A modern home today has the comforts of a large screen LCD TV with the capability of playing both, full HD videos and 3D content. But, does your local cable operator or DTH service give you the pleasure of watching full HD 1080p content? Probably not. Hence, movies on Blu-ray discs are growing in popularity and demand because of the rich audio and video content and quality. HD content is also available online in the form of streaming videos and torrents. Websites, such as YouTube feature HD content, which is designed to be enjoyed on a PC. Making high-definition home videos is now also cheaper than before. So why not store them in a central location and enjoy them on your large screen in the comfort of your living room! Media players today have the capability of playing theater quality videos and audio on your HD television set. They can stream videos from the Internet, your PC or media server on the network with ease.
A media player today can function as an all-in-one solution for rich quality videos and audio, be it from the local hard drive, home network or the Internet, by simply using a simple remote control or your smartphone. A media player not only allows you to watch HD movies, but also gives you live Internet TV and radio broadcasts. There are plenty of high-definition media players available today. Manufacturers, such as Western Digital, Seagate, Asus, D-Link and many more have a variety of these players for you to pick from. Most feature wired networking; a few have either built-in or optional wireless networking. Some even have a built-in storage drive and others give you the option of inserting your hard drive for storing all your media in one place. While almost all players have the capability of playing full high-definition 1080p videos, there are major differences in features that sets one media player apart from the other.
Take, for example, the ones that can have a built-in hard drive. These media players can store a fairly large amount of media files internally and you don’t need to plug-in external storage drives, unless necessary. They can also be used as NAS drives, SAMBA shares or even media servers. Other media players, such as WD TV have the option of flashing third party firmware to tap hidden characteristics, such as torrent clients. The media players featured here have a lot in common, but also differentiate themselves because of the various feature sets they inherit. Some of these feature USB 3.0, built-in Wi-Fi, eSATA compatibility, and Web apps. So read on to learn more about two of the best players around – in terms of performance and value for money. if you want to take a look at all the players and how they fared, click on the scoresheet below.
Score sheet (Click to enlarge)
Asus O!Play Gallery (Price Rs. 12,999)
All out features
The Asus O!Play features a good build, but the glossy surface can get easily tarnished with scratches and fingerprints. Even the aesthetics are too pleasing, owing to the very chunky looking chassis. But design and size of the unit aside, the feature-set is very appealing. The O!Play has it all—a huge media compatibility list, Internet services, internal hard drive capability, FTP, SAMBA and iTunes services, NAS possibility, a torrent client, and media rendering support. Insert any hard drive into the bay and dump all your media junk on it or simply plug-in your USB storage and play your favourite flicks and music.
Connect it to an Internet-enabled network (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) and stream your favourite media files from the local network drives or PCs. The features don’t end here; you can also leave the unit switched-on and download torrents, instead of having your PC do it. Using your Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone, you can take control of the music and videos from any media server on the network and stream it across to your O!Play gallery. The media player also supports direct connectivity and control via an iPod, iPad and iPhone via the bundled cable for on-demand music and video playback from Apple devices. Sadly, this player cannot be used on older CRT television sets for lack of a composite video output. The remote controller has a D-pad, which doubles up as a jog dial, making it convenient to browse through the user interface. To make things easier while surfing online or whilst setting up the device, you can connect a USB mouse and keyboard to the media player. Considering all these features, great ergonomics and excellent video playback performance, the Best Performance title was given to the Asus O!Play Gallery.
Though the price might seem a bit steep, the features such as USB 3.0 PC interface, internal hard drive bay, eSATA compatibility and the built-in Internet services justify the price point. Those who are looking for similar features, but are on a lower budget can opt for the Asus O!Play HD2, instead. The downside is that it misses features, such as wireless network, iPod connectivity and a card reader.
Asus O!Play Mini (Rs. 4,165)
Good value for money
The ASUS O!Play Mini is a very simple, yet powerful Full HD multimedia playback device, which is a great add-on to your media setup, if you are on a budget. Apart from watching high-definition videos on an LCD television using the HDMI interface, the media player can also be used on regular LCDs and older CRT television sets by using the composite A/V output.
The Asus O!Play mini features Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channel surround sound for a complete theater-like experience when connected to a compatible multichannel audio receiver. The Mini is as small as a 2.5-inch portable storage drive and sports great build quality. The shell is made of a dual-tone matte and glossy-finish exterior. The front panel features inputs, such as a USB 2.0 port and a card reader, which supports SD, MMC, MS and xD flash cards. The rear sports an HDMI and composite audio and video interfaces, apart from an optical S/PDIF port.
What the O!Play Mini lacks is an Ethernet port, which could support media streaming and online services or media servers on the local network. Also, an additional USB port would have been beneficial for external 2.5-inch storage drives that require a Y-cable for additional power.The interface very user friendly, easy to navigate and quite swift, while changing between screens, but can be a little sluggish, in case the list of movies is too long. The remote controller, too is very basic, and has an average tactile feel and lacks quick buttons for music, video and photos.
The video playback is almost flawless. The indexing option featured here is beneficial, especially when you plug-in a fairly large storage drive with a number of movies, music and photos. Taking the price tag into consideration, the O!Play Mini offers great value for money and is the cheapest full HD 1080p media player, which one can buy right now. If you are looking for a full high definition media player on a shoe-string budget, the Asus O!Play mini is what we would recommend.