My High Definition media player history is certainly varied.
Around 2 and a half years ago, I started with a custom built HTPC and all the codec issues associated with that.
I sold that and moved onto a Mac Mini running Plex, which was great having all the codecs built into the software, so no messing.
Then I wanted something smaller, so I moved the Mac Mini upstairs and bought an Apple TV (with the Crystal HD card), but after playing with that for a while I decided I wanted something that could be guaranteed to be play all HD types. (The Apple TV solution was still in development)
So after a bit of research, I have a AC Ryan PlayOn!HD Mini media player retailing around the £90 mark.
Measuring just 151 x 102 x 42mm, its the tiniest device you're likely to see.
Its so small because there is no hard drive in it, all media is streamed via over the network OR via an attached USB drive.
One problem with it being so small is that the cables you plug into the back move the unit around. Blu-Tak or purchasing some small rubber feet from B&Q is recommended.
There is a larger PlayOn unit that hosts a 3.5" SATA drive internally, but this is an extra £45.
Personally, I'll be streaming everything from my Synology DS710+ NAS. The Ethernet port on the PlayOn is 100mbit, which is plenty fast enough for streaming all HD file types.
There is an optional Wireless adapter available, but I wouldn't recommend this for streaming HD at all.
The latest firmware for the PlayOn allows a connected USB drive to show up on your network, so you can copy files from your PC for example directly to the connected USB drive.
Alternately, you can just plug the USB drive into the source PC and then back into the PlayOn to play the files off there.
The menu system on the PlayOn is certainly a little clunky. Its not a patch on XMBC, Plex or the Apple TV interface.
But I didn't buy the PlayOn to look at the menu system, I bought it to play media files and it certainly does that.
I've so far testing SD divx, 720 & 1080p HD mkv and HD quicktime files off my Panasonic FZ28 camera, all play fine.
As you can see from the specification sheet, the list of playable media is vast:
The AC Ryan forum is very active and there appears to be plenty of help on there too.
The menu system gets some getting used to, and the network/sharing set up isn't straight forward. The manual wasn't all that helpful to be honest, so I ended up on the forum looking to find out how to browse over a samba share.
Video outputs on the back are HDMI and component, with audio supplied via Toslink SPDIF and phono L&R. (SPDIF has raw pass through direct to your amp, which i'm using)
100mbit Ethernet, 2 USB ports and a power socket make up the connectivity.
Power is supplied with a very small PSU on the plug.
Running is silent due to no hard drive or fans, a real bonus when sat under the TV.
The remote control supplied is certainly feature filled. Again, the manual doesn't cover everything, so its a voyage of discovery as you go along.
I am looking to find an on-line manual as there also elements and options within the menu system that don't appear to be covered in the instruction booklet either. And obviously as new features come with firmware upgrades, the manual becomes more and more redundant.
Upgrading the firmware is a simple process. Just put the latest image file into the root directory of a USB stick, plug into the PlayOn and then goto the system update menu option. It takes about a minute to upgrade and restart, very simple indeed.
I've only owned this for a weekend, but opening thoughts are positive. For just £90 you get a fully featured media streamer that plays everything you throw at it.
If you need the model with the local hard disk, then £130 still isn't extortionate.
Things I'm not sure about yet is whether there is automatic refresh rate switching depending on the source material.
I have files from the camera as 30fps, some xvids at 25fps and mkvs at 23.976fps. To ensure smooth playback from each of these files then the player really needs to be outputting the appropriate refresh rate. At the moment I think this is a manual process from the menus, but it would be brilliant if this could be added as an automated function of the player.
I also need to become more familiar with the network browser function and the "my shortcuts" setting. I still seems a little clunky having to go down many levels of directory structure to get to the files you want, especially if you've already set-up a "shortcut".
I may add more to the blog when I get more familiar with these functions and have an update.
Any comments, please let me know