Media players have been gaining popularity for the right reasons. In this age of convergence, where the physical media is losing its importance and the AV and format standards are not only set by AV companies but primarily by computing companies, the media player is a natural and logical path that the user would want to take. Internet has emerged as a strong medium for even new releases, shedding the dark cloak of piracy and getting legitimacy. To the extent that in the last one year, India has seen more than three films getting released on the Internet and in the past two years there have been numerous music albums that were released using the net as a distribution medium!
Thus, most of the ‘infotainment’ hardware companies have started getting into, what is going to become the de-facto standard in a few years, media players. Hardcore computing platform companies like Windows and Apple have been trying for years to have media platform on computing systems. While the flexibility is immense and costs are lower (at source and decoding level; power amplification onwards the cost is the same), they missed one point—no user wants to boot the computer and carry a keyboard on the lap to watch a movie.
So, media players (reduced function and specialized computers) made perfect sense as the user has his age-old user interface and hardware like the remote control, and the computing companies have the flexibility that they would have with computers! Asus has released a slew of media players under the O!Play series. What we have for review is a model named Gallery, one of the top-of-the-line players at present. The internal hard disk drive (HDD) slot is empty (not mandatory sold with the player) to keep the costs and storage preferences at user’s discretion, which we found a sensible proposition.
Out of the Box
The player has an impressive finish and even the remote has the black gloss finish mimicking that of the player. The player is less than half the width of the usual hi-firack equipment and is merely about 2.5” in height. There are many inputs in the front as well as at the back. Up front there are all sorts of card inputs including the rarely found CF card slot, an eSATA and a USB port. At the rear panel, one has the more permanent type of connections like an iPod/iPhone connector, an additional USB port, LAN port, digital (coaxial and optical) outputs and finally a single HDMI output.
Plenty of connectivity options
I liked the shape and style of the front panel, and the elegant LED strip lighting up in a fading fashion as it approaches the end of the fascia. There is colour coding here. It turns orange for sleep mode, blue when the device is on and connected wirelessly, purple when turning on/off and green when the device is on, but the wireless connection is off—elaborate! One of the reasons the player is small and lightweight is that the power supply of the player is external (resembling that of a laptop). On the other hand, Asus has a very small and capable player called Mini Plus, which is even smaller and more portable because it has slightly lesser connectivity options but no provision for built-in HDD; whereas the O!Play Gallery has provision for 3.5” HDD to be inserted by the user inside the belly of the player. Wish it could play presentation-related file formats as one could have carried this type of pocket device instead of a laptop to make a presentation!
Once you own a media player, you will realize that it is going to be the source hub of your entertainment and this is where I feel that the players should have inputs for the existing players during these transition years. So, the DVD or a BD player should have the option to get routed through the media player. However, very few players offer this flexibility and that too, in limited capacity. The player is able to decode almost any format invented so far. USB 3.0 capability and Giga-Ethernet connectivity makes this player capable of fast data transfer and of streaming HD movies. It also has a built-in Wi-fi transreceiver with b, g and n compatible speeds.
The player has only HDMI video output and no analogue audio output, so please be careful and select this player only if you have latest compatible gadgets. To stream HD videos, one needs to have a Giga-Ethernet connection from the LAN switch, as even the highest speed wireless protocols like (n-Extreme) do not allow wireless streaming as a March standard (there are many proprietary and non-standardized solutions available), so having your peers and the player connected through Ethernet cables is advisable.
Easy to access ports and input options
If you have a generation old AV receiver with no HDMI switching then the video signal can be directly sent to your HDMI-capable display device and either coaxial or optical digital output can be connected to the AV receiver. Agreed that this will deprive you of HD sound, but the SD multi-channel sound will be possible through this setup. Apart from this highly considerate connectivity option there is nothing for the retro generation here!
It must be mentioned that the HD sound has only one format support—Dolby Digital, with no DTS HD sound decoding. An iPod dock would have been more appreciated than a cable as the iPod keeps dangling and the display is not always visible (it is not necessary to keep the TV on while listening to music).
AV MAX is a special interest audiophile magazine that focuses on reviewing high-end AV equipment like amplifiers, stereos, floorstanding speakers and related news
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