Perhaps the fact that the Asus O!Play HD2 media streamer has gone on sale at the same time as the new Apple TV is actually a blessing in disguise. Instead of being jostled out of a spot in the limelight, the fact that the new Apple TV is in reality pony might make more people give a rival model like the Asus O!Play HD2 the chance of some mainstream attention. Read on to find out why it deserves it in our full Asus O!Play HD2 review.
Asus really isn’t helping itself sticking punctuation marks in the middle of wo$rds as it has with the Asus O!Play HD2, but if you can overlook the Engrish branding, it’s actually an extremely competent media streamer for the price you pay, whose only real failing is a lack of IPTV content.
To the design first. Unfortunately, Asus is one of those companies that think people who buy gaming laptops look for bright red paintjobs and go faster fins, and it obviously thinks the media streaming crowd are equally impressionable. The Asus O!Play HD2 is surprisingly light for its size, but it’s also shockingly ugly, with smeary black plastic, and asymmetrical design that Asus must think screams EDGY amongst the youth of Taipei, plus a bizarre circular button-that’s-not-actually-a-button on the front.
Still, you’ll learn to live with it for its functionality, and it’s quiet and subtle enough to ignore. Those with terabyte hard drives already filled with HD video (We won’t ask you where it came from, but Asus has put a hilarious warning in the manual in a futile attempt to ward off torrent addicts) will love all the ports Asus has managed to fit into the Asus O!Play HD2.
On the back you’ll find two component sockets, coaxial, Ethernet (it’s DLNA certified and plays media off network attached storage), a USB 3.0 slot, optical audio, plus HDMI for lashing up to your HTDV. Asus has wisely placed the slots most consumers are likely to wear down on the front: CF/MS and SD card holes, one USB 3.0 port and an ESATA hole to give you the option of plugging in yet another drive.
Asus has covered off just about every base with the Asus O!Play HD2 – in fact, just about the only thing missing is Wi-Fi, which is a bit of a bummer, but since you can install your own hard drive, for hoarders, one big file transfer now and again might make up for this.
We really can’t complain about file format support with the Asus O!Play HD2: it really covers the spectrum of popular audio (MP3, WAV, AAC, OGG, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, Dolby Digital AC3), image and video types, and you can play them from wherever. We certainly had no troubles setting up. Perhaps a bit more bothersome is the UI of the software it’s running however: it’s rather slow and ugly, and certainly a world away from the slick LowTide design of the Apple TV, new and old. It does get the job done though, and we rather like the thumbnail live previews of videos as you scroll down.
We tested numerous video files, and overall we found that at least with AVI clips, picture quality wasn’t quite as bright or crisp as when played through a Sony PlayStation 3. But it was still reasonable, with smooth fast forwarding and rewinding. And more to the point, we were able to play file types – like creamy smooth high definition MKV files – that the Apple TV or any games console simply won’t open. Closed captions also worked, and can be turned on and selected through the remote.
What won’t play with the Asus O!Play HD2 however, is any form of IPTV. Apple TV has iTunes, and the upcoming Boxee Box seems to have everything including 4oD and the kitchen sink. The Asus O!Play HD2 has internet radio, weather, stocks and Flickr and Picasa. You might like the last two, but seriously, who looks at stocks on their TV? Not people who actually make any money out of trading stocks, we’d venture. At any rate, the lack of even YouTube, let alone BBC iPlayer or any way to buy movies on demand, might be a downer for you.
In truth, the Asus O!Play HD2 caters for a niche audience. While we’re pleased by the sheer variety of ports, the lack of on demand content will probably put off family photo enthusiasts looking for a way to slap their shots on a TV slideshow. If you’ve already got a vast digital video library though, there’s very little on the market for the same price that will play it back with as little fuss.