Final words and conclusion
Final words and conclusion
Though being very late with this review, with the new firmware the Playon!HD 1TB and Playon!HD Mini we have shown you today feel like completely new products. It was worth the wait and test alright.
It's similar to upgrading a PC with a new operating system like windows, going from Windows 98 to Windows 7 for example, the difference is really that big. That does have one caveat, the processing power of the Playon!HD 1TB and Playon!HD Mini can take the new OS, but not as smooth as one would hope for. Now that does not mean the menu structure is horribly slow, no sometimes you wish it would be a notch faster, but let me state this ... it works fast enough. This is a Beta firmware though and judging from what we heard, choosing compressed menu images is going to speed up a thing or two in the final firmware.
Having the older Realtek chip the second comment has to be that in an occasional movie the PlayONHD 1GB and PlayONHD Mini will have a stutter here and there, this only applies to high-bitrate movies at 30+ Mbit and more. The famous (or infamous) BBC Planet Earth 'bird scene' will choke completely for example, and though that is an extreme example it shows that the 1st generation AC Ryan Playon!HD 1TB and Playon!HD Mini are at the threshold of their capacity with today's high-definition 1080P content.
For the majority of your downloaded movies it's all good though, but ... in the future along with broadband download speeds, bitrates of movies can and likely will go up, in order to preserve better image and equal to blu-ray quality. As such you do need to look into faster media players if high-bitrate movies are a requirement for you.
Now all the good stuff -- the output quality is surprisingly good, in 1080P these cute little players don't really have a hard time competing with my 1000 EUR HTPC. Audio output is perfect as well, though we did pass through SPDIF over HDMI towards an Onkyo AV receiver, no problems there; all multi-channel formats are well supported and the setup PlayOn!HD allows you to configure this at your preference.
Content wise the new Firmware eats its way into everything we threw at it, it chews into WMV-HD, H.264 but most of all x.264 (Matroska file container play back) really well. And most of you guys will be using that specific format, so that's where our focus for this review was. There are a lot of features that can be configured, extremely simple stuff like subtitles and their sizes, but also you'll find support for features like a properly supported 24Hz 1080p-mode. It's these tiny details that set aside AC Ryan from others, and this market is slowly but steadily getting more and more crowded.
Now AC Ryan will need to release a final Firmware ASAP, browse their forums and people are getting really impatient due to a far too long waiting period. That wave of critisism is seriously denting the good reputation they have built up over the last year. After reading up on their forums, admittedly the end-users do have some points as the current Firmware has a lot of small bugs. But again .. this is a Beta Firmware.
Now remember, with high-bitrate 1080P movies will likely run into issues with the 1st generation Playon!HD 1TB and Playon!HD Mini, the Realtek chip simply is not fast enough. But we tested the units for two weeks and out of the dozens of movies we tried, maybe one or two had a small issue, a stutter for a couple of seconds here and there. If you can live with that every now and then (and it remains more rare rather than often) then for the money these units kick ass.
If you disagree, then your alternative is to move towards the more expensive V2 of these units, which has a faster 500 MHz processor. We'll request a unit to verify and see how much better it is.
Not mentioned in the review, but definitely something we want to tell you, power consumption. Powered down in standby the unit uses roughly 2 Watt, it was barely measurable. And while in full use decoding movies, just over 10 Watt. The Playon!HD with a HDD obviously will use some more, add roughly 5~10W for the HDD. But that's nothing in pale comparison to a HTPC.
Anyway, let's wrap things up, though the 1st generation tested are not perfect the Playon!HD 1TB and Playon!HD Mini definitely are just right as they are very attractive stand-alone media players. They get the job done in generic, and manage that really well. The new firmware is very intuitive and solves a lot of issues (some personal) that the previous generation firmware has had, smooth 24Hz in 1080P mode, a very slick menu structure that works quite well and is user friendly and will cater any HTPC savvy end-user, excellent output feature set.
More importantly, the menu is now in a good resolution making it much easier to browse movie-titles and get better overviews. For the money this is amongst the best x.264 media players your money can get you. The Playon!HD 1TB can be found for 150 EUR and Playon!HD Mini can be spotted for 75 EUR already. That's including the media-player, remote and HDMI cable.
When we first tested these units we found the unit interesting but the GUI not up to snuff. With the updated firmware however the first generation products really starts to shine and within it's category of media players, AC Ryan wins hands down but the tested product are borderline when it comes to raw processing power. Other then that, well done, it might even replace my HTPC.