|At a Glance|
|Product||Iomega ScreenPlay TV Link (34386)|
|Summary||Portable Multimedia player / adapter for USB drives|
• Power efficient
• DVD VOB Support
|Cons||• Lackluster user interface
• Limited format support
A year or so ago I finally made the decision to rip and encode my entire DVD collection, much like I did my CDs years ago. Now after many months of disk swapping, file copying and overnight encoding sessions, I have a large collection of movies that I can stream across the network to my TV. It's cool. With metadata attached, I can view the movie posters, and watch my videos sorted by genre, director, awards, cast, etc.
But there's a problem of portability. What if my kids want to watch one of our movies at a friend's house? In theory we could copy a movie across the network to a laptop and take it along to hook up to the TV. But in reality, that's a time-consuming pain that doesn't work well with my daughter's spur-of-the-moment sleepovers. So even after all my time and effort, I still have to keep a shelf-space hogging DVD collection readily accessible. Is there a solution out there?
In this review I'll check out a new device in Iomega's ScreenPlay line. The TV Link is a sub-$100 device that you hook up to a TV and a USB drive for playing back movies, music and photos. And as an added portability bonus, the little box is only about the size of a pack of playing cards.
The TV Link is actually the media-player portion of Iomega's earlier product, the Multimedia ScreenPlay drive. Both products are functionally equivalent; the TV Link is just smaller and comes sans hard drive.
Setting up the TV Link is pretty simple and it doesn't take much more than plugging in the power and the proper audio/video connectors. Figure 1 shows the back panel where you see the USB drive connector and support for composite signals, component signals and even HDMI. (Iomega includes breakout cables to connect to the composite and component connectors.)
Figure 1: Back Panel
Even though the TV Link has high definition connectors, this isn't a real HD device, as it uses up-scaling to get to high-resolution formats such as 720p and 1080i. For disk drive usage, standard Windows formats such as NTFS and FAT32 are supported along with Iomega's REV-UDF format used in their REV USB drives. And if you want real portability, you can even use a USB-stick in place of a drive.
I tried out a USB hub to see if I could use multiple devices, but it was a no-go. When a hub was plugged in, nothing was recognized. In addition, if you have a drive with multiple partitions, only the first will be recognized. Figure 2 shows the remote used on the TV Link.
Figure 2: TV Link Remote
Notice that the volume up and down buttons are reversed as compared to most remotes. In use, I found this very thin remote a bit stiff, but it worked well enough. Note that if you want to use the remote in a darkened room, it has no backlighting.
I started the setup using the composite connector and powered up. Figure 3 shows the initial menu displayed.
Figure 3: Main Menu
As you can see, the menu graphics on this device are not going to impress your family and friends. They're just about as basic as you can get.
Normally when reviewing one of these video devices, I connect the output of the device to a frame-grabber. But in this case, my grabber didn't like the signal coming from the composite output of the TV Link. This may indicate that the composite output is a bit "off" from standard NTSC, since I've never had this issue before. My TV had no problem with the signal, however. So all of the following screen images were taken using a digital camera and tripod.
The three folders shown here, Music, Pictures and Video correspond to the directories I had created on the flash stick used for this initial test. Miscellaneous non-media files I had laying around at this same level didn't show up at all.
Before I tried out my content, I wanted to check out available configuration options. Figure 4 shows the setup menu that is accessed via a button on the remote.
Figure 4: Setup Menu
From this menu, you can select basic configuration options such as menu languages, audio/video output and photo slideshow timing. And in addition to the standard setup items, there were also a number of DVD-type configuration selections such as DVD Menu, subtitle language, etc.