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In use, the Playon!HD boots up very quickly into a main menu that looks better than the rather ugly interfaces of the previous generation devices. However, it still sports the same slightly dated menu structure underneath, so it's not the smoothest experience.
Though library cataloguing is now present, unfortunately - as with the Emtec Movie Cube S800 - it's only for the internal drive. So the only way to access your media from external storage is still through selecting the desired device, then browsing by the categories we've all come to know and hate: All, Music, Photos or Movies. Some slightly slow responses here make this all the more tiresome, but to be fair it's a failing common to most media players on the market.
Speaking of external storage, as already mentioned the Playon!HD is the only media player in its price class that allows you to plug in an external USB optical drive, after which it will happily read any multimedia content off the disc. This is an incredibly handy feature that will be welcome for many - the only fly in the ointment is that it can't play regular movie DVDs because of their CSS protection. However, a region-free music DVD we tried played just fine, and of course ripped DVDs, backups and those pictures or home movies you have on optical discs will work just as well.
The Playon! HD's network features (including Internet Radio, a Web Server, Picasa, RSS news feeds, BitTorrent and Samba NAS) worked perfectly through wired or wireless connections. The exception was YouTube videos - a newly-added feature in beta firmware, so it's to be expected this niggle will be fixed by the time the firmware becomes an official release. Other features are also in the pipeline, indicating that A.C.Ryan is committed to getting as much out of its box of tricks as it possibly can.
Supported picture formats include JPEG HD, BMP, GIF, TIFF and PNG. Audio formats extend to MP2/3, OGG, WMA, WAV, AAC and FLAC, with support for Dolby Digital or DTS passthrough and stereo down-mixing thrown in for good measure. Video support, meanwhile, includes HD MPEG 2/4, H.264, WMV9/VC-1 and RM/RMVB (up to 720p) codecs in the following content formats: AVI, ASF, DAT, FLV, MKV, M2TS, MP4, MOV, M4V, RM, TS, TP, TRP, VOB/ISO/IFO, WMV, and xVid/DivX with subtitle support for SRT, SMI, SSA, IDX and SUB. Phew!
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