Kodak isn’t necessarily the first company you’d think would make a set-top box that’s designed to get your multimedia content off your computer and onto your TV. But that’s exactly what the company’s Theater HD Player does. The device, which hit store shelves earlier this year, is easy to use, has a cool gyroscopic remote, and is now available for a lower price. Sounds like a winner, right? Well, not exactly.
The HD Theater Player itself is a slim box that is a breeze to set up: It connects to your TV via component video, s-video or HDMI — though only the component video cords are included. It also connects to your home network wirelessly or via a wired connection, but — again — you’ll have to supply the Ethernet cord yourself.
You then run the included Kodak Easyshare Digital Display software on your Windows PC. This software finds multimedia content on your PC, and indexes it to make it available on the HD Theater Player. This process, however, can take a long time — a couple of hours, in my case — and, while you can tell it which folders to look in, it doesn’t automatically skip over incompatible files. The HD Theater Player won’t play back any DRM-protected files, for example, but the software still finds them.
Once you’ve run the software, your computer needs to be on, with the software running, for the HD Theater Player to find it. The on-screen interface is simple and easy to use, and Kodak packages a remote control that’s actually a gyroscopic pointer. You point it at the on-screen icons on your TV, and press a button to make your selection. It’s much easier — and more fun — to use than your typical TV remote, and it makes a lot more sense, too. You just aim and press, rather than trying to use up and down arrows to scroll through long lists and enter information.
As you might expect from a Kodak product, the HD Theater Player has a heavy focus on photos. In fact, the menu option for viewing videos is called “Pictures & Videos.” If you have a Kodak Gallery account, you can view your photo albums and slideshows on screen, and you can easily peruse your friends’ photo collections. If you have a Flickr account, you can view that on the HD Theater Player, too, though it would be nice to see support for more online photo sources, like Facebook, for one. My photos — both from Kodak Gallery and Flickr — looked great on my big-screen TV. You can set music to play in the background while you’re viewing slideshows.
Viewing video wasn’t enjoyable — when I could get it working. The HD Theater Player supports a variety of formats, including .xvid, .avi, .mov, and more. But I couldn’t view any of my DRM-protected downloads, and, worse, the player kept dropping the connection to my computer (which holds all the files) and I had to manually go into the device’s settings menu and add it back as a source of content repeatedly. (I’ve asked Kodak about this, but have not yet heard back.) Once I got it playing, though, video looked good. The HD Theater Player supports content up to 1080p, and my HD content looked sharp and clear.
The player also includes links to a few select online sources of content, such as YouTube. When I used a wired connection, YouTube content looked great, much better than I’ve seen it look on my TV when using other boxes. I saw no pixilation or blockiness, even when watching HD videos. Still, I’d like to see more online content — integration with Netflix or Amazon’s VOD service could really make the Kodak player worthwhile.
When the HD Theater Player hit store shelves earlier this year, it cost $300. Today, though, you can find it for less than $200. That’s still too pricey. If Kodak could add more sources of online content, then I’d be interested.