Multimedia hard drives are in vogue, with several models recently being released by Iomega and rivals such as LaCie and Western Digital. As well as allowing you to back up files, drives such as the Iomega ScreenPlay Pro HD can also be connected to a high-definition TV so that you can enjoy the full home cinema experience of playing music and video files on a big widescreen TV.
At first glance, the Iomega ScreenPlay Pro HD certainly seems to be packed with useful features. However, it manages to omit one specific feature (which we'll come to) that will be extremely important to anyone who owns an iPod, and all Mac OS X users.
Our £164 review unit had a 500GB hard drive, but you can get a larger model with a full terabyte of storage for £209. The hard drive is initially formatted using the Windows NTFS format. (The ScreenPlay's manual informs Mac users that they need to reformat the drive to use the alternate Windows FAT32 format. The ScreenPlay won't work properly if you use Apple's standard Mac OS Extended format, but it's an easy matter to reformat the drive using Disk Utility on your Mac.)
When you want to transfer some files on to the Iomega ScreenPlay Pro HD it can be connected directly to your PC using a USB cable, or a home network, using the drive's ethernet interface.
Also tucked around the back of the unit are an HDMI interface for connecting to an HD TV, composite and component video connectors for older types of TV, plus analogue and digital audio connectors.
We were also impressed that the Iomega ScreenPlay Pro HD has a composite video input that allows you to record video as well. That will be very useful if you've got some old video tapes you want to convert into digital format.
When you connect the Iomega ScreenPlay Pro HD to a television, it displays its own menu on the TV screen, with all your stored files neatly organised into separate categories for music, video and photos. This makes it easy to browse and play your stored media files, and the ScreenPlay's 1080i video output provides very good image quality.
However, we were surprised to find that although the ScreenPlay can play a wide range of digital audio and video formats it can't play MP4 video files encoded with Apple's standard H.264 compression system - bad news for iPod and Mac users.
With a good set of audio and video interfaces for connecting to TV sets, and a useful video recording option, we'd be able to fully recommend the Iomega Screenplay Pro HD, if only it could play H.264 video. The H.264 video format is the standard format used for storing and playing video on the iPod and Apple TV, as well as devices such as Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Without support for H.264 video the ScreenPlay Pro HD will be of limited use to iPod owners.