We can't say we're in the least bit surprised that the largest hard drive manufacturer in the world has jumped on the careering bandwagon created by its biggest competitor, Western Digital, with its superb WDTV HD media player. However, we weren't quite expecting this...
Unveiled yesterday, this is the FreeAgent Theater; a little black box that, just like the WDTV, plugs into your TV and can be used to playback your various multimedia files. It comes with a little infra-red remote, supports HD formats, and can read from any USB storage device. However, that's where the similarities with the WDTV end.
Where Western Digital sensibly sided with using an HDMI connection to your TV, Seagate has endowed the FreeAgent Theater with only component, S-Video, and composite video output, removing the single cable ease of use of the former. Seagate has also chosen to tie-in the Theater with its FreeAgent portable hard drive line by creating a docking port for these drives on the front. This seems sensible enough at first, but if you don't own a FreeAgent already then it's a bit pointless. At least there's a normal USB port included as well. File format support isn't quite so comprehensive either with h.264 codec and mkv files notable by their absence.
Countering all these negatives, though, Seagate did demonstrate a few funky features. For a start, there's a rather neat DVD browsing tool that lets you preview chapters before playing the whole lot. There's also a proper re-sampling zoom feature that can be used to get a closer look at your favourite photos and there's also a slideshow mode that supports background music as well.
Of course, some people weren't sold on the idea of the WDTV with its reliance on plugging in a hard drive, or some other form of USB storage, rather than having a network connection and it's the same situation with the FreeAgent Theater. However, even if you can get passed the lack of a network connection, the Theater seems to have a few fundamental flaws despite its reasonable £89 expected price (sans hard drive). We'll reserve full judgement until we get one in for review, though.