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