My first impressions of the AC Ryan Playon! HD2 (review)


Active Member
Here's my first impressions of the HD2, copy-pasted from my thread over on AC Ryan's site. I figured it might have a better audience here. It's quite a harsh first impressions review, but that's only because the device made such a bad impression.

I've used my Playon for a few hours now, so I thought this would be a good time to write some first impressions. Call it an quick review for the sake of the search engines.

I'm an open minded person, so let me start by saying I hope I'm somehow running the old software that everyone complains about. I updated the firmware shortly after first trying the unit and I haven't seen any difference so, while I hope I'm wrong, I'm going to guess that this is the new firmware which has so many fans.

In my opinion, the product is terrible. I mean it's really really bad. Conveying just how bad this is would take a lot of time which I'm not prepared to waste, so lets keep this short. It's awful!

Now, no disrespect to the developers. I'm sure that writing a whole UI is quite hard, but it isn't like they had nothing to go on. The world has plenty of great UIs for this sort of thing. I'm not just talking about layout or appearance. I'm talking about logic. Sometimes 'left' moves up a list, sometimes 'left' acts as hierarchical 'up' command. Rule #1 of user interfaces - consistency is already broken. This was the very first thing I discovered on the HD2 as, unsurprisingly, the first thing I wanted to do was get to the settings menu.

What else did I see in my few short hours playing around? Well, the fabled codec support isn't all that great. I put 3 files onto a USB stick, because the NTFS support is buggy and my computer, like the huge majority of computers in the world, won't work with EXT3. So these files were a h.264 AVI, an old FLV and an old MOV. Two of these files played, making a one in three failure rate. Yes, I could have played 20 more files and the failure rate may have been one in 23, but I didn't and it wasn't. I'm pretty sure MOV is still a significant format and I'd guess that Mac users still have lots of MOV files. Furthermore, MOV is just a container - it's not even like adding codec support. OGMs don't play either but I can convert the few OGMs I have as the format is obsolete now, despite being brilliant. I watched one file through which it played fine, although there were thunder-like crackles on the heavy bass which I'll check out, but I suspect is the player again.

Another thing hit me while I was minding my own business... it's slow! Painfully slow. Slower than my Raspberry Pi can run Debian and that's a full desktop OS on the same processor. And in the boot sequence it actually shuts off the video output while it starts up. So, you see the Playon logo for a few seconds, bright blue screen with no video for more seconds, then the UI. Why do this? Nothing else in the history of Earth does this. When it does finally boot about 10% of the screen real-estate is used for the menu. The rest is an enormous picture with a footer marker in the middle of the screen.

Video files not only have no preview thumbnail, the icon is an empty square. Not a coloured square - an empty square, the same colour as the background. And to move through a row of files in this peculiar blank thumbnail default view takes several seconds. About 1 second for each file.

I would like to copy a file from a flash drive to the hard disk. Good luck figuring that one out. Probably best to take it upstairs and plug it into the router with a cable, then set up sharing and copy files that way every time you want to transfer something. Forget the USB3 harddisk unless you're on Linux, and as for WiFi...

I tried to set-up WiFi by plugging in a dongle. If the Playon couldn't recognise the device the very least I would expect would be for there to be something somewhere saying "no antenna connected". The only thing that there is a "no access point found". That isn't the same. An access point is the thing you're connecting to. Is my dongle detected? I have no ides. I suspect not. Furthermore, AC Ryan have two methods of connecting listed. P2P and some quick button thing. Where is regular connection? I did see it once and got to a profiles screen. Nothing I pressed there did anything so I hit the tiny home button on the remote to get back to the home screen. Can I get back to that page? No.

Speaking of which, the remote is bad too. So many reviews rate this highly, along with the cables which are the best thing about the purchase. Unless the quality of consumer products dropped hugely over the last few years this remote is not a good remote. It's certainly the worst one I own, and it compares to a terrible universal remote I once bought from Aldi many years ago. A remote control for a media player that put the media nav keys at the bottom as an afterthought? And what are all the numbers and colours for? Teletext?

Speaking of product design, who makes a consumer product gloss black? I can't be bothered to go downstairs and check, but that looks like acrylic to me - so might last a few days before it gets scratched to pieces. I do hope it's a least ABS. Haven't the designers heard of VDI? Maybe "VDI30" will bring it up through a search engine. Mine, like many people's I expect, was scratched when it came out of the box. Lots of hair line scratches and what looks like a heat-bending burn, but it must be a scratch too because no-one would heat-bend gloss black acrylic to make a case for a product that costs £130. The case is over-sized as well for what's in it and the centre of gravity is way off centre. Cue the comments circa "get a HD2 Mini".

I had read many reviews of the HD2 and the HD2 Mini. And the HD, HD Mini and Essential. And the DVR. I wanted to get a good impression of the system that I would be buying into. The reviews were very mixed: ranging from terrible to fantastic. I wanted AC Ryan to have done something brilliant, so I read with cautious optimism, quickly dismissing the one star average rating on Amazon by thinking that this device was for techies and these people were just struggling with basic set-up issues. The reality is that there is so much that needs fixing with this player, hope is almost certainly futile. The only reason it isn't already packaged up is because I'm going to give it a chance. It may be that I can put OpenElec/XBMC on it when the ARM port is finished. If not just tell me now.

If I have focused on the negatives it's because they are the things that jump out. And yes, there's a high likelihood that it will be going back. I might write a later impressions piece if I keep it long enough.

I will now expect dozens of "if you don't like it take it back" responses, and others which lack any humanity. After all, we are on the Internet. It's predictable. I don't feel like wasting any more time predicting what people will say. One day I might make a list and put it as my signature.


Distinguished Member
A lot of the problems aren't really AC Ryan and are more the designer of the hardware/software which is Realtek. AC Ryan hasn't launched any new Realtek players, they seem to be focusing on the Veleo their in-house Android media player.

Realtek don't care at all about good GUI design, they don't care at all about speed, they don't care about how buggy or unpolished the chipset it. The only thing Realtek care about is low cost and supporting the latest buzzwords like 3D or USB3.

Realtek players are MIPS based not Arm and they also lack a GPU too so XBMC wont be appearing on them, though amusingly enough Realtek put a GPU in it's newest 1186 series but didn't bother to actually use it at all (that's the mentality your dealing with) they only put it because the MIPS port of Android needed it which also runs on those models. It's a dual boot player between linux and Android OS.

You know all those crappy utilities with horrible UI's you've seen accompany Taiwanese PC motherboards, I think Realtek is staffed entirely with those folk.

Things in the XBMC set top box world are heating up slowly...
* Hints dropped on XBMC forum (my guess possible Arm set top box)
* Arm players using Allwinner A10 chipset fully open no restrictions
* Raspberry Pi of course but still that lacks in certain areas like hardware codec decoding
* Sigma Designs have been porting XBMC to their next gen MIPS chipsets though they are long overdue.
* The Pulse Eight guys sell a XBMC HTPC with it's own remote, the closest thing to a proper XBMC set top box for now.
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