I got the Seagate Theater+ to play movie and TV show files from a network share. I was previously using a PC to serve this purpose, but it is bulky, lacks a good user interface, draws lots of power, makes noise, and is rather expensive. I have looked at media players before, but nothing really could do 1080P and play back a good variety of formats which I have. I recently came across the Seagate Theater+ which spec-wise seems to fulfill this promise.
I purchased one without a hard disk for $130 at local Fry's Electronics. There are provisions to dock a Free Agent series disk drive enclosure. I saw a 500G that can be purchased separately at the store for $109.
The unit looks a little bit better than in the pictures with the piano black plastic finish (a la PS3). It is fairly small, like a portable DVD player size. It comes with a relatively basic remote.
I hooked up HDMI to my Panasonic HD Plasma TV and analog audio to my receiver (optical digital to follow) and hooked up the wired ethernet to my home network.
When I turned it on, a basic menu shows up. The menu navigation is similar to a DVD player with direction arrows. The menu operations seem quite responsive. I found that when I pressed the "menu" button there was a settings menu that allowed me to update the firmware across the internet. I went ahead and did a firmware update. The process took about 15 minutes.
A quick tour of the main menu revealed some obvious user interface shortcomings. I hope these will be addressed in a future updates:Main menu:
Music: I haven't tried this yet, I don't store music on any USB device. I only store music on my network share.
Video: I did happen to have a USB hard disk with some videos. When I hook up the USB disk, this selection appears to look for music on the disk drive, there doesn't appear to be any way to re-direct this to a network share. Furthermore, when I connected the drive, every video in all folders on the local device get displayed in one view. There is no hierarchy here, just every file alphabetically displayed. This wasn't too useful as the disk was organized into different genres and series with hundreds of videos. There are no thumbnail views for videos, but they do use a large stock thumbnail icon. While a lot of space is dedicated to many identical stock icons, only the first 9 or 10 characters are displayed below each icon, so if you have many similar video filenames like TV episodes, you can't see which one it is until you highlight it and wait for the text to scroll. Hmm, grand fail on the user interface here!
On the upside, almost every video I tried worked perfectly from AVI's, transport stream (TS) files, Matroska, and ISO DVD files. Everything from standard def up to 1080P played very smoothly without glitches or hiccups. Curiously, one Matroska file wouldn't play the audio stream. The audio on this same file plays fine on VLC for OSX and windows. This was one in many other Matroska files I had tried and worked fine, so I will chalk this up to at least a somewhat rare occurrence.
I also noticed that the volume control adjusted the HDMI in addition to the analog output. There is also an on screen display of the volume setting. Nice touch. This volume icon doesn't display in some menu's however, even though the volume is being adjusted, whoops.
It would seem that the original sound is being down converted to 2.0 for at least the HDMI out. It would be nice if there were an option to select which audio streams are down-converted, and which ones are bit-streamed in order to leverage the maximum capability of connected audio equipment.
The disk I tried was formatted with an HFS+ filesystem. I didn't test with any other filesystems specified such as NTFS or FAT32, but I assume they should work.
For DVD ISOs, the menu navigation appears to work fine in a very brief test of 2 DVD ISOs.
Matroska Video Issues (subtitles):
Matroska text based subtitles were acceptable, but there were some formatting issues and one bug I noticed. I noticed that on some subtitled programs, the subtitles appeared too low in the picture.
I also noticed text wrapping issues. Some subtitles had the hidden line break character display on screen (the "\
" character) and then the software would make an incorrect line break in these instances. The subtitles were watchable, but this is a very distracting bug and needs to be fixed in a software update.
You can select different subtitle tracks by hitting menu at any time during video playback and select a different subtitle track. The problem is that the different subtitle tracks only show "Subtitle 1" "Subtitle 2" etc. There is no label showing what language that it is, so you must keep guessing until you hit the right one.
Matroska Video (Audio Issues):
You can select different audio tracks by hitting menu at any time during video playback. The problem is that there is no label showing which language is which. You will have to keep guessing until you land on the right one.
Pictures: I dont store any pictures on a USB device, so no comment here. I only have pictures on my network share.
Internet: There are a number of selections, I tried only the following:
Picassa: There is an account login. I don't have one so I didn't try this.
You Tube: I tested this out for a few minutes. There are some basic selections and the ability to log in. The videos seemed to play back fine, but my preference is to use this on a regular computer browser as most videos have low quality to begin with.
Flickr: I have a pro account, but there isn't any ability to do login to my account. Bummer! You can only browse the main photo-stream which is totally useless!
News RSS: Noting much here, the content isn't terribly interactive.
Weather: 2 day forecast for major cities. Not much more. It would be nice if this can be displayed in the top level menu or somewhere more accessible.
For me, this is where the rubber really hits the road. From here, I can navigate to my network shares where all my video, music, and photo content is stored. I use a OSX host, so I can share on SMB (windows) or AFP (apple) protocol. I appears that the Theater+ would only see the SMB (windows) shares that I setup on the Mac. I only tested open shares instead of those requiring login. The Theater+ appears to have provisions for logging into password protected shares but I didn't test this out.
The folder navigation should be familiar to windows users. It looks quite similar to the icon view in the file explorer. All files are shown wether it is music, video, or photos. Photos show a thumbnail icon, but other files get a default icon. Again, one major issue is that you can't see very many characters in a filename until it is highlighted at which point the full title will scroll into view (slowly). This is a problem for many videos.
The folder and file navigation is pretty intuitive and responsive.
Video playback quality is excellent across the network using the built in 100mbit wired interface. The only difference I can notice from playing on a local device is that rapid forward (8x or more) is choppy across the network. Normal playback is flawless. You can select chapters, but there is no random access. If you want to go to the middle of a movie and there aren't any chapter stops, you must fast forward to this point.
I noticed that the Theater+ will remember where you stopped a video. It will resume where you left off if you return to it later. It does not remember the subtitle and audio track setting, however. This is probably a bug.
Viewing photos on the network share is rather easy. You can select individual photos to see a full screen view. Or you can play slideshows. I didn't see any way to configure slideshow settings. Some kind of slideshow app would be useful here.
Music playback was pretty good although the interface was rather basic and crude (if you're used to itunes). To my surprise, it played FLAC files just fine even though it's not on the spec.
Seagate, here are some recommended fixes:
1. Allow the top level menu to be user configurable. Especially needed is the capability to shortcut directly to a user defined network path instead of digging through devices, network, workgroup, folder path, etc. I need to do the same routine every time I turn this on since network share is my primary use.
2. Fix Matroska subtitle formatting issues. Placement is off and formatting characters such as line break characters aren't being parsed properly.
3. Fix subtitle and audio selection so that the language data is displayed and can be easily selected instead of guessed.
4. Display more characters of video files in place of useless giant icons. This will help immensely when watching TV series that have identical first 20 characters or more.
5. If you resume playback of a video after exiting the video previously, the Theater+ remembers where the video was and will jump to where you left off, however it doesn't also remember the subtitle and audio track setting, instead it returns to default settings.
6. User configurable audio output. The device should be configurable to allow bit-streaming of audio content based on the capability of the downstream audio device. Right now, it seems that the HDMI output simply down-converts everything to 2.0.
6.1 HDMI Option A: Decode everything internally and convert everything to desired speaker configuration up to 8 channels LPCM (Sony PS3 method).
6.2 HDMI Option B: Bitstream everything (modern BD player option for advanced receivers with HDMI 1.3 audio)
6.3 HDMI Option C: Decode everything and re-encode to 2.0 PCM (BD player option when configured for 2.0 PCM audio for TV's).
6.4 SPDIF Option A: Decode everything to re-encode to 2.0 red book PCM (typical BD player solution)
6.5 SPDIF Option B: Allow early (384 KBPS) DD and (1.4 MBPS) DTS standards to bitstream out. Advanced formats (DD+, DTS MA, TrueHD, and non-redbook PCM) are decoded and re-encoded to 2.0 PCM for SPDIF out.
7. Allow some method to rapidly access longer videos. Perhaps there can be an option to skip ahead several minutes.
Despite these shortcomings, the player has fulfilled the purpose for which I purchased it, namely high quality playback of a broad variety HD video file sources, network capability, and ease of use. In time, I would hope the other issues are solved and more features added. This is a great example of hardware that has such tremendous untapped potential. For example, I would love to get flickr working so I can share photo albums when friends and family visit, watch movies realtime from Netflix, or play my Itunes library in my living room.