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A.C. Ryan PlayOn! HD and Mini Print E-mail
Written by Michael Schuette   
Sep 13, 2010 at 12:46 AM

Call me entertainmentally challenged. What I mean is that you can give me a box of junk, electronics or auto parts doesn’t matter and I’ll figure out a way to build something that runs. Registry hacks, puh … been there, done that 15 years ago. Oh, and give me a good stereo or surround sound system and I’ll figure out a way to make it even better just by tuning it a bit.

When it comes to home theaters, though, I am incompetent. Part of this relates to the poor quality of the early systems out there, where the big screens looked to me like they had gaps between the pixels; and projectors - thanks but no thanks, there is something about my eyes that doesn’t harmonize with those things at all. I mean, I still have to see a single one that does not look blurry. And thanks for all those corporate presentations in PowerPoint that completely pass me by because of their poor visual quality.

Things are getting better, though, at least when it comes to 1080p screens (but please spare me the 1080i versions). Then of course, there is still the issue of having a dedicated computer just running the TV. A laptop is ok for that purpose but quite honestly, is there even something that is worth all the effort. DirectTV, NetFlix, Redbox everybody almost throws things your way nowadays and the offerings amount to almost sensory overload. Except that there are re-runs and re-runs and if you flip through the channels you’ll eventually even find a station that claims the same movie you just tried to avoid for the hundredth time a world premiere.

And then there are other issues like regional settings that won’t allow the movies that I really want to see to play on my DVD player. Moreover, there is the entire issue of DRM that doesn’t make any sense other than assuming that at one point, there was somebody who needed to make himself a name and came up with the hype that if anyone watched pirated contents the world would come to an end. Whoa… some people actually believed it and more followed, leading up to the situation we have now, which is that somebody has created an artificial scenario to sue random people and keep the lawyers fat. Of all people, Ashton Kutcher probably summarized it best, namely, that if the producers could make money off piracy, it would be perfectly legal. By the end of all this nonsense, I simply won’t watch any movies at all anymore and rather go back to reading a book. Yes I know – entertainmentally challenged.

Another dream of mine is to have a little box somewhere that has a lot of the things on there that want to access from the different PCs running here without having to run downstairs to the office and turn on that one system that has the data in order to share it with others. Of course, I could ask people to actually set foot into my office and please, watch out for that HDD and that SSD and that video card over there and, sorry, that PSU is just in the final stage of dismantling, please don’t disturb the careful arrangement of parts on the floor. In other words: No!

Into this world of lab/office hermitage and the frustration of not being able to share my favorite photographs with the crowd hanging out in my living room, along with the annoyance over DRM and willful subjection to brain-damaging repetition of non-content by the media enters a shimmer of light or hope or whatever one may call it. This shimmer of light is called media player.

Let’s get a quick overview what a media player actually is and what it is not and then see what we actually have in terms of the system at hand that is so special. In short, a media player is very similar to a DVD player or similar only that it does not play DVDs but gets its data from all kinds of different sources. That is, there may be a hard disk drive or a solid state drive or else a USB drive or else, plain and simply, a home network from which all kinds of data are retrieved that are then displayed on a TV of sorts. In other words, the box has a number of audio-visual output ports including but not limited to HDMI or composite AV and a number of inputs including USB, RJ45-based Ethernet and a card reader. In even more other words, everything is pretty pedestrian, there is nothing that requires mental somersaults to figure it out. Well sort of.

The technology behind the media player concept can be divided into two parts, one of which is the display engine, that is the part that actually takes the incoming data and converts them into TV or similar images. So far so good this stuff has been around for years in the DVD players and similar but the point is, it is proven technology and it works. The other part of the media player is the interface with existing other devices, that is, primarily PCs and to be able to take advantage of the power of PCs and then display the data in the easy-digest format that you want to have in your living room without everybody around required to put on his or her nerd hat. It is really this combination of high-tech (PC) and dummy-tech (TV) that makes the media players what they are by bringing the high-tech part to a commodity part that everyone around grew up with: the TV!

Picture yourself in the living room with friends and family and you want to show off your latest digital images without everybody stomping over your inner sanctum. It’s as easy as logging into your shared folder in the library of the computer and getting the previews of the different image files displayed on the TV. Select the ones you want to show, press the button and off you go. Want to zoom in on a detail? Just press the zoom button and there you go. Oh, grandma still needs it a tad larger? Not a problem, it is right there, courtesy of the zoom button until it gets grainy even on a TV.

Enough of media player musings, the market is there and so are the players. Whether it is the Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD Media Player, the Sony SMP U10 Digital AV Player or the ViewSonic VMP70, the Seagate STAJ 100 FreeAgent GoFlex or else the ASUS O!Play HDP R21, pretty much everybody of name and rank in the storage or else in the TV/Display business offers something that falls more or less into the same category.

The one we picked here is from a brand headquartered in the Netherlands and consequently with its biggest presence in Europe but even in the US and Canada, A.C. Ryan is not an unknown entity. What we have here today are the PlayOn! HD and PlayOn! Mini, currently among the hottest items among the flood of similar offerings. And there are a number of reasons for that.

Last Updated ( Sep 27, 2010 at 05:47 AM )