Combining a media streamer and Freeview personal video recorder in one, the Wyplayer is a terrific piece of kit that offers loads of useful features. It's fairly expensive and the remote control needs some tweaking, but this device does a comprehensive job really well
Media streamers have become a big deal and, with video-on-demand streaming and downloads from big broadcasters on the way, we think their future is very bright indeed. Freeview personal video recorders are also very popular, having totally changed the way people watch TV, taking something that was complicated in the days of VHS, and turning it into something that even total technophobes can manage.
There is now, however, some movement to combine the two devices in one far simpler piece of hardware. Wyplay's Wyplayer is possibly the most comprehensive of such attempts.
The Wyplayer is available without a hard drive for around £280, with a 500GB hard drive for around £390, with a 750GB hard drive for around £415, and with a 1TB hard drive for around £430.
Is the name for real?
Yes, indeed it is. Wyplay is an OEM/ODM company, which means it makes hardware for other companies to badge as their own. The Wyplayer is Wyplay's attempt at cracking the consumer market, and, if successful, we'd expect there'll be more products from the company.
Is there anything it can't do?
It's fair to say that the Wyplayer can't make tea, coffee or peanut butter sandwiches, although it could just be that we haven't found the menu option for those features. We are, however, certain that it can play MP3s, show JPEGs and help you watch an enormous amount of media from your network-connected PC, Mac or network-attached storage device. It can also record Freeview on one of its twin tuners while you watch another channel using the other, and it offers all the usual PVR functionality you might expect.
Overall, the Wyplayer is an incredibly impressive piece of hardware. It could potentially replace two boxes under your TV and make your life much simpler. That said, we're yet to see a perfect piece of kit, and this machine is no exception.
The thing that annoys us most is that the Wyplayer can only output video at a 1080i resolution. There isn't anything wrong with 1080i -- it's the most popular broadcast high-definition format and most online video tops out at around 720p -- but most dedicated media streamers can output 1080p, and the omission of support for that format is nothing short of annoying.
Attractive and functional interface
To make everything as simple as possible, the Wyplayer uses what are known as 'universes'. These split the functions of the machine into logical sections. For example, there are universes for TV, music, online content and video. If you want to switch modes at any time, you just press the universe button on the remote, and it will bring up an overlay of the available options.
This is just one aspect of the user interface, but it's a good example of how much thought has been put into everything. The menus are all very pretty and, for the most part, work in a logical way. We'd actually go so far as to say that the Wyplayer's interface is as pleasing, or even more pleasing, to look at than the Apple TV's.
There's a couple of real issues that plague the Wyplayer during day-to-day use. Neither is a deal-breaker, but they do somewhat spoil the experience. Firstly, the remote control doesn't have very many controls on it. You might think that's a good thing. After all, there are virtually no buttons on the Apple TV remote. Well, like the Apple TV, the Wyplayer suffers from an excess of simplicity, perversely making it more difficult to use than it needs to be.
Because the remote has so few controls, each button performs a different function depending what mode you're in. The problem is that remembering which button does what in the different modes can be a real challenge. We'd really like to see the Wyplayer remind you which button to press via on-screen prompts. That way, if you forget what button you're supposed to press, you can just look at the TV to find out.
Secondly, we found that using the remote to fast-forward or rewind is a nightmare. Each click of the rotating wheel that controls forward or backward motion speeds your seeking up. The first four settings all seem reasonably slow, but the last seems to be something like 300x normal speed. That means, before you can press the centre button, you've shot over the end of the file. This is infuriating.
The Wyplayer doesn't seek through video at all well. There are numerous times when it just displays a grey screen for a few seconds. Although there are some complicated reasons behind this, it's still annoying. It means you can't skip adverts or through part of the video you've already seen, because you're likely to overshoot and ruin the rest of the programme.
The Popcorn Hour A-110 doesn't have this problem. It makes navigating through a file easy by having a 30-second skip key, a proper fast-forward system that accurately shows what part of the file you're watching, and some percentage skip buttons. These are activated by pressing one of the number keys, which put you a corresponding percentage of the way through the file -- for example, button 4 takes you 40 per cent of the way through.
As with all these devices, it's necessary to use some software to share media from your PC with the Wyplayer. Windows Media Player is capable of this task, and we downloaded a trial version of TwonkyMedia to see how it makes the process easier.
The good news is that both work perfectly. We don't especially like the sharing component of Windows Media Player, but it does the job. TwonkyMedia, on the other hand, seems to work pretty much perfectly and is flexible in helping you find the media you need.
The A-110 struggles with music playback. It's not that it can't do it -- it's just that the way it works isn't very compelling. Apple TV, however, handles music perfectly and, because of the iTunes integration, makes pretty much every other hardware solution look pretty silly.
Wyplayer, however, seems to have pulled off something of a coup d'état here. Its music playback is actually excellent. What we like most is the ability to build and save a playlist on the fly. This means that, if you want to set up a party playlist, or just have some background music on while you go about your business, you can. It's not especially complicated, lists can be reordered as you go, and you can add tracks to a 'now playing' list by simply selecting them. The Wyplayer will always ask if you want to add a track to the current playlist, or if you want to start playing it straight away.
We were very pleased with the Wyplayer's ability to display photos. Some test shots from a Canon EOS 500D looked incredibly crisp and detailed on our Pioneer TV. It may sound easy to display photos on a TV, but the truth is that media players rarely do a good job with them. The Wyplayer, however, does.
The only caveat we have concerns the speed with which it renders and loads pictures. Shots from the 500D are around 5MB each, and loading them takes a considerable amount of time. Smaller photos would work much better, and we'd suggest a size lower than 1MB for a faster load time.
We tested MKV video at both 720p and 1080p and both played brilliantly. Even from a memory stick we were able to play high data-rate content without any problems. The picture quality is also superb, if slightly softer than the A-110's.
We didn't notice any glitches with playback or any other problems. The sheer number of codecs supported is also a terrific advantage and should make this the ideal device if you have a large amount of video, either shot on camcorders or downloaded. This Wyplayer can pretty much cope with it all, and seems to do so with a great deal of skill.
We love the idea that you can use a media streamer to record live TV in the same way as you would with a PVR. The Wyplayer does a really good job. There's a fully-featured electronic programme guide that allows you to see which programmes are coming up in the near future, and you can also set a manual timed record. This isn't a Freeview+ system, though, so it can't correct over-running shows or late schedule changes.
It is, however, a dual-tuner machine, which means you can watch one channel and record another simultaneously. Because of the processor capabilities, it's not possible to record two channels at once, though. That's a shame but, in practice, it's not a big deal.
The main problem with the TV universe is that it can be painfully slow to respond to your remote-control presses. For example, when you press whichever button it is that brings up the EPG, you might end up waiting 30 seconds for it to appear. This just isn't the same quality experience you get with a regular Freeview PVR.
The single best feature of the Wyplayer is its ability to save a show recorded on its hard drive to a USB card or portable hard drive. This is a real boon for people with portable media players or laptops who want to watch TV on the train, for example. Recordings are untouched from the Digital Video Broadcasting stream, so whatever device you use to play them back will need to support MPEG-2 video in the transport stream format.
While we were using the Wyplayer, we noticed that it was making some noise. There wasn't any audible fan noise, but we could hear the hard drive clunking away most of the time. If silence in home-cinema equipment is important to you, buy a Wyplayer without a hard drive, and fit your own quiet model.
We like the Wyplay Wyplayer a great deal. It's on the expensive side, but we can forgive that because it does so much, and it does pretty much everything really well.
We're really put out that the device won't output at 1080p. It seems such a pointless exercise to play 1080p video, and then downscale it to 1080i. It's not that we think there's anything wrong with 1080i, but we prefer 1080p because it cuts out many picture-processing problems.
The only other thing that gets our goat is the remote control. This device does everything you need it to, but the controller just makes all of it much harder than it needs to be. The remote that comes with the Popcorn Hour A-110 is far from brilliant, but, because it has a dedicated button for most features, it's not hard to use and feels more likeable as a result. If we could change one thing about the Wyplayer, it would certainly be the controller.
Edited by Charles Kloet