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ASUS O! Play Mini

If the DVD and Blu-ray discs were sentient, this would be the time when they should seriously consider how long before they become obsolete. (Especially the DVD, the older format.) The reason they should ponder how long they have before they go the way of the Laserdisc and Betamax is the rapid migration of media to digital.

As Steve Jobs foresaw (rest in piece, our friend), the media we once held physically (CDs, DVDs, photos, etc.) is now largely available in digital format. If you’re a regular reader of this website, you’re probably a geek like us; notice how seldom you buy DVDs now? Your suki in Metrowalk probably misses you already. Why is this so? In our experience, there are two reasons: downloads and sharing (of downloads).

That’s why we’re seeing more digital media players in the market. Among the newest entries is the Asus O! Play Mini. It’s a funky-looking device, the case is colored black with swirly light designs, and the whole unit can easily be held in one hand.

Setup is more than easy. Plug the power adapter into the unit, connect the HDMI cable from the O! Play Mini to your TV, and feed some media into the media player. For those using televisions without HDMI ports, the standard red, white and yellow AV slots are available. In front of the unit you will see a USB slot and an SD card slot for receiving hard drives and SD cards respectively.

Actually the card slot can also accept MMC (if you remember those), Memory Stick and xD cards. Nifty feature, but who still uses those last three card formats? Photo buffs who want to show off their feeling-photographer photos right away will be happy to know the O! Play supports various picture file formats like JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF and even TIFF files.

For video purposes-and let’s admit this is what most of us will use it for – the O! Play Mini will play almost anything you feed it: MPEG, AVI, Xvid, WMV, MKV and even FLV files. Although in my experience some FLV formats failed to render. But it’s safe to say it will play all of the popular file formats in use today. And the playback is smooth. Even the large MKV files played back with no stutter and pixelation. It also displayed the subtitles, something that usually required the use of the VLC player in computers.

So is the ASUS O! Play Mini a flawless media player? Not quite. While it plays most media formats effortlessly, how it plays them is another matter. We’re talking about the interface. And when one talks about interface it basically refers to two things: ease of use and aesthetics. The graphics this one uses is dull. It doesn’t look like the product of a tech powerhouse, there’s not much design and polish.

Why does interface design matter? Aren’t we going to primarily watch videos anyway? That’s true. But home entertainment is a competitive arena. The players from Western Digital have eye-pleasing graphics and a well-designed menu system. It’s a joy to navigate files using their players. Heck, the Samsung Series 5 LCD TV we used to review the device had a built-in media player via its USB slot, and that had a better interface, too.

It matters because once a media player can play HD files – and ASUS prominently displays the O! Play Mini’s HD capability on the box – we’re talking about people who take video a bit seriously. People like you for instance. And when you’ve spent a good chunk of your Christmas bonus on a kick-ass 42-inch LCD TV and a rocking surround system, an unsightly media player interface is the weak link in your system.

The O! Play Mini also has a remote, but it’s a basic controller that looks like it came from ASUS’ large bin of generic controllers. It does the job, and it’s not a bad device, but there’s that unshakeable feeling that the quality could have been better. The buttons are mushy and sometimes they need more than one press to work.

There are a lot of things going for the Asus O! Play Mini (certainly not that name), which retails for P4,700. It’s small, it’s easy to setup and it plays most media file formats. But a little more polish could have gone a long way.

ASUS O! Play Mini in the Buyer’s Guide, head here!

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