- — 09 June, 2011 22:00
|Name||Media player: Apacer AL720|
|At a glance:||Compact, good looking design,Supports a wide range of video, ,audio and image formats,User-friendly interface,No wired network connection at all, ,and no wireless out of the box|
|Summary:||A multiformat media player with DTS surround sound support, a neat little package and a good price; shame about the missing network connection.|
|RRP:||$249 (500GB), $269 (640GB)|
Apacer’s AL720 is a small and quiet hardware media player, nicely designed with a simple and elegant case that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb in a living room.
The AL720 outputs video through HDMI and component at up to 1080p resolution, 60Hz framerate. Audio is also carried over HDMI, but there’s an optical S/PDIF connection too – potentially useful if you’re hooking up to a high-end sound system. Two USB 2.0 ports let you hook up an external drive and a computer to the AL720.
You don’t need to be a geek to use the AL720 thanks to a simple-to-navigate user interface. As long as your content is of high enough quality for the big screen, the AL720 playback is great, with very good image and audio quality.
Delving into the tech specs reveals that Apacer built the AL720 around the new RealTek RTD1185 system on a chip that provides HD media playback of many common formats such as MPEG-1, 2 and 4, H.264 and plenty of those less common, such as RMVB. While it wasn’t possible to test every single format out there, the AL720 had no problems with the files I threw at it and played back video in 1080p high definition with no trouble.
A new feature of the RealTek chip is that it plays back multi-channel DTS surround sound, as found in Blu-Ray movies. DTS and Dolby Digital AC3 audio worked great through an Anthem MX 500 AV receiver, over an HDMI connection.
The AL720 adds a Western Digital Scorpio 2.5in 500 or 640GB hard drive for media storage inside the device, extending its use to more than playback. This isn’t a new thing, but it’s a nice feature for $249 (500GB) and $269 (640GB) respectively.
The onboard storage means you can take your content with you and play it back elsewhere, with only the AL720: no external storage is required. It also saves you the upfront expense of an external hard drive, which would be a must with a storage-less media player. However, as you start filling up the hard drive with your content you run into a couple of nuisances. First, a network connection is an optional extra. You have to buy a Wi-Fi dongle that eats up one of the two USB ports.
Second, unlike other media players we’ve tried, the AL720 doesn’t have a wired Ethernet port. This means you’re relegated to using the USB 2.0 port for content transfers. On the upside, that’s easy enough, and faster than your typical 100Mbit/s home LAN at between 180 to 200Mbit/s.
Downside? During transfer, you’re locked out of the AL720 and can’t watch or listen to other content until you unplug the USB cable from the media player. Working this out from the manual is hard though, as its poorly written instructions take considerable effort to decipher.
While I like the results the Apacer AL720 produces, I’d be happier if it came with a wired Ethernet port or a fast 802.11n wireless connection as well. As it is, it feels overly limited with network access relegated to an optional extra.