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Appeared on: Monday, January 11, 2010
AC Ryan PlayOnHD!


1. Basic features

Media players have borrowed some of the multimedia functionality of a PC system and have become attractive to consumers, seeking for an affordable way to bring their video and audio files to their living room. Being stylish and compact, media players have found their way next to a high-end HD TV, offering effortless digital video playback.

Dutch company AC Ryan has introduced 'PlayonHD!', an attractively priced media player packed with powerful features.

The Playon!HD enables users to enjoy your Full HD media on their large screen TV with the highest 1080p Full HD quality. The supported formats and codecs supported include MKV, H.264, RM/RMVB, AVI, MOV, WMV, ISO etc. The simplicity of the Playon!HD is the key behind its success. Connecting simply with HDMI (high definition multimedia interface), the Playon!HD starts up in 5 seconds just as you would expect a living room consumer device to do. Browse for a file, press Play and enjoy!

The Playon!HD centralizes all your media, using a user-installable 3.5" hard disk (supports up to today's largest 2TB hard disk). Being able to function as a Network Attached Storage (NAS) Drive, means this centralized media can be played from other network devices too such as your computer. In cases where you still would like your Playon!HD to play your media from other storage, Playon!HD is able to play from a wide selection of media storage - Local 3.5" Hard disk storage, External USB Hard disks, USB Drives, Media cards (SD / SDHC / MS / MSPro) and Network. The additional Wireless-N 300mbps Adaptor (optional) brings the Playon!HD to the forefront of wireless HD media streaming.

Below is a list of full features and specifications:

Store, Play, Stream
Digital audio, video & images
HDMI 1.3 | Full HD 1080P
Plays Full HD video formats/codecs (incl. MKV, RM/RMVB, H.264 etc)
UPNP / NAS Network HDD / Media Player
Bittorrent Download
Wired Network
Wireless Network (optional)
supports internal 3.5" SATA/SATA2 Harddisk
supports external USB Harddisk / external USB storage
USB2.0 Host for expansion with more USB drives
Remote Control

HDMI digital video
High Definition Mulitmedia Interface
Newest high definition standard integrating digital audio & video
Single cable with user-friendly connector
Supports up to Full HD 1080p

Digital Audio/Video/Image Playback
Playback audio / video / images via audio/video output
via digital or analog connectors
- HDMI (Audio/Video)
- Component YPbPr (Video)
- Composite (Audio/Video)
- S/PDIF Coaxial (Audio)
- S/PDIF Optical TOSLink (Audio)
Audio pass-through: DTS/Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital Plus

Media file formats supports
Video Codecs:
- MPEG-1 / MPEG-2 / MPEG-4 SP/ASP/AVC (H.264) / XviD / DivX / WMV9 (VC-1) / RealVideo 8/9/10 (up to 720P)
Content Formats:
- AVI / MKV / TS / TP / TRP / M2TS / MPG / MP4 / MOV / M4V / VOB / ISO / IFO / DAT / WMV / ASF / RM / RMVB / FLV resolution up to 720p / 1080i / 1080p
Audio Codecs:
- MP2 / MP3 / OGG Vorbis / WMA Std / PCM / LPCM / MS-ADPCM / LC-AAC / HE-AAC / COOK / RA-Lossless
Image:
- HD JPEG / BMP / GIF / TIF / PNG

Video Playback features
Supports subtitles (SRT / SMI / SSA / ASS / IDX/SUB / SUB)
Playback functions : Single File, Repeat One, Repeat All
Play, Pause, Stop, Fast Forward
Resume playback from last location
Thumbnail view

Audio Playback features
MP3 / OGG / WMA / WAV / AAC / FLAC
MP3 ID3 tag display : Title, Artist, Bitrate etc
Playlist function
Can be used as independent music player for music playback without being connected to TV

Internet Radio
Enjoy easy access to a digital world of internet radio

Image View features
HD JPEG / BMP / GIF / TIF / PNG
Image Zoom-in & Rotate functions
Advanced slideshow with interval selection & browsing function
Set audio playback as background music during slideshow

Network - Wired & Wireless*
LAN Ethernet 10/100Mbps Auto-negotiation
supports Wireless WLAN* 802.11b/g/n
Supports WLAN* security WEP / WPA
Supports WLAN* Peer-to-Peer (connects wireless without router)
Built-in DHCP for Auto IP or Manual Fixed IP
* Wireless WLAN is supported via an extra option (not incl.) of USB WLAN adaptor

NAS Network Drive / Network Player
Great as Network Media Center
Functions as NAS Network Drive (accessible via network from all NAS capable devices eg. PC, XBOX, PS3 etc)
Browse network by navigation or direct IP address
Save Shortcuts to easily access network locations
Plays / streams audio/video/image media from any device in network
Use Playon! HD to play any media in network
Play media stored in Playon! HD from anywhere in network

USB2.0 Host for expansion with external storage
2x USB2.0 Host ports for 2 USB devices
supports USB Harddisks, USBdisk, USB Cardreader. iPod, PSP and other USB storage devices
Copy files between Internal Harddisk & External storage without going through PC

Advanced File Management
File Management allows viewing of entire disk drive contents and instant playback of media files
Media Library Browser scans and display all Image / Audio / Video contents
File Copy, File Paste, File Delete, Add New Folder, Copy All, Delete All
Multi-Language on-screen menu : English / Spanish / French / German / Italiano / Dutch / Traditional Chinese

Connect to PC via USB2.0 / Network / Wireless
USB2.0 480mbps / compatible with USB1.1
Network RJ45 10/100 mbps
Wireless* Network 300mbps
* Wireless WLAN is supported via an extra option (not incl.) of USB WLAN adaptor

for SATA/SATA2 harddisks
Supports all 3.5" SATA/SATA2 harddisk up to 10000RPM
Supports all 3.5" harddisk max capacity 1.5TB

System
File system:
- Internal HDD supports NTFS
- External HDD supports FAT / FAT32 / NTFS / EXT2 / EXT3
Operating system:
- Firmware upgradable

Connectors
Audio/Video Out
- HDMI 1.3
- 3x Composite socket (Stereo Audio L/R & Video)
- 3x Component socket Y-Pb-Pr
- SP/DIF Coaxial (RCA)
- SP/DIF Optical (TOSLink)
Data
- USB2.0 Male B (Device port for connecting to PC)
- 2x USB2.0 Male A (Host ports for connecting external storage)
- RJ45 Network
- Memory card slot (supports SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/MS Pro)

IR Remote Control
Full function remote control


2. The package

The AC. Ryan PlayonHD! can be bought directly from AC Ryan for €149. The device is also available at local online resellers. The price is somewhat higher than similar products we have already tested here, such as the Patriot Memory Box office ($99).

Let's have a look to the package. Although the player's size is compact, the package is bigger than we expected. All the basic information and features of the player are illustrated on the front. We should note here that in order to enjoy Wifi connectivity you have to buy the additional Wifi module (Wireless-N 300mbps) from AC. Ryan, at the retail price €29. However, all currently sold Wifi USB modules based on chipsets from Realtek (either B/G/N) will work just fine.

What's inside:

- 1x AC Ryan Playon! HD
- 1x Remote Control
- 2x AA Battery
- 1x FREE HIFX Evolution ValuePack HDMI 1.3 quality cable (2m)
- 1x Composite A/V Cable
- 1x Y/Pb/Pr Cable
- 1x USB A to USB B Cable
- 1x AC Adaptor
- 1x Power Cord
- 1x Quick Installation Guide
- 1x User Manual

The package comes complete including many types of cables that can be used to connect the device with your TV and of course an HDMI 1.3 cable.

The player itself looks is solid with an outer metallic shell. Its black color as well as the rounded top sides contribute to an overall minimal design that should match your TV set.

The main device is compact enough at 227 x 165 x 60mm and weights around 1.0kg.

Besides the A.C. Ryan logo, the front panel of the player has a back-lit power button (red/blue).

The rear panel includes Digital audio outputs, Network inputs, HDMI-Composite-Component video outputs and of course a power jack. Two USB hosts, a USB slave port and a memory slot with support for SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/MSPro cards are placed at the side of the player.


3. Powering up the player

We connected the power lack as well as the corresponding cables to our TV (either HDMI or composite). It's time to power up the player, by pressing the front power button. The player will
soon enter the home screen, and the power indicator will turn blue.

After the first boot up, the remote control can be used to power off the device. But's let's start using the device now.

Shortly after powering up the player a welcome screen with the 'AC ryan' logo appears. After a few seconds we can start configuring our player. The menu language and the wired lan setup are the first two settings we have to configure:

Our player has the r1402 firmware revision installed:

which we later upgraded to the v2388:

and finally we installed the v2891, which is the latest publicly available firmware version (beta):

The first screen you will see includes the " browser" button for browsing media files, the media library, the internet feeds, the p2p share and finally the Internet radio buttons.

The Patriot Box Office we had recently tested also included some extra functions here. However, these functions (File Copy, Browser and Setup) can be accessed via the remote control buttons of the A.C Ryan player.

By the way, Ryan's remote control is much better designed than the one the Patriot Box Office had. Most of its buttons are in place although it would take you some time to familiarize yourself with the buttons for the FF/FW and the volume. It's reception seem to be good, even you need to have the player in sight to get immediate response.


4. Setup Menus

The setup menus are easy to understand and allows you to personalize and configure the preferences for the player. There are five Setup options, including Audio, Video, Network, System, and MISC.

The 'Audio' tab includes the 'Night Mode', where you can choose between Off / On / Comfort. If the option is turned on, the audio output volume will be decreased to make you more comfortable.
The 'Digital Output' tab allows you to choose between HDMI LPCM / HDMI RAW / SPDIF LPCM / SPDIF RAW. In raw mode, Dolby Digital, DTS, or MPEG sound can be bypassed to the HDMI TV or Digital amplifier:

At the Video tab you will change the Aspect Ratio (Pan Scan 4:3, Letter Box 4:3 and 16:9), the brightness and select your TV system. Here you can also manually adjust the screen size:

At the 'Network' menu you can configure Ethernet (WIred LAN) and WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) settings. The Ethernet settings include the DHCP IP (AUTO) ( select to obtain IP address automatically) and the FIX IP (select to manually input the IP Address, Subnet Mask, Default Gateway, and DNS Server IP Address).

The Wireless Setup includes connection profiles - up to three wireless network connections can be stored. The connection mode allows you to choose between Infrastructure (AP) and Peer to Peer (Ad Hoc). Infrastructure mode is used to connect computers with wireless network adapters, also
known as wireless clients, to an existing wired network with the help from wireless router
or access point. WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected
Access) can be selected to make your network encrypted.

Peer to Peer mode, which is also called Ad Hoc mode or computer-to-computer mode, is
used to connect wireless clients directly together, without the need for a wireless router or
access point.

Here you should also set the host name of the device.

The 'Network' menu also includes BitTorrent and SAMBA functions, mainly interesting for experienced users:

The System tab holds local system settings such as the menu language, login control (
turn on / off password protect for the Web server ), HDD format, text encoding for subtitles and firmware update.

 

At the misc tab you can disable various menu features like preview (On/Off), resumed playback (On/Off), background music options while viewing pictures and screen saver (On/Off).


5. Installing a HDD

The AC Ryan PlayonHD! player can accept and 3.5" HDD with capacities of up to 2TB. In order to use the HDD you need to format the HDD using a PC at the NTFS file system first. Although the player offers an option to format the HDD after installing it, strangely enough, it will not recognize the HDD unless you have formatted it first in a PC.

Let's install the HDD to the device. First you need to remove the two screws found at the bottom side of the player:

As you can see a SATA and a power cable are present to connect your HDD:

Mounting the HDD on the the backplate using the included screws:

Finally, connect the SATA/power cables to the HDD. Remember to fasten the backplate using the two black screws you removed previously:

After powering up the system, the player detects the installed HDD, and prompts us that we should format it (again). Formatting the HDD means that any data stored there will be deleted, since the player will create three partitions and will add there all the needed files for the player's operation and functions. So you'd better backup the HDD before installing it or simply use an empty HDD. A.C. Ryan's forum is offering some tips that could help you save you some extra HDD space.

Let's return to the formatting procedure:

- File copy

With the HDD already installed, you are ready to do various neat tricks. Select the File Copy icon from the home screen to enter the File Copy menu, which allows you to copy files between Removable Devices (Card, USB), HDD, and Network:

We selected the local network and went to the local network and chose various folders/files using the 'select' button on the remote control. Then we chose the destination, where the files would be transferred:

A new folder for the new contents can be easily created and named:

After creating your folder you are ready to either copy/move or cancel the operation:

The procedure takes some time, despite the fact that the player is connected to a wired 100Mbit lan:

We measured a transfer speed of 5.30MB/sec through a local wired network and around 12MB/sec from an external USB2.0 device. For sure, the network speed could be improved with a future firmware update.

The copied files can be reviewed, renamed or even deleted. They can also be added for torrent seeding:


6. Playing media files

With all these video files stored into our player's HDD, we are ready to watch them. All you need to do is to navigate through the desired folder and select a video file. The the AC Ryan PlayonHD! player will automatically preview the video file (right area of TV). Pressing the 'enter' will maximize the screen (full screen):

The 'info' button gives us information about the file size, the filename and the elapsed/remaining playback time:

Pressing again the 'info' button will get us more information about the video/audio formats of the selected file:

The FF/FW functions work very well and fast - up to 32x. The player will also conveniently display the exact minute of the movie you are currently navigating through - another usefully function we missed when we tested some other media players:

The AC Ryan PlayonHD! is also displaying SRT subtitles perfectly:

Support for more complicated languages such as "Greek" and many other Eastern European/Asia languages is also available:

and Greek subtitles are displayed without any issues, as we have experienced with some other media players:

If you stop the play back and then select the file again, a resume option is available:

Another neat feature of the PlayonHD! player is the ability to stretch movies so they can fully displayed in your TV screen. For example, a WMV HD file isn't automatically stretched, but this can be done using the zoom (+) button. We hope that AC Ryan will make this feature work automatically so users won't have to press the zoom button again and again (very useful for Cartoon TV Series).

You can select among the 'fit,' 'stretch,' 'wide' as well as more options for the picture stretching:

- Audio playback

The player can also reproduce audio files. In our case, we tested several MP3 files (VBR quality) and we didn't have any issues. Information about the artist, title or album of the audio file you have selected is available. Too bad that there is not any equalizer and maybe some visual effects are present here:

Most of the DTS/THX formats are also supported:

However, the Dolby Digital+ 7.1 and the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 formats are not supported (unknown codec, no sound):

The AC. Ryan PlayonHD! also supports playback of ISO DVD-Video and Blu-Ray movies. The player will accept any non copy-protected content. For any other content, a software such as the AnyDVD HD could help..

The DVD-Menus were working perfectly:

Although Blu-Ray ISO images do not include any working menus (for now), the main movie works just fine.


7. Online services

Before accessing the provided online services, you need to agree with the service statement first:

Four services available: Youtube explorer, Picasa, RSS news and flickr:

Possibly the most interesting service, the Youtube module, offers limited functionality at least for now.. A search option is not available meaning that your viewing options are limited to the preselected 10 most viewed files, as well as to the other video lists Youtube is offering:

As soon as you choose any of the provided videos, playback will start almost immediately. A progress bar is available in the middle. However, functions such as zoom or FF/FW are not possible when you playback Youtube videos. Pressing the 'return' button gets you to the previous screen.

The Picasa function allows you to search for pictures, which is very useful:

The search results are appearing on screen as thumbnails, allowing easy navigation among them:

The RSS function includes many preselected RSS feeds, but you can also add your own ones:

However, reading the RSS text is not very easy and scrolling is also very slow:

Lastly, the flickr module allows you to view pictures,

and rotate them as well:

The online radio module gives you access to many internet radio stations, which can be categorized with their gene:

We noticed that sometimes the online radio function was not working very well. The player locked, leaving us with some doubts or whether it was a network problem or not...


8. Final words

After spending quite some time to describing the player and using it, we have to answer our initial question...How does this player perform? We can easily say "almost perfectly". The AC Ryan PlayonHD! player is based on Realtek's chipset, as well as the PatriotMemory Box office products. However, there are many important differences between these products indicating that AC Ryan has spent more time in the engineering of the the PlayonHD! product, making it more complete.

First of all, the PlayonHD! is almost double the size of the Box office. This allows you to install a 3.5" HDD with capacities of up to 2TB, while the Patriot Box office accepts 2.5" HDDs, which limit the player's storage space to 500GB. Next, the PlayonHD! offers more outputs and a better GUI. We also noticed many improvements and fixes in several areas. For example, A.C Ryan's player display's better the Greek subtitles and supports smart zooming with 4:3 video files.

The performance of both players is nevertheless the same, since both share the same engine. You will have a hard time finding a video file that will not be supported by the player, no matter if they are Mpeg1, 2 or Mpeg4 files. The player's network functions offer an adequate transfer speed, although there is space for an improvement here possibly with a new firmware. The included HDMI v1.3 cable and output are also welcomed, allowing you to fully take advantage of your HDTV's capabilities.

On the other hand, the player was muted with video files that have Dolby Digital+ 7.1 & Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio. Although most of the today's video clips do not support these two formats, again a a firmware update could fix this too.

The DTS sound will be perfectly reproduced, meaning that most of the MKV files you can create or find online will play perfectly.

We didn't have any problems with the English or Greek subtitles - this player supports them all. ISO DVD-Video or Blu-Ray files are also available in the list of the supported formats.

The internet widgets for Youtube, Picasa, RSS News and Internet radio still need more work. Their functionality os limited to the basics but still, you can play with them for fun.

The menu speed is satisfactory although we feel that more improvements can be made here. AC. Ryan keeps releasing new firmware updates for the product, fixing bugs and adding more features. We have seen a very large community over AC. Ryan's forums indicating that this product is very popular and keeps getting better with all that support.

We hope that this review has showed you what you can expect from the AC. Ryan PlayonHD! player. For sure, there are many features that cannot be covered here and if you have some spare time, you can program the device yourself using its publicly available source code! You may also find it interesting to read the product's FAQ before purchasing the unit.

Overall we have to do with a great, fully-featured product that could replace HTPCs with a fraction of the cost. It's not a perfect product but with the ongoing support and development from A.C. Ryan, it keeps improving.

Positive

- Full retail package - Comes with HDMI v1.3 cable
- Can playback almost anything from mpeg1,2,4 ASP & AVC formats
- Can playback almost all audio formats (mp3, AAC, Flac, Ogg, WMA, RA)
- 1080p and DTS soundtracks are not a problem for this player
- Supports 3.5" USB HDD installation
- Supports both Wifi and wired lan connection
- Generally stable playback
- Supports playback of DVD-Video and Blu-Ray ISOs with menu support
- Built in P2P file download management
- Support for UPnP streaming
- Remote control layout is good, generally speaking :-)
- Subtitles working very good, even with Eastern European/Asia languages
- Low emitted noise
- Several Internet Widgets, that however need further tuning

Negative

- Price is somewhat higher than other similar products
- Menus and overall graphics could have a better design
- Windows 7 sharing needs registry hacks to get everything working



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