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Appeared on: Friday, June 17, 2011
AC Ryan PlayOn!HD2 review


1. About the Ac Ryan PlayOn!HD2 player

AC Ryan last year released the first PlayOn!HD media player, which made a positive impact to the market due to its good performance and affordable price. This year, AC Ryan strikes again with the successor of the PlayOn!HD series, the PlayOn!HD 2 media player. The new device is based around the same formula of housing a 3.5-inch hard drive within a box of tricks that can store, network and play all manner of multimedia content. What makes the new product more interesting is that it packs in some nifty new features.

First of all, the Playon!HD2 is powered by the 1185 media player processor from Realtek. The new 1185 series feature a 25% faster processor (500MHz vs 400MHz of older platform) and higher build-in memory for adding more applications. The player also comes with a build-in HDD that can be up to 2TB, making it ideal for truly media storage device without the need of other system.

Another new feature is the new Facebook, Twitter, MSN and YouTube XL internet apps, which can be also be used with external USB keyboard/mouse.

On top of the standard multi-card reader, the new player also packs Gigabit Ethernet and a USB 3.0 slave port for speedy transfers from a network or a PC to the local hard-drive.

The Playon!HD2 can be also equipped with a built-in (PCIe-based) 802.11bgn network card or connected to the 'net via an optional USB dongle.

The new player is also using the Playon!GUI2.0, which allows users to navigate through all the features with ease. Moreover, the Playon!ΗD2 includes an EZ Drive HDD slot, to make the installation of your 3.5" HDD easier. The Playon!HD21TB (ACR-PV73700-1TB) retails for around ~€250.

The main differences with the original PlayOnHD series are

- Product specifications

A/V Out
HDMI 1.3 interface up to 1080p
Composite Audio / Video
Y/ Pb / Pr Video
SPDIF coaxial (digital audio)
SPDIF Optical TOSLink (digital audio)

USB Supported
USB 3.0 and 2.0 Interfaces
Add ports with USB hubs, USB card readers
2x USB 2.0 (USB-A)
1x USB 3.0 Slave Port (USB-B)

Network - Wireless (Optional)
Wireless WLAN 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps via USB WLAN adaptor (optional, not incl.)
Supports WLAN security WEP, WPA
Supports WLAN Peer-to-Peer (connects wireless without router)

Network - Wireless Built-In (selected models only)
Wireless-N via a PCI-e port with dual antenna

Video Codecs Supported
MPEG-1 / MPEG-2 / MPEG-4 SP/ASP/AVC (H.264 | x264) / XviD / DivX / WMV9 (VC-1) / RealVideo 8/9/10 (up to 720P)

Audio Formats Supported
MP3 / MP2 / WMA / AAC / FLAC / WAV / OGG Vorbis / PCM / LPCM / MS-ADPCM / LC-AAC / HE-AAC / COOK / RA-Lossless

Image Formats Supported
JPEG, HD JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIF, PNG

Character Sets Supported (Needed for Subtitles)
Unicode (UTF8), BIG5 (Traditional Chinese), Western, Turkish, Central European, Greek, Cyrillic, SE European, Russian,
Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Thai

Storage Supported
EZ-Drive slot - 3.5" SATA/SATA2 HDD up to 2TB
2.5" HDD support via adaptor fram

Media Cards Supported
SD, SDHC (SD High Capacity), MMC, MS, MSPro

External File System Supported
FAT, FAT32, NTFS, EXT3, HFS+ w/out Journaling

Network - Wired
Gigabit

Video Formats Supported
AVI / MKV / TS / TP / TRP / M2TS / MPG / MP4 / MOV / M4V / VOB / ISO / DVD-ISO / IFO / DAT / WMV / ASF / RM / RMVB / BD-ISO / FLV
resolution up to 720p / 1080i / 1080p

Video Output Supported
PAL / NTSC / 480p / 576p / 720p / 1080i
50Hz / 1080i 60Hz / 1080p 50Hz / 1080p
60Hz / 1080p 24FPS

Audio Output Supported
Stereo, Dolby Digital AC3 5.1, (passthrough & downmix to stereo), Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 (passthrough), Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (passthrough & downmix to stereo), DTS Digital Surround 5.1 (passthrough & downmix to stereo), AAC 7.1 (passthrough & downmix to stereo), FLAC

Subtitles Format Supported
SRT, SMI, SSA, IDX/SUB, SUB

Cooling
40mm Low-Noise Fan (for HDD Cooling)


2. A closer look

The AC. Ryan PlayOn!HD2 with an 1TB HDD onboard can be purchased online for about €250. Without the HDD, the price drops to €190, which is still higher than the original PlayOnHD! series (€150).

AC Ryan package the PlayOn!HD2 in a box which has similar styling to the other models of the company. As you see in the picture below, there is a clear image of the product on the front along with a note of the key features. On the other sides of the box there is plenty of product information which covers format support and connectivity. Inside, we find the player suspended in foam and wrapped in a protective bag.

In order to get Wifi connectivity you need to buy the additional Wifi module (Wireless-N 300mbps) from AC. Ryan, priced at €29. However, all currently available Wi-fi USB modules based on the Realtek chipsets (either B/G/N) will do the job for you.

Below you see the contents of the package:

- 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 Quick Installation Guide

The bundle is complete and includes all the necessary cables in order to connect the player to your TV. A.C. Ryan throws in a USB 3.0 cable, HDMI lead and both composite and component cables.

Though it looks comprehensive, the instructions in the multilingual guide only cover the very basic installation operations.

Measuring 227mm x 165mm x 60mm in size, it is compact enough to fit in almost anywhere.

Designed to be housed in your AV rack or TV stand, appearances are important. A.C Ryan's new model looks similar but feels a little better finished off. The main frame is made out of metal and the outer shell out of a reflective plastic. On the front of the HD 2 there is a single large power button, underneath the AC Ryan name and on top of the player we find the embossed PlayOn!HD2 logo.

 

The I/O ports are placed at the rear side of the player. These include HDMI 1.3, component, composite and optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs. A single 40mm fan keeps the internal HDD cool although it could be more silent and less distracting when watching movies at low volume levels.

While AC Ryan states that the player has Gigabit LAN adapter, in reality, the player is limited at 10/100Mbits for file transfer, while Media streaming is performed at 1GBit.

At the right side there are two USB 2.0 hosts, a USB 3.0 slave connector and a card reader compatible with SD, SDHC, MMC, MS and MSPro cards. When you connect the Playon! HD 2 to a PC using the USB 3.0 port it will be recognized as an external hard drive.

On the other side of the Playon!HD 2 is the hard drive quick access panel. On the first generation players the access point to the hard drive was underneath the player, this new tool free quick access panel allows the user to add/remove a drive more quickly. Removing the pre-installed HDD was a little hard as it was tightly secured on the device:

Simply remove the clip-on cover and pull the internal drive out. The HDD is held in a frame and plugs directly into the SATA power and connector ports on the far side. An adapter can be also purchased separately that enables 2.5in drives to be held in place.

The bottom side of the player has essential openings to keep the player cool.

The remote control looks improved over the previous model, offering a much better reception and overall feeling. It covers all the functionality, selecting chapters, fast forward, next, stop, play menu, setup, the entire spectrum of functionality that you may expect from a media remote control:

Let's have a look to the internal of the player. The main PCB is very small leaving enough free space for the HDD:

 

A Realtek chipset controls the player. This processor, branded RTD1185DD, runs at 500 MHz and has a 32 bit DRAM interface. The processor will play practically any type of video throw at it, and it now includes full support for BD-ISO as standard. The processor sits alongside on-board DDR2 memory made by Nanya. There are two x16 DRAM Nanya NT5TU64M16GG-AC chips on board giving a total of 256 MB of SDRAM. This DDR2 SDRAM is capable of running at 400 MHz.

Also present is the RTL8211D GB LAN controller and a 512MB Hynix NAND Flash chip (Hynix HY27UF084G) which stores out GUI/OS for the device.

Finally, the USB3 slave port is powered via the JMicron JMS551 USB3-SATA bridge.

 

The included Samsung HD103SI 1TB HDD spins at 5400rpm:

The optional PlayOn! Wifi adapter can be bought directly from A.C. Ryan and it's Realtek-based. The adapter would help you wirelessly stream your content over your network from say a shared drive on your PC or over a NAS server. Of course, streaming 1080P content through your router is limited by the distance between the player and the router, meaning that it should be closed than 4-5 meters. A regular AVI, DVD and even 720P movie should not be an issue though.

Setup is easy: plug the wireless adapter into the side USB port and the "Realtek RTL8191S network adapter" SSID will appear at the player's menu. Insert a password or phrase and you are ready.

The Realtek RTL8191SU-GR is a single-chip MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) Wireless LAN (WLAN) USB 2.0 network interface controller complying with the IEEE 802.11n specification. Of course this module cannot be used for advanced Wifi PC auditing (no injection with Backtrack).


3. Powering On the player

We connected the player with our TV using the HDMI connector so it's time to power it on. We pushed the button on the front side of the player and the AC Ryan logo appeared on the screen. Shortly after, the v2.0 interface will just showed up. Compared to the GUI of the PlayOn!HD series, the new GUI looks much simpler, cleaner and easier to navigate. The main menu includes the basic indexing: Movies, Music, Photo, File Manager, and Internet media. Highlighting each of these options brings up a brief explanation on the right. Lists of recently added music and movies are also available:

The setup section is not very different than what we had seen with the PlayOn!HD player. There are many options to play an experiment with. For example, you can fully translate the menu in your language:

Audio and video settings are easy to understand, a least if you have a small experience with menus found in A/V devices:

You can also enable 1080p playback, choose the HDMI audio output format, connect to a network (Wi-Fi or cable) and upgrade the firmware/GUI from a USB device.

 

The player came in our labs with the latest firmware version installed (v2988)

Soon after we had finished this review, AC Ryan released the firmware v3966, which we also installed for further testing. The firmware upgrade procedure is simple. We used the USB option, in which the firmware file was stored in a USB flash memory. Through the USB Upgrade menu, we confirmed the upgrade procedure and the installation of the firmware started:


4. The GUI 2.0

Going to the movies menu, firstly you should select the source where your movies are stored (USB, HDD, Network, UPnP and NFS)

We selected the USB option and the sub-folders and files stored in our USB flash memory drive appeared on the screen:

Information about the selected media file such as the media type and the duration are immediately displayed:

The player can also playback unprotected Blu-Ray ISO menus. In our case the Casino Royale movie was fully playable:

The available subtitles are easily selectable through redesigned menu:

Of course DVD Menus are also supported:

MKV files are perfectly reproduced, even when their resolution is 1080p and feature DTS sound:

You can easily jump to a specific time frame of the movie as shown below:

Under the Music menu of the GUI, you will find additional options, such as Repeat off/one/all and & shufle:

Greek subtitles are also supported and correctly displayed:

For anamorphic movies such as WMV files, the zoom function is available in order to stretch the image according to the size of your screen. However, the zoom will go back to the original size once you press any button on the remote control. That's a rather annoying behavior we would like to see it fixed with a newer bios:

At the File manager section you can copy or delete files:

The edit button offers more optione to the right side of the menu, such as move, delete, copy, rename or send:

For example, we chose to move a file. The next step is set the destination by selecting one of the provided options (USB, HDD,Network)


5. Performance

We familiarized ourselves with the player's menu and now it's time to test its performance.

With a fast cpu and enough memory on board, the player should be very responsive. However, the new GUI was slow and we experienced a significant lag in the remote commands, especially after some quick pressing on the navigation keys. After doing some more research we found out that the solution was to disable the "autoscan media" option found under the Settings section. Such a clean and slick GUI should be also fast and we hope that A.C. Ryan to have a look to this issue.

Proceeding to the real performance, the first test we did was a simple copy of a file from external device and through the local network to the player.

The results were not as encouraging as we initially expected. The A.C. Ryan PlayOnHD2! copied a 715MB avi file from an external USB2.0 case in about 40 seconds, which is translated into a reading/writing speed of just 18MB/sec. That's an average performance considering that the same file would be transferred to a desktop PC almost twice that fast.

Moving on to the network copying speeds, the same file was copied to the player through a Gigabit local network at a speed of ~10MB/sec for both read and write - still a low performance. A.C. Ryan points out that the networking port is optimized for streaming high-definition content rather than data transfer:

"...The HD2 Gigabit applies only to streaming media over your network, not to file transfer from your PC to your HD2 or vice versa. The Realtek chipset is designed for media playing and is not a universal PC chipset...".

We didn't have the chance to test the USB 3.0 port speeds of the player but we hope/assume that it would be faster than the USB 2.0.

Finally, the we copied the same file from a Sandisk Extreme (Class10) 8GB SD card slot to the internal HDD. We got a transfer rate of ~10.30MB/sec for both reading and writing.

The next test was to stream a movie over the network. A Blu-ray ISO file was stored in our main PC system. Through the player's file manager, we checked its playability through the local 1Gbit network.

The PlayOn!HD2 performed a brief test on the network's speed and soon reported a speed of 78000~110000kbits/sec. Shortly after, the video playback started and it was smooth and sharp without any interruptions. Both the main movie and the menus were also accessible:

 

We struggled to find a video file that the Playon!HD2 wouldn't start playing. The player performed very well even with files with resolution of 1080p and DTS sound. We were impressed to see the player handling even H264 main@Level 5 encoded files, with minor visual glitches. The player will also play the majority of your audio audio files. Using the "PassThrough" audio setting, the all audio files we tested the player with (DTS HD, DTS DD + 7.1, etc) were supported. We should also mention that the player will play Blu-ray ISO menus.

We also checked the highest supported bitrate for media files. M2ts files were fully playable up to the bird90.m2ts file. Regarding MKV, the player gave a perfect playback of files up to bird60.mkv. More demanding files such as the bird70.mkv and bird90.mkv showed a choppy playback performance.

Generally, playback of encoded files up to 60mbit are supported without any serious issues.

Let's move on to the network tests. We used A.C. Ryan's WiFi USB module and plugged it into the player. Soon, our Thomson-Alcatel 585 v7 Wifi router appeared at the player's Network section. WEP encryption was enabled as you see below:

We selected the router and the player asked us for the network password:

Unfortunately we received a failure message and the player could not authenticate the connection. We were not very sure what caused the problem so we disabled any Wi-Fi encryption through the router and tried to reconnect. Again, the player could not connect to the network. After visiting AC' Ryan's online forums, we saw that there are also many other uses experiencing connection issues with the wireless network when they use WPA2 encryption, lengthy SSID keys or after having made a change in their hardware i.e. changing the player's HDD. Generally, is seems that the player is picky when it comes to WiFi so let's hope that AC Ryan will fix this soon.


6. YAMJ

A.C. Ryan's latest players support YAMJ or "Yet Another Movie Jukebox." YAMJ is a Java command line tool installed on your PC that recursively scans your video library for video files (AVI, MKV, VIDEO_TS, BluRay, etc.) and analyzes them in order to extract information such as: year, language, subtitles, container, part, fps, audio and video codecs. In addition, movie and television information such as directors, rating, etc. are collected using various plug-ins that pull information from online databases ( IMDb, TheMovieDB, TheTVDB, Allocine, FilmAffinity, FilmWeb etc.) MovieJukebox then indexes the gathered information in HTML format making it compatible with media players.

A related post over AC Ryan's forums includes all the needed details to get everything started. First you need to download a setup file to your PC:

After completing the setup and start the application, you have to point the location of your movies/series and start scanning for the related information:

Scanning generally won't take much time and it depends on the amount of movies and series stored in your player.

Let's see not what kind of information YAMJ have added under the created "JukeBox" section in the player's menu:

After selecting the JukeBox, point to the the desired input device:

We selected USB and the PlayOn!HD2 automatically created two jukeboxes, one for /movies and one for /series. These were added under the main root:

Choose any of the two indexes and the player will start looking for files. A message appears prompting us to update the index in case we have previously made any changes to it:

After pressing ok, a screen with all our scanned movie files comes up. You can also use the available filters on the top of the screen (Title, Genre, rating, year etc.).

More details are provied by selecting a movie. However, in some cases the player had not found much information about a movie and although its cover was available, entering the movie didn't show anything.

Here is how the index.htm appears in a PC environment. Everything looks and works great:

Next we got into the series area:

and it also worked like charm:

When a TV Series has been available for more than one seasons and in order to get the seasons listed, you have to use the SET filter (top right):

Otherwise all you'll get is an empty screen:

Finally this is how the series section looks like from a PC:


7. Online services

The A.C. Ryan PlayOn!HD2 offers several online services for you to play and explore. We found really interesting the fact that the player can be operated with an external USB keyboard and mouse in order to further improve the usability and the browsing experience. Many different services are supported including Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Ebuddy messenger, Yahoo! and others. That's a major improvement over the original PlayOn!HD series of players:

The remote control can be used in order to navigate across the desired application. We selected the Facebook application and the player prompted us to use the USB keyboard and mouse, which we had already attached to the player.

Then you are ready to log in to Facebook with your username/password using the keyboard . However, the cursor of the mouse was not visible:

The Facebook page loaded. However the scrolling was rather slow, giving us a general impression that the Facebook app has been designed to offer access to your account but not not for long writing/chatting:

Another available application is the ebuddy for quick chatting with friends:

We also tried the Youtube XL application, which offers videos optimized for watching on large screens:

Here we would like to note that the USB keyboard won't work will all applications. For example with SHOUTcast internet radio, you have to search for radio stations using the remote control.

The player's latest firmware r3966 does not include the BitTorrent function. In order to use the new transmission torrent client in the player, you should go to setup menu and switch transmission on. Then open a web browser and enter the IP address of the player followed by port 9091 - for example 192.168.1.3:9091. You will be redirected to the transmission age where you can add/remove torrents for download.

Overall, we feel that the player's internet experience has been improved compared to the past but there are still some issues to be ironed out.


8. Final words

The A.C. Ryan PlayOn!HD2 brings the Playon!HD line right up to date. The player continues the legacy of the famous PlayOn!HD series with a faster Realtek processor and several other improvements. Listing the positives, we found the player to be more complete than the previous series offering a wider compatibility for both Video/Audio formats and Internet services. The version we tested included an 1TB HDD Samsung HDD, which is generally silent and cool. Of course you can buy the PlayOn!HD2 without any HDD and install your own. The EZ Drive slot mechanism will make the installation a breeze.

The player's design has not changed much compared to the company's previous line but still, it will look great in your living room/ playroom.

The player supports almost all the video formats including the CPU-demanding x264 1080p encoded files with DTS sound. Moreover, if you have a collection of Blu-Ray ISOs, now you can enjoy also use and enjoy their menus. You can listen Dolby Digital+ 7.1 & Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio tracks, either from the HDMI cable or through the two other output connectors of the PlayOn!HD2 player. Subtitles are also clear and easy to read and the new gorgeous-looking GUI 2.0 offers many settings and easy navigation through windows.

In case you also have USB 3.0 devices, the PlayOn!HD2 will support it offering fast copying to internal disk drive. The YAMJ option offers high quality covers and enjoyable movie/series as well as a good amount of information.

Listing some negatives too, we found the player a little noisy when were watching movies at low volume. The GUI 2.0 could be more responsive and copying speeds over network/USB2.0 ports were not what we expected in terms of transfer rate speeds. The Internet services could be also improved in order to offer an experience similar to what you have get used to with PC systems. We also experienced problems getting the player wirelessly connected to our network, which should be improved. Possibly A.C. Ryan could solve the issues by offering a chassis-integrated WiFi as standard.

To sum up, compared to the company's previous series of players, the PlayOn!HD2 player comes with USB 3.0 connectivity, Gigabit LAN, easy-access hard-drive mounting and a newer and a fresher interface with social media apps. It offers stable video playback operation and tons of features. AC Ryan has an active forum to seek for information related to the player and offers frequent firmware upgrades that improve the player's performance and add new features.

If you can afford around €250 Euro, the PlayOnHD2! with 1TB HDD onboard could become your best friend in your living room next to your TV.

Positive

- Full retail package - HDMI v1.3 cable included
- Can playback almost anything from mpeg 1, 2, 4 ASP & AVC formats
- Can playback almost all audio formats (mp3, AAC, Flac, Ogg, WMA, RA)
- Supports 1080p and DTS soundtracks
- Includes 1TB 3.5" HDD (with support for up to 2TB)
- Includes 2x USB2.0 and USB3.0
- Supports both Wifi and wired lan connection
- Stable playback for all video/audio formats
- Supports playback of DVD-Video and Blu-Ray ISOs with menu support
- Support for UPnP streaming
- Supports 1Gbit video streaming
- Remote control layout looks improved
- Very good subtitle support for a variety of languages
- Can be used as an FTP server
- YAMJ works very good, provided that you use proper naming for your files
- Many Internet Widgets (Facebook, msn, twitter, etc..) and support for external USB keyboard/mouse

Negative

- Local LAN copying speeds are slow
- USB/SD Card copying speeds are rather low
- Internet services are slow and you can't really use the USB mouse (no cursor)
- Device a little noisy when you play low-volume movies
- Wifi module costs extra bucks to buy and may cause wireless connectivity issues



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