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Recording both from the tuner and any external source is encoded as MPEG-2, with various quality settings taking up corresponding amounts of hard drive space. At the lowest setting, A.C.Ryan reckons you can get around 1,200 hour's worth onto a 1TB drive. One little niggle is that recorded files have to be copied to the PC-readable section of the hard drive manually and individually, which could cause annoyance if you're dealing with a lot of files.
NAS functionality is not very extensive or indeed, impressive. You have to 'activate' NAS mode in the setup menu and while active nothing else will work. If you try to access other settings or functionality, the DVR TV takes itself out of NAS mode. According to A.C.Ryan, "the main purpose of our NAS feature is to allow users to easily read/write data wirelessly from the built in FAT32 partition, as well as reading data from the NTFS partition". Still, it's a feature that we'd rather see than not despite its limitations.
Internet Radio works pretty much as advertised, with navigation by Station, Genre or Favourite. Recoded radio clips are stored in MP3 format on the FAT32 partition. It might have been worth A.C.Ryan including a headphone jack, but then getting a twin-phono to single 3.5mm jack adapter is easy and cheap.
Photo settings, incongruously found in the Setup menu under Misc, include Slide Show Timing, Transition Effect and a choice of Background Music from any supported format on the hard drive.
Video also worked as stated and the Playon! DVR TV had no trouble running HD DivX. In anything image related you get a nice big preview window and with videos you can add bookmarks - basically all the niceties you'd expect from a decent media player.
Of course, all the features in the world won't save a device if it's overpriced. At around £170 for the bare unit without a drive, the Playon! DVR TV is almost as expensive as Plextor's offering with a 1TB hard drive installed. However, the DVR TV is significantly superior in every other respect, so people will still be far better off with A.C.Ryan's offering.
Going up to £269.95 for the 1TB unit under review, you do pay quite a premium for the preinstalled drive, as for the £99 difference you could get a 1.5TB HDD. However, for less technically-minded users the preformatted partitions will be worth the extra.
Overall then, if you're after HD media playback, especially in MKV format, the Western Digital WD TV Media Player is still the one for you, but the only product we've reviewed which comes close to the Playon! PVR TV in terms of features is the Emtec Movie Cube S800. At £200 for a 500GB model, it appears to offer better value, but the bundled HDMI cable, wireless dongle and wider format support does give the DVR TV a slight edge.
A.C.Ryan's Playon! DVR TV offers a lot of functionality, but unfortunately suffers from rather too many flaws and niggles. This doesn't make it a lost cause, but you must specifically want the functionality it offers (and have a little know-how) to get the best from it.
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