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Appeared on: Monday, July 26, 2010
ACRyan PlayOnHD Mini review


1. Features

Some time ago we had the chance to test the PlayOnHD! media player by AC Ryan. Today we are presenting its small brother, the PlayOnHD! Mini! Now that's a challenge. How do you improve an already successful product with so many features and abilities? Or is it redesigned to target a different consumer group? Let's find out...

- Features

The most obvious change for the new product is its size.. To be honest, we couldn't believe in our eyes when we saw the PlayOnHD!.Compared to the AC Ryan PlayOnHD!, the new product look extremely small and compact. The second thing we soon noticed was that the Mini is totally silent, since it has no moving parts inside! In addition, it is passively cooled with a fanless system.

Apart from being small and silent, the mini offers all those features you would expected from a modern media player, allowing you to stream & play from your media storage, PC or your other Playon!HD. You can play MKV / RMVB / H.264, Plays TS / M2TS / BD Folders, and more. The sound features include DTS Downmix and an Optical Digital Audio Out (DTS / Dolby Digital) is available. It comes with a full-sized remote control and offers many internet services such as SHOUTcast radio, Network streaming and support for WiFi connection (via extra Wireless-N USB dongle). The two USB ports allow you to plug external HDD & USB storage devices and the included HDMI cable should be ideal for your high definition needs.

Here are the list of the full specs of the player:

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

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

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 Optical (TOSLink)
Data
- 2x USB2.0 Male A (Host ports for connecting external storage)
- RJ45 Network

IR Remote Control
Full function remote control


2. A closer look

The AC Ryan PlayonHD! mini can be bought online or at various local online resellers for 99 Euro. The price is slightly higher than what you would spend for other similar products (i.e. WD Live TV).

The device comes packaged into a small box, denoting the device's size, which is just 151 x 102 x 42mm. It's weight is just 600g:

Let's open the box. As you can see below, everything is placed into protective packaging:

The bundle is complete and includes the essential AV and HDMI 1.3 cables. Here is what's inside:

Looking at the player we can say that it's looks like a 'shrunk' version of the PlayOnHD! model, having a similar build quality and a low weight. The "AC-RYAN" back-lit logo placed on the front side lights to red and blue.

 

At the rear side of the device there are many outputs/inputs. These are Digital audio outputs, Network inputs (10/100Mbps), HDMI-Composite-Component video outputs and of course the power jack. In addition, there are two USB 2.0 ports for connecting external devices such as USB flash drives, or HDD or even USB optical drives for playback unprotected material.


3. Powering up the player

After having connected the power cable and and the corresponding cables to our TV ( HDMI or composite) it's time to power up the player. You can power on the player using the front power button and later turn it off using the remote control. The first step is to configure the player. The menu language and the wired lan setup are the first two steps.

The player came with r3615 firmware revision installed.

Soon we upgrade it to v4312

The new firmware provides an updated GUI, at least for the home page. There are many features to explore here such as the media file browser, the media library, internet feeds, p2p share and internet radio:

The setup menu always offer interesting information about the player's features. Here we have exactly the same layout and features as we have already saw in our PlayOnHD! review. Let's try to setup our TV system. We select the '1080p 60Hz" option and adjust the screen size:

The network features are also important for our tests. We can either set them automatically or manually, we selected the later for accessing our local network.

The 'System' menu allows you to set the menu language and also the default language for the subtitles (or left to auto). AC Ryan offers two types of firmware; one for Asian and another one for the European market, in order to cover all the available languages. More info can be found here.

At the 'Misc' menus we will find several interesting options to play with:

The remote control is exactly the same as the one bundled with the already tested PlayOnHD! player. While the center design (four way buttons) is nice, there are other buttons which are very small to work with, such as the play/stop buttons. It's reception seems to be good, although you have to align the control to the front of the player in order to get an immediate response.

 


4. Network

The PlayOnHD! Mini offers some online services. First you must accept the service statement:

As you can see you can use the player to access Picasa, news, Flickr and something new, Weather:

The Internet radio works pretty well. You can search for your favorite station by genre and add it to favorites. We searched for " Kiss FM" and the player returned the results.

The music keeps playing in the background even if you leave the Internet service section. It stops as soon as you access other important menus, for example, if you select to play a movie.

In order to access your local network you can either choose the automatic search or manually enter the IP address of the device. This was available in "My Shortcuts" section. In our case, the local address 192.168.11.2 has been used for several shared folders, which can be accessed and browsed without any problems:

The 'File Copy' function is very handy if you wish to transfer files from external USB devices to other devices plugged in the local network:

The first step is to select the file you want to transfer/copy and the destination device/folder:

By pressing the right arrow initiates the selected ' move' or 'copy' function. We found that the device downloaded at 6.09MB/sec (network-to-attached USB HDD) and uploaded to other devices even slower, at 5.55MB/sec.


5. Watching movies

Let's now try to watch our first movie. First you have to select the source (movie) using the browser menu. The player offers plenty of choices to access your content. The sources are divided in the following categories: USB, DVD, network, UPnP and NFS. The first options will access the connected USB devices, like memory sticks and USB HDDs. The DVD menu will playback "unprotected" content only, which means you can forget viewing retail DVDs, unless the are not CSS-protected. The 'Network' option will search for movie files at your wired or wifi network. The 'UPnP' and 'NFS' options will also search for network connected devices:

For now, let's access a connected HDD, which has many folders with test files stored. In case a folder name is longer that it can be displayed, it will start scrolling until you see it:

We selected a folder that includes a free HD movie. As the filename is scrolling, a preview of the selected movie will start playing on the right Window. Press enter and the movie will start in your screen.

Information such as the elapsed time, file size and video/audio codec can be displayed during playback:

The PlayOnHD! mini can also playback ISO files from unprotected DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. However, complete movie menus are available only for DVD ISO files:

Blu-Ray ISOs will only display the main movie - not bad at all...

The player can also recognize and display multilingual and non-latin folder and file names. Below you can see the player displaying Greek folder names:

Subs are are displayed well even in demanding languages such as the Greek:

English subs are also perfectly displayed:

If your video /movie file has not an HD resolution, you need to stretch it a little bit in order to be nicely rendered on your screen. For example, you see a WMV video file playing nicely below but there are black borders in both left and right sides:

All you need to do is press the' Zoom' button and the screen will be filled up correctly:

An 'Auto Zoom' option is also available and can be enabled in order to adjust the movie to the size of your screen. However, it seems that it doesn't work as it was intended to do in our case it actually chopped some movie information. Of course pushing the 'Zoom' button ironed things out.

The FF/FW works very well. You can speed up/down up to 32X and you have a good picture of how far you have gone by looking at the navigation bar placed at the bottom. As soon as you reach the desired position, press the "GoTo" button and the playback will resume from the selected position - very handy:

You can also play audio files. We tested the player with several MP3 files (VBR quality) and we didn't face any issues. Information about the artist, title, album, and more are displayed. No equalizer and visual effects are present here. AC Ryan has probably removed them from the menu as they are available at its bigger PlayOnHD! player:


6. Final thoughts

It's time to examine what files can and cannot be played with the AC Ryan PlayOnHD! Mini player. For our testing, we used a Panasonic Plasma 50S20 TV set.

The mini has a new chip since it managed to playback more content than the the PlayOnHD! sample we tested some time ago. The good news is that via the HDMI cable we could play 7.1 HD Audio. In short, the player will output Dolby Digital + 5.1/7.1 but not TrueHD 7.1 content ( 'unknown audio codec' message returned). On the video part, the player will playback almost anything you can imagine: Mpeg 1, 2, 3, 4 and full HD files, even with DTS soundtrack. We only found one Matroska (MKV) file with AVC High@L5.1 profile that was partial playable, with blocks of pixels to appear on the screen. However it should be noted that the most popular matroska files used by most users (movies, TV Shows) are not using the High@5.1 but mostly the High@4.1 profile, so you will be most probably covered.

It seems that the AC Ryan Playon!HD Mini is a very capable player. So what we didn't like about it? I assume this would be the GUI. Although the latest firmware improves it, we feel that it needs some more work in order to compete the interfaces of other players. Upcoming firmware and the YAMJ firmware could partially make things better. Continuing with the weak points, we would like to see more Internet services beyond the "basic" provided now.

AC Ryan is back with the Playon!HD Mini, a fully-featured, quiet and compact in size player. Aside from the menu and its its basic internet features we previously described, , the Playon!HD Mini is a pleasure to use. With constant software improvements and great format and feature support, this is the media player to go.

Don't forget that the player retails for less than €100, so it's A.C. Ryan’s most affordable media player yet. Adding to that its numerous features and abilities, the player offers a great value compared to the competition.

 

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)
- Can playback DTS HD+ 7.1 soundtracks
- 1080p and DTS soundtracks are not a problem for this player
- Supports both Wifi and wired lan connection
- Generally stable playback
- Supports playback of DVD-Video and Blu-Ray ISOs with menu support
- Support for UPnP streaming
- Remote control layout is good
- Subtitles working very good, even with Eastern European/Asia languages
- Zero noise
- Very small dimensions
- Several Internet Widgets, that however need further tuning
- Many firmware releases both for European/Asian users
- Support for Yet Another Music Jukebox (YAMJ) with separate firmware build
- Good price considering the features/performance

Negative

- Menus and overall graphics could have better design
- Wifi requires extra USB dongle (+29 Euro)
- Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks still unplayable
- AVC High@5.1 profiles are partially playable



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