As to using the O!Play to play media from direct-connected USB storage sources, we’re not sure if it is really worth the time it takes to physically copy files to a removable hard drive or flash drive just to be able to view them on a TV. Accessing these files over a network connection from a system, NAS device, or other UPnP device, however, is a much more useful feature--albeit, the O!Play suffers from a few network-related problems. Hopefully, these issues will all be resolved with the forthcoming firmware update--especially the inability to connect with Windows 7 systems. It is also important to note what the O!Play is not--it can access media that is either stored on an attached hard drive or stored on a system or device connected to the local network, but the O!Play cannot access media from the Internet, such as from YouTube, Flickr, or Pandora.
Even with the network functionality working as expected, there are still the issue of potentially navigating through a tangled web of file folders and oddly named files, and having to scroll through folders that contain hundreds of files. If you were to use the O!Play on a regular basis to view your media files on your TV, you’d really want to spend some prep time organizing your media collection so that it is easy to maneuver through with the O!Play’s limited navigation capabilities and inability to search for files.
After spending a few weeks living with the O!Play, we’ve come up with a number of usage scenarios in which we feel the O!Play would be ideal. The first is for showing home movies and photos to visiting friends and family--instead of everyone crowding around a computer screen, your visitors can watch from the comfort of the living room couch. Another viable scenario is for those users who download a lot of video from the Internet--although the caveat here is that unless the video is high quality it’s not going to look all that great when blown up on a widescreen TV. Some users (who have lots of storage space) like to rip all of their DVDs; such users could use the O!Play to access their entire movie library and switch to any title, simply on a whim--all while never leaving the couch. There are probably dozens of additional usage scenarios that haven’t even occurred to us (or others that have occurred to us, but we chose not to mention because they condone illegal activity or potentially morally prurient behavior)--if you have digital media, the O!Play offers a relatively inexpensive means for you to view it on your TV.
In our opinion, the O!Play feels like a product that isn’t quite finished yet--it has yet to achieve its full potential. If the 01.16N firmware update delivers everything it promises, then the O!Play will come even closer to a finished product in our eyes. An Asus spokesperson even told us that in addition to what has be announced about the 01.16N firmware, it will also bring with it “a few other surprises.” We like surprises.
Note: Firmware version 1.17N was released after this review was written. Once we've had a chance to put the new firmware through the paces, we will post an update to this review.