Although digital cameras, camcorders, and music download services have made stockpiling your most cherished media on your PC infinitely easy, there are times when you may want to move the content from the confines of your computer to a larger screen to share with others or to create a more immersive experience. Seagate looks to make that transition as smooth as possible with its FreeAgent Theater HD Media Player, a high-definition media player that enables content stored on Seagate portable hard drives to be viewed on a monitor or television.
The device on its own costs $129, or you can purchase it bundled with a 250GB or 500GB FreeAgent Go portable hard drive for $229 and $279, respectively. The player is easy to set up and offers a simple way to move content to a big screen, but the lack of AAC, WMV, and DRM support keeps it from being a tool for the serious multimedia aficionado.
Our unit came with a white 250GB drive, set off nicely by the attractive FreeAgent Theater, which features a glossy, black lid that draws plenty of fingerprints and smudges. Its face contains power, navigation, and menu buttons, as well as keys for playing, pausing, and stopping content.
The FreeAgent Theater's front bezel also houses an IR port (for use with the included remote control), an eject button for the FreeAgent drive, and a USB port for attaching external devices such as a digital camera or another hard drive.
The back of the FreeAgent Theater features a number of ports for connecting the device to a monitor or TV: composite, S-Video, component, and coaxial. Oddly, it lacks an HDMI port, which is a strange omission considering the box can output up to 1080i resolution and supports Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. There's also a power adapter port and a reset button.
Setup and Interface
Setup was easy. We simply installed the included software onto our notebook, connected the portable drive via a USB dock, and clicked the MediaSync button to copy our media from our PC to the drive. Afterward, we removed the drive from the dock and slid it into the FreeAgent Theater, a 7.2 x 7.0 x 1.2-inch device that weights just 1.2 pounds (1.6 pounds with the drive inserted).
We connected the FreeAgent Theater to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV using our personal component and audio cables; composite cables are the only ones included within the package. The FreeAgent Theater's remote didn't offer much leeway in terms of our positioning; we had to point it directly at the IR port for our inputs to be recognized. Although the remote was comfortable to hold, some of the buttons were positioned too closely together, resulting in many accidental button presses.
The menu screen took 4 seconds to pop up after powering on the FreeAgent Theater, and the layout was simple to navigate: We used the remote to scroll through the various categories (Music, Video, Photo) and selected a file to open. If you're familiar with Windows Explorer, you'll feel right at home. There wasn't any lag when moving from file to file, but opening photos or video typically took 3 to 4 seconds. It wasn't unbearable, but definitely noticeable.
Audio/Video Support and Quality
The FreeAgent Theater supports a wide array of file formats and codecs, including MP3, AC3, WMA, WAV, OGG, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (AVI/VOB/ISO), MPEG-4 (AVI, DivX, Xvid), and JPEG. However, the FreeAgent Theater doesn't support AAC files, which means it can't play files from the iTunes Store nor WMV video files. In addition, files that are protected by DRM--such as content from CinemaNow, iTunes HD Movies, and Movielink--aren't supported.
A 1-minute-and-59-second HD <i>Terminator 2</i> trailer (converted into AVI) played back smoothly on the big screen after a second or two of stuttering. We then viewed a home movie recorded with a Pure Digital Flip MinoHD camcorder that was converted into AVI using iMovie, which also played back flawlessly. Music sounded loud and crisp through the speakers on our Samsung television, photos looked good on the big screen, too, and we were able to easily create slideshows accompanied by music by selecting a tune and then returning to a photo folder.
The $229 Seagate FreeAgent Theater HD Media Player is a good device for novices who want to view their PC's content on a big screen but are intimidated by streaming media devices. However, true multimedia addicts may want to take a pass since the FreeAgent Theater lacks AAC, WMV, and DRM compatibility. If those drawbacks aren't deal breakers, the Seagate FreeAgent Theater HD Media Player will be a welcome addition to your entertainment setup.