A friend of mine happened to recommend the ASUS O!Play Air media player to me and since the cost factor was tempting, I decided to buy it for myself. The need was to have the player play my media files over the wireless connection from an attached 2TB western digital hard drive and occassionally stream content from the internet - either videos or internet radio channels to be precise.
So did the Asus O!Play satisfy me? Read on! I ll make this review easier to comprehend by dividing it into crisp sections so you can read what interests you more about it.
Package & Cost
The O!Play Air is the third in the series of players Asus has released recently. The package itself is a compact one with the player, a HDMI cable, installation CDs for PC utilities and a rather chunky remote control. The power adaptor also had different country pin compatilibity. A manual accompanied the box and that's pretty much it. One has to also at this point note that Asus is primariliy a hardware oriented company from Taiwan which has since spread its reach to other geographies. My expectation hence out of the software for this player was not great. The cost of the package was Malaysian ringgit 400, which works out to Rs.6000 INR. Not bad at all for what it provides. Competing media players which provide wireless capabilities are priced 1.5 times more than this box which makes this one an attractive proposition.
Setting up the box & connections
Setting up the box was rather straightforward, with just connecting up the inputs (RCA cable in my case), installing batteries for remote (which it came with by the way) and powering it on. Under system settings one can set the box to either work over LAN, wireless or even PPPoE. LAN was simple to configure to use DHCP IP addressing and the box could acquire an IP dynamically in a pretty straightforward manner. Wireless configuration was not exactly pleasant to set up though one only had to choose the access points nearby and hook onto one of them either on open system or a shared WEP key basis. If this were to have been done manually one has to use the rather uneasy remote to click on an alphabetic keyboard just with arrow and OK keys which made configuration cumbersome.
User interface and Navigation
I already mentioned that ASUS is primarily a hardware oriented company. Its no surprise then that one can expect only a sparse user interface on their products unless they are high end ones. In this context the primary menu is just a circular carousel menu cycling between online media, music, photos, files, and setup. Go into any of these and you are greeted with a simple list based navigation menu. Navigation itself is fast enough, but the remote control plays spoilsport in giving you the best experience. The IR receiver is not exactly accurate to handle remote control inputs.
Quality of audio/video
This is where the Asus is strong. It does what it states on the box. Plays all formats without a fuss. By default the thumbnail option is set to playing video even while control is on the list. This can be disabled however. Asus has been stupid enough to have this option as it keeps playing the same video endlessly with full volume even within the PIP window. Asus also handles media which is on USB stick, or via an eSATA connection. It also sports SD/CF and MMC slots. At the rear it has an ethernet port, HDMI output for digital TVs, RCA outputs for analog TVs and a power adaptor socket. Simple in design and very functional is the way one can put the characteristics of this box.
This is an area which is oft disregarded by small time players, or implemented very badly with respect to funtionality. Asus has not skimped on this and provides a lot of internet TV and radio channels, besides flickr and other internet portal support. Youtube however is not supported which is a shame. You can add your favorite channels any time you want from this list for easy accessbility and a good internet connection will mean you can access your likes fast enough.
Software updates and support
Asus releases software updates which can conveniently be copied to a USB key, and loaded onto the box with minimal fuss. The online forums are not exactly exciting so expect delays in implementing your suggestions. Support forums are also minimalistic but they do have useful suggestions to get you out of problems you face with the box.
Remote control and other quirks
These are better bulleted as under
- Remote control sucks big time as the IR sensitivity is too low
- There is no alphabetic keypad when compared to boxes like Boxee Box, which makes entering alphabetic information an irritating affair
- Box does not remember wireless network credentials if switched off, which is pretty shameful for a product like this making users enter this information again and again. This happens if one of either the box or the router is switched off.
- Logging onto network hard disks is cumbersome as it asks for network login credentials each time which sucks.
- Though box does not hang, some menu items appear disabled without rhyme or reason and Asus has not bothered to spend time on fixing these issues.
- The carousel menu isn't the most exciting on this product. Asus could have outsourced UI to a different company if they did not have the skills.
- The user interface assets or artifacts like screens, fonts could have been designed in a much better way consider the TVs they show up on
- When a user presses a key to go to a different menu, Asus does not give preference to that key press, instead it keeps doing what it was already doing. This is a delay for the user who will not appreciate this much
So long as Asus provides some quality fixes for the user interface behaviour, this box is good. If not its best to stay away from buying this box, considering the quirks mentioned above, even if it comes cheap!
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