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By Thomas McKinnon 19 January 2010

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Media players are becoming an attractive home entertainment option of late as they require very little of the user. They’re not as expensive or labour intensive to setup as home theatre PCs and should appeal to a wider audience than consoles that are geared for home entertain like the PS3 and Xbox 360.

In short, media players are dedicated media devices. They come (or should) with all the codecs you need to play your video files, and these can be updates with a few clicks of your remote. The setup process is as straight forward as connecting the device to your TV and plugging it in. The Iomega SceenPlay Director HD is an excellent example.

Setup

Setting the ScreenPlay Director HD up is very straightforward, but the device does take some time to boot up; well over a minute. We connected it to a 40" Sony Bravia LCD via HDMI and received a sharp 1080p picture when playing HD video. The only setup prompts you get from the device are to choose your preferred language and preferred aspect ratio.

In the box you’ll find HDMI and composite video cables so there is no need to buy these cables to set the device up. You will need to buy an Ethernet cable, however, to connect to your network.

Design

The Iomega SceenPlay Director HD is a basic looking device with a glossy black case on a vertical stand. The fact that it’s on a vertical stand does make it a little awkward to store in your TV unit if you prefer to lay such devices flat, so this may be an issue for some.

The device also features a number of large grey hardware buttons on the front of its case, including a power button and media controls like play, stop, skip back and forward and directional keys. The buttons are practical, but they do detract from the ScreenPlay Director HD’s overall aesthetic. Its cover also sports a bright LED light to indicate processing. We found the light to be overly bright and a little hyper active; qualities which draw your attention away from the TV.

Networking and connectivity

While the SceenPlay Director HD does come with a built-in 1 TB hard drive (see full specs) to store all your media on, it also offers a wealth of networking and connectivity options. On board you’ll find a 10/100 Ethernet port and three USB 2.0 ports for external hard drives or other storage devices. You can also purchase a WiFi adapter separately if you prefer to go wireless. There is a fourth high-speed USB port as well, used for connecting the device directly to a PC.

When connected to your home network, the SceenPlay Director HD is visible as a network drive on your home network, which allows you to transfer files directly to the device. You will also be able to access shared files on the network from the device, so watching videos or listen to music stored on other devices is easy to do. We did find a noticeable lag in the SceenPlay Director HD’s interface when accessing files on other devices though.

Interface

The word "director" suggests control; someone that makes sure all the cogs in the wheel work smoothly and in concert. The Iomega ScreenPlay Director was obviously designed to control all your media, making your access to videos, music and images smooth across devices and a network. Instrumental to this directorship is its interface. The ScreenPlay Director HD’s interface is functional, but basic. The menu screen includes just five options - Music, Video, Photos, Online Media and Settings.

Browsing through these is fairly straightforward, but we encountered two issues. The first is the lack of a dedicated back button on the remote, which would have made navigation far simpler. The second issue concerns your browsing options; there just aren’t any. You can only navigate files according to file names, which the ScreenPlay Director HD lists alphabetically. You can’t browse your music by artist or search your movie files for instance. So while you are in control of your media files, Iomega could have offered a little more control.

The look of the interface is also rather dull. While it is easy to read, with oversized text, the effect is a little underwhelming. We would also have liked to see a few visualisation for the Music player.

What’s new?

There is little doubt that the ScreenPlay Director HD is the best media player Iomega has yet released. Two additions to this device, not evident on Iomega’s other products, are the inclusion of H.264 video playback and the addition of an Online Media option. H.264 video is a standard that provides high quality (HD) video playback at lower bit rates than most standards. Its inclusion rounds off the players video playback capabilities nicely.

We also really liked the addition of an Online option on the ScreenPlay Director HD. By signing up for an account on Iomega’s website you can access YouTube via the device and even make use of a BitTorrent client. While this is a great addition, it will probably go underutilised in South Africa thanks to the cost of broadband.

Verdict

The Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD is one of the better media players we’ve come across. It offers a wide range of codecs and is ridiculously easy to setup. Its networking features and Online Media features also make it highly desirable. Like most media players before it however, it just falls short of what you expect to get for R2499. Its interface is uninspiring, if not downright boring, and at times slow to respond. While Iomega have raised their game, they still need to go that extra mile to make media players a more appealing alternative to home theatre PCs or media centric gaming consoles.

The Iomega ScreenPlay Director HD is available from www.ingrammicro.co.za.

PROS
Setup is straightforward, it offers an online media option and it supports large number of codecs.
CONS
The interface needs a bit of work- more user friendly and better browsing options.
USER COMMENTS

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