It was not long ago that compatibility issues were a nightmare for personal digital media libraries. HTPCs were heralded as the solution, meaning users needed to commit a whole OS to manage their libraries. However, those days were short-lived. Problems with file formats, codecs and file system have all been resolved with the boom of the media player, in a move warmly welcomed by consumers. For a small fee, media players are light, unobtrusive and efficient ways to access your libraries, and they just got smarter too, with internet connectivity.
Asus has upgraded its O!Play Mini player to the Plus, adding smart TV functionality and access to online content. But is it smart enough to conqueur all media formats and bridge the digital media library divide? Let's take a peek.
The Asus O!Play Mini Plus follows closely in the aesthetic footsteps of its predecessor, adding only a new texture to the top of the player. It still affords the mini dimensions without having a dedicated HDD onboard, so can sit unobtrusively on your home system, albeit with a clear line-of-sight access for the remote. It weighs only 175g and measures around 150mmx105mmx30mm, drawing a modest 10W.
The remote itself is easy to use, with clear and big buttons (even a dedicated Facebook button) and has a decent range, as long as it's in a direct line with the player.
Two ports are featured at the front (USB, memory card), with the main I/O action at the back (1.3 HDMI, A/V out to replace composite, ESATA/USB, but no USB 3.0). The main physical burden of the player is the cable connectivity that will clutter your area more than the hardware itself. Perhaps we will live in a cable-free world one day. Until then.
The player is easy to install and operate with true plug-and-play functionality. The only difficult thing might be setting up your networks, but this can be done with some patience. A gripe with the software is that it doesn't remember all your wireless networks, so you have to scan again each time you turn the unit on.
The user interface (UI) is simple enough to use, without being particularly dazzling. Network libraries are only available through the file manager, which can be a little sluggish to use with the remote. In terms of smart operability, the unit accesses some basic online features, such as Facebook, YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, Yahoo Weather, and Acetrax (which is only operable in Europe), but that's about it. Browsing and using input-heavy operations is to be avoided since text input is slow and cumbersome without a keyboard. But it's a media player, not a HTPC, after all.
In terms of file compatibility, the unit excells, handing everything we threw at it, from WMV to MKV to DVD ISO stacks. It plays back full HD content smoothly and even supports 7.1 channel Dolby surround sound.
There is a hole in the market at the moment in that while most new TV sets are smart, most sets in homes lack such functionality. This gap can be bridged easily and effortlessly with a new-generation smart-enabled media player. Asus has swooped in here with the O!Play Mini Plus. As a media player, it excells with its small dimensions, strong file compatibility and smooth HD playback, regardless of the bland UI. As a smart TV set-up box it does the job but lacks access to stronger online content but plugs in nevertheless. The unit sells for US$59 (469) baht on Amazon.com, making it a steal in the US, but everywhere else it sinks back into the pack with its mid-range pricing. In Thailand, The WD TV Live media player is around the same price, has a better user interface and accesses more interesting online content. But if you have friends in the US, the Asus edges ahead with the lower price.
The Asus O!Play Mini Plus is available for 4,590 baht. Visit www.asus.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any gadget thoughts.
About the author
- Writer: Richard Mcleish