AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Page: 1
AC RyanIntroduction
 
AC Ryan are most commonly known for their extensive range of after-market parts and modding supplies, designed to aid you in making your rig stand out from the crowd. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when they asked us to take a look at their PLAYON! HD- a network media player supporting full 1080p playback- something quite unrelated to modding supplies. However, we wouldn't be much of a review website if we strayed on the side of caution, so we instantly bit AC Ryan's hands off. 
 
Viewing networked media on your TV is nothing new- it's something that media centre PC's have been doing for quite some time. However, whilst Media Centre PC's offer oodles of features, they tend to cost a fair bit to build and set up as well as taking up a lot of space. It's no surprise therefore that more and more dedicated media box's have been emerging on the market, with AC Ryan's PLAYON! HD being one of them.
 
Unfortunately the specification for the Playon on AC Ryan's site is almost as long as the latest Harry Potter volume, so we've had to select the best bits. If you want to view the full specification, you can take a look here.
 
- Store, Play, Stream
- Digital audio, video & images
- HDMI 1.3 | Full HD 1080P
- Plays Full HD video formats/codecs (incl. MKV, RM/RMVB, H.264 etc)
- UPNP / NAS Network HDD / Media Player
- Bittorrent Download
- Wired Network
- Wireless Network (optional)
- Supports internal 3.5" SATA/SATA2 Harddisk
- Supports external USB Harddisk / external USB storage
- USB2.0 Host for expansion with more USB drives
- Remote Control
Media file formats supports
Video Codecs:
- MPEG-1 / MPEG-2 / MPEG-4 SP/ASP/AVC (H.264) / XviD / DivX / WMV9 (VC-1) / RealVideo 8/9/10 (up to 720P)
Content Formats:
- 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
Audio Codecs:
- MP2 / MP3 / OGG Vorbis / WMA Std / PCM / LPCM / MS-ADPCM / LC-AAC / HE-AAC / COOK / RA-Lossless
Image:- HD JPEG / BMP / GIF / TIF / PNG
 
I'm sure you'll agree, that is quite an impressive list of supported media formats, and should ensure maximum compatiability with existing media libraries. The rest of the specification is good, but nothing to get too excited about yet.
 
Enough of the small talk, lets move onto the pictorial...  


AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Page: 2
Packaging and Appearance
 
The Playon came well packaged, arriving spotless from it's travels. The front has a product shot, name and a few logos showing the drive's key technologies. The minimalist front looks very professional, as does the blue/black colour combination used. The back is where all the information can be found, and is an absolute wash of multilingual text in the minutest of fonts.
 
 AC Ryan PLAYON! Hd Packaging Front AC Ryan PLAYON! Packaging Rear
 
Pulling the Playon out of it's box reveals it's subtle styling and smooth curves. The front is made from a shiny plastic, with just the AC Ryan logo and a recessed power button damaging the smooth appearance. The drive is constructed from reassuringly thick plastic, along with a weighty steel base plate, giving the drive a very sturdy overall feel. On the top we can see the PLAYON!HD branding, which is ever so slightly raised, making it noticeable to the touch.
 
AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Front
 
Down the right hand side we have a pair of USB ports for connecting external devices, such as cameras and hard drives, along with a B-type USB port for connecting the Playon to your PC via USB. There is also a small slit where you can insert memory cards - Memory Stick & SD cards are supported.
 
AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Side AC Ryan Playon HD Side ports
 
Around the back we have a large selection of connectors and ports to choose from. From left to right we have: Optical and Coxial audio connection, RJ45 Network port, HDMI port, 6 component outputs (3x for HD, 3x for Audio and standard video) and finally the DC input connection. On the left there is also a small 40mm fan, which managed to stay quiet throughout testing, despite its minuscule size.
 
AC Ryan PLAYON Rear Ports
 
Flipping the Playon over reveals a hatch for inserting/removing the hard drive as well as accessing the internals. The drive connects through the standard Sata power/data connections so pretty much any hard disk can be used. As far as internals go, the Playon is fairly sparse, with only one PCB residing inside - but then again, size isn't everything.
 
 AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Bottom Ac Ryan Playon! HD Hard drive
 
Delving into the box we find a rather thorough bundle of accessories - it includes pretty much all the cables and extras you will need to get up and running. From left to right we have: Remote Control, Batteries, HDMI Cable, Yellow-Red-White Component lead, Green-Red-Blue Component lead, USB Wi-Fi adaptor, USB A-B Cable, Power Adaptor and Users manual. Unfortunately the power adaptor included with our unit had a European plug attached - hopefully this won't be a retail problem. The bundled remote is fairly tall, but fits nicely in the hand and is comfortable to use.
 
AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Bundle AC Ryan Playon! HD Remote
       
Overall, I rather like the styling of the Playon, it's subtle curves and simple fascia give it an overall look and feel of class. The ports are smartly arranged around the exterior, with the USB's easy to access from the sides. The included bundle compliments the unit well, rounding the package off nicely. With this in mind, I think it's about time we got onto some testing....    


AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Page: 3
Using the PLAYON!
 
I connected the Playon up using the HDMI connection, plugged in the power and took it for a test drive. The first screen you meet upon first boot is the home screen, which offers you a selection of functions. These functions are accessed by selecting one of the following: Browser, Media library, Radio, File copy and Setup. A small window  shows the next and previous menu options along the bottom, with your current selection magnified onto the central area of the screen. 
 
ACRYAN PLAYON! Menu homescreen 
 
Going into the browser menu you get a selection of places to search for your media files. You can also narrow down the results by selecting to show only Music, Photos or Movies from along the top. Once you have selected a location the drive takes a few seconds to load up the contents. Unfortunately, this delay means it takes quite a long time to scout around searching for a file buried deep in a folder structure. When hovering over a file, a small preview will appear on the right, a nice touch which makes it easier to identify exactly what you're looking at.
 
ACRyan Playon Media Browser Menu ACRyan Playon HD File Preview
 
The media library allows you to search the Playon's internal hard drive for files which you have copied/saved to it. Once again there is the ability to show individual file types, making it easier to track down rogue media. There is also a number of sub categories to choose from (such as artist, genre and album), and the search button brings up an on screen keyboard to type in file names.
 
ACRyan Playon media library menu ACRyan Playon! HD On screen Keyboard
 
Radio gives you access to a large range of internet radio stations, which you can then search through and listen to. Of course, using this feature requires a networked internet connection which the Playon can use. Once you've found a radio station you like you can add it to the favourites, making it much quicker and easier to find again.
 
ACRyan Playon Radio menu ACRYAN PLAYON! HD Radio List
 
The File copy menu allows you to select files from pretty much any source and transfer them to another. For instance, it would allow you to copy files from an external USB drive onto the internal hard drive. The process is fairly easy, and doesn't take much time at all.
 
ACRyan Playon File copy menu
 
The setup menu is where all the nitty gritty options are, such as changing the output resolution and setting up a network connection. AC Ryan have done well in keeping the number of changable settings down, stopping your brain from exploding every time you open the menu.
 
ACRyan Playon Setup menu    
 
Playback is handled in two seperate ways. For audio, the media is just played from the file browser, with only a black bar appearing along the top to display media information to you. Obviously, audio is the least of the Playon's problems, so I dug deep into my NAS to find some HD video to give the Playon a little work out. The most suitable video I could find was an old HD Crysis trailer, downloaded quite some months ago. Loading up photos or video takes you out of the browser and into a full screen display environment. The HD trailer played flawlessly, and the Playon even handled fast forwarding/rewinding without having a complete heart attack (although there was noticeable lag), which was pretty impressive.

ACRyan Playon! HD video playback ACRyan Playon! HD Audio playback  
 
All in all, the Playon was rather impressive. I found the menus very easy to use, even if they were a little slow, and playback went without a hitch - even playing back in HD. The ability to use files from a variety of sources, then see a preview when hovering over the file, makes it quick and easy to use even a large media collection. Time to head on over to the conclusion...  


AC Ryan PLAYON! HD Page: 4
Conclusion
 
Having tried similar devices in the past, I didn't have high hopes for the Playon. My fears then appeared to be coming true as I fired up the box, with the menus showing signs of lag and general slowness. Expecting to cripple the device, I loaded up the HD footage and was genuinely surprised when it handled it so well, a definite 'Well Done' to AC Ryan.
 
The appearance also comes into play when choosing a device that will live in your lounge, and the Playon comes up trumps there as well, with its simple yet elegant lines producing an aesthetically pleasing device. It also supports possibly the longest list of file types ever written, which should stop some users missing out.
 
If I were to be particularly picky, I would say the lack of external audio/video recording is a bit of a let down. Recording from a HD Tuner or converting old VHS's to hard drive would be a fantastic feature, but you can't have everything. The ability to copy files from USB, Memory card and Network files goes some way to making up for this, making almost all media sources accessible from the Playon.
 
So, what's the overall verdict? Well, If you have a large media library, whether it be photos, music or videos, I think the AC Ryan Playon! is an excellent bit of kit and would definitely recommend looking at it. Available for £143.74 from Scan.co.uk (plus the cost of a hard drive) it may not appear cheap, but when you compare it to the cost of building a media centre PC things start to look much more favourable. 
 
The Good
+ Played HD content without stutter
+ Can handle a wide selection of media input
+ Massive range of supported file types
+ Good looks
+ HDMI output
+ SATA interface for hard drive

The Mediocre
* Takes a few seconds to load when browsing folders
* No facility to record from external equipment

The Bad
- Our unit came with a European plug 
 
 
 
Overclock3d would like to thank AC Ryan for providing todays review sample. Discuss in our forums here.