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Joining the docking port on the front is a USB socket and along side that is the sensor for the infrared remote. Meanwhile, round the back are the various video and audio connections. From left to right these consist of composite video, analogue stereo, S-Video, component video, and coaxial digital audio (bringing support for 5.1-channel surround sound). Of course, what's missing here is an HDMI connection, which is something we're in two minds about.
On the one hand this is an obvious omission simply from the fact it is now ubiquitous and is such a convenient connection, carrying, as it does, both video and audio on a single cable. On the other hand, as Seagate points out, component video can still carry HD video at up to 1080i resolutions, which is enough to enjoy the majority of the sort of content you'll be watching on a device like this. It's also a far more widely used connection that's available on much older TVs. Ultimately, our take on it is that while we agree with Seagate's arguments, we'd still prefer to have an HDMI connection as well.
Thankfully, the remote goes someway to bringing things back on track with its neat layout and tactile responsive buttons. It lacks backlighting but otherwise is completely up to scratch.
So on the hardware front, the Seagate FreeAgent Theater is something of a mixed bag but it's with its software that things really take a turn for the worst.
Primarily this is because it doesn't have the file format and encoding support of its biggest rivals. Its complete list of supported formats is as follows.
- MPEG-2 (AVI/VOB/ISO)
- MPEG-4 (AVI/DivX /Xvid)
- NTSC 480i/480p
- PAL 576i/576p
- supports video (HD and upscaling) up to 720p/1080i*
- AC3 (5.1 audio - Dolby® Digital)
- JPEG files up to 20 megapixels
Notes: Supports MPEG-4, Xvid up to 1280 x 720 60fps, and MPEG-2 and photos up to 1920 x 1080i 30 fps
Most notable by their omission are .MOV and .MKV file formats and the h.264 codec, which essentially discounts a huge chunk of HD content. We're also led to believe there's limited scope for this being rectified via a firmware update. Nevertheless, most standard definition formats are supported and you can read full quality DVD rips straight from vob and iso files, which will save you some tedious transcoding.