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View Full Version : Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player Reviewed


Ron Hostetter
03-08-2010, 04:00 PM
<p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1268074089.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></p><h6><strong>Product Category:</strong> HD Digital Media Player</h6><h6><strong>Manufacturer:</strong> <a href="http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/" target="_blank" title="seagate">Seagate</a></h6><h6><strong>Where to Buy:</strong> <a href="http://astore.amazon.com/digitalhomethoughts-20/detail/B002MZZWT0" target="_blank" title="Amazon">Amazon</a> (affiliate link)</h6><h6><strong>Price:</strong> $149 USD</h6><h6><strong>In the Box</strong>: FreeAgent Theater+ HD media player, Remote Control, 2 AAA Batteries, Component video cable, Composite A/V cable, Ethernet Cable, Power supply, FreeAgent Theater software CD, Quick start guide.</h6><h6><strong>Specifications:</strong> Video codecs: MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (VOB/ISO), MPEG-4 (DivX/Xvid), DivX HD, Xvid HD, AVI, MOV, MKV, RMVB, AVC HD, H.264, WMV9, VC-1, M2TS, TS/TP/M2T. Video resolutions: TNSC 480i/480p, PAL 576i/576p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p. Audio: AAC, MP3, Dolby Digital, DTS, ASF, FLAC, WMA, LPCM, ADPCM, WAV, OGG. Playlists: M3U, PLS. Photo: jPDG files up to 20 megapixels, BMP, GIF, PNG, TIFF. Output: Composite, Component, HDMI 1.3, Stereo Audio, Optical S/PDIF audio, HDMI 1.3 audio. Ethernet 10/100 mbps, 2 USB 2.0 ports.</h6><p><strong>Pros:</strong></p><ul><li>Easily connects to your TV using a variety of connection types;</li><li>Vast codec support;</li><li>Internet connected with a variety of content available, and more on the way.</li></ul><p><strong>Cons:</strong></p><ul><li>Optional wireless adapter difficult to configure;</li><li>Primitive user interface;</li><li>FreeAgent Go portable hard drive connection seems cumbersome.</li></ul><p><strong>Summary:</strong> Many companies are rushing to provide a means to make digital content easily accessible in your living room.&nbsp;The FreeAgent Theater+ easily connects to your TV using HDMI (although an HDMI cable&nbsp;is not included)&nbsp;or a variety of other connections, and allows access to your digital media. The Theater+ also provides Internet connectivity to access a limited selection of online content. While the interface leaves a little to be desired, the device performs as advertised, and opens up another avenue for living room entertainment.</p><p><MORE /></p><h1></h1><h1></h1><h2><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1265986718.usr684.jpg" style="border: #d2d2bb 1px solid;" /></h2><p><em>Figure 1: The simplistic home screen of the FreeAgent Theater+.</em></p><h2>The Death of Physical Media</h2><p>I&rsquo;ll admit it &ndash; I&rsquo;m late to the party. I&rsquo;ve only just recently started ripping my DVD&rsquo;s for purposes other than loading onto my Zune. Up until now, I&rsquo;ve been ripping my DVD movies into low-res WMV files so that I can toss them on my Zune and take on the road.</p><p>I have an extensive library of DVD&rsquo;s that I&rsquo;ve collected over the years for my home theatre. One by one, my DVD players have died, leaving me with no way to enjoy my movie collection. I started ripping my DVD&rsquo;s using a higher resolution, which allowed me to stream them over my wireless network using my Xbox 360. The Xbox provides an elegant interface that allows me to stream my media from my PC either using Windows Media Center, or simply through browsing my public folder.</p><p>Of course, by just ripping the movie to WMV, I lose the extra content that comes with the DVD disc. I&rsquo;ve been searching for a different and/or better way to access my movie collection, as well as other media on my computer and on the Internet. Enter the Seagate FreeAgent Theater+.</p><p>The FreeAgent Theater+ not only allows network connectivity, it is also a dock for a Seagate FreeAgent Go portable hard drive. The Theater+ includes software that performs a sync of your media files to the hard drive. Simply connect the drive to your PC, and the software automatically syncs your content to the drive (you configure what folders to sync). You then plug the drive into the Theater+ and that content is available to view on your TV.</p><p>By ripping my DVD&rsquo;s to an ISO file, the full DVD content is now available using the Theater+. Simply select the ISO file from the Theater+ menu, and it loads instantly (much faster than when using a physical DVD), and all content is available. Now this is the media solution I&rsquo;ve been looking for!</p><p>In addition to video, the Theater+ can also display photos and play music.</p><p>While the sync software works adequately, I find this process a bit cumbersome. Why would I want to carry my drive back and forth, when I can simply connect the Theater+ to my network and access all of my content that way?</p><h2>Networking the Theater+</h2><p>When I built my house 10 years ago, I had the foresight to wire many of the rooms with CAT5 cable for networking. However, I did not have the foresight to run the cable to where my television is. Because of my built in TV cabinet, it is nearly impossible to run a cable to my television. I decided to try to connect the Theater+ to my wireless network using the optional USB wireless adapter.</p><p>The adapter is WiFi N capable, which should provide enough bandwidth to stream my media. However, I was never able to successfully connect to my wireless network. This became especially frustrating. I have two different wireless networks in my house, both of which have rather lengthy passcodes. The process to configure the wireless adapter includes pecking out the passcode using a virtual on-screen keyboard.</p><h6>&nbsp;<img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1265986011.usr684.jpg" style="BORDER-BOTTOM: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-LEFT: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-TOP: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-RIGHT: #d2d2bb 1px solid" /></h6><p><em>Figure 2: While there's not much else that can be done with the on screen keyboard, having to retype my passcode on it after several failed attempts to connect to the wireless network became very frustrating.</em></p><p>After entering the passcode, the Theater+ shows &ldquo;testing connection&rdquo; for about 2 minutes and then simply returns to the &ldquo;Configure Network&rdquo; screen. No error message, no success message. I attempted to connect to both of my networks on only once was I able to successfully connect. However, the connection was not reliable, and it disconnected after a few minutes.</p><p>I gave up on the wireless connection and ran a long cable from my router to the device. After finally getting a successful network connection, I was ready to check out the Internet capabilities of the Theater+.</p><p>A little research on the Seagate message boards shows that the wireless issue seems to be related to a firmware update. Some suggest downgrading the firmware on the Theater+ to an older version. The message boards also suggest that a new firmware update is due in the next month or so, so hopefully the wireless issue will be rectified then.</p><h6><PAGE /></h6><h2>Internet Content</h2><p>Selecting &ldquo;Internet&rdquo; from the home screen provides a menu of a handful of Internet content sources. These include YouTube, Picasa, flickr, as well as RSS audio and video feeds. The interface for YouTube is fairly intuitive, and it is easy to search for videos by pecking in a search term using the on-screen keyboard. Videos play in a small window, but can be played in full screen. Video quality was good for most videos I tried.</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1265985946.usr684.jpg" style="BORDER-BOTTOM: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-LEFT: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-TOP: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-RIGHT: #d2d2bb 1px solid" /></p><p><em>Figure 3: Available Internet content is limited, but hopefully Seagate is working on expanding this.</em></p><p>Unfortunately, I couldn&rsquo;t find a way to add my own RSS feeds. I was hoping to access hulu.com content via RSS (I believe Boxee allows this), but hulu isn&rsquo;t one of the preconfigured options, and apparently it doesn&rsquo;t allow user configured feeds.</p><p>Unless there&rsquo;s something I don&rsquo;t know, the Internet content available on the Theater+ is fairly limited, with the biggest hole seeming to be the lack of Netflix integration.</p><h2>UI Issues</h2><p>As I mentioned before, I&rsquo;ve been using my Xbox 360 to access content on my computer. The great thing about the Xbox is the gorgeous and intuitive user interface. In contrast, the Theater+ has a rather primitive interface. Menus are a nearly monochromatic blue and gray, and no content meta data is shown. When browsing my movie files, I only see the folder and file names, and no other information that I&rsquo;ve stored with the files is available. At least the Xbox is able grab a snapshot from the video file to use as a thumbnail.</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1265985866.usr684.jpg" style="BORDER-BOTTOM: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-LEFT: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-TOP: #d2d2bb 1px solid; BORDER-RIGHT: #d2d2bb 1px solid" /></p><p><em>Figure 4: One example of user interface issues on the Theater+: An error message that is too large to fit in its window.</em></p><p>When browsing my network, the Theater+ seems to have the ability to store shortcuts. This would be a nice way to quickly get to my movies folder, which is normally several clicks away. Unfortunately, I never could figure out how to store a shortcut. There&rsquo;s a &ldquo;Shortcuts&rdquo; folder, but apparently no way to store shortcuts.&nbsp;</p><p>The only way to interact with the Theater+ is using the remote control. There isn't even a power button on the device itself. This is fine, however the shape of the remote kept tricking me into holding it upside down. Somehow it just feels like it should be held with the fatter part of the remote in the palm of my hand. The remote has a limited number of buttons (D-Pad, Play, Pause, etc.). It's adequate for most content, but it would be nice to have some additional buttons for things like DVD Menu, etc.</p><h2>Connectivity</h2><p>The Theater+ connects to your home theater in a variety of ways, including HDMI, component or composite connections. It also has 2 USB ports which can be used to connect other hard drives, flash drives, cameras, or any other USB device. Of course, you will lose one of those USB ports if you choose to use the wireless network adapter.</p><p>The Theater+ also has a optical digital audio output port.</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/dht/auto/1268073914.usr1.jpg" style="border: 0;" /></p><p><em>Figure 5: The back panel of the FreeAgent Theater Plus boasts a myriad of connection options.</em></p><h2>Conclusions</h2><p>The Theater+ is simply one of many devices either on the market or coming soon that provide access to digital content in the living room. While using the external hard drive and sync software seems cumbersome, it does allow all content to be local to the device. The USB ports allow other types of drives and devices to be connected to the Theater+ as well. Though the choices are currently limited, I can see a day when Seagate opens up a world of internet content (hopefully user configurable) as well. The vast array of supported codecs means you will most likely not have to spend a great deal of time converting content to match your device. And, hopefully, a prettier and more intuitive interface is only a firmware update away.</p><p><em>Ron Hostetter is a software sales engineer by day, a gadget lover by night. He has worked in the IT field for over 20 years and loves reading about and playing with technology. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his lovely wife, his son and daughter, and their two dogs. He enjoys playing guitar and watching the Kansas City Royals, both of which he finds very frustrating.</em></p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></p><p><strong>Do you enjoy using new hardware, software and accessories, then sharing your experience with others? Then join us on the <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Thoughts Media Review Team</a>! We're looking for individuals who find it fun to test new gear and give their honest opinions about the experience. It's a volunteer role with some great perks. Interested? <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com/reviewteam.php" target="_blank">Then click here for more information.</a></strong><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com//ppct/auto/1240336793.usr1.gif" /></p>

Jason Dunn
03-08-2010, 07:54 PM
Great review Ron! It seems like a decent product, but the user interface is so 2001. That's my #1 complaint with products like this: the user interface tends be really weak...it's nice to see it can play ISO files though, that's something I've been interested in for a long time - but only if combined with a great UI. That's why I'm so interested in Boxee...

I have an extensive library of DVDís that Iíve collected over the years for my home theatre. One by one, my DVD players have died, leaving me with no way to enjoy my movie collection.

With DVD players being so cheap - under $50 for basic models - why wouldn't you just buy a new DVD player? Seems a shame to have DVDs and not be able to watch them... :)

Ron Hostetter
03-08-2010, 08:17 PM
Agreed, Jason. I was a little lukewarm on this product until I discovered the ISO thing.

And I know that DVD players are cheap. I've been holding off because I couldn't decide if I wanted to go Blu-Ray or not, or if I could just find another way (like the Theater+) to play my DVD's.

I am also anxious to see the Boxee. If they get the UI right, it could be a killer product.

Jason Dunn
03-08-2010, 08:21 PM
I am also anxious to see the Boxee. If they get the UI right, it could be a killer product.

Do a Web search and you'll find some superb videos about the UI - it's really something to see!

Hooch Tan
03-10-2010, 04:21 AM
I am also anxious to see the Boxee. If they get the UI right, it could be a killer product.

Boxee is easily installable for a test run as well. I'm more partial to XBMC, as I care less for the social networking part of things, but both offer a great leap forward over the current generation of media players.