Review: PlayOnHD! mini

by Nigel Wilks on December 31, 2010 · 17 comments

in Reviews

I’m no media streaming pro like Damian, which probably explains why I’ve still been using the XBOX 360 to stream my movies to date. Not a bad thing really, albeit noisy and lack of decent file support and using it as a Media Center Extender hasn’t been a bad experience overall. But, after reading so many of Damian’s reviews I’ve been itching to try something out so over the last few weeks I’ve been getting to grips with an A.C.Ryan PlayOnHD! mini. This tiny box packs in some great features, and a massive list of supported file types for a very low price ($139USD/£85GBP).

Box Contents

Included in the box: -

  • 1x AC Ryan Playon!HD Mini
  • 2x AA Battery
  • 1x Remote Control
  • 1x FREE AC Ryan HDMI 1.3 quality cable (2m)
  • 1x composite A/V Cable
  • 1x AC Adaptor
  • 1x Power Cord
  • 1x User Manual

I mentioned the unit was small, measuring in at 151 x 102 x 42mm but to give a better idea of its size you can see it below compared to the Nintendo Wii.

Features:
  • Full HD Media Player
  • HDMI up to 1080p (Full HD)
  • Enjoy Full HD video (H.264, MKV, RM/RMVB) on your TV
  • UPnP Media Streaming
  • Wired & Wireless Network
    (Wired Network is included / Wireless Network is an optional extra, not included in the standard package. To enjoy wireless network at up to 300Mbps, purchase the Wireless option)
  • Can turn attached storage devices into network drives (NAS)
  • Listen to Internet Radio
  • Internet Feeds
    (Picassa, Flickr, News Feeds)
  • Enjoy a Slideshow of your favorite photos
A/V Out:
  • HDMI interface up to 1080p
  • Composite Video
  • Composite Audio
  • Y/Pb/Pr Video
  • SPDIF Optical TOSLink (digital audio)
Storage supported:
  • External USB hard disks
  • External USB media card readers
  • USB sticks and other USB mass storage devices
  • Network drives
USB2.0 host controller:
  • USB 2.0 Interface
  • USB mass storage devices (hard drives, flash drives)
  • Add ports with USB hubs, USB cardreaders
USB2.0 ports:
  • 2x USB 2.0 (USB-A)
Network – Features:
  • Browse network by navigation or direct IP address
  • Save Shortcuts to easily access network locations
  • Plays and Streams audio/video/image media from any device in your network
  • Use Playon!HD to play any media in your network
  • Can turn attached USB storage devices into network drives
Network – Wired:
  • LAN Ethernet 10/100Mbps Auto-negotiation
  • Built-in DHCP for Auto IP or Manual Fixed IP
Cooling:
  • No Fan
    (Advanced Fanless Cooling for processor)
Video Formats Supported:
  • AVI / MKV / TS / TP / TRP / M2TS / MPG / MP4 / MOV / M4V / VOB / 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
    • (passthrough)
  • DTS
    • (passthrough & downmix to stereo)
  • DTS-HD Master Audio
    • (passthrough core stream & downmix to stereo)
  • DTS-HD High Resolution Audio
    • (passthrough core stream & downmix to stereo)
  • FLAC 7.1
    • (passthrough & downmix to stereo)
Image Formats Supported:
  • JPEG, HD JPEG / BMP / GIF / TIF / PNG
Subtitle Formats Supported:
  • SRT, SMI, SSA, IDX/SUB, SUB
Character sets supported
(needed for text subtitles):
  • Unicode (UTF8), BIG5 (Traditional Chinese), Western, Turkish, Central European, Greek, Cyrillic, SE European, Hebrew

In all the marketing material, Network Features only lists UPnP and NFS but it also supports SMB (aka Windows Shares) without any additional configuration. I was surprised to see only a 10/100mbps Ethernet port in the device, nowadays many devices are Gigabit enabled and I would be surprised to see that the cost of supporting Gigabit over 10/100 would be that high. It’s not much of an issue for streaming video, even BluRay but with a USB drive attached and copying files across the network you’ve got a bottleneck that would be easily avoided.

Current Playon!HD Menu

The stock user interface shown above seems to be on par with many of the other units around but AC Ryan seem to be constantly adding new features and have teamed up with the YAMJ author to include some basic features in the latest Firmware. Upgrading consisted of downloading a file to a USB thumb drive and choosing System Upgrade from the menu system. Once that was done, and as I had prepared my system with YAMJ and YANFOE loosely following Damians previous articles it was simply a case of pointing the PlayOnHD at my MediaSmarts Video Folder.

The Video Library Option then gives some good detail: -

Video Library built with Yamj

Choosing a video will give you more detail about the selected film.

Video Library Detail View

Since I’ve had the unit the developers have released several updates to the firmware and each of them have vastly improved the GUI and the next major change, 2.0 is planned for early 2011. The image below is of the new GUI currently available on the Playon!HD Essential.

2.0 GUI

Navigation of the unit could be simpler as it can take a few steps to get to where you need to be to start watching a film. For instance, to get to the YAMJ screen I have to choose Movie Jukebox, Network, Workgroup, HPSTORAGE, Videos, Choose the YAMJ Index HTML and then answer Yes or No on whether I want to rescan the library. It would be nice to be able to customize the Movie Jukebox option to go straight to my Jukebox. This seems to be a common request within the AC Ryan forums, and it does seem that they listen to the community and add features so I am hoping that a new firmware will be available soon that resolves this niggle. That said, my eight year old son can whiz around the screen and seems to be constantly watching various films via the streamer but I wouldn’t say it’s wife friendly yet.

The PlayOnHD also has a ShoutCast Radio option and the quick review of that area seems it could also do with a little GUI polish. The radio stations play fine, and I had no real issue using it but I don’t tend to listen to my music via my TV so I expect that to get little use. A buit in RSS feeder is also present, and preconfiugured with a few of the more popular feeds. Again, a little gimmicky for me as I would be using my PC for this.

The RSS Menu Options

Reading through the A.C. Ryan forums, there does seem to be some issues with HD Audio and pass-through and depending on the stream you have to change the options in the menu, this is a “known bug” and some users have reported success using the v7.3.x.r4824 Release Candidate Firmware. Issues still remain with the Realtek based units and many users expect the SDK 4 release to resolve these issues once and for all. This is expected to be delivered along with the 2.0 GUI update.

Conclusion

I have yet to experience any major issues with the device, it really was simple to setup and I was watching a movie in a few minutes of unboxing. As a family we’ve watched plenty of movies through it, and also a load of  TV shows. Formats have varied, SD to HD and so far we’ve watched ISO, VOB, MKV, AVI and WMV files without issues. I’m really impressed with this unit and can see some great potential in it as the firmware is developed. It’s  a great companion to Windows Home Server and in my opinion it’s been a worthwhile expense, I just wish I’d retired the XBOX sooner!





Article by

I'm a Technical Architect based in the UK predominantly working on Windows Server and Active Directory based solutions. I'm also a Microsoft Windows Home Server MVP and moderator/author at http://www.mediasmartserver.net. I've released the FirePlay for Windows Home Server, WHS PHP Installer, MySql Installer for WHS and Wordpress Installer for WHS Add-Ins as well as co-author of the SanEncore and WHS Health Add-Ins with Alex Kuretz.


{ 17 comments }

Seth December 31, 2010 at 11:59 am

“I was surprised to see only a 10/100mbps Ethernet port in the device, nowadays many devices are Gigabit enabled and I would be surprised to see that the cost of supporting Gigabit over 10/100 would be that high. It’s not much of an issue for streaming video, even BluRay but with a USB drive attached and copying files across the network you’ve got a bottleneck that would be easily avoided.”

Don’t be too surprised. Not spending the money for the gigabit part is money in their pockets and that’s the sole reason they’re in business. Also, as you pointed out in your review even full BluRay rips on your network will generally stream just fine over 100Mbit ethernet (although in the case of SMB sharing you can have issues crop up sometimes due to the protocol overhead). I have personally never encountered a commercially available video that cannot be successfully streamed over 100Mbit. I have encountered test files that can’t be streamed over 100Mbit, but the bit rates on those files were absurdly high and not in use currently for commercial releases so it’s a non-issue. As for your USB-connected drive concern, just unplug it and plug it into the machine to which you want to transfer the files, problem solved :)

Nigel Wilks December 31, 2010 at 12:18 pm

True; but I like the lazy approach :-)

TxDot December 31, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I found a bunch of screen shots of the 2.0 GUI and it does look much improved. It appears that they’re taking some cues from XBMC which is a good thing. Having something like this be “wife friendly” is extremely important and what I would call the ultimate test. I run XBMC on a HTPC but I may look at replacing it with this.

TxDot December 31, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Here is the link to the preview of the 2.0 interface. http://www.gizmodaddy.com/playongui-2.0-coming-soon.html#4

PaulB January 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Love sites like that which use screen shots of features highlighting that they stole the movies. Always classy.

Rhinoevans December 31, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I picked up the WD Live Hub yesterday and hooked it up this morning. Seems like a premium above the Standard WD TV Live Plus. Comes with an internal 2.5 1TB WD hard drive for internal storage, which most of us do not need with a WHS. However, the drive it self is $120 at Newegg, and I was able to get the HUB for $170, and use almost all BBY gift cards. :) The interface is very nice, standard Video/Photos/Music and integrated services like Netflix, Blockbuster, Pandora, weather, etc. It can SYNC to any folder on the server, and move the files to the internal drive. On the movies section it was able to see the WHS with no effort. It will grab media data , however, the only way I have been able to do it is to have it scan each movie one at a time. Brings up the cover art and stores it with the movies on the server. It has 3-4 selection to view the cover art, and one is almost like XBMC. So far I like it, probably the Popcorn A-210 is better but cost a little more and I didnt have any Popcorn Hour Gift cards. :) One last thing is it has Twonky server built in, but since I have never used Twonky, I did not activate it in the setup.

Damian January 1, 2011 at 5:20 am

Great writeup Nigel.

The one thing I am curious to see is it appears that the current Realtek manufacturers might possibly be moving away from Realtek. Xtreamer already announced that ther have a new line of players coming out in 2011 around Intel and Sigma. PlayOn HD has an Intel player coming out as well (http://www.acryan.com/en/fluxx.html)

Nigel Wilks January 1, 2011 at 7:12 am

Thanks Damian. I’m not surprised they are moving considering the delayed fix of the audio issues. If AC Ryan have to wait for an SDK from Realtek to be able to fix the issue and it’s taken 4 attempts then I’d be looking for another supplier as well. That said, the Fluxx is likely to need more punch than the Realtek can handle and is much more than a streamer and is likely to be the reason for the move. If the Fluxx can handle as many file types as the Playon! and come at a decent price I’d be interested in switching.

Kenneth Ruggles January 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I purchased the PlayOnHD Mini. Many features work well, but the quality of the audio is terrible. Maybe I have a defective unit (waiting to hear from Ryan’s tech support) but I certainly would not recommend this unit to anyone who wants to stream even medium-quality audio.

TxDot January 18, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I just ordered the new Mini 2 so I hope it’s just that your unit is defective. I’ll be interested in seeing how/if they get your issue resovled. Please keep us posted.

Kenneth Ruggles January 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

The tech support team downloaded a rev for their firmware that corrected the bad audio problem. I am now quite pleased with the audio.

Ken

Nigel Wilks January 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Hi Kenneth,

I haven’t had any issues with audio quality so I hope yours is just a bad unit. What audio streams are you using and what setup?

Kenneth Ruggles January 18, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thanks Nigel for your encouragement. I am using a Yamaha RX-V2700 amplifier into Paradigm reference speakers. The amplifier accepts either R-W-Y cable or digital fiber audio (also others, including HDMI). The system is driven by the Twonky media server or the windows media server on the HP media server. The connection is wireless. I also have ROKU audio player working in the identical same environment. Of course, the ROKU does not handle video, but the audio is superb, so I have an impeccable reference test. The audio output from the PlayOnHD music is highly distorted with a background buzz on some notes reminiscent on IM distortion. It sounds a lot like a cheap radio speaker being overdriven. I have tried the system on about every combination of audio setup and music source/ cable configuration I can think of and the sound just does not cut it, no matter what the configuration. On the positive side, the video stream from the server is excellent, but the accompanying audio is also bad.

Kenneth Ruggles January 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

The Ryan technical support team downloaded a new firmware rev for audio which had substantially cleared up the problem. Sound is now fine!

Ken

TxDot January 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Very glad to hear that! I’m anxious to get the new Mini 2. Supposed to ship in early February.

Nigel January 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Excellent. Which version did they give you?

Kenneth Ruggles January 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

version 7.06 rev 4318. Same user interface. Vastly improved audio.

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