With the increase in popularity of ripping movies and digital copies that are now showing up with many new BluRay purchases the idea of having a digital media player to compliment your BluRay and or DVD player is growing. This has even created a booming market for small HD capable media players. These players as becoming as common as SSDs, and just like the SSD, everyone has their own way of ?doing it?. Today we are going to take a look at one from Seagate; named the FreeAgent Theater+ it offers quite a few options for getting your digital content to your display of choice. Let?s see if the FreeAgent Theater+ is worth the effort or if it will have to sit on the benches.
The box the FreeAgent Theater+ ships in is interesting. It is a mix of styles; on the one hand it is flashy with nice glossy images of the Theater+ and diagrams while on the other it is plain brown cardboard. This is an interesting contrast that actually adds to the look of the packaging.
The fully recyclable logo will make anyone interested in the environment happy. Although I have to wonder about all the plastic used to cover some of the accessories, but I suppose it still does live up to the statement.
Inside Seagate has sent you almost everything you need to get going. The only two glaring omissions are an HDMI cable and a Toslink cable. Still even with those missing items you can get up and running without needing to buy anything else, as they do provide an AV cable (Video+ Right/Left audio) and a component cable. The goodies are rounded out with a remote, CAT-5 cable, power pack/cable and utilities CD. There is also a special offer [this may or may not be in your packaging] for a music service.
The FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player is a nice looking little device. It has angular lines that will remind you of the rest of the FreeAgent line. The front is unadorned except for a single Seagate Logo that lights up to indicate power status, an IR Sensor window, and a USB 2.0 Port.
There is the outline of a hatch or panel on the front also. This area actually slides out to allow you to insert a FreeAgent | GO Drive or even a BlackArmor PS-110. As you can see in the pictures below you can remove just the front portion for the smaller drives or the entire panel to allow you to use the massive [relatively] 1TB FreeAgent | GO.
The back is where all of your outputs are located. Seagate has provided quite a few options for connectivity. For Video you have HDMI, Component and Composite, for Audio you have HDMI, Composite and Toslink Optical. Back here we also find the LAN port and out Second USB 2.0 port.
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One of the nice things about the new HD Media Players is how easy it is to get them up and running. From the time I plugged the Seagate FreeAgent Theater + until I was happily watching movies was about ten minutes. I did not bother with advanced features until later. When you first power on the FreeAgent Theater+ you will be presented with the option to set your default language and the time. After that you can begin using the Theater+, but you will probably want to setup a few extra options. The extras are a static IP address, firmware update type [online, USB or automatic] network shortcuts [if you have a Network Attached Storage system with video files stored on it] and one or two others. No matter what, you can still get your FreeAgent Theater+ running with very little effort.
For my testing I used firmware version 01.27.270595U; if you do not have this version installed I highly recommend it as it opens up more than a few nice features for the FreeAgent Theater+. To cover everything I broke the performance down into sections. These sections are; Network Video, FreeAgent | GO Video, Internet Functions, and Ease of use.
Network Video -
As I have multiple HTPC systems in my house I have always maintained a central storage sever where I keep my digital copies of the movies that I own. This is just a simpler way for me to serve movies and TV in a way that everyone can enjoy. To keep the kids out of the ?grown up movies? [rated R and NC-17, sheesh people] I have setup password security on these shares. Thankfully the FreeAgent Theater+ allows you to setup Shortcuts that remember your logon information for individual network shares, so you do not have to change any security you have enabled. You access your network shares and shortcuts by selecting the "Devices" Icon in the main menu. As far as performance over the wired network I had no issues streaming even 1080p video to the FreeAgent Theater+ the audio and video were excellent. In some cases there is a slight ?stretching? of audio when you play back digital audio. This can result in a shift of pitch to higher voices, and the effect is like they have taken a large breath of helium. This effect did not occur with the Theater+ and additionally there was no stuttering noted.
FreeAgent | GO -
Ok, actually this was with a PS-110 inserted but it is in effect the same thing as using a FreeAgent | GO drive. As you can expect using a directly attached storage device produced excellent results. Again there were no noted aberrations in audio or video. Playback was smooth and clean. To access videos off of an inserted FreeAgent | GO drive you simply select the "Movies" Icon from the main menu.
Internet Functions -
Sometimes, when you buy a product, you find that it is the unexpected little extras that really make it a great buy. This is the case with the FreeAgent Theater+. When I first played around with it the number of extra ?Internet Functions? was limited to Picasa, Flickr, Weather and Finance. With the update to Firmware 01.27.270595U these opened up to add YouTube, Video Feeds and Text Feeds.
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While I am not a YouTube junkie I can see the allure for people that do frequent this site. For me the addition of the Video and Text feeds was very welcome. With these you can catch up on news, or simply watch your favorite business and technology videos. I have moved the FreeAgent Theater+ into my office and now check the CNN news feeds in the morning while I get ready for the day.
Ease of Use -
The FreeAgent Theater+ has a very easy menu to navigate through. The large Icons are very self-explanatory. Everything that you need to do can be done with the included remote. Even using the virtual keyboard [for entering networked passwords] is simple and easy.
Now there above I have covered what I felt was the most important core functions of the FreeAgent Theater+, but they are not the only ones. You can also view pictures [from either an attached device or over the network] and listen to music files. But to me these are mostly secondary functions and while nice extras are probably not why you would pick up the FreeAgent Theater+. Still it is important to note they are available and work very well.
The FreeAgent Theater+ will set you back about $140 all on its own and roughly $190 if you buy it with a 500GB FreeAgent | Go Drive. These are actually not a bad price at all for the performance and ease of use the Theater+ offers. This is especially true if you do not want to deal with building a full HTPC [Home Theater PC].
So, what do I think about the Theater+? Well, I have to say that I like it for the most part. I do wish that Seagate would introduce a version with a TV tuner though. This addition [with a FreeAgent | GO Drive] would turn the Theater+ into a small easy to use DVR. When added to what it can already do, it would make a good product simply amazing. I know that if I had this extra function it would be in constant use in my house. As it is I use it to watch those movies that my Wife does not like while in my office, and to check the news in the mornings. This is because I already have an HTPC in the other rooms in my house, but if I did not I could see this [as is] sitting by the Cable Box in the house ready to play music, video and more when I get bored of the TV [which is often]. If you are looking for a nice small device to handle music, video, pictures and a few nice extras for you all in glorious 1080p HD , but do not want to deal with an HTPC system then the FreeAgent Theater+ is an excellent option for you.
BSN* is happy to award the FreeAgent Theater+ our Home Entertainment Value award for the great features it offers at a good price.