AC Ryan are certainly making a name for themselves in the connected media player space. Last generations offerings, the Playon!HD and HD Mini offered easy access to video and audio files both on local storage and over LAN. The new generation, denoted by the rather awkward Playon!HD2 moniker, improves on that impressive foundation with several useful fixes.
The Mini 2 is the more svelte of the two players, clocking in at just 151 x 102 x 42mm. That tiny width especially helps the player slot in to the restricted space in an AV rack, while the glossy black plastic shell doesn’t look out of place along with most HDTVs and set top boxes, or indeed the Xbox 360 S. While it may pick up fingerprints easily, the chances are you’re not going to be handling it often.
Opening the box, we get the usual array of accessories including a chunky HDMI cable, AC adaptor and composite video/audio cable. No optical audio cable is thrown in, not that most users will miss it, since you are most likely carrying audio over HDMI. Also, there is no built-in wireless connectivity, so you’ll have to buy an external USB Wi-Fi stick if you want to run this box on a wireless network.
The remote control included is great, with all the important controls helpfully labelled and easy to hand instead of buried in menus. It’s not backlit, but this is only a problem if you like to watch movies in complete darkness, and lack the memory to recall the button position.
The included guide is frankly pathetic, but you can download a full manual. There is also a very helpful user forum, which is full of troubleshooting advice. My frustration with attempting to access a Windows SMB share over LAN wasn’t answered here, but turned out to be a simple conflict with my antivirus program’s network scanner. Disabling scanning on the local network connection solved the issue handily.
Playing from an attached hard drive is child’s play, and streaming files over the local network connection worked like a charm. I threw as many files and codecs as I could get my hands on at this player, and it handled them with ease. Some playback stutter was evident at times of high network congestion, but the addition of a gigabit Ethernet port helps to soften the buffering issues that often plagued earlier models.
Some users have reported problems in bitstreaming Dolby TrueHD audio signals. I’m happy to report that my test of The Dark Knight outputted in full 1080p with all seven channels correctly reproduced. You may run into some issues with exotic file formats, but even Blu-Ray ISO playback worked like a charm for me.
The media interface is clearly something that AC Ryan have plowed a lot of development resources into. The slick front page offers quick access to local movies and music, as well as network resources and online services. Directory structure is well thought out, although it is irritatingly difficult to pin a specific network location to the ‘Shortcuts’ menu. I also found it difficult to get the media library to index my files from a mounted SMB share, although it was possible with a little configuration file editing.
You also have the option of using the graphical YAMJ interface to navigate your video collection. While screenshots show this to be a powerful and striking looking tool, I found the software to be a bug filled, unusable mess.
Viewing YouTube videos and Picasa photo sets works about as well as any other connected television or media tank we’ve tested, which is to say not terribly well. Multimedia websites still haven’t fully adapted to the fact that some users can now access them on a device other than a traditional computer with mouse and keyboard, and the clunky and unintuitive interfaces are holding them back. Still, if all you want is to watch a clip of a cat playing a keyboard, you won’t be disappointed.
The PlayOn! HD Mini2 makes a great addition to any AV setup that relies on digital file streaming over the local network. You can of course just plug a USB hard disk straight into the back, but to my mind it complements a nice home NAS device like the D-Link DNS-320 Sharecenter Pulse much better.
The only criticism I can really raise is that it doesn’t include TV tuner and DVR functionality, and so won’t let you remove that Freeview HD or Sky+ box lurking beneath your TV. However, AC Ryan have recently launched a PlayOn! DVRHD model, which builds twin DVB-T tuners into the box.