So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
ASUS O!Play HDP-R1 media streamer
An HD media streamer that can play content off an attached hard drive or through a wired Ethernet network
- Very good Ethernet streaming performance, easy to use, USB 2.0 and eSATA, HD streaming, Internet radio streaming, file copying between attached drives and wired Ethernet network
- Didn't show up as a UPnP device in Windows 7, Internet video streaming was poor
We found the ASUS O!Play HDP-R1 to be easy to use and it performed all its intended tasks well, except for Internet video streaming. It also took some fiddling to get it to work with Windows 7. But the bottom line is that it's a good little HD streamer that can play almost any file type, and it will even let you copy content between attached drives and your network.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
The ASUS O!Play HDP-R1 is a versatile high-definition media streamer that can play content from a PC on a wired Ethernet network or from a directly attached external hard drive. It will stream video, music and photos, and, once you update its firmware, you'll even be able to access a vast selection of online video content.
It is reasonably stylish — it's black with blue LEDs — and it's small, but thick. The rear has Ethernet, optical audio, HDMI and RCA ports (composite video and analog audio), while the left side has eSATA (data only, no power) and USB ports.
Setting up the O!Play HDP-R1 is super-easy. Once you connect it to your TV, simply go through menu system to set up your TV's aspect ratio, the time, and your network address if you will be using Ethernet — although it will be assigned an IP address automatically if your router has DHCP enabled.
For our first test, we used Belkin Ethernet over power line adapters to connect to our router in another room, and the media streamer immediately found our Windows XP–based file server and let us swiftly browse our shared folders. There was barely any lag when it came to listing all the files available in our shared folders, and the system even has a preview pane that plays each file as you select it. In fact, you have to select a file twice (that is, click OK on it twice) in order to get it to play in full screen mode.
We were able to stream both standard- and high-definition videos across our network without any problems and the video quality was very good (although how good something looks, especially a standard-definition file on an HD screen, will depend on how well it has been encoded). The media streamer supports Full HD (1080p) playback. The controls were very responsive and we were easily able to forward and rewind files without any buffering issues. It really was a very smooth and enjoyable experience. You can easily zoom in on a video (if you are watching a 16:9 show and want to fill a 4:3 screen, for example), and there is a night mode, which lowers the volume but prioritises the voice frequencies.
The main menu.
The O!Play HDP-R1's main menu is easy to use and not overloaded with icons — before upgrading the firmware, there are only five icons: movies, music, photos, file copy and setup. It reacts quickly to commands and when you enter the movies, music or photos sections, you can select to browse either an attached hard drive or the network. The streamer will display the folder hierarchy of your server(s) or hard drive, so it's best to only share (or store) content in less than a handful of primary folders so that it's easy to find.
You can play content through your wired network, or an attached USB 2.0 or eSATA device.
Apart from being able to play media files (it supports a large range of file formats, which are listed on our specifications page), the O!Play HDP-R1 can be used to copy files from your network onto a USB or eSATA hard drive (or the other way around if you have enabled write permission on your computers). This feature is intuitive and it worked without any problems during our tests. How long it takes to copy files will depend on your network connection and the type of storage device you are using.
ASUS O!Play HDP-R1: Update the firmware to experience new features
Our test unit shipped with version 1.07P firmware, but we updated it manually to the latest version — 1.29P — to get access to more features. To update the firmware, we had to first download it from the ASUS Web site and copy it to the root directory of a USB key. Once we plugged in the USB stick, we went to the setup menu, clicked on 'system update', confirmed that we wanted to install the new firmware, and then the streamer updated itself. It took about two minutes. The hardest part of the whole process was navigating the ASUS Web site (when it was up).
With new firmware, the ASUS could now play online content (not YouTube, though).
The new firmware added a new icon to the main menu: online media. From here, you can access RSS feeds, Flickr, Picasa, Internet radio stations (hundreds of them) and Internet TV streams (again, hundreds of them!) It uses Muzee to bring you all the radio and TV stations and while streaming radio worked fine during our tests, Internet video streaming was far from perfect. We experienced a lot of stuttering and audio dropouts during our tests. Still, there are so many channels you'll end up spending a lot of time going through them all and eventually you might land on one that works properly (you'll inevitably run into many channels that can't be played, too).
Not all streaming channels can be played, and those that do are problematic.
Something else you might end up doing (as we did) is viewing Flickr's Interestingness photo stream for hours on end! Unfortunately, you can't play music in the background while you view Flickr.
The new firmware also adds the Ken Burns effect for slideshows, and this looks very slick on a big-screen TV. To start a slideshow, simply browse to the folder that holds all your photos and press play.
ASUS O!Play HDP-R1: Streaming from a Windows 7 machine
The only problem we found with the O!Play HDP-R1 is that it would not stream from a Windows 7–based machine until we dug deep into Windows 7's network settings. We had to go into the Media Streaming settings and show devices in 'All networks' until the ASUS showed up as an 'Unknown Device'. Then we had to allow our PC to stream to the unknown device, click on 'Customise', and then select the option to make all our media available to that device. It took us a while to get there; it would have been much easier if the darn thing showed up as a UPnP media device in our network (the new firmware did add UPnP functionality). We had no such issues with Netgear's EVA2000.
The O!Play HDP-R1 shows up as an unknown device in Windows 7.
You have to customise its settings so that all of your media is available to stream to it.
We enjoyed using this media streamer. It worked well during our tests and the new firmware added some very useful features. It streamed standard- and high-definition content without any performance issues through our network and off drives we plugged into it, and its video quality was good. We just wish that it showed up as a UPnP device in Windows 7 and that its Internet streaming abilities were better.
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