Couple of months ago, on a trip back from Mumbai, I spent some time window shopping at the Tata Croma electronics outlet inside the airport terminal. Thats where my eyes landed on a little red carton which on first glance looked like any other USB based external hard-disk.
Curiously, it had a remote control and the box said that I could hook it up straight to my TV! It sported HDMI/ TV Out and supported most multimedia formats.
But heres the best part: the thing about external HDs is that they need to be hooked up to your laptops with messy USB cables. We've all wished there was a better way and staring right back at me was a box that claimed it had done exactly that!
Its called the Iomega® ScreenPlay™ Director HD Media Player and heres what it looks like:
While I couldn't buy that piece right then and there, I made it a point to visit the Croma outlet in Delhi recently and bought it for around 10K INR (thats ~$200 USD) - more out of curiosity than necessity.
So I now have
- a 1TB shiny black box,
- which has a remote control,
- has a component TV out which connects to the back of my TV (my TV does not have an HDMI port :( ),
- has a few USB ports to which I can connect pen-drives (and WiFi dongles!) and their like,
- has a LAN port which I connected straight to one of the LAN ports on my WiFi router.
I power on the system and it takes a few minutes (yes- that definitely calls for an improvement) to boot up. I turn on my WiFi enabled laptop. Lo and behold, I can browse wirelessly to my external hard-disk. Look ma, no wires (almost)!
I replicated my folders and files on the Screenplay, which took a reasonable amount of time. Then I turned on my TV and used the remote (now I have a three remotes to juggle!). The navigation was smooth, but it took a couple of seconds for Screenplay to load up directories. Well now I could literally browse through all my files using a remote control on my regular TV- pretty neat!
One added bonus was its internet connectivity. There is a menu item called 'Online Media'. Clicking it enables me to read straight off blogs, listen on SHOUTCast radio or even view YouTube videos and Torrents straight off my TV. However, thanks to my measly 256 kbps connection and the not-so-good buffering system, the pauses in between the YouTube videos were a bit irritating (another department for improvement).
Google just recently announced their intent of entering the TV space by coming up with an Andriod driven set-top box? Google TV which does this and a lot, lot more is scheduled sometime later this year. It would sure be interesting to see where this is going... hmm, not many screens left for google to colonize!
Now, heres what appeals to the 'developer' regions of my brain about the Screenplay Director: the software is GPLd. So, I could download the source-code off this link and improvise (that is... time permitting). Cool!
Theres definitely much scope for improvement overall. But certainly a good start and a price point that is not too much of a premium from an ordinary-dumb-1TB-external-hard-disk-drive. Certainly opens up a lot of avenues for innovation. Overall, I'd score it 3 stars out of 5 and a bonus half star for innovation.