Media players are evolving to offer ever more functionality, nicer interfaces and extra features, while supporting every video, audio and picture format under the sun. D-Link's Boxee Box is the most recent example, offering a remote which doubles as a full Qwerty keyboard. Other interesting candidates include the Asus O!Play HD2, which offers USB 3.0, and the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex, which takes plug-in 2.5in drives. However, for all these talents, there haven't been any recent candidates that offered TV tuners. Enter A.C.Ryan's Playon!DVR HD.
In fact, the last media player we looked at to feature a tuner was also an A.C.Ryan unit: the Playon! DVR TV back in 2009. It was a versatile box for its time, but without support for some of the more popular video containers such as MKV or MOV it failed to truly impress. Now the Dutch company is looking to rectify this with its new Playon!DVR HD, which features dual digital (DVB-T) tuners, network connectivity and NAS functionality, internal storage with recording and time-shift, and should play back any media you'd care to throw at it, including RMVB, FLV and of course MKV. Is it enough to stay ahead of the competition?
The Playon!DVR HD arrives with a generous accessories bundle. You get a reasonably comprehensive manual, two composite cables, a component cable, a USB cable (for hooking the unit up to a computer) and a high-quality, braided HDMI 1.3 cable with gold-plated connectors. There's a small TV antenna (of limited use for most), the power cable and brick, and of course a remote control. A Wi-Fi N dongle also came with our review unit but this is an optional, £20 extra.
Getting to the player itself, unfortunately A.C.Ryan has used the same rather sizeable chassis it employed for the original Playon!HD. We weren't expecting something as small as the Playon!HD Mini, but with dimensions of 230 x 165 x 60mm and weighing in at no less than 1.8kg, it's the heaviest media player around, even if the Boxee has a more awkward shape. But at least this is excusable considering the Playon!DVR offers more hardware features than any other non-PC-based media player we've yet looked at.
It's also a very well-built and quite stylish unit. Its chassis, back and base are made from metal, while the upper shell is constructed from three pieces of very solid matte black plastic fitted smoothly together. Only the clear black front section is scratch and fingerprint-prone, though it does look great if kept in good condition.
We're glad that A.C.Ryan has brought back physical controls on the unit, as the Playon!HD lacked these. This means you can still control most of the Playon!DVR HD's functions if you should happen to not have the remote to hand, and the discrete buttons offer great, positive feedback. A completely new feature is a blue-LED text readout, which is easy to read and gives you frequently-useful information.
Unfortunately, the remote is identical to that found with the Playon!HD, meaning that while it's solid and lies nicely in the hand, its buttons aren't exactly well-spaced and their layout isn't completely intuitive. Still, overall it's usable.