Media boxes are becoming ever more prevalent and offering ever more features: some of the more advanced models can do most of what a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) can. And, though some devices in this arena can be a bit hit and miss, we were fairly impressed with A.C.Ryan's previous entrant into this market, the Playon! DVR, so we're expecting good things from the company's new Playon! DVR TV.
A bit of a jack-of-all-trades, the DVR TV adds digital and analogue TV tuners to the mix, allowing for timeshift and recording functionality. It can also play or record Internet Radio and offers media playback of video, photos and music either from locally connected or networked storage over LAN or Wi-Fi, offering some of the functionality of a NAS device. In short, it can do a lot of things - we'll get onto how well in a moment.
First, though, it's worth noting that the Playon! DVR TV comes neatly packaged with the unit well-protected and all the extras stored separately in their own box. These extras consist of an extensive manual, two composite video/audio cables, one component cable, a metal antenna and two-way aerial splitter, a USB A-B cable, two-prong power cable with adapter, wireless LAN (WLAN) 802.11g adapter and large remote with batteries. Also included is a two-metre HiFX Evolution HDMI cable, which costs around £40 on its own - quite a value-add.
As with A.C.Ryan's previous effort, the DVR TV's enclosure is a combination of brushed metal with a glossy black plastic fascia. It looks quite smart and its design should sit nicely with the great majority of AV equipment. A.C.Ryan has also given its device broad rubber feet, so there's no risk of it scratching like with its predecessor. However, it does mean the unit can only be oriented vertically.
Unlike the previous A.C.Ryan unit where (except for the power button) its functions were only indicated by LEDs, now most of the DVR TV's buttons have additional printed silver and white labels sacrificing some of the clean look for extra ease of use. At the top are LED status indicators, while in the centre are the backlit menu controls. These allow you to control every function of the media box without the remote, a feature sadly lacking from some of the competition.
Not that there's any reason not to use the remote if you have it to hand: since it's the exact same model as came with the Playon! DVR reviewed last year, it lies well in the hand, has pleasant and responsive buttons and features a nice, easy to use layout - one or two quirks excepted.