The O!Play HD2 is a flexible streamer that gets even better if you add a hard disk
crisp pictures and punchy audio
provision to add a hard disk
Apple has more on-demand content
While the second-gen Apple TV at an alluring £100 has raised the profile of media streamers, it's far from the only device that's available for that money.
Witness the oddly named Asus O!Play HD2 leading the charge against Jobs' machine.
It doesn't get off to the best of starts, mind. This is a fairly chunky beast next to the Apple TV, and while we appreciate having slots for different types of memory card, they look very messy on the front panel – couldn't they be hidden behind a flap or something?
It does have something the Apple TV doesn't, though: provision for a hard disk. It's fiddly to install one, but for less that £45 you can add 1TB of storage, turning the O!Play into a NAS that can distribute files on your network.Impressive video performanceWhether you add a hard disk or not, the Asus is a very capable media player.
Its broad format support takes in hi-def footage with Dolby TrueHD pass through and decoding, but even the more common 720p MKV files you're likely to find on the internet look crisp and vibrant.
More after the break
The punchy audio delivery makes for exciting soundtracks, and it even has a reasonable stab with music.
As you'd probably expect, it lacks the Apple's on-demand library, but the Asus can access internet radio and there are plans to add internet TV in the very near future – though not in the form of BBC iPlayer or LoveFilm, which would be our first choices.
Computer-based devices like this tend to be a fiddle to use, and accessing network shares and the like can be a bit tricky with the O!Play, but by the general standards of the class it's comparatively neat and straightforward to operate, and there'll soon be an iPhone controller app available.
As a non-restrictive alternative to the Apple TV, it's very tempting.