Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD
The Apple TV for the rest of us?
Review Iomega’s original ScreenPlay Pro network media player was a bit of a mixed bag. It had very good connectivity features, including a video input option that allowed it to capture video as well as simply playing audio and video files that were already stored on it. However, it was let down by its inability to play H.264 video – the format used by the ubiquitous iPod and numerous other devices.
Iomega's ScreenPlay Director
Needless to say, the first thing we did when we received the new Screenplay Director HD was to check whether it could handle H.264. It came through that test with flying colours, although we did discover a few other rough edges along the way. Even so, it’s clear that Iomega has put a bit more thought into this model than it did with its predecessor.
At first glance, the Director HD appears identical to the earlier ScreenPlay Pro. It’s a slim, glossy unit that looks like a fairly conventional hard disk, albeit with a few extra buttons on the front. Our review unit had a 1TB hard disk inside it and costs £179, and there’s also a 2TB version available for £309.
Around the back of the unit you’ll find an HDMI interface capable of outputting video at full 1080p resolution, along with component and composite video outputs and both analogue and digital audio output. Iomega sensibly includes HDMI and composite video cables, as well as a Scart adaptor, so that you can use it with most types of TV straight out of the box.
There’s also a 10/100 Ethernet interface for connecting it to your home network. Admittedly, Gigabit Ethernet would have been preferred, but there no problems playing 1920x1080 video files on the network. The composite video input found on the ScreenPlay Pro has gone, making room for three USB 2.0 ports that can be used to plug in additional storage devices.
The vent at the looks big but it's quiet when running
There’s also a fourth USB port that can be used to directly connect the Director HD to a single computer. This allows you to transfer a large library of audio and video files more quickly than using the 10/100 Ethernet interface, as well as allowing you to add or remove folders from its hard disk when organising your collection of media files. There’s a sizeable fan vent on the back of the unit, but the Director HD made hardly any noise while we were using it so that didn’t turn out to be a problem.
Folks - first let me say I love the Reg, and most of the reviews here are both entertaining and informative. But while the entertainment aspect is great - I think you need to beef up the information level in your reviews. In particular, if you are reviewing a specific class of product - like a media streamer - it might be good to stick to the same person, so that he or she can build up a level of experience, and perhaps check out AV forums for that type of product to see what the users are saying.
Cliff, it looks like you haven't done many media streamer reviews (hey - we all have to start somewhere). Not sure where to begin on the long list of things that people need to know about these boxes, but a few things spring to mind:
- How long does the box take to boot? We are continually told to switch electrical products off when they are not in use so cold boot time becomes a critical useability feature.
- There are two recurring features that are demanded by users of the Western Digital and other similar media streamers (with and without internal hard drives). First is the ability to create a shortcut to a designated network share (this is a huge missing feature in many devices). Second is the ability to proportionately fast forward through a movie (check the Popcornhour feature where you can go to X% of the movie by pressing the number keys). So does the Iomega have either of these?
- You mention that the unit "made hardly any noise". Hmm. Forgive me, but that is not a very useful comment. I'm sure the manufacturer publishes the noise level in dB so we could compare it to other reviews. Also - I'm guessing you reviewed this at home. Is this a quiet environment where even a tiny cooling fan sounds loud? Or a noisy flat next to a busy road? I know this seems pedantic, but HD movies with high quality soundtracks tend to have a huge audio range - everything from explosions to almost total silence. And in the latter situation the last thing you need is a noisy hard drive, or even worse a cooling fan starting up. So some idea of the steady state noise (mainly caused by the hard drive) versus peak noise (cooling fan) would be great.
- You mentioned that the interface is not as graphically pleasing as the Apple TV. Fair comment. But does that mean it is more responsive? A big complaint in the media streamer forums is the sluggish way that the user interface behaves. Eye candy is a novelty that soon wears off. A responsive UI is a genuine, and highly valued feature.
- Remotes can be very directional. So in other words, the unit only sees the command if you are directly pointing at it. What is the situation with the Iomega?
- On the topic of remotes - nobody (almost) who own boxes like this uses the out of the box remote. I think I'm right in saying that the de facto "all in one" remote is the Logitech Harmony series. So you need to provide two usability reviews - one using the in-box remote, and one using the Harmony.
Generally I would say that the Reg needs to become more systematic in the review of media streamers, and other types of gadget, so that different reviews could be compared more easily.
Stepping away from the soapbox now :-)
Your original account and handler were hacked/replaced
But can it be hacked?
The hardware sounds OK, but what OS does it run by default and can be hacked/replaced?
P.S. What happened to my original account and handle?
After reading this review, I'll stick with my WDTV (generation 1) player. A painless replacement of the firmware with a hacked version and I have USB Hub and ethernet access (so I don't need to upgrade to the "WDTV Live" either). With 5x1TB HDDs hooked up to the Hub, plus access to my network shares (and UPnP with the hacked firmware) who needs YouTube, etc... I'll install something like MythTV on one of my servers if I ever feel the need.
Oh, and it's completely quiet - no moving parts.
I Googled for a bit if this thing would do Netflix or Amazon.. It doesn't seem to. Why don't manufactures of these little boxes add internet streaming support.??? How can a Blue-Ray player manage, however, all these little boxes -- now priced at some of the middle range blue-ray players that can do DLNA along with Netflix/Amazon movie/TV show streaming -- can't? This is yet another box that will stay plugged in sipping electrons, and get used rarely because I'm using the Blue-ray player, or the Roxio player to watch streaming movies/tv shows or now this to watch my collection of ripped DVDs or listen to music...