I’ve gotten my hands on an Asus OPlay Live HD Media Player, one of the latest Asus media streamers and players to come out, and given it a test run against the LG Smart TV Upgrader I already had in my living room that I’ve also reviewed here some time ago.
Initial setup for the ASUS unit is simple; It has an HDMI connector, an optical sPDIF out for digital audio, a network and a power connector in the back, on one side is a memory card reader that can handle four of the most popular memory card types, and on the other side are a USB connector and an eSATA port for external storage like USB portable drives.
Powering it on shows the usual ASUS logo for a few seconds followed by a sleek intuitive menu which allows you to navigate through the different operations that the box can handle.
Using the Internet Media icon, it was simple enough to setup my Netflix account with the help of a laptop, and then stream a Futurama episode. It also gives a few other pre-programmed choices for Internet media including YouTube, Pandora and Flickr. There is also support for RSS streams, Internet TV (which as always, blows monkey balls) and Picasa.
On a side note, why do makers of these boxes keep bundling them with Internet TV as if it were some kind of priority in America? I mean I can see why it could be useful in China or North Korea or even Quebec, but most of the units are going to be sold to people in the UK and North America, otherwise the box would be written in Chinese, Korean or French rather than English.
There are approximately 12 Internet TV channels that broadcast in English, 9 of which are from the Canadian house of commons, two are infomercials and the last one is a BBC news loop. I’ve never found anything interesting on any of them. Even the BBC news channel is terrible and it repeats every 15 minutes.
Missing are Facebook and Twitter which would have been a nice add-on, while watching movies you could follow a twitter feed. Although in retrospect we all have smartphones, tablets and iPads.
Then looking through the directory browsing menu it immediately detected my network shares, prompted for my network password and made all my shared files available for streaming, I tested an episode of Top Gear and it worked flawlessly, the picture quality is great at 720p as my TV doesn’t go any higher.
The little box also comes with some software from Asus called O!Direct, which is used to stream your media from a PC to the media player without the need to setup any shares, I’m not going to be using this function as I’m already using TVersity to stream to my Playstation 3 and all my Android tablets (look for my review of the Lenovo K1 Ideapad coming soon) including my smartphone. I’m going to stick to the normal share system. The O!Direct software claims to be able to stream directly to the device from your laptop for instance, by simply right-clicking on the file and sending it to the box, I’ve not tried this function but if it works as advertised, it would be similar to the Intel TV system or the system built into Windows 7.
The remote control is almost identical to the one that shipped with the previous versions of the box, however, my specific remote control didn’t seem to have that much range, I had to constantly aim it at the box for it to work, as if the ray of action for it was limited. The problem went away once I started using my Logitech Harmony 880 remote instead of the original one. This leads me to believe that I got a faulty remote or at least a less effective one.
It might also be that the cheapest batteries in the Universe, also known as “the batteries that come free with remotes” could be tired.
What I’d like to see next time, is a passthrough device, something I could plug my satellite receiver in the back of, and that would play that to my TV along with a Twitter feed or Facebook updates, email, news or RSS feeds. That would be cool, for instance to follow the NHL playoffs.
-Sleek intuitive interface
-Quick response through menus
-Good quality picture
-Ease of setup and use
-Versatile support for streaming Internet media
The bad and ugly:
-No support for Twitter or Facebook feeds
-Bad remote control, or batteries are made of recycled bat droppings
Final thoughts: This is definitely a step up from the LG Smart TV Upgrader, not in functionality as they both do pretty much the same thing, but in the way to get there. The interface menus are quicker, more intuitive than the LG’s. The Asus hasn’t crashed (rebooted) on me since I hooked it up, almost a week. The LG unit crashed with swiss regularity whenever I used it, forcing me to wait through long reboots even with the latest firmware update. For that the Asus gets a full popcorn box for rating.