The “PC in the living room” Alternative – The ScreenPlay HD

6 02 2009

By Casey Gotcher

One of the advantages to the job I have, is I get to talk to tons of consumers, about Digital Home and Digital Lifestyle wants, needs and concerns.  One thing I hear over and over again, is that people want a way to get their digital assets out to their TV or Home Theater System, as that’s where they want to be entertained, when they are at home.

Some people (myself included) have been hooking PC’s or HTPC’s up to their TV’s to solve this problem, and have been doing so for years. This happens to work fine for me and several of my friends. My parents and other relatives, have declined to go down this path, because the negatives of doing so, out-weigh the positives for them.  In some cases, it is the complexity of dealing with a PC and a User Interface that tends to be more optimized for a keyboard and a mouse, than for a remote control.  Other sight not wanting another component to look at or deal with.  Some talk about noise concerns, and so on.

In trying to find alternatives for these folks, I started looking for a device that would have much of the multimedia capabilities as a PC, without some of the drawbacks mentioned above.  Game Consoles now a days have media playback capabilities, as do Digital Media Adapters.  Many of my high tech friends have migrated to these devices, as a way to solve this problem in their homes.  Still, they are not perfect either.  Streaming video can take quite a bit of bandwidth.  Most homes have a wireless network, if anything at all.  Streaming video on a wireless network, can leave you unhappy, as you will often experience frame drops, freezes, or complete failure to continue the stream.

The other issue with Game Consoles or DMA’s, is that they often have limited Video Codec support.  This means that they will not play all formats of videos, which you may have in your collection.  This problem is often solved by using a method called “Transcoding.”  Setting up and using Transcoding is not rocket science, but is also not easy for average non-technical people to understand and set up.  In addition, it requires a fast PC (I recommend a Quad Core Phenom II, from AMD) to actually preform the “on the fly” file format conversion.

So while those devices will work for some, others need something simpler and easier to set up.  Something that could get the content from your PC to the TV, in either a networked fashion or a sneaker-net type fashion (where network performance is an issue). What I mean by sneaker-net, is that you would physically walk the content from one location to the other, without the use or limitations of your home network.

While I have yet to come across the perfect device, I have found one that met my cost objectives, as well as being compatible with many of the formats I cared about. This device is called the ScreenPlay HD, and is manufactured by Iomega.  The ScreenPlay HD comes in a couple of different form factors.  The one I chose came with an integrated Hard Drive.  I have personally purchased 3 of these devices, at approximately $150 each.  For this price, I got a unit that had 500GB’s of storage, HDMI, Component, and S-Video/Composite connectors.  The device also supports most of the popular audio and video formats that I cared about, such as MP3, DiVX, XViD, JPEG, etc.

Once you have the device removed from the packaging, you simply hook it up to a free USB port on your PC.  At that point, it is seen by the OS as another hard drive, and you can transfer your multimedia content at will.  Once you have your photos, videos, and music downloaded, you walk the device over to your TV or home theater set up, and attach it.  After deciding which port to use (I typically use HDMI), you power up the device and you are ready to go.  The setup of the device doesn’t take more than a few minutes.  Getting content on the device can take a few hours though, depending on how much you decide to put on the device.

The ScreenPlay HD is simple to use and has worked out perfectly for my wife, my kids, and my parents.  They can quickly and easily pull out the remote control and find a TV show or movie to watch in under a minute (from the ScreenPlay’s integrated interface).

I personally still prefer the power and flexibily a full blown PC or HTPC gives me, but if that doesn’t work for you for some reason, I would highly recommend this device.  It barely costs more than a similar sized external hard drive, and you get so much more in the way of capabilities.  While I expect to see this device and several other like it, contiune to push this experience to new heights, this is not a bad first start.

Tech Specs

Media Formats

  • Audio Formats – MP3, AC3 (Dolby® Digital.Encoding), WMA, WAV, OGG
  • Video Formats – MPEG-1, MPEG-2 (AVI/VOB), .MPEG-4 (AVI/DiVX 3.11, 4.x, 5.x/XViD)
  • Photo Formats – JPEG
  • PAL/NTSC – 480i/480p; scalable to 720p/1080i
  • AV connections: SCART (RGB); HDMI.Composite video and audio R/L; .Component video: Y, Pb, Pr; Coaxial S/PDIF output
  • Hard drive format: NTFS
  • Resolution: PAL/NTSC – 480i/480p; scalable to 720p/1080i


  • USB 2.0 (USB 1.1 backwards compatible)
  • AV Connections:
    • Composite video and audio R/L
    • Component video: Y, Pb, Pr (480i/480p)
    • Coaxial S/PDIF output
    • SCART (RGB)
    • HDMI

Supported File System

  • NTFS (default)
  • FAT32

What You Need PC Users:

  • 350MHz Pentium® class processor or higher
  • Microsoft® Windows® 2000 Professional, XP Home/XP Professional/XP Professional x64, Windows Vista *
  • 64MB RAM
  • USB 1.1/2.0 equipped
  • CD-ROM or DVD drive

To View User’s Manual:

  • Microsoft® Internet Explorer® 5.0 or higher or Netscape® 6.1 or higher


  • 5.0″ H x 2.3″ W x 7.7″ L


  • 2 pounds

* Vista compatibility includes all versions – Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate.




2 responses

7 02 2009
Patrick Moorhead

Very informative post. With hard drives “free” this looks very compelling.

11 02 2009

I have PS3 and it plays virtually everything. It does not play MKV files and PAL DVD’s. I think it will be fixed soon in one of firmware release. Having game console, Blue Ray/DVD player and DLNA client in the same box is very convenient.

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