NTSC 480i/480p, PAL 576i/576p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
JPEG (up to 20 megapixels), BMP, GIF, PNG, TIFF
MP3, WMA, OGG, AC3 (Dolby Digital), AAC, ASF, FLAC, LPCM, ADPCM, WAV, as well as M3U and PLS (playlists)
Got something that's not listed here? Use a file converter (such as the freeware Format Factory) to adapt it to a FreeAgent-friendly version.
If you're dealing with a small TV, the picture looks pretty good whether you're connected via the standard composite (yellow) cable or component/HDMI, though component or HDMI will always look better. When you start to step up to bigger TVs and try to blow the picture up, you're limited by the quality of your file. The less compressed, high-resolution files will obviously look better.
Network and Internet features
The previous FreeAgent Theater HD was strictly a USB affair, but the new model adds network connectivity for streaming from PCs or networked-attached storage drives on your home network. The only problem is that the default connection is wired; adding the USB 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter accessory will cost you an additional $70 or so.
In our tests, we used a pair of powerline-to-Ethernet adapters to stream music and video files. We were able to stream from Windows, Macs, and NAS drives--no special software needs to be installed, but you do need to have enough networking knowledge to know how to share folders. And as always, the bandwidth of your LAN will have an impact on whether you can stream higher resolution HD files, particularly 1080p video.
While the FreeAgent Theater+ doesn't have an Internet browser, it currently offers a handful of Web applications that hint at future upgrades for the device. At launch, you'll be met with icons for Picasa, Weather, Finance, and Flickr, when you select the Internet tab in the menu options. They all worked fine, but the product would definitely benefit from additional apps (we expect Seagate to add more in due time via a firmware upgrade).
One small issue: like its predecessor (and other media players of this ilk), you do have to point the small remote directly at the infrared (IR) port on the unit to get the unit to respond. In other words, it's not superstrong IR, and you have to pay attention to where you're pointing.
In terms of value, the big unknown is how much the FreeAgent Theater+ will evolve (with more Internet-based applications). Game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3, with their built-in hard drives, are also able to read and play back a wide assortment of files via USB and network streaming. On top of that, both systems have additional features that this box is missing: the 360 offers DVD playback, Netflix streaming, and online video rentals, while the PS3 has video rentals, excellent slideshow functionality for images, a Web browser, a Blu-ray player, and built-in Wi-Fi. On the other hand, the PS3 currently doesn't play back those Flip Video pocket camcorder files that the Theater+ has no problem playing.
The long and short of it is that the FreeAgent Theater will never be able to measure up to minicomputers like the PS3, but it's half the price of the Sony, and has the appealing traits of being compact and reading the vast majority of AV file formats out there, including a few the PS3 doesn't read. While we wished the Seagate offered Netflix streaming like the Roku box does, overall we liked it a lot, and have no problem recommending it, particularly if you already if own a Seagate Free Agent Go drive.
In the final analysis, Seagate has delivered the product that the FreeAgent Theater HD should have been in the first place. The improved connectivity and file support are big pluses--excuse the pun--and this model is a more robust device that stacks up well against its closest competitors.