The O!Play HD2’s functionality is divided into File Manager, Movies, Photos, Music, NAS and Online Media. The first four allow you to browse files stored locally or on networked devices. NAS functionality includes SAMBA Server, allowing you to create Windows accessible file shared folders, FTP Server functionality so you can copy files to and from the device over a network, an iTunes server for remote access to your music collection, and BitTorrent for file sharing.
Online Media, meanwhile, provides access to Internet Radio, Weather (localised by city), Stocks, Flickr and Picasa, which all worked smoothly, though we missed YouTube and iPlayer functionality. Despite both the player’s preview and manual mentioning Opera browser support (combined with the ability to hook up a mouse for effortless browsing), this has not been implemented yet on Asus’ latest media box, but is promised for a firmware update within the next few weeks. For now, the ViewSonic VMP74 remains your best bet for browsing the net on a device of this type.
Format support remains largely unchanged from previous Asus models, but that’s no bad thing as the company’s O!Play range has supported practically every format you could want since day one. Video formats include MPEG1/2/4, H264, VC-1 and RMVB, with all the popular extensions such as AVI, ASF, DAT, FLV, MKV, M2TS, MP4, MOV, M4V, RM, TS, TP, TRP, VOB/ISO/IFO, WMV, and xVid/DivX, with SRT, SUB, SMI, SSA or TXT subs. The player will play these back in up to 1080p 60Hz or 24. It also plays unprotected DVDs from an external optical drive, and though this does mean you can’t play store-bought films, backups will work just fine.
Audio support is likewise extensive: there’s MP3, OGG, WMA, WAV, AAC, AIFF, COOK and FLAC, Dolby Digital or DTS passthrough, and even Dolby True HD, the same surround sound format used by Blu-rays and one many rival players don’t support. Finally for pictures you can view JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIFF and TIFF, and the O!Play HD2 can read all these file types from storage formatted in FAT16/32, NTFS, HFS+ and EXT3.
All the files we threw at the device played back smoothly, and material was scaled to 1080p with a little more finesse than we were expecting. Asus’ video noise reduction also worked well for a relatively low-end device like this, with a low-quality RMVB file looking cleaner and sharper than we’ve seen it on most other media players.
Finally we get to value, and thankfully Asus hasn’t hitched up the price on its O!Play HD2 compared to previous models, as it should be available from next week at Scan for a very reasonable £110. This makes it a bit of a bargain considering its range of connectivity, format support and extras, with the promised Opera browser a unique highlight. However, for those on a tighter budget or who’re just after a smaller, more elegant player, the £85 A.C. Ryan Playon!HD Mini offers many of the same features.
If you can live with its bulk, less than stellar looks and rather plain menus, Asus’ latest O!Play HD2 media player is one of the most versatile around, stuffed with connectivity and features. It performs well, plays everything without a glitch and – depending on the drive you put inside it – does so virtually silently, while remaining very affordable.