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Appeared on: Monday, August 22, 2011
AC Ryan Playon!HD Mini 2 review


1. Features

As it had happened with the original PlayOnHD! series, ACRyan has released the mini version of the popular PlayOnHD2! network media player, based on the same engine and a better firmware that keeps our interest got the device high.

The PlayOnHD! Mini 2 is a trimmed-down version of the AC Ryan PlayOn! HD2 network media player - a pure streaming device almost identical in terms of specs with one obvious exception: there's no internal hard drive.

As a streaming device, the player finds videos and music from local computers and NAS boxes via UPnP, network shares or from a selection of internet sources, and puts them on your TV.

The Playon!HD2 and PlayonlHD Mini 2 are the first media players that feature the latest 1185 media player chipset from Realtek. The new 1185 series feature a 25% faster processor (500MHz vs 400MHz of older platform) and higher built-in memory for adding more applications.

Another new feature is the new Facebook, Twitter, MSN and YouTube XL internet apps, which can be conveniently accessed using an external USB keyboard/mouse! The intuitive Playon!GUI2.0 allows users to navigate through all the features with ease. The Gigabit Wired Networking helps to view Full HD streaming, while wireless networking is also provided using the optional Wireless-N external adapter.

Comparing the PlayOnHD! Mini 2 with the larger PlayOnHD2!, the latter has:

- PlayOnHD2! mini specifications

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

USB Supported
USB HDD, USB sticks and other USB Mass Storage Devices
File Systems: FAT, FAT32, NTFS, EXT3
Network drives: USB2.0 PORTS: 2 x USB 2.0 (USB-A)
Add ports with USB hubs, USB card readers
2x USB 2.0 (USB-A)

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

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 / FLV resolution up to 720p / 1080i / 1080p / BD-ISO

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooling
No Fan (Advanced Fanless Cooling for processor)


2. The player

The AC Ryan PlayOnHD! Mini 2 can be purchased online for €115~125 (including VAT 23%). Compared to the original PlayOnHD! mini series, which can be found online at the €106~120 price range, the new device is properly priced.

The retail box is small and provides information about the device's basic features. In order to enjoy Wi-fi connectivity you need to buy the corresponding module (Wireless-N 300mbps) from AC Ryan for €29.

Below you see what's inside the box:

- 1x AC Ryan Playon!HD Mini 2
- 1x AC Ryan HDMI Cable
- 1x AC Adaptor (5V/2.4A)
- 1x Remote Control
- 1x AA Batteries
- 1x Composite A/V Cable
- 1x Quick Guide

As happens with all the AC Ryan products, the specific bundle is complete and includes all the necessary cables in order to connect the player with your TV, such as an HDMI 1.3 cable.

The design of the player is very similar to what we have seen in the original mini series. Looking at the device, it has a plastic piano-black finish - not so immune to fingerprints. If you're looking directly at the unit, you're graced with the AC Ryan logo as well as the power button.

Once powered on or off it will show a red/blue colored logo.

The back of course has all the inputs, USB connections and power. While AC Ryan states that the player has a Gigabit LAN adapter, in reality, the player is limited to 10/100Mbits for file transfer, while media streaming is performed at 1GBit - a rather confusing behavior.

The remote control is exactly the same we saw when we reviewed the PlayOnHD2! but it may take you some time familiarize yourself with it. The media remote is IR based and covers all the functionality, selecting chapters, fast forward, next, stop, play menu, setup. The layout could have been a little more intuitive as well though, overall it's decent and gets the job done well.

Finally, the player's mainboard is using the Realtek 1185DD chipset with an internal core clocked at 500 MHz. The 1185DD has a 32-bit DRAM interface and not a 64-bit interface found in chipsets from Sigma Designs chipsets, allowing AC Ryan to keep the manufacturing cost in low levels.


3. Powering On

The PlayOnHD2! and PlayOnHD! Mini 2 share exactly the same Graphical User Interface (GUI v2.0). Compared to the GUI of the PlayOn!HD series, the new GUI looks much simpler, cleaner and easier to navigate. We have already described it and published many screenshots of it in our PlayOnHD2! review, so please have a look there for more information.

The main menu includes the basic indexing: Movies, Music, Photo, File Manager, and Internet media. Here is the player's main menu window:

Our player came with v3966 firmware installer, which we later updated to the latest available v4585. 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:

Pressing the Setup button brings up the useful settings area.

The PlayOnHD2! series supports many different languages to choose among. The Text Encoding are is important in order to get your Subtitles work correctly, and in our case we selected "Greek." We disabled the Scan media option in order to speed things up. By enabling it, the player scans external storage devices for media files.

Under the "Audio" tab we had to select the HDMI Output to the "Passthrough" option in order to have sound in our Panasonic 50S20 Plasma TV, instead of using the default LPCM option:

Under the "Video" settings tab you are able to set features such as the "Digital Noise Reduction," enable the "Plasma Mode" for more brightness or just adjust the Screen Size to make it fit on your screen and make sure the zoom option will work well:

The player automatically got an IP address from the LAN:

Finally at the Misc tab, you can upgrade the player's firmware:


4. Using the player

The latest v4585 firmware brings many improvements and fixes to the PlayOnHD2! series. Generally, the player is faster and more responsive than with the previous v3966 firmware installed, especially after disabling autoscan media function.

Proceeding to the real performance, the first test we did was a simple copy of a file from external USB2.0 device and through the local network to the player. The result was a writing speed of 7.70MB/sec, which is slow for a Gigabit Lan device. According to AC Ryan: "...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...". Apart from the "low" performance figures, the LAN speeds were very good even with Blu-Ray ISO images. No surprises here.

Next, we tried to playback a variety of media files we have in our labs for evaluating media players. Since the PlayOnHD2! and PlayOnHD! Mini 2 share the exactly same "engine", the performance of the Mini was very good, with all tested files including 1080p movies and DTS soundtracks. In fact, we were impressed that this player could even handle H.264 main@Level 5 encoded files, with just a few minor visual issues. With the "PassThrough" audio settings, the player also managed to playback all audio files we tested it with (DTS HD, DTS DD + 7.1, etc). Don't forget that this player also supports Blu-Ray ISO menus.

We noticed a visual glitch with the Blu-Ray image of Casino Royal. The "Special Features" menu was not displayed well. Of course that's a minor issue since the main movie was perfectly displayed with clear subtitles.

The zoom function that was somewhat problematic in previous players now works great, although we would like to see WMV high-res files to be automatically stretched to fill the whole screen (Stretch Zoom mode).

The subtitles were perfectly displayed:

Finally, we 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. This means that files encoded with up to 60mbit can be playbacked without any issues - which of course is more than enough for the majority of users.

- Online services

The PlayOnHD! Mini 2 has exactly the same "Internet Media" services for users to explore as we described in our PlayOnHD2! review. What has been improved is the fact that Mouse and Keyboard are more usesable, supporting a scroll down function and having a better typing response. Most USB devices will work just fine. However, the player has only 2 USB ports so you might need to use a USB hub in order to keep your external storage devices installed.

The Facebook application now is much more useable, although loading of pictures was slow:

The same happened with the ebuddy application so we assume that the problem is related to the processor of the player:

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

Here there is also an option to turn off HD clips. However we couldn't find any way to run a video at full screen and of course we couldn't understand whether the displayed Video was actually an HD.

Overall, while the Internet experience has been improved compared to previous models, although we feel that these features cannot provide you the experience you get when you are using your PC or tablet, at least yet. Most of these applications were not well scaled to our test TV and their response is not so fast.


5. Final words

The AC Ryan PlayOnHD! Mini 2 i is a compact solution designed to fulfill for today's A/V playback needs. The player shares the same engine with the PlayOnHD2! model we recently reviewed, supporting the basics found at its bigger brother; video codec, audio codec, Full HD streaming, Gigabit Ethernet, GUI 2.0. Besides the smaller size, the AC Ryan has also removed some features as well as some outputs found at the PlayOnHD2!.

Using the the included HDMI cable will help get the highest possible visual quality from the player. We liked to see the Mini operate silently using passive cooling and also that it playbacked almost all of our Movies/series/HD content, with subtitles. Most users today need to playback demanding video formats (1080p x264) with DTS sound included . This is definitely not a problem for this player. It will display Blu-Ray ISO menus and HD movie files with Dolby Digital+ 7.1 & Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio tracks.

The subtitles have their own menu and you can configure them yourself according to your taste. They are also clear and easy to read, while the gorgeous-looking GUI 2.0 offers many settings and easy navigation through windows.

The YAMJ option is also useful and fun to play with although it requires a PC/MAC system to get the file names properly sorted.

The newer firmware fixes several issues we had identified in our PlayOnHD2! review. In addition, the Mini player "feels" faster more responsive, and can be setup in just a few minutes. Just plug it up (power, Ethernet and HDMI), turn it on, set up video and audio and start browsing your network to get into your NAS.

Listing some negatives, we found the network copying speeds to be low, but that's something we can live with.

The PlayOnHD! Mini 2 turned out to be our favorite media player for its tiny size and and its good/stable overall operation. Adding to that the frequent firmware updates released by AC Ryan, the PlayOnHD! Mini 2 wins hands down within it's category of media players. This is amongst the best x.264 media players your money can get you, reasonably priced at around €125.

 

Positive

- Full retail package - HDMI v1.3 cable included
- Supports playback of almost anything from mpeg1,2,4 ASP & AVC formats
- Supports playback of almost all audio formats (mp3, AAC, Flac, Ogg, WMA, RA)
- Supports playback of 1080p and DTS soundtracks
- Includes 2x USB2.0 ports
- Supports both Wifi and wired lan connection (with extra Wifi module)
- 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 streaming which works very well
- Remote control layout seems improved
- Very good subtitle support for a variety of languages
- 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 is slow
- USB copying speed is low
- Internet services aren't really so useable
- Wi-fi module costs extra bucks



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