Many of us have extensive collections of photos, DVDs, music and home videos, but viewing these on what's most likely the biggest screen in your house - the TV - is more than problematic. HDMI has fixed some of these woes, but bringing your PC downstairs or wiring up your laptop every time is far from an ideal solution. A few manufacturers have noticed this problem, with two main solutions currently available. The first is to buy (or build) a home theatre PC, or HTPC, which is essentially a PC that permanently nestles beneath your TV. The second option is to get a dedicated media bridge, which acts as an interface between your PC and TV, which is what Asus have done with the O!Play.
Many drives come with built in hard drives, which enable you to save your media directly to the box itself. Asus have gone for a different approach, keeping the O!Play completely hard disk free. Instead the O!Play streams your media directly from it's source, through a number of different connection methods. Here's the full specification for the O!Play:
I think you'll agree that the O!Play covers pretty much all the important bases. The built in Wireless N capability's have got to be the headline feature, and something that I've not seen on any other device of this nature before. The higher speeds of Wireless N networking should ensure your files play smoothly, even when pushing then right up to 1080p HD. The ability to play media stored on flash cards, USB or even e-Sata devices will be very handy for those with pocket camera's or external flash drives. This also means that you could in theory store all your media on an external hard drive and save having the PC on when playing back. The O!Play is also compatible with a mind bogglingly large amount of file types, so kudos to Asus for that. I think that's enough on the specs, time to get the O!Play under the microscope...
The O!Play arrived in a standard rectangular box, with a product shot and the product name occupying most of the upward face. On the front edge we have the box contents, with various other key product features dotted around the remaining sides of the box.
Inside the box is a small insert which houses the O!Play itself. Pulling this out gives you access to all the bundled accessories. Included in the box we have: a power adapter (UK and European plug adapters), RCA cable, Remote control, Quick start guide and a CD with the Users manual and Connection utility. It's a shame that Asus haven't included an HDMI cable, especially on a device that offers such good support for HD playback.
The O!Play is well rounded in appearance, and fairly plain to look at. From the front it is a simple flat fascia, with only a row of 3 hidden LED's and labels. Moving around to the rear of the device we can see all the vital hook up connections. From left to right we have 3 composite outputs, S/PDIF, HDMI, RJ45 network connection and the DC Power port. I'm quite surprised there isn't the full 5 HD composite connections, for those users that have either saturated all their HDMI ports or simply don't have them.
On the right hand side we find the memory card reader, which will accept most memory card types. Just above the card reader is the O!Play branding, and a small air vent just above that. These are most likely just a precaution, since the heat output from the device should be minimal. Something I noticed quite quickly was the O!Plays ability to attract fingerprints almost as well as Aries attracts PC enthusiasts - it was almost impossible to get rid of them, despite the use of a microfibre cloth.
The left hand side of the O!Play also houses a small vent, identical to the right hand side. Below the vent we find a small reset button, nestled between e-Sata and USB ports. The bundled remote control is fairly modest, and has only a couple of additional buttons over the bare minimum. This is quite refreshing, and should make it less daunting for people using this sort of unit for the first time. It may not appeal to the real media enthusiast, but will be far more usable for the average user. The remote takes 2xAAA batteries, and fits into the hand quite nicely.
The O!Play doesn't really break the mold visually, and certainly won't draw any attention to itself in the living room, but that's definitely not a bad thing. The included accessories bundle is a little unsatisfying, with no bundled HDMI cable, but that shouldn't distract if the O!Play can deliver on it's promises... Time to test out the O!Play...
Power isn't the name of the game when it comes to products in this line; instead fulfilling their purpose and offering a high degree of usability are key. The next few images will give you a general impression of how the menus are arranged, along with the key settings the O!Play allows you to change.
The home screen gives you access to the main sub menus: Movies, Music, Photos, File Copy, All media and Settings. To select one of these sections you press up or down on the remote, which then cycles the on screen selection.
The three main sub menus (movies, photos and music) all use the same menu structure, so the images below are relevant to all three. Upon selecting the section with which you wish to navigate from the home screen, you are then offered the choice of 'Date', 'Folder' and 'Recently Played'. Unfortunately the Recently Played and Date menus didn't appear to be working. I have a feeling that these menus are designed to work with internal hard disks, something the O!Play lacks, which means that menus were left empty. It's nothing vital, but it would be nice to have external content from the network or an external source listed. Fortunately the Folder menu did work, and it takes you to the next stage: Choosing a source drive. Strangely, 'Storage Device' shows up here, which seemed odd, as on previous units this has always been used as the heading for the internal hard disk. Sure enough, trying to save any files to the 'Storage Device' just came up with the no entry logo. We have heard from Asus that these issues will be fixed with a firmware update, with the ETA on this as 'soon'. Another minor niggle is that every time you want to view your media you have to find your way to it. It would have been much nicer if you could select locations to be scanned, and have it all appear in a single library, like in iTunes or similar.
Once you've found your source file, you can hover over it to produce a small preview on the right hand side of the screen. Running over a 1gb/s network, and connected to a dedicated NAS, these previews still took a good few seconds to come up. Even more annoying is the fact that you're not allowed to start watching the file in full screen until the preview has been created. Another feature of the O!Play is file copy, which allows you to copy media from one place to another. I can only really see this being useful if you wanted to copy something to an internal drive (which the O!Play lacks), since everything else can be done from a PC, but it's nice to have just in case.
When plugging in the O!Play I found that most of the default settings were pretty much spot on, and only needed to change a few of them to get optimum performance on my TV. If you find things looking a bit odd, then the settings menu is where you'll need to head. It offers a large range of options, which should easily be enough for even the most high-tech amongst us.
Although I had a few niggles with the menus, I am pleased to report that the O!Play was more than capable of playing all the media files I threw at it. It also managed to track through them without stalling, something which has caused me a lot of hair pulling in the past. Photos were also displayed full screen without fuss, and looked very good. Changing between images wasn't instantaneous, but it wasn't bad. Again, this is probably due to the image being streamed off the network, rather than being stored locally on the O!Play.
The O!Play is a mixed kettle of fish. On the one side we have all the great things about the O!Play - it's ability to play HD Content without stalling, HDMI interface, sleek aesthetics and easy to use software interface. Then there's the bad - the choice to exclude an HDMI cable from the bundle seems odd, It's also a shame to see that every time you want to play a media file you have to navigate your way to it. It would have been nice to find all my media displayed in a single location.
Just before going to press Asus informed us of a firmware update for the O!Play air, which should remove the bugs experienced in todays testing, as well as adding a few exciting new features. Although there is no definitive list, the features currently in the pipeline include a web browser, ability to listen to free radio stations and stream live TV.
I do feel however that the positives outweigh the negatives by quite a large degree, and that the O!Play is a solid product. Although it's nothing ground breaking, it doesn't have any significant flaws and performs its' primary tasks very well. Scan offer the older, non-wireless version for a very reasonable £81.26 with the new version set to come in at £100, the price hasn't increased by more than about £20 so the O!Play Air is an excellent purchase - especially if Asus deliver on the firmware update. However, if it pushes above the £100ish mark, then the value for money will suffer, making it a more of a difficult purchase.
The Good: - Able to play HD content without stalling or stuttering
- Compact size and clean aesthetics
- Massive range of media files supported
- Wide range of external media sources supported
- Wireless N Support
- Simple and easy to use
- Bugs in current firmware, although this is being sorted - No bundled HDMI lead.
The Bad: - Nothing to report
Overclock3D would like to thank Asus for providing todays review sample. Discuss in our forums.