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A.C.Ryan Playon!DVR HD - Connectivity, Storage, Interface and Features

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers


  • Recommended by TR
A.C.Ryan Playon!DVR HD


Our Score


Review Price free/subscription

As ever with A.C.Ryan, connectivity of the Playon!DVR HD is impressive. Along the right you'll find an SD/HC card reader, twin USB 2.0 A sockets and one USB 2.0 B for hooking the unit up to a computer. At the unit's rear, we have a 10/100 Ethernet port for networking (a Wi-Fi N dongle is an optional, £20 extra), an eSATA port (giving great transfer speeds, roughly equivalent to USB 3.0) for external storage and the TV tuner's aerial in and outputs. For AV connectivity we have optical and co-axial digital audio outputs, with HDMI 1.3, component and composite taking care of video. There's also a composite input so that you can record from standard-definition devices like a VHS player. Basically there's not much missing here.

At the base of the player, a panel that requires the removal of two screws grants access to the hard drive. You can buy the Playon!DVR HD as a bare unit, though keep in mind a local drive is required for its time shift and recording functions, as well as some online services such as BitTorrent. Installing a drive yourself is an incredibly easy process, but if you'd prefer the DVR HD is also sold with 'eco' drives pre-installed, in capacities ranging from 500GB to 2TB. Our review unit contained a 1TB Samsung EcoGreen drive.

Where the OSD is concerned, A.C.Ryan has given its Playon!DVR HD a bit of a visual update, but it still pales compared to the latest media players like Western Digital's WDTV Live or D-Link's Boxee Box. It's also still the same somewhat clunky interface underneath. However, the Dutch company is aware of this and is bringing out a completely overhauled graphical user interface (GUI) for its entire HD range, which should be available 'soon' for the DVR.

Still, at least it all works, and transitions are reasonably smooth most of the time. From the main menu, you'll be able to access Digital TV, which gives a pretty good picture from the DVB-T tuner; AV-In for devices hooked up to the composite inputs; Schedule Recording, which can also be set up through the EPG or remotely if the device is connected to the internet; Browser, providing straightforward access to your media; and Media Library, giving access to a specific file type (Music, Photos or Movies) and indexed access to files on the internal hard drive only.

Then there's Yet Another Movie Jukebox, which can also be found on the latest Popcorn Hour. It gives you a slick thumbnail-driven interface with extensive film information (year, language, director, rating etc.), similar to XMBC. Unfortunately, it's a somewhat complex process to setup, involving installing an application on your PC, but for tech-savvy users it will certainly be worthwhile.

Torrents require you to activate the BitTorrent and SAMBA options in the Setup menu, and of course for a local hard drive to be present. These are also remotely controllable through the web. Internet Feeds remains unchanged from previous Playon! HD models, offering Picasa, News, Flickr and Weather. Our only complaints with these are that the weather app didn't allow us to enter a default location, and that YouTube is a feature offered by many rival media players which is still absent here. SHOUTcast Internet Radio is also available while a password-protected File Copy menu and Setup menu, which covers everything from channel settings and recording location/quality to output resolution, round out the options on offer.

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February 9, 2011, 4:02 pm

Dear Ardjuna,

As this point does not seem to be mentioned anywhere in the review, I keep on asking myself if any of these devices is using an RF remote rather than a "line of sight" infrared one.

Most of these devices have no need to be accesible to the user and could (should?) happily be sharing the cupboard with the rest of the audiovisual equipment.

Any opinion on this?

Hamish Campbell

February 9, 2011, 4:53 pm

Nice to see an appropriate price for a wifi dongle, rather than the big brands (i.e. sony's 70 quid dongle).

I'll need to check now if they do dvb-c....a small chance as holland uses cable a bit too.


February 9, 2011, 5:04 pm


Dear Kerwood,

Yep, nearly every set top box and media player on the market still uses IR, which also allows the use of excellent AIO remotes rather than the frequently-average included models. RF is a more expensive option.

As to accessibility, in the majority of cases it would need to be in order to plug in memory cards/sticks and external drives.

That's my two cents :)


February 9, 2011, 5:26 pm


generally for dvb-c to be useful they'd also need to add support for CI+ CAMs to support the smartcards and encryption used by cable companies.

Agree with the reviewer about the dvb-t tuners not being HD - pretty misleading too when the product has HD in the name - I forsee lots of returns and a swift drop in price.

Steve 12

February 9, 2011, 5:30 pm

Regarding the HD aspect of the unit - The Playon website specification states "Supports both MPEG2 & newer MPEG4 H.264 DVB-T broadcast". Does this mean Freeview HD ?

Geoff Richards

February 9, 2011, 5:37 pm

@Steve 12 - Freeview HD uses DVB-T2

I think the confusion arises from the difference between Codec and Resolution. It is, of course, perfectly possible to use H.264 at standard definition. It's a very efficient codec that compresses video really, really well. This is an advantage for high bit-rate HD video, but also handy for shrinking SD signals too.

But in short:

DVB-T = Freeview SD

DVB-T2 = Freeview HD

Steve 12

February 9, 2011, 5:45 pm


Thank you, your comment is really helpful for someone like me and has given me plenty of research to do to catch all you techies up :)

Geoff Richards

February 9, 2011, 6:01 pm

More than welcome Steve - that's what we're here for.

A couple of extra tips:

1) The "HD" name of this product refers to its ability to play back HD content from USB / hard drive, sadly not the TV tuner part of it (as discussed)

2) Make sure you use the Freeview HD postcode checker, as it isn't available in some areas: http://www.freeview.co.uk/HD

3) Naturally there is an element of "future proofing" as Freeview HD is here to stay, but when deciding whether to buy this model or another, consider two things:

a) am I likely to want to upgrade (for whatever reason) in 6 months or a year or two years etc? If so then maybe this purchase doesn't have to tick all the boxes

b) assuming you can receive Freeview HD, is there actually content you want to watch?

For example, I have both FreeSat HD and Freeview HD at home. However, certainly for the latter, there's actually only BBC One HD (recently launched), BBC HD, ITV HD and 4HD. Essentially the original four terrestrial channels, not the much wider selection we're used to on Freeview. This also falls miles short of Sky HD, which has all the sports and all the movies and many other channels like Discovery in HD too.

My advice to people is simple: if you need to buy now, and you aren't buying again for ages, see if you can swing Freeview HD. If you can wait, prices will come down, and if you can't wait but aren't bothered about the limited HD coverage thus far, buy now and upgrade later.

For some, the mere fact that BBC will show Formula One in HD this year is enough of a reason :D


February 9, 2011, 6:08 pm

Seeing as this has a wifi N dongle (for some extra ££), would that mean I could have my computer in one room, and stream HD video to this device in another room? Or does it allow you to share files to the devices internal drive to watch once transferred?


February 9, 2011, 6:26 pm

@Kenwood - The Popcornhour C-200 I have has an RF remote... but to be honest I use a Logitech Harmony 900 RF remote (~£200) that transmits over RF to the emitter in the cabinet which re-broadcasts the IR codes.

Hence I use the IR remote add-on for the Popcornhour instead of the RF!


February 9, 2011, 6:32 pm

I love the idea of this, and I'm itching to get rid of the WD Live as I can't stream any HD content to it owing to the networking limitations. The only bit of information I was looking for wasn't included in the review...

Does this unit have a full gB Ehternet chipset (Not like the alleged gB Ethernet in the WD Live Hub - which it is not). And more importantly can the processor handle smooth playback of networked streamed, high bandwidth, HD content?


February 9, 2011, 7:30 pm

@Steve12: Freeview-HD in the UK uses DVB-T2, which is basically a higher-bandwidth version of DVB-T. DVB-T can certainly carry HD video, but a lot less of it compared to DVB-T2. The USB tuner dongle supplied with this PlayOn is DVB-T only. Most of continental Europe are still on DVB_T, but as more and more HD video is added, they'll eventually run out of bandwidth and will have to upgrade to DVB-T2 or later.

In an ideal world, AC Ryan would spec a USB DVB-T2 tuner dongle so it could just be a case of plugging in a new dongle... but don't hold your breath :-)


February 9, 2011, 7:36 pm


Either/or, as far as I'm aware.


Nope, it is included in the review by omission: "an Ethernet port". If it had 1000Gb, I would have said Gigabit Ethernet ;) However, I've added extra clarification.

So unfortunately, the answer to your question is 'no'.

As to the CPU, if you're referring to the media player's processor, then yes: in most cases, if it has enough power to handle it played locally, it has enough power to handle it streamed.


February 9, 2011, 8:46 pm

Thanks Ardjuna...the old 'included by omission' point! :)

I have found the WD Live and Hub incapable of playing streamed 1080p BluRay .MKV HD content over any type network set up I tried. Wireless N dongle or over ethernet, but all are very capable of playing locally.

Originally I was under the impression that all media players were incapable of playing high bit-rate 1080p .MKV BR files over the network because they lacked a GbE connection, but of course, in theory at least, 10/100 should be enough to carry play this type of content. ( http://community.wdc.com/t5/Ne... )

Now, if I am understanding the technical limitations of all currently available media players, and I have read a lot of forums - none of them are powerful enough (cpu wise) to smoothly play back 1080p .MKV files over a streamed network; wired or wireless. Some have success with compressed 720p HD files but not with 1080p.

Does the GbE need it's own seperate CPU controller in order to be able to stream this (pretty standard) high bit-rate HD content? I wonder why the main CPU can decode and stream this from a hardrive or thumbdrive without issues yet no one can stream 1080p content over a network yet? Or am I missing something?

All I want is a gadget that I can stream my collection of 1080p .MKV files to, from an external PC, wired or wirelessly :(


February 9, 2011, 9:10 pm

@lifethroughalens: XBMC running on an Acer Revo 3600 (Intel Atom + Nvidia Ion box) - does the job fine for me and puts the UIs of most of these Popcorn Hour type things to shame. I got my Revo 3600 plus an extra 2G of RAM from ebuyer for 150 quid. It can play the 25 Mbit/s "killa" birds scene from Planet Earth fine from my Samba NAS over HomePlug, but the 40 Mbit/s version stutters (it plays fine if I connect both NAS and Revo directly to a gigabit switch but SWMBO is not happy having ethernet cables lying around the place.)

XBMCFreak is a good XBMC liveCD to install, has sabnzbd and transmission clients all ready to go (for downloading all those Linux distros, naturally.)

Android and iPhone apps to control the thing add to the ease of use.


February 10, 2011, 7:39 pm

@AC Ryan Mikael:

Thanks Mikael for confirming that.


So there you have it, confirmation 'from the horse's mouth', so to speak :)

Mind you, Xamph's suggestion is also good, and you can get an external USB TV tuner.


"but SWMBO is not happy having ethernet cables lying around the place"

Have you considered a Gigabit Homeplug as a solution?


February 10, 2011, 8:00 pm


Forgot to mention, All Hail SWMBO.



February 11, 2011, 1:33 am

Thanks for the replies Xamph and Mikael - much appreciated.

I must admit that I am very, hugely, massively sceptical of ever being able to achieve anything approaching anything near 40Mbs (let alone 90Mbs!). Through experience with an Xtreamer and a WD Live and Live Hub on Ethernet cable & wireless N, I have never got even near to even 20Mbs. In this review of the WD Live hub, in several tests the reviewers couldn't ever surpass 12Mbs.


If the single CPU is having to cope with both playback and transfer, then there's no way these speeds could ever be achieved outside of lab conditions. Indeed the internet is littered with people with similar issues on all sorts or media players. I have a BT Homehub V2 'N' modem / router connected to a series of 200Mbs homeplugs on good home wiring with very little signal degredation. A desktop running WD Caviar Black 7,200 drives & I can stream standard DVD quality MKV's no problem, but anything greater and it's begins to stutter.

If the A.C.Ryan Playon!DVR HD really does claim to have the hardware to be able to decode & stream at 40Mbs RAW HD.MKV 1080p file over a good network - then i'm willing to give it a go. Thanks :)


February 11, 2011, 3:37 am

Just to say, Xamph - I am reluctant to buy a whole desktop PC just to try to stream 1080p films. The cheapest I can find the 3610 is £228 with 2GB RAM and 160GB HDD. Just seems like such a palaver when this tiny £70 WD Live box does everything I need and is infinately easier to use and move. I just want a similar product that can step up to the mark with much higher bit rate files.


February 14, 2011, 9:55 pm

@David Geraghty:

Though we haven't tested the unit with that specific format, as it's listed in its file support (you can find it on page 2) it should be able to play it with no problems, and in Full HD too. As far as playback is concerned, meanwhile, it makes no difference to the unit whether the file is on local or attached storage. Hope that answers your questions.


February 17, 2011, 6:10 pm

@Ardjuna - indeed, all hail SWMBO! If only she wasn't so picky, I mean, ONE ethernet cable and it's like the end of the world... :-)

Alas the wiring in our apartment sucks, our "200 Mbit/s" Homeplug only manages around 44 Mbit/s max (seems to vary for no good reason between 30 and 44 Mbit/s.)

@lifethroughalens - that's a shame they've gotten so expensive, the R3600 with 1GB RAM was only 129 quid last year, and even though it's a single-core and only 1 GB, it's plenty good enough running XBMC, which provides a far better (skinnable) UI than any of these boxes (I used to have a Popcorn Hour.)


August 23, 2013, 11:50 am

where can I buy a the remote control from. The kids have dropped mine about 1000 times and now does not work?

Asraf Daniels

November 16, 2013, 7:25 pm

Is there any units available as my sister lives in uk and would most certainly by it on that side for me

Asraf Daniels

November 16, 2013, 7:27 pm

The ac ryan playon dvr is what I'm trying to get hold of

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