Media Streamers and Hubs Guide
Features & Performance
A Different Android Story
When we powered on the PlayXtreme 2, it took slightly under a minute to hit the home screen. For those interested, the player uses an Amlogic single-core SoC based on the ARM Cortex-A9 that runs at 800MHz, along with 512MB of DDR2 RAM.
The PlayXtreme 2 runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) under the hood, which is slightly newer than the Android 2.2 (Froyo) that powers the AC Ryan Veolo. And the method for navigating the respective user interface couldn't be more different. The Veolo requires one to wave the remote in order to move the onscreen cursor, similar to how a Nintendo Wii remote functions; and in our opinion, this has made the whole experience clunky and awkward, especially when Android is designed with touch in mind. The PlayXtreme 2, on the other hand, incorporates a small touch-enabled surface on its remote. If you are accustomed to swiping the touchscreen on your smartphone, you should get the hang of this touch pad pretty fast. While some hand-eye coordination is needed, we feel that this is still easier to get used to than the Veolo's wave-the-remote method.
Aztech has created a very simple custom skin over the default Android UI, and there are no customizable widgets or shortcuts on the home screen. What you get once the player hits the home screen is a row of function icons (such as music, movie, web, picture, setting, applications, just to name a few) which you can simply use the d-pad on the remote to scroll through.
Also, take note that more icons will appear if you kept scrolling at the end of the list, but only if you used the d-pad. If you opt to use the touch pad to navigate the UI right from the get-go, you may not realize that the list carries on at the ends of the screen. So you may miss out important functions, such as the File Manager. Overall, this UI serves its purpose well: it's a boon to use if you just want to watch some video, listen to some music, or surf the web.
However, once you have made your choice, we found that that’s where the custom skin ends. Whatever you choose to do - watch videos, listen to music, browse the web, access the settings menu - will all bring up the default Android 2.3 system apps for the respective functions. If you've played with Android 2.3 on a smartphone before, you will find yourself right at home.
Of course, one of the biggest advantages of running Android is to gain access to all of the apps in the Google Play store. Maybe because we had one of the earlier units, our PlayXtreme 2 originally only contained the 1Mobile Market app. An app market for Android, 1Mobile provides about 200,000 free apps for download, less than half of what the Google Play store currently offers. But before we could install Google Play, we had to do a firmware update first; the latter can be found on Aztech's support webpage. We simply ran the firmware file after copying it onto a microSD card. Installing application (APK) files on the PlayXtreme 2 is pretty straightforward too: the AppInstaller app (which is the app used to install and uninstall your APK files) is found in the Application folder on the home screen.
Gaming on the Big Screen
As Android is optimized to work with smaller screens (at this moment) and with direct touch input in mind, many apps, especially games, don’t really work out to be a fun or intuitive experience when they're on a big TV screen. While the touch pad is a nice touch (pun intended), there's still an added layer of friction, since we can't manipulate elements directly by touching the TV screen. We tried Angry Birds on the PlayXtreme 2, and while the touch pad on the remote made it easier to navigate and play the game, it didn’t allow us to pinch to expand the screen view. Furthermore, the experience felt weird when we tried to catapult birds on screen while adjusting the angles with the remote in our hands. In other words, don't set your hopes too high if an app requires delicate or precise controls.
Video Playback Performance
While no media player has gotten it perfect when it comes to running Android under an intuitive and useful custom interface, Aztech can be said to be doing a decent job with the PlayXtreme 2. And let's not forget the whole point behind using Android in a non-mobile device such as a media player. The wealth of apps available in the Google Play store provides many forms of entertainment and alternatives for music and video playback. In a nutshell, the PlayXtreme 2 had no problems handling whatever we threw at it. 1080p videos played without a hitch, and popular media formats such as AVI, MP4 and WMV files were all handled with aplomb. But like what we've encountered on the Veolo, ISO image files were still a no-go (despite what's being written in the spec sheet), due to the lack of native support for this format for Android. Hence, our search for a media player app that can mount and read DVD/BD-ISO files had also turned out to be fruitless. So if you've a lot of ISO files, be prepared to convert them into another file format.
While the PlayXtreme 2 comes with built-in wireless connectivity, we would still suggest going the wired route to ensure smooth streaming of 1080p HD content. 720p however should pose no issues for 802.11n Wi-Fi.