Upon powering up the device for the first time, it will activate at full spin before shutting down into standby mode, which is indicated by the status light turning from blue to red. Turning it back on, the A.C.Ryan multimedia box takes about 30 seconds to become fully operational. Once you get onto the ‘home’ menu, unsurprisingly accessed by pressing the ‘home’ button on the remote, you’re greeted with a clean and rather attractive menu consisting of icons representing Video In (switches to the source being fed in through composite), Playback, Browser, Setup and Playlist. The icons are large enough to view from a considerable distance, and are actually representative of what they stand for.
All the options are neatly and sensibly arranged, with no evidence of the spelling or category mistakes that plague some competing devices. Much like on the Neuros, you can see the content you’re watching/recording through the semi-transparent blue background, which is a visually pleasant effect as well as being practical. There is also a basic screensaver.
Output can be switched between 576P, 720P or 1080i resolutions, and 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios – so if you’re using the Playon! DVR with a 16:10 monitor you’ll probably want to run it in 1:1 pixel mapping mode. Of course, output quality is near flawless over HDMI. And that’s more important than usual, since here we actually have a multimedia box that supports high definition media. Yes, finally a company has addressed my main gripe with these devices, and though support is limited to Xvid/DivX, it’s still a great feature to have.
The A.C.Ryan unit also scaled video very well, though it was no surprise that noise and artefacts were visible in an SD trailer. The 720p trailer for ”King Kong”, on the other hand, looked impeccable, as was a 1080P trailer for ”Final Fantasy XIII”. Video format support includes VOB and IFO (DVD), MPEG-2, AVI (MPEG-4-XviD), DAT (VCD), and MPEG-2 TS, at anything up to 1080i.
Recording and playback are very versatile: apart from the usual functions, pressing the record button repeatedly varies recording length between 30 – 240mins, in 30 minute intervals; there is an instant replay button that lets you go back by 10 seconds during playback; and ‘CM skip’ jumps ahead 30 seconds while playing or recording. You can delete specific sections of recordings, or split them into separate tracks and vice versa, as well as combine several titles into one.
You can also create and edit detailed recording schedules, and add chapter marks at user-selected intervals to any new recording. You can even select what frame from a recorded clip you want to use as a thumbnail. The only major annoyance is that while the unit lets you choose between HQ, SLP, EP, LP and SP recording qualities, it doesn’t inform you what these stand for, or what resolutions/bitrates these represent.
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