Devices for getting your multimedia files to play on your TV come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from full-on media PCs with PVR capabilities to slim-line network media players. However, if you don't have a NAS box, don't care about PVR capabilities, don't want the hassle of setting up a media PC but do want a small, low cost box that'll play your files then there's one standout device. The Western Digital WD TV HD media player makes the process as simple as possible - plug into TV, plug in USB stick, play files - and costs well under £100.
However, Western Digital's success hasn't gone unnoticed and its biggest rival, Seagate, wants a piece of the media player action. Thus it recently launched the FreeAgent Theater.
Based on the same principle as the Western Digital WD TV, the FreeAgent Theater is completely devoid of anything superfluous like a network port or an internal hard drive. Instead, you just plug in a USB storage device and use the box to play your media files back on your TV.
Now, you may recognise the FreeAgent name from Seagate's extensive line of external hard drive products and its use here is more than just a vague brand tie-in. For while you can plug in any old USB hard drive into the FreeAgent Theater, it also lets you dock your FreeAgent Go portable hard drive into a slot in the front of the unit. Clever though this may sound it was actually one of our first reservations about the FreeAgent Theater.
You see, this dock is in fact just a FreeAgent Go shaped hole in the front of the Theater with a mini-USB plug tucked away at the back. Essentially, Seagate is trying to encourage buyers of the FreeAgent Theater to also buy a FreeAgent Go based on the premise that it's easier and neater to plug your hard drive into a slot than use a cable. That's all well and good but we don't really see it convincing too many people - especially when the competition from Western Digital offers very similar functionality but without the extra bulk of the proprietary docking slot. The whole thing just seems incongruous.
Despite this, the FreeAgent Theater is actually a very nice looking device with its glossy black top and matt black sides. In fact, we'd say it's possibly a bit nicer than the WD TV. This assertion is bolstered by the Theater's inclusion of full controls on the front of the player itself, rather than restricting control to the remote only.