With tiny, passively-cooled Atom-based nettops like the Acer Aspire Revo offering ever more features at ever lower price points, HD Media players are under increasing pressure to add features and services. However, considering Asus' previous effort, the Asus O!Play Air HDP-R3, was already stuffed to the brim with bells and whistles, what can its successor offer over and above the older model? USB 3.0, internal storage, analogue HD over component and a completely revamped interface are just some of the goodies, so let's check it out.
As soon as you take it out of the box it's clear we're dealing with a completely altered beast. The main difference is in size, as rather than requiring external storage, the O!Play HD2 now has room for an internal 3.5in hard drive. Unfortunately, Asus has failed to trim the fat, and at 230 x 178 x 60.5mm, its latest device is the giganotosaurus of media players, even when compared to the A.C.Ryan Playon!HD's T-Rex. Despite this, it still uses an external power supply, though this is relatively small.
Its bulk doesn't help its looks, which - as we mentioned in our preview of the device - aren't exactly attractive to begin with. The O!Play Air was at worst unobtrusive, but only its designer could love the odd angles and cheap glossy finish of this new player. Asus has added a few distinct visual details though, and while the tadpole-like pattern on the top isn't particularly pleasing, a luminescent blue LED strip at the front does lend it a Tron-esque appeal and makes for a nice – if somewhat distracting – display in the dark.
Connectivity has undergone a more welcome transformation. At the O!Play HD2's front we have three separate card readers for CF, SD/MMC and MS/Pro Duo memory cards. There are also two USB 2.0 ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA connector.
Around the back, there's a third USB 2.0 port, and the headline-grabbing USB3.0 port the HD2 uses to connect its internal drive to a computer. As long as your PC supports the new standard, this should make transferring your multimedia collection between it and the player very quick indeed.
Audio is competently catered for with stereo phono and both optical and co-axial digital outputs, and of course is also carried through the HDMI 1.3 connector, which joins analogue component and composite in providing for video. The only absentee which we might have liked to see is a 3.5mm jack for connecting headphones or PC speakers without resorting to an adapter, but that's a rarity on media players.
Though a 100Mb Ethernet port supports networking and provides access to web-based services, the one casualty here compared to Asus' older O!Play Air is inbuilt Wi-Fi – though with USB ports to spare, using a wireless dongle is a more viable option than on many less well-endowed media players.