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Review: Asus O!play HDP-RI

Written on Jan 14, 2010 by Jesse Raab and filed under Reviews

The Asus O!play HDP-RI is not a brand new streamer, but I was recently able to test this device in my home theater systems and found it certainly holds its own against other streaming devices. From the moment I opened this box up I sensed Asus had delivered a quality device.

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It is physically heavier than I expected. It is also large compared to the recently reviewed Netgear EVA2000, measuring roughly twice the size. It is an attractive device. The front and sides are wrapped in a glossy black/transparent plastic and the top of the device is a nice black matte textured finish. It certainly looks right at home amongst the other entertainment rack components.

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As with most streaming media players setup was a breeze. Asus provides a standard a/v cable in the box, but most will hook this up using an HDMI cable which was not included. An spdif optical output is available for providing digital audio, allowing you to get the full audio resolution of the files you are watching. A small laptop style power adapter keeps the machine running cool and quiet.

Like my recent review of the Netgear EVA2000 I decided to start this device off in my bedroom attached to a 32 inch LCD via HDMI. Also included were a small remote that was very light and felt comfortable in the hand. It had all the expected buttons for navigating through the menus and chapters of your favorite movies.

Software

At the heart of any streaming media player is the software which allows you to find and play all your media. The software here is responsive without very much lag between key-presses on the remote and movement through the on-screen guide.

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The home screen gives options for Music, Movies, Photos, as well as copying files and changing settings. Entering the menus for Music, Movies or Photos brings you to options for attached storage, your network storage, and after updating the firmware UPnP devices. The Asus box had no problem finding my storage server. Once selecting a storage location the menus for all three media types are pretty similar. Drilling down through the various folders to select your desired media. The Music, Movies, and Photo menus only differ in the file types they recognize.

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At times the navigation can be a bit tedious although it is quite intuitive. The software behaves similarly to a file explorer in windows, clicking on a folder will open it and folders or files below will be shown. If you have your media arranged in too deep of folders this can mean many key-presses to get where you are going. It would have been nice for Asus to provide a means to create shortcuts to your main media folder. To navigate from the Home screen to my movie files on my server required a minimum of 6 folders to navigate through.

Video Playback

The Asus O!play supports an impressive amount of formats. In my tests with the box I threw a lot of different files and resolutions at the machine and it had very few problems. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, my personal library of media is ripped almost exclusively to video_ts folders for DVDs and my CDs have been ripped to audio. I only have a few Blu-rays which all were first ripped to a folder structure and then placed in .mkv containers, with a few .iso files kept around for testing purposes. This was no problem at all for the machine. Further the quality is excellent. Even my standard definition DVD rips came out looking excellent on my 32 inch screen. With a few exceptions I noticed no pixellation or stuttering during playback. Within a few minutes I forgot I wasn’t watching the original disc. In comparison to my other players I think playback via the Asus is only bested by my HD-DVD player (an HD-A2) which is known to perform up-conversion very well. Playback certainly stacked up very well to my newly built HTPC.

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There were a few problems however I did encounter. On the ancient firmware that was delivered on this box (1.07n) some of my Blu-ray rips did have problems. The mkv file of Quantum of Solace stuttered and dropped frames badly. The Asus ethernet port is not gigabit, however this should be sufficient for Blu-ray playback. I was also unable to connect to my Windows 7 running PC. I also was unable to play Blu-ray .iso files.

A quick search of the Asus website showed a newer version of firmware (1.17N). A number of improvements are listed, most importantly for the problems I have had were a reported networking improvement, access to Windows 7 PCs, and BD .iso support. The update process was simple and involved just downloading a single file from Asus, transferring it to a USB drive, and plugging that into the Oplay. In the Settings menu there is an option for upgrading the firmware. After a few minutes I had completed the upgrade and was ready to check out the changes.

The new firmware changed the appearance of the menus slightly. A few new options appeared such as UPnP devices. I also could now access my Windows 7 PC. The added BD .iso support is a nice touch as well. Overall the update was an improvement, allowing me access to more of my media without having to change formats.

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Upon testing some of my problem Blu-rays all but two problems remained. Quantum of Solace still stuttered, although not as dramatically, while it does not on my HTPC. I swapped the Asus in as a direct replacement for the HTPC and the stuttering continued which rules out any network or cabling issues. While Bluray iso files could be played, they often stuttered. Playing the same rip as both a iso and mkv file showed this was specific to the iso format. I never had this problem with any regular DVD rips or 1080p HD movie trailers. These concerns were relatively minor in annoyance and most movie sources I had played back perfectly fine.

A second source for media I have recently discovered is Internet TV shows and HD movie trailers. Using a bittorrent client I automatically download new trailers and episodes of several technology TV shows. These tend to come in several formats, with resolutions ranging between 480p and 1080p. Thinking these would be a great source of varying format of source material I decided to give them a whirl. Not only was playback flawless and smooth, but quality was again great. Each recording I tried looked and sounded perfect and was easily the equal to my main HTPC.

I was so impressed with the quality that I felt the Asus deserved to get a trial in the main system. The Asus was again impressive in this setting. Moving to theater also allowed me to test the spdif optical output of the box as well. This worked very well, requiring just a quick change in the settings/audio panel. Sound was crisp and the DTS soundtrack on my Bluray rip was recognized without any problems.

The movie preview is a neat feature that plays the movie in a small window while scrolling through your videos. After a while the “neat” factor wears off and it becomes a hindrance, as it seem to slow up the scrolling. Fortunately a menu setting allows this feature to be turned off, which helps the responsiveness of the user interface tremendously.

Overall the Asus provides a good video experience. Attaching to networked storage is easy, and playback is of a very high quality. Most file types play without issue which allows you to just enjoy the media you have access to.

Music Playback

Music playback was very good. The O!play had no problem with any of the music formats I threw at it. Unsurprisingly, flac files sounded just like when played back via any of the other computers on the network. While there was no fancy visualization mode, the O!play does have a screensaver mode that becomes active after periods of inactivity.

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A more robust music playback frontend would be appreciated. The very simple filesystem format is the same as the Movies menu. In fact the only difference between the Movies and Music entries are the filetypes that show up upon entering a folder. There are entries for Artist, Album, or other category playback, but these seem limited to media connected via the USB or eSATA port. I would prefer a few more options for music playback. A shuffle mode would be a minimum, smart playlists and connection to Internet sources like Pandora or Last.fm would be even better. The manual suggests pushing the music icon on the remote will reshuffle the playlist. This doesn’t work as it should. Pushing this on the top level of a folder should put all music below into a shuffle playlist. No matter what I tried no shuffled playlist ever resulted from pushing that button.

Unsupported Features

The O!play has the ability to stream from UpnP servers. Once I updated the firmware I could navigate to my PlayOn media server running on my Windows 7 machine. The PlayOn system allows users to stream media from a large number of internet sources, most notably Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. Neither Asus or PlayOn make any claims that they work together and so any failures I describe here should not be a poor reflection on either company. A few scattered reports around the web reveal that several attempts have been made to try and get them working. I decided to see if I could get this feature running, as the ability to work with PlayOn would make this streamer a cut above most of its competition.

Success on this endeavor was a bit a bit mixed. I could get a picture from most of the services offered through PlayOn but often playback was interrupted by a buffering error, or in some cases a lack of any sound. Perhaps a later firmware revision from Asus or a software revision from Playon will get these two on the same page.

The network discovery of this box is very impressive. It found everything on my network, including m DirecTV HR20 box. Interestingly, it even could find the files of recordings on my DVR. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get playback to work here either. This would have been a really killer feature, allowing me to cheaply extend DVR functionality of my HD DVR to other rooms in the house.

I can’t hold it against Asus that these features didn’t work, since they don’t suggest that they do. Reporting my findings here was just a way to let people know what has been tried and what has been successful on this device.

Final Thoughts

Despite not being the newest media streamer on the block, the Asus O!play performs very admirably. The menu system is responsive and attractive. It can handle high definition video and a variety of codecs and containers. Asus sets out to make a media streamer that can offer robust playback of a large number of file types from a local storage device or your home network. At that task it certainly has succeeded. I was really impressed with the video quality this little box was able to put out. I tested the PlayOn media server because having even minimal non HD access to Netflix and Hulu streaming would make this a killer little box and a great price. This is a good effort by Asus into the media streaming arena, and I hope we see further revisions of similar quality in the near future.

Pros

  • Excellent picture quality
  • Wide array of formats
  • Price

Cons

  • No Internet streaming
  • Music interface lacks good playlist options

Rating – 4 out of 5 Stars


One Response to “Review: Asus O!play HDP-RI”

  1. That is really awesome. Reviews are also been good. Thanks a lot for posting such a good one. Hope you would continue the same.

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