When it comes to using the unit, the first order of business will probably be to install a SATA hard drive. Though A.C.Ryan will allow retailers to pre-install drives if they wish, the standard unit will not come with one, meaning you either have to install one yourself or just leave the case empty and use an external disk. Even if you opt for the latter option, you'll probably still want to open the case to disconnect the audible little fan (the unit is actually noisier than my SFF PC, though at a distance of a metre or two it's unlikely to be bothersome). Personally, I think getting to install your own drive is an advantage, since it lets you choose the make, type and size of HDD you want to install - and it's hardly a surprising move, considering A.C.Ryan has always catered to the enthusiast and modding community.
The Playon! DVR is not exactly the simplest case to open up. It's not difficult, just fiddly, as there are a total of eight screws to remove before taking it apart. There's quite a bit of room on the inside, to help with cooling and to accommodate the fan and the ports at the back. Four screws to mount the HDD are provided, but it's a pity there is no vibration dampening whatsoever. However, this is no different from what you're likely to find in most other media drive cases.
We slotted in an 80GB SATA drive (though up to 1TB is supported), and the unit immediately asked to format it. This process is simple, though there's a slight annoyance in that some of the instructions disappeared off the edge of the screen. First you have to set aside a section of the drive as 'time shift buffer' (up to 16GB for 4hours' worth), then you create separate partitions for recording and multimedia storage, and finally choose how much of the drive you want to format in FAT32 and NTFS. Yes, though it can't write to it, thankfully the Playon! DVR has no trouble reading NTFS, a function omitted by many competitors.
It's worth noting that files recorded digitally from a source through composite are stored on a UDF partition that's not readable by PCs, so if you want access to these on a computer you'll have to move them onto the FAT32 partition using the Playon! DVR. Speaking of recording, unfortunately our sample seemed to have a faulty composite video input, meaning our Xbox 360 footage appeared only in purple and green. Aside from the colour issue, quality is pretty much what you would expect using the lowest quality analogue connection around, but we won't fault A.C.Ryan too much for this since - as far as I know - there are no other multimedia boxes that offer more - at least, not yet.