The name of this product immediately gives us a problem. Because Seagate is an American company, it seems to think Theatre should be spelt Theater. This just isn't the case, and we find ourselves slightly annoyed by the whole thing. Of course, its name is a trademark, so we feel obliged to spell it the way Seagate wants -- but under substantial duress.
With our protest firmly lodged, let's move on to what the Freeagent Theater does -- it provides a simple way for you to get your photos and music on to your HD TV. It can also cope with certain types of video, but support for that is a little less comprehensive. At around £90, the Theater is fairly inexpensive, but do bear in mind that you'll want a matching portable Seagate Freeagent hard drive to make the most of the package and those start from about £60.
We think this little box is pretty well thought-out. You'll find this review is full of caveats, and this is no exception. The Freeagent Theater isn't attractive -- it's certainly not the sort of thing you'd see Apple hatch -- but it's quite cunning in its own way.
Firstly, you need to remember that Seagate is a hard drive maker first and foremost. The Theater is designed to promote that side of its business. The Theater therefore makes most sense when it's used in tandem with a Seagate Freeagent hard drive. These are either available separately or bundled in the box, depending on which pack you buy.
If you use a Freeagent drive, with its included dock, with your PC to store music and photos, it's a simple matter of pulling the drive out of the dock and sliding it into the Freeagent Theater. It's simple, works brilliantly well and won't confuse even the most backwards of technophobes.
As you'd expect, a simple remote control is provided with the Theater. It's one of those small, credit card-sized jobbies, and we weren't thrilled with it. It does manage simple tasks, but it's not that easy to use and feels pretty unsatisfying in your hand.
To connect the Theater to your TV you'll need a component cable, an S-Video connection or a standard composite lead. There's no HDMI on this device, which is a great shame. You do, however, get digital audio out, in the form of an RCA digital coaxial socket. Good for connecting to an AV receiver.
A USB input is also provided, which means you can plug in any portable hard drive, so you don't need to use a Freeagent drive.
As well as not having an HDMI output, the Theater also doesn't come with a component cable. Which is plain rude. Still, you can 'adapt' a regular composite and stereo audio RCA lead to the purpose -- just don't expect the very best picture quality.
Although we wouldn't suggest this machine as ideal for people wanting to watch video, the Theater does seem to have a reasonable amount of playback chops. It's happy with DVD video in either VOB or ISO form, for example -- a pretty good feature, we think. It'll also accept both DivX and Xvid, though only at standard-definition quality. This is our main problem with the device -- a lack of high-definition video support. Even worse, failing to play MKV containers is just silly.
The Theater is more than happy handling all your JPG files, though. It can cope with images up to 20 megapixels in size, and we're pretty sure that's more than most people are shooting at the moment.
Audio support comes in MP3, WMA, WAV and OGG flavours. The Theater can also handle Dolby Digital audio in AC3 files. It's a shame not to see FLAC or Apple Lossless supported, but it's probably not the end of the world.