Connecting-up your various media is becoming increasingly common with the dominance of the digital camera, music on your hard drive, photo and movie sharing online. Kodak thinks it has the solution to streamline all this content into your TV with the Kodak Theatre HD Player. We got our hands on it for a brief play at this year’s Photokina trade show.
First up the box is fairly unassuming, reminding us of the slim-line PlayStation 2 – basically a black box free from details. You could, technically, hide the box completely from view as the controller works via RF rather than IR, so line of sight is not necessary. However, along the front of the box you’ll find slots to accept most common card formats (SD, MMC, CF, MS, xD, SDHC) and USB, so you might want to make sure you still have access.
Around the back you’ll find the all-important connections, which includes all the essentials: Ethernet, HDMI, digital optical audio, Component video, analogue stereo audio, and SPDIF as well as an additional USB socket. It also features Wi-Fi b/g/n, so you are spoilt for choice with connections. In our hands-on with the Theatre HD Player we didn’t get the chance to set it up (it had already been done by Kodak), so we cannot vouch for that aspect of the device.
However, this isn’t a media storage device, it will need to stream the files from elsewhere, i.e., your PC or the Internet. Kodak confirmed that as is common, there was currently no Mac support. File support, however, is fairly comprehensive (from the spec sheet), giving you DivX, Xvid, AVI, MOV, MPG, ASF, M4V, MP4, with H.264, MJPG, MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, WMV-9, and WMV-9 Advance Profile codecs supported. Audio formats supported include MP3, MP3 VBR, AAC, WAV, WMA, M4B, M4V, MP4V, M4A, with LPCM, MPEG-1 Layers 1/2/3, LC-AAC, WMA-9 Standard, WMA-9 Pro codecs supported. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound pass through, support for Apple iTunes, StoryShare and M3U playlists.
If you simply want to view your images, you’ll get JPEG (baseline, progressive), TIFF, PNG and KDC support. You can also listen to internet radio in H.264/AVC, streaming MP3 or WMA, so compatibility shouldn’t be too much of an issue. The output will support resolutions from QVGA up to 1920 x 1080p at 30fps.
But technicalities aside, the real star of the show is the on-screen user interface and the remote. As we mentioned before, the remote is radio linked and is fully motion sensitive, so acts like the Nintendo Wii, but without the need for a dirty receiver bar on your TV. The remote sits neatly in the hand like a pistol grip with the control buttons on the top. Movement around the screen is exceptionally easy and the controls give you a select and back button with a central scroll wheel. You also have an additional hide button to hide the cursor.
This pairs up perfectly with the graphical user interface which is extremely slick. Too often media streamers act as an ugly route to access content elsewhere with a basic file tree, but that is not the case here. Kodak have really gone down the right route with the Theatre HD Player, with an interface that is a pleasure to use and easy on the eye.
Within the user interface itself you have a number of main locations, allowing you to view movies and pictures, play music as well as accessing locations online, such as Flickr and FrameChannel, giving you access to RSS feeds, local weather, news and so on. Of course, you also get integration with Kodak Easy Share Gallery accounts, allowing you to share your pictures straight from your TV. Equally you’ll be able to receive shared content, with a handy notification letting you know when you have something new to look at.
The memory card slots will automatically copy content over to your hard drive, meaning you don’t have to take your camera to your computer, you can do it direct from your living room. Setting up custom slideshows with music on the fly is a doddle and takes almost no time to set-up.
Whilst we didn’t have the chance to test all the different features and functions of the Theatre HD Player, we were impressed with what we saw. The interface is very easy to use and has a great feel about it, making it the sort of thing you’d want to show off to people.
The tagline that Kodak attach to the Theatre HD Player is "share your life" so it is clear where they intend it to be positioned, integrating with other Kodak products to move sharing from your PC monitor to your TV and from what we saw, it does this very well.
Kodak promised that we’d see a model for a full test in the future, so watch this space...