Blog Post

Seagate’s New FreeAgent STB: New Package, Same Issues

Storage company Seagate (s STX) today introduced its new FreeAgent Theater+, the latest version of its media storage/player set-top box. And while they’ve added some bells and whistles, with so many other options out there, can this new and improved FreeAgent make the cut?

Similar to the first FreeAgent, which was released this past spring (see our review), the Theater+ is basically an external hard drive that you can use to store media downloaded from your computer, and then walk across the room and stick it into a docking station plugged into your TV. Unlike the previous version, the Theater+ now has an HDMI out to support HD viewing on your television and the option of connecting to your home network to access content either through an ethernet cable or through an wireless add-on that will be available this fall.

The problem for Seagate is that people already have hard drives that they can use to move media around — they’re called iPods. You can connect those to your TV through cables or something like Dexim’s iPod dock — though that isn’t in HD now, that’s a problem that will most likely be rectified. If people want HD output now, they can get the Microsoft (s MSFT) Zune HD, which has a docking station with 720p output. With these “hard drives” already fitting into people’s existing daily habits, why would they add something new to that mix that is only storage and not a player?

The addition of home networking capabilities makes the Theater+ slightly more attractive, but there are already other devices that will do that for less money. Netgear (s NTGR), for instance, just released the stripped down Digital Entertainer Live that lets you watch content stored on your home network as well as web video and Internet TV.

A big issue for Seagate is that it’s not top of mind with consumers when it comes to this kind of TV-connected device. Seagate wouldn’t release exact sales figures, but said sales of the first FreeAgent “met expectations” domestically. However, the device never got into brick-and-mortar stores, and was aimed more at the European market. Given the number of competing devices that connect to the TV right now and are waiting around the corner for the holiday season, Seagate still faces an uphill battle.

The FreeAgent Theater+ is available now and costs $149 for a dock without the hard drive and $289 when bundled with 500 GB of storage.