Media streamers are both marvellous and smashing. We're especially fanatical about the Popcorn Hour and HDX 1000 boxes we've reviewed over the last year. Not that we're ones to brag, but we're pretty sure our tireless evangelisation has triggered other manufacturers to climb on to the media-streaming bandwagon. Seagate is the latest, with a product it's calling FreeAgent Theater.
If you recognise the name FreeAgent, that's because it's the moniker given to Seagate's range of petite portable hard drives. The FreeAgent Theater is a device that takes all the movies, music and photos you've jammed into these drives and plonks it on your TV screen. Quite a cunning idea, as long as you've already got a FreeAgent drive knocking about.
We had a look at this odd-looking little beastie yesterday and it's certainly, er, unique. Firstly, although this device can bang out HD video up to 1080i, it does so via component. There's no HDMI output, which strikes us as a missed opportunity.
Another area of woeful fail is the HD codec support. Although the Theater can manage MPEG-2 files at up to 1080i, it can only decode MPEG-4 at up to 720p. Now, is it just us, or is that the wrong way around? MPEG-2 HD files are pretty rare these days, what with it being ancient and fairly inefficient compared to newer codecs. There's also dismal container fail, because this machine refuses to accept MKV files too.
Happily, there is a digital audio output, so it can handle Dolby Digital audio. As with many modern devices, this one is DivX-certified, which may or may not be relevant -- lack of DivX certification certainly doesn't stop a device from being able to play DivX files.
The Theater costs about £100, without a drive. There are packages available that include a drive, but they're available seperately for between £60 and £120. Seagate has promised to let us review one of these soon, so we'll let you know our thoughts when we've spent some time with one.