The Gadget: The Iomega ScreenPlay HD upscaling multimedia drive, a 500GB HDD for playing movies, music, and slideshows on your TV set.
The Price: US$200
The Verdict: This thing kinda sucks. I was hoping the ScreenPlay would be able to replace my current set up of streaming media over an Xbox 360. The 360 works most of the time, but sometimes it gets hung up buffering large files, and I don't have an external HDD the size of the ScreenPlay to plug into it. If this one could play all the codecs of the Xbox while looking halfway decent and not lagging, I'd convert in a heartbeat.
The first problem came when I tried to load files from my Mac. The drive is formatted in NTFS, rendering it incompatible with OS X. Worried I'd lose the ScreenPlay's UI if I formatted the drive, I got some files from my roommate's PC first. (Later, I formatted the drive to FAT, and everything loaded fine from both computers.) The AVIs transferred quickly, and I hooked it up to the TV via HDMI.
The UI is just a basic file manager, nothing special or sexy about it. One thing I found particularly annoying is that the button in the centre of the D-Pad is "Play" and not "OK", so pressing play on a folder went straight to the first file. It took me about five times of hitting it to figure it out. However, I did like that the ScreenPlay accepted multiple levels of folders, something I haven't been able to figure out for my Mac files on the Xbox.
Picture quality on the ScreenPlay wasn't very good. It claims to upscale content, but my low-qual Flight of the Conchords videos looked like junk, and higher-res BSG episodes looked the same as they do on Xbox. When I tried to play a 720p ep of Planet Earth, I got a "resolution not supported" error—this never happens on Xbox. The MP4 videos that I use to encode all my Handbrake rips didn't show up in the menu, since they are not supported. Music and photo playback were decent, but the interface wasn't nearly as robust as the Xbox.
The ScreenPlay HD didn't meet my expectations at all. Sure, it can play some videos and other multimedia, and it's nice to not worry about buffering, but the playback limitations outweigh the benefits. On top of that, US$200 is steep for a 500GB HD, especially considering Iomega sells others for under US$100. There's no chance that this would replace my Xbox for watching computer media on TV, but it could make a nice, if expensive, addition to plug into the 360's USB port. [Iomega]