- Pointer Remote is fun
- Attractive UI
- Powerful hardware
There's Ethernet and WiFi, and we went with the latter, which hooked up without a problem, though Kodak recommends you go the wired route for serious usage -- we're rebels like that.
Set-up is a breeze, with desktop side Kodak EasyShare digital display software (also used to manage Kodak wireless picture frames) that automagically seeks out media. Unfortunately it's rather indiscriminate. For instance, it was happy to tell the Theatre HD box all about our iTunes Movie Store purchases, which the box failed miserably at playing -- after taking ages to load, buffer and then actually play a black screen with occasional "glitchy" noises. Also, it builds previews for certain file types, but not for others -- it's a bit of a crap shoot. Overall we'd say we're very pleased with how easy it is to track down our computer's media, but at the end of the day the software and / or the set-top box need to do a better job of making sense of all that data.
(Codec support is super extensive, other than the aforementioned lack of iTunes Movies and a failure to track down our Zune tracks. Most everything else on our hard drive played without a hitch, including full HD 1080p 30fps video).
There's also what we would call "non-native" support for a myriad of services like Facebook, RSS feeds and Weather through Kodak's FrameChannel partnership. FrameChannel works with lazy photoframe manufacturers to package RSS feeds and the like as images that can then be streamed to the device, complete with oversized and incredibly annoying advertisements. Given the fact that coding an RSS app is practically a "Hello World" exercise these days, it's extremely disappointing that Kodak didn't do that itself.
Actually using all this stuff in the living room, Pointer Remote in hand, is a combination of incredible intuitiveness and occasional frustration. Kodak has a fairly simple menu structure, with a lot of sub categories underneath, and persistent shortcuts to music, help, settings and home. The animations to drill through the menus are smooth, but every action seems to bring with it a slightly annoying delay -- you can't blaze through anything. The good news is that you never feel like you're thumbing through an unending list of options, thanks to the quick, precise pointer movements and the familiar scroll wheel. The back button on the Remote quickly gets us out of our rabbit trails, but we still found the deep folder structures a bit overwhelming at times. The player also had a nasty habit of not showing a picture on the first try. We'd click a pic, get a buffering icon, and then get blackness. We had to back out and click again before we actually saw the image -- this happened both online and on locally-stored images.
The most basic functionality of the box -- popping in a memory card, skimming through the pictures, and building slideshows out of it -- works as effortlessly as you would think, but unfortunately the only online upload option the entire device offers is Kodak Gallery. Newsflash: we don't use Kodak Gallery, and we don't know anyone that does. We're sure that these strange creatures exist, but until they represent a majority of the population, we'd really appreciate being able to upload content to Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and so forth.
We'd say the main problem here is that Kodak hasn't quite managed to make a product easy enough to use that we could recommend to the people who would actually get the most use out of it: our parents. There were enough breaks in the usability and layers of complication to make it too frustrating to the basic user -- for instance, the box found our PC automatically, but once that PC feel asleep and was reawoken, Theatre HD couldn't find the PC's content until we manually re-added it in the settings menu. On the flip side, there's not enough power or capability here to appeal to the power user -- especially with devices like media extenders and the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii offering most of these features (or more) for less cost. Add in some Netflix, Flickr and YouTube uploads and patch up some of these usability problems and then maybe we'll talk.
The good news is that Kodak has a wonderful box and a wonderful input mechanism on its hands, and if it's willing to put in the work and capital to build a truly great piece of 2.0 software for it, we might have something here that's worth the $299 asking price. Oh, and let use the Pointer Remote with our computers... pretty please?