS drives and shared folders. You get a handy video thumbnail when you scroll through video files, but photos are also limited to a single thumbnail, a page of multiple thumbnails might have been easier to navigate. One thing we noticed was some slight speed degradation as you browsed external content, but not enough to render the device useless.
The Playon! HD's network features which include Internet Radio, a Web Server, Picasa, RSS news feeds, BitTorrent and Samba NAS all worked perfectly through wired or wireless connections and add to the advantages of this over other media players. Firmware updates keep the Playon!HD up to date and can, stated by AC Ryan, add other new features in the future.
Lastly, as we said above the amount of codec and standards this thing supports is practically unheard of. Any video file we could find played happily on the playon!HD without a hi-cup. We did notice that the fan could be seen as a little load, but you would only hear it in a totally silent room with the sound on mute.
All in all the PlayOn!HD is definitely one of best media player products on the market. It’s feature-set and file support is pretty much unrivalled by anything else and completely overshadows any niggles with the remote and menu browsing speed we had. If you’re looking at other media players but like the spec's that A.C Ryan's Playon!HD has to offer, the starting price of €143 is very reasonable for the full 1080p High Definition playback and media support alone.