The feature packed Playon! DVR is an interesting product for the next-generation consumer that bridges the gap between downloaded multimedia content and the living room HDTV.
For the past couple of years, the market has been flooded digital media player devices. These used to cater to hard-core geeks who must know how to set up the networks and the software to be able to maximise playback of the content. With the coming of age of Hi-Definition (HD) TVs as well as the availability of HD content, this niche market has recently opened up and the manufacturers are keen to capture this expanding market share.
Unlike digital media players that come in a software form, appliance-level devices do not need additional hardware like a PC (Personal Computer) to run on. PCs are great for many-a-personal use, including that of a media player but it is unlikely you need to be composing a Word document or doing number-crunching in an Excel spreadsheet while on the TV while with your friends of family members. Besides, a PC and its peripherals such as the keyboard and mouse appears so unsightly and out-of-place in your living room next to your HD LCD or Plasma TV and expensive audio sub-system.
An appliance that is solely a digital media player would complement the other components and not leave any doubt about it’s application.
The great thing about this portable A.C.Ryan ACR-PV72100 Playon! Network Digital Video Recorder (Playon! DVR) is, as its name suggest, besides being a media player, it also functions as a video recorder.
It has a solid metal case with a shiny sleek black plastic façade that blends well with the rest of the unit. The fanciful A.C.Ryan logo appears to change color depending on your viewing angle and it also serves to tell you which side of the box should be placed up.
Measuring 203 x 164 x 53mm, the Playon! DVR is slightly larger than some of my other media player drives. However, the size doesn’t show at all next to a large flat-panel LCD HDTV. The sides of the unit don’t feel cheap or “plasticky” but fingerprints do show up fairly easily on the front side cover.
The power-on button glows blue when the device is turned on and red when it is off followed by 6 other operational square buttons that can operate the basic functionality of the device without a remote. However, it is highly unlikely that anyone will be able to access the full functionality of the Playon! DVR just by the device buttons alone without a remote control so these buttons do better to serve as visually appealing blue back-lit icons in a dim cinema environment.
The connections found on the rear panel of the device are also fairly impressive. With the usualplethora of RCA and RGB Component ports, it also has a LAN Ethernet jack, 2 USB Hosts ports, a USB-mini port, for hooking the device to your PC, as well as a HDMI port for viewing high quality High Hefinition video to your LCD. For audio, you get optical and co-axial digital outputs.
‘Recording’ video is done through a standard composite video input (RCA jack). This means video is not recorded in HD formatted resolutions. It would be a bonus for the device to record in 720 or 1080 resolutions but there is a question of a source signal at that resolution.
My review unit came with the usual basic cables out of the box. There are a couple of cables which I felt should be included in the box to achieve real right out of the box setup functionality. One such missing cable is the HDMI cable, of which prices have dropped recently. An extra set of RCA cables would also have been useful. This can be easily overlooked by the consumer as RGB Component cables do not carry audio signals, so audio is a separate set of RCA cables and you’ll need a set for recording and playback. Therefore, with the supplied cabling, you will not be able to do both record and playback simultaneously unless your use HDMI and have HDMI capable amplifier where the HDMI connector carries the audio signal.
The Playon! DVR could also do better with the higher speed Gigabit LAN port. Gigabit switch prices have dropped and have been finding their way into consumer home networks. The faster LAN connection would provide smoother viewing performance (experience), especially useful for high-definition streaming.
One nice inclusion is a 54Mbps wireless adapter. Plug it into one of the USB Hosts ports and easily join your existing Wi-Fi network. I do feel a USB extension cable would be a nice addition. It would ease having to reach behind the sometimes hard to reach ports and since this is a wireless device allow for better placement of the dongle. It is indeed a rare and pleasant feature to receive the Wi-Fi adapter. The bonus is if you don’t actually plan to use it with your PlayOn! You can deploy it to another device. The other advantage of the inclusion is it takes the guess work out of which adapters are compatible.
Unfortunately, I was not able to get the Wi-Fi experience with the review unit (Read my update on the Wireless Dongle Connectivity). I was not able to get my DHCP Server to issue an IP address to the Playon! DVR. Checking my wireless router logs also revealed that there are no incoming WI-FI connections detected from this unit and my other wireless devices work fine. This could be due to a faulty review unit, or the Wi-Fi dongle or other issues I cover later in the review.
The wired port works seamlessly as advertised and right after plugging into an ethernet LAN point, it acquired an IP address and just like that, the device becomes a part of my entire internal network.
(Review Note Disclaimer: I do not know if the Playon! DVR will come with a pre-installed hard-disk on its launch here in Singapore). My review unit came with a pre-installed Western Digital 7200RPM 500GB pre-formatted hard-disk. According to the docs, the single hard-disk slot supports up to 1TB/1000RPM, it wasformatted into 3 partitions to test what it says it supports: – FAT32, NTFS (Playback / Read-Only) and UDF (Recording / Supports internal copy to FAT32).
The hard-disk drive is not as accessible to the user as I would have liked. Besides removing quite a few screws (8 to be exact) of 2 varying lengths (so you have to remember where to put what), you need to have small flexible fingers of steel to push the motherboard out and then fiddle around to access the SATAII hard-disk. That is quite a feat in itself and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this often, so I’d recommend that you only do the physical configuration once by purchasing the biggest hard drive the first time. Remember the PlayOn! DVR can also function as a basic Networked Attached Storage (NAS).