Seagate Central NAS and Media Server Reviewed

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Seagate Central NAS and Media Server Reviewed

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SeagateCentral-1.gifThe dramatic rise in popularity of digital media files and the dramatic fall of hard-drive costs have inspired many AV fans to assemble their own media servers, using a combination of a network attached storage (NAS) drive and some form of media management application that runs on their computers, handheld devices, and/or networkable AV gear - be it iTunes, PLEX, XBMC, and so on and so forth. Some hard drive manufacturers have wisely asked the question: do we really need the middleman? Why not design an external NAS drive with integrated media management to appeal to the home entertainment crowd?

That's exactly what Seagate has done with the new Seagate Central external hard drive. The drive itself is a single-bay design in configurations of 2TB ($149.99), 3TB ($179.99), or 4TB ($219.99). Seagate sent me the 4TB version (official model number STCG4000100) for review. The Seagate Central has a home-theater-friendly form that resembles a small source component. Measuring roughly 8.5 inches long by 5.5 deep by 1.75 high, it's a little bigger than the average streaming media player and a little smaller than the average Blu-ray player. The plastic front face has a brushed charcoal finish and sports nothing but a Seagate logo, while the back panel offers three ports: power, Ethernet (10/1000), and USB (2.0).

Seagate-Central-Inbox-2.gifPhysical setup involves nothing more than connecting the Seagate drive via Ethernet to your router or switch and powering up the device. It takes about two minutes for the drive's top-panel LED to glow solid green, indicating that initial startup is complete. From there, the rest of the setup process takes place on your computer. The Seagate Central is compatible with both Mac (Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later) and Windows (Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP) operating systems, and the setup page (http://seagate.com/central/setup ) provides clear instructions for each path.

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Naturally, you can set up the Seagate Central to perform automatic backups of the computers on your network. For Mac users like me, the device works directly through Time Capsule; all I had to do was go into my Time Capsule preferences and change the backup disc from my usual Time Machine to the Seagate Central. It was a no-brainer. The focus of this review, though, is on Seagate's media management tools, and the first step to managing your media is to get your media files onto the drive. The Seagate Central is a DLNA-compatible server; the drive has default folders in place for Videos, Music, and Photos, with sample content in each. Seagate recommends you hardwire your computer to the router via Ethernet to transfer media files for the speediest and most reliable results. I dropped about 20GB's worth of movies (MP4) and a lot of home videos (MOV and MP4) into the Videos folder, as well as a ton of personal photos (JPG) and my entire iTunes content folder (about 75GB). It took less than two hours to transfer everything. Of course, I was nowhere close to using up the full 4TB of storage at my disposal. If you've amassed a large collection of high-definition movies and/or high-resolution music, then the transfer process will be a lengthier one.

Seagate-Central-Angle-3.gifThe media files reside in a Public folder on the Seagate server that can be accessed by any DLNA-compatible players on the same network. Pretty much every new "smart" HDTV and Blu-ray player has built-in DLNA playback support, as do many streaming media players. A vast array of DLNA apps are available for your smartphone or tablet so that you can stream content from the server to your handheld device. I generally use Samsung's AllShare app on my Galaxy tablet, and I had no trouble connecting to the Seagate Central and accessing files for seamless playback. The Seagate Central has the ability to stream most major file types, including MP4, M4V, MKV, AVI, WMV, OGG, MP3, M4A, WMA, AIFF, WAV, and FLAC. However, playback support is ultimately dictated by the playback device. For instance, my Android tablet could not play back any of the MOV files or iTunes-purchased TV shows in my collection, whereas my iPhone 4 could.

Beyond simply offering a DLNA server, Seagate has gone the extra step of designing its own free media app for both iOS and Android, called Seagate Media. I downloaded the iOS app to my iPhone 4 and the Android app to my Galaxy tablet. Both apps immediately detected the Seagate server I had set up and allowed me to access the files. The interface is straightforward and simple enough to navigate, although there's nothing especially eye-catching or noteworthy about its appearance. Content is divided into Videos, Music, Photos, Documents, and Recent; you can choose to organize files by title, size, date, and type. Music can be sorted by playlist, songs, albums, artists, and genre. You can also do a general Folder view, where you can browse the content folders exactly as you transferred them to the Seagate Central. One major perk is that the iOS app includes built-in AirPlay support, so you can easily use your handheld device like a remote to cue up content off the Seagate server and send it to an AirPlay-enabled receiver, speaker, or Apple TV. One thing I didn't get by using the Seagate app over my iPhone's Music app was my iTunes music playlists, but then again, the Seagate app integrates all your media into one app, which is nice.

Read The High Points, The Low Points and the Conclusion on Page 2 . . .


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HTR Product Rating for Seagate Central NAS and Media Server

Criteria Rating

Performance

4.5

Value

4.5

Overall

4.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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