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:
- Internal HDD
- SPDIF coaxial (digital audio) output
- USB 3.0 host
- Memory Card reader support
- Higher size and weight
- An internal fan (to cool down HDD)
- 600gr (mini) vs 1.6kg (incl. HDD)
- PlayOnHD2! mini specifications
HDMI 1.3 interface up to 1080p
Composite Audio / Video
Y/ Pb / Pr Video
SPDIF Optical TOSLink (digital audio)
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
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
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
Dolby Digital AC3 5.1,
(passthrough & downmix to stereo),
Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Dolby TrueHD 7.1
(passthrough & downmix to stereo),
DTS Digital Surround 5.1
(passthrough & downmix to stereo),
(passthrough & downmix to stereo),
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
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.