Sometimes you just don't want to drag a lot of stuff on the road, even if that means you're at the mercy of pricey hotel pay-per-view TV and your MP3 player for tunes. Well, how would you feel about a pocket-size hard drive that'll double as a hotel entertainment center? Iomega's svelte 60GB ScreenPlay serves up movies, MP3s, and photos to just about any display, including hotel TVs with RCA input. However, though overall performance is good, the interface is often sluggish, and browsing through large numbers of files is tedious at best. It also lacks the resolution, the format support, and the digital output of LaCie's Silverscreen.
We admire the physical design of the ScreenPlay. It's handsomely clad in silver and black, and the top-mounted buttons for controlling playback are logically placed and thoughtfully labeled. Score one over LaCie's Silverscreen, which has no controls on the drive. As far as installation goes, there's nothing to it: the ScreenPlay is a plug-and-play USB hard drive when attached to a PC and operates much like a DVD player when outputting to a TV or other display. The supplied superthin, membrane remote control sports a logical layout, as well, though the buttons are all the same size and shape, making it difficult to use without constantly glancing at it.
When the ScreenPlay is attached to a PC, you won't need the supplied AC adapter--the power running across the USB bus is enough to power it. However, when you're using it with a TV, you'll need the adapter unit as well as the proprietary breakout cable, with its stereo RCA audio, composite video, and S-Video feeds. Don't lose this puppy: it connects to the ScreenPlay with an odd combination mini phone-jack/edge connector that you'll probably never find at the local Radio Shack. Alas, the ScreenPlay lacks the digital output of its LaCie Silverscreen rival.
Our first glance at the ScreenPlay's interface brought high expectations. It's simple, and as far as it goes, elegant. Unfortunately, it soon became painfully obvious that the designers never tested it with more than a few files onboard. The unit searches for files every time you enter photo, movie, or music mode, and the wait can be maddening if you've loaded more than the aforementioned few. And, there's no key repeat function, so you must press a button every time you want to move to a new item or page down. With 1,000 MP3s on the unit, this gets old quickly. Even more unfortunate, you can't avoid the constant scrolling; there's no categorization, alphabetical indexing, or organizational features whatsoever.
Performance-wise, when attached to a PC, the ScreenPlay is pretty fast for a 4,200 rpm, 2.5-inch mechanism, averaging 13 minutes, 42 seconds to write our 10GB test folder to its own platters and reading it back in 11 minutes, 54 seconds via USB. Movie playback was smooth. Our testing was done with the NTFS file system for ready comparison with other systems, but don't do what we did and format the drive as such: the ScreenPlay's multimedia firmware understands only FAT32, so if you reformat it as NTFS, it won't be able to find your files. Format support includes the biggies but not much else: MP3, AVI, DivX, Xvid, and JPEG. It also played QuickTime files, though they weren't listed. However, in our tests, it wouldn't play back monophonic AC3 in VOB files--a real bummer for fans of older movies.
Iomega backs the ScreenPlay with a one-year warranty. Telephone support will cost you $25 per incident and is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. While the drive is still under warranty, you can do a live online chat with tech support for free during the same hours as the phone support. (For out-of-warranty products, the one-on-one chat costs $15 per incident.) Iomega's Web site has user forums, tutorials, FAQs, and downloadable software and drivers.