Asus O!Play HDP-R1 £74.99
14th Aug 2009 | 11:35
The media streamer that plays everything - but is it any good?
Asus O!Play HDP-R1: Overview
The O!Play HDP-R1 is a new media box from Taiwanese tech giant Asus.
The problem with media players is that many of them aren't very good. Some of them, in fact, are absolutely terrible. The interfaces are often horrible to navigate. They're slow to respond to commands. And they often aren't compatible with all the files you want to play on them.
Is the Asus O!Play HDP-R1 one of these terrible devices? Or does it stand triumphant as one of the best media streamers available?
At first glance, the first Asus O!Play has a lot of potential. It plays almost any media format you can imagine, including the Matroska '.mkv' container – the current de facto file format for user-created HD video.
The O!Play plays these files (including the usual MP3, AVI, DivX, Xvid and other formats too) either via a USB storage device or over a wired LAN. Technically this is a media streamer, but the lack of a wireless connection is puzzling to say the least.
The video options include a standard composite connection and also HDMI – an absolute must if you're going to be playing back 1080p video. And there's also a solitary USB port alongside an E-SATA connection for plugging in your storage devices direct.
In the box you get the player itself, as well as an IR remote control, composite video cable and power adapter.
Asus O!Play HDP-R1: Performance
Firstly, playing media from a USB device works like a dream. The interface is a bit clunky, and there's always a split second delay between you pressing a button in the supplied remote control and the menu system responding. But in general, it's easy to navigate to your files on a USB stick and playback is pretty snappy.
So far, so good then. But the bad things start happening when you try to use the O!Play on a network.
Technically, what should happen is that you plug the O!Play into either your office or home network via an Ethernet cable. And then you should be able to navigate to your PC in the O!Play interface, navigate your shared folders, and play your videos and music.
Sadly, that's not quite how things transpired in our test. We tried to get the O!Play streaming content from both Windows 7 and Windows Vista machines but to no avail. While the device could detect the PCs on the network, it persistently asked for username and passwords before it would access the content on those PCs.
This is despite there not being any password protection enabled any of our machines. We had various other devices set up in our testing room, including both an Xbox 360 and a PS3. Both of these devices could stream from our PCs without a problem. But the O!Play would not play ball.
We even gave the device to our colleagues on the Official Windows Magazine to try. They had the same problem we did – it just wouldn't work.
And somewhat perplexingly, the user manual which comes on a CD-ROM, only had instructions for how to set the device up to work with Windows XP – an operating system that's completely defunct in all sectors other than the netbook market.
NAS access works
The O!Play accessed our NAS box happily enough, but as most people are unlikely to have one of these, the device should seamlessly work with Windows PCs. But it doesn't.
Our other gripe with the network connectivity is the lack of a wireless connection. We can only think it must be a cost-cutting measure to no include WiFi, because the benefits of having Wireless in a device like this are obvious - even if streaming HD would require 802.11n rather than the more prevalent 802.11g.
Faffing around with wired connections is a hassle – plus, the overwhelming majority of broadband-connected homes out there are Wi-Fi only. By not including Wireless, Asus has alienated the vast majority of its potential market.
It's not going too well then – and unfortunately there are more black marks to come.
Asus O!Play HDP-R1: Video problems
When we test devices like this, we're always sure to try absolutely everything – to make sure it's not going to crash when you access a certain option or menu etc.
We tried setting the screen output to 1080i while the O!Play was plugged into a screen that was not capable of displaying that exact resolution. The screen went black, and displayed the on-screen warning 'out of range' – exactly what we were expecting to happen.
The next thing we would have expected would be for the O!Play to realise the problem and to return to the original display setting. Otherwise we'd be left staring helplessly at a blank screen!
To our horror, the O!Play did not detect the problem and we were left with the blank screen of death.
But don't panic – there's a master reset button on the side of the device. If we give that a poke with a paper clip, the O!Play will return to its master settings and then it'll be ok – right?
Wrong. The master reset seemingly did nothing other than turn the device off and on again. The display problem remained. We had to return to our test room in order to plug it back into a Full HD display and change the settings that way.
This is a fundamental flaw – not least because most people don't have multiple screens knocking around. If this kind of thing happened to most people, they'd be screwed, and for that the O!Play cannot be forgiven.
Asus O!Play HDP-R1:Verdict
So the Asus O!Play HDP-R1 promises much, and in some respects it's a very reasonably priced performer. It plays almost any file format you can imagine, and it only costs £80.
However, as much as we tried to love it, we simply can't recommend it due to the serious flaws we encountered during testing.
File compatibility is probably the best out of any streamer out there. The addition of MKV compatibility is extremely welcome, and streaming from an external storage device is a painless experience.
Streaming from a Windows PC was an impossibility. The documentation suggests it was designed to work mainly with Windows XP which seems utterly bizarre.
The display problems we encountered were equally as confusing and points to some seriously lazy firmware programming. It's possible that a future firmware update might fix these problems but until that happens, these two issues are both massive deal-breakers.
The Asus O!Play HDP-R had so much potential but ultimately, you'd be mad to buy one until the serious flaws have been addressed.