From the company that brought us the Zip drive comes another step up in storage technology: Iomega's ScreenPlay Multimedia, which has a 60-Gbyte notebook drive at its core and integrates audio, video, and still-image playback capabilities with PC connectivity through a USB 2.0 interface.
Any type of video file can be saved on the unit from your PC and played back on a TV hooked to the ScreenPlay over the cable that's included. I moved only about 8 Gbytes worth of video to the ScreenPlay for testing (an entire season of the darkly funny "The Venture Brothers"), but you can transfer up to 90 hours of video. Good news for anyone going on an extended vacation.
The video files are arranged according to file name, and the device has a thumbnail control. Unfortunately, the thumbnail system attempts to load and play each video in its entirety as the files are listed, so getting a full directory can take some time. But video playback overall is good. I had only a single hitch: When I started one video file, then pressed stop, then started from the menu again, the file's audio was corrupted. I had to turn the ScreenPlay off and on again with the switch at the back to fix the problem. Another concern: When the ScreenPlay is put through its paces in video-playback mode, the unit becomes hot.
Audio playback with MP3 files was a snap. Tracks can be selected and played back, shuffled, and so forth. ScreenPlay's audio playback also can accompany slide-show presentations.
The $220 ScreenPlay includes Iomega's Automatic Backup Pro. Tests using the open-source Iometer show that ScreenPlay fares about as well as most external hard drives--that's to say, it's considerably slower than our comparative model, an internal 160-Gbyte Seagate Serial ATA hard drive. The Seagate drive claimed a 56.11-Mbps throughput compared with the ScreenPlay's 7.43 Mbps. But ScreenPlay's I/O performance in the desktop arena is secondary. If you're looking for an easy-to-transport, simple-to-use, and high-storage-capacity multimedia device, it delivers the goods.