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Ever since its launch at the beginning of December last year, the Western Digital WDTV has been our favourite way to quickly and easily playback multimedia files on your TV - just plug in a USB storage device and away you go. Then, more recently, we were impressed by the Popcorn Hour A110 that added network streaming capabilities as well as local storage potential by way of an internal hard drive bay. At nearly double the price of the WDTV, you paid a high price for that extra functionality though. So, today we're looking at a product that takes the basic USB playback features of the WDTV and adds in network support but at a very modest cost increase.
First impressions of the Asus O!Play HDP-R1 are somewhat underwhelming. The box itself looks alright from a distance but it's clearly been made to a very tight budget with basic plastic panels used throughout. We're also concerned by the two blue status LEDs on the front. They're very bright even when viewed from an angle and face-on they're positively dazzling. Added to this, the remote looks distinctly cheap and toy-like, with its overly curved profile and rubber buttons. On a more positive note, the unit feels quite sturdy and, once hidden away amongst all your other AV gear, its looks are hardly going to be of great concern.
Unlike devices such as the Popcorn Hour A110 and A.C. Ryan Playon! DVR TV, the HDP-R1 doesn't have internal storage. Instead you playback your media either from a USB stick or over the network connection. As such, setup can be as simple as plugging in a TV connection, the power cable, and a USB stick. There are two USB ports on the left side but one of them doubles as an eSATA port so there are plenty of storage connection options.
If you want to connect to a network, there's an Ethernet port round the back but sadly no built-in Wi-Fi. Also on the back are sockets for stereo analogue audio, composite video, optical digital audio, HDMI, and of course power. The lack of component video output may be of concern to those with older TVs but we can forgive Asus for this as HDMI is just so ubiquitous nowadays.
Setup is as simple as it gets. You just connect your choice of video and audio connection to your TV, plug in the power adapter, and press the power button on your remote and away you go. You'll be greeted by a basic menu system that just manages to stay the right side of the ugly line. It's clear and functional but a rival to Apple TV, it certainly isn't.
From here you can either plug in a USB/eSATA device or connect the HDP-R1 to your home network. By default the network interface uses DHCP to have an IP address automatically assigned but you can set up a manual IP address if you like. Once added to the network, you'll be able to see any standard windows workgroups and any attached devices and their shared folders. These you can then browse for your multimedia files.
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