Most tech companies nowadays know that it's risky to pigeonhole themselves in one product category. One growing category that memory and components manufacturers have tried to diversify to is media players. ASUS is an example of a manufacturer that has been active in the media player scene for a while now, but what does its popular offering, the ASUS O!Play HD2, bring to the table?
ASUS is touting the HD2 as the world's first media player to include USB 3.0 support. This media player can be installed with a 3.5-inch HDD for more storage capacity while it can also function as a NAS. It even allows your iPhone to be used as a remote! With so many unique features, let's see if it's really the jewel in ASUS' crown.
Like the ASUS O!Play HDP-R1 and the O!Play Air, the HD2 has a exterior shell of glossy plastic that most media players on the market sport. Most manufacturers don’t seem to realize that the glossy plastic not only attracts fingerprints, but makes the players look cheap. Unfortunately, the HD2 also draws ‘inspiration’ from its predecessor’s uninspired and boxy designs, though the HD2 does try to be a tad more interesting with a non-level base and some patterns across its glossy top. However, we also found that the glossy top was prone to scratches and further amplified numerous fine scratches, marring the surface of the player.
On first glances, you might be taken aback by just the size of the package it comes in. Recall that we mentioned that the O!Play HD2 is capable of housing a 3.5-inch internal HDD? That alone made the unit a lot larger than standard media players and a lot like the recently reviewed A.C.Ryan Playon!HD2. While the HD2 is large and bulky, it is surprisingly light. If the WD Live Hub was a sleek Porsche, the HD2 would be the equivalent of a German Leopard tank. Due to the HD2's design to accommodate a 3.5-inch drive, a large portion of the unit is actually empty and awaits a user to install a HDD if he so wishes to do so. Take note that while the power and data cables are already provided within, they are really long and not only look messy when a hard drive is connected, but also make closing the lid of the media player more difficult than it should be.
Design aside, let's take a look at some of the ports and connectivity options. On the front of the unit, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one of which doubles up as an eSATA connector as well. There are also card reader slots for CF cards, SD/MMC cards and MS/Pro Duo memory cards. We did like the inclusion of the card readers and the fact that the front face alone has two USB ports, which makes it convenient to connect various devices to it.
Turning the player around, we found composite and component video ports. Audio-wise, there are also digital optical and coaxial outputs. Additional ports include a lone HDMI port and a third USB port! There's yet a fourth USB port at the back and this is the USB 3.0 port that ASUS proudly touts. Take note that it's a slave USB 3.0 port, meaning that it can't act as a USB host controller to communicate with other USB 3.0 capable devices. However the USB 3.0 slave port allows you to connect the media player to a USB 3.0 capable PC which will then act as the host, while the ASUS O!Play HD2 acts as a external hard drive (provided that a storage drive has been installed within it). You can then transfer media content speedily into the HD2.
As for the remote, we were thankful that ASUS decided to drop the weird and curved remote design of the O!Play Air and went with a more conventional rectangular one. The remote has shortcut keys for almost every function and so we can safely say that there was little wasted space on this remote. Simple, direct and functional is how we can describe it. The remote's size made it feel comfortable in our hands, and there was enough tactile feedback from the buttons. The buttons are large enough, though because of their size, ASUS could not include more buttons on the remote itself. Instead, you'll have to access some of these options via the UI, which we'll explore on the following page.