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First Look: Seagate GoFlex Cinema

Posted on Tuesday December 20, 2011, 15:01 by James Dyer in Empire States
First Look: Seagate GoFlex Cinema

There’s a reason why, even now, Macs refuse to come with Blu-ray drives. It’s not (just) because the late Steve Jobs wanted you to download HD films off iTunes but because the visionary technologist believed that physical media was in the midst of its death throes. Whether he was overstating the matter or not, the rise of digital media and the emergence on these shores of UltraViolet (the studios’ downloadable answer to DVD) certainly mean that digital copies of movies are increasing their foothold in the home entertainment market. The problem is that for most people it’s hard to know how to make the most of it all.

Broadly speaking there are three principle methods of enjoying digital media in your home. The first is to stream directly off the Internet via services such as Netflix or LoveFilm. The Second is to stream your own media files across your home network (which we’ll cover in some depth in an upcoming article). The Third, and arguably the simplest, is to store your movies on a multimedia hard drive, which you can then plug directly into your TV. It’s this latter method that Seagate are pointing people towards with their new GoFlex Cinema, an out-of-the-box media player with generous built-in storage and a pleasing on-screen interface.

The multimedia hard drive market is far from sparsely populated but with a three terabyte model lining up alongside one and two terabyte versions, Seagate is aiming the Cinema at film fans with larger digital collections, or those for whom SD content just doesn’t cut it anymore. Out of the box, the Cinema is a neat, glossy black box pre-formatted for PCs. Thoughtfully, though, Seagate’s software quizzes uses on their platform needs and will either reformat for Macs or cater to cross-platform users by gifting them with Paragon’s NTFS for Mac drivers, allowing Apple’s machine to write to Windows filesystems directly. Once this hurdle is passed, all that remains is to copy all your digital media from computer to drive – though due to the limitations of USB, filling all 3TB will likely be an overnight operation.

With all your media on the drive, it happily plugs into your TV via HDMI (or composite cables if you’re desperate) and after a pleasantly short boot time, fires up the full colour UI. This is a step where a lot of similar drives trip up: LaCie’s otherwise decent LaCinema range having a truly ghastly monochrome menu and only Western Digital’s live series really nailed the balance between aesthetics and functionality. Seagate have no problems in this area as the interface is both attractive and intuitive, presenting users with the option of playing photos, music or video files. Usefully, the GoFlex Cinema doesn’t ask you to place different media in pre-defined folders, you can dump it all slapdash on the drive itself with nary a care to organization and the device will sift through and organize your files automatically when not playing back media. Nice.

Playback is decent, supports full 1080p and will handle pretty much any file type you throw at it, from XviD and WMA to H.264, MKV and even FLAC files for audio. The only slight quibble is that it doesn’t support DTS audio, limiting you to Dolby Digital playback, though that’s hardly a dealbreaker.

All in all the GoFlex Cinema is a well put together media drive that stands apart from a lot of the competition simply due to the size of storage on offer. When you also consider that you can increase capacity still further thanks to a USB expansion port, and that, at £150 for the largest model, it's not that much more than a plain old 3TB hard drive, this glossy box of delights starts to seem very appealing indeed.

So, as a toe in the water of digital media, the GoFlex Cinema (or similar device) is a perfect way to start. The more adventurous among you, or those with truly titanic collections may want to take things a step further, however, and centralize your entire collection on a server, which can channel digital movie goodness all over your home. For the lowdown on that, however, you’ll have to tune in to our detailed follow-up article in the new year.

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