Over the past two years, ASUS has released a string of media players, with the latest being the well-equipped O!Play HD2 media player last year. Without letting the proverbial iron cool, ASUS is expanding its range with the release of the HD2’s little sibling, the O!Play MINI, barely half a year after the HD2.
Unlike the HD2, the O!Play MINI has no option for internal storage, which explains its small footprint. It however retains the black plastic design of its older sibling. It could even pass off as an external hard disk drive at first glance, with curved edges and a flat, black plastic top.
The small MINI can fit into your palms and at 175g, it barely weighs anything due to its mostly plastic construction. We have to admit that it felt flimsy and we weren't too sure if it would survive an accidental drop. Like any typical set top box or media player, it can only run on the provided AC adapter and lacks the ability to run on batteries. This is a gadget that is tethered to your display, be it your big screen HDTV or a desktop monitor.
Among the features ASUS left on the cutting room floor is any form of wired or wireless connectivity. The MINI is a rarity in today's media player scene. It is a HD media player that cannot stream any content from your home network, nor can it enable users to post their pictures online on Flickr, or read newsfeeds. Manufacturers tend to add more features, so it's a bit of a surprise that ASUS is going back to the basics with this spartan HD media player.
Despite its small size and basic functionality, the MINI does not compromise on its format support. It plays everything. From the more common AVI to MKV to even RMVB, these formats played smoothly without lag. We tried a number of storage devices - USB thumb drive, SD card and external hard disk - and the MINI handled them all without any issues.
Audio on the MINI, with its ability to crank out 7.1 surround audio DTS 2.0+, True HD and DTS-HD was also tested via the HDMI and the optical S/PDIF output and we are glad to report that it worked flawlessly.
ASUS offers its exclusive RightTxT auto subtitle detection feature, which claims to automatically detect which subtitle is appropriate - likely based on your language choice in the Settings and your region - and choose the right subtitle. Obviously, one needs a proper video file with multiple subtitles. We tried some videos in MKV format with subtitles and the player handled them with the accompanying subtitles with no problems.
The O!Play MINI is without doubt a capable HD media player that handles a wide range of formats. However, the cheap construction may turn some people off. We also would prefer component video outputs as opposed to the included composite video/audio outputs, but there is understandably a lack of available real estate on this small player for such options. On the plus side, it comes bundled with a HDMI cable, which is something that more manufacturers should adopt.
While it fulfills the basic functionality of a HD media player, the MINI lacks many of the features that are increasingly considered essential, even if they add to the price of the gadget. Network connectivity is a huge feature that's missing on the MINI and though we understand the reasons for removing it, we can't agree with that. It's a good thing that ASUS does have other O!Play devices like the Air, which includes this functionality.
The ASUS O!Play MINI is hence a throwback to an older, less connected era, offering just the essential functions of a HD media player. We don't have the exact retail price yet, but it will surely be offered at a much lower price than its more powerful siblings.