Review: Kodak Theatre HD Player

As the number of vestigial boxes flanking our HDTV inexplicably grows every year, it’s getting exceedingly hard to muster up much enthusiasm for yet another media extending/enhancing/streaming device — especially one from a company with no prior experience in the space.

Color us pleasantly surprised then by Kodak’s new Theatre HD player. Within minutes of hooking up this unassuming little black box to our TV, our skepticism vanished faster than Arctic Sea ice.

Like so many other nondescript boxes before it, the Theatre HD’s raison d’être is straightforward: to shuttle the contents of your PC directly to your television using ethernet or Wi-Fi. Pictures, videos, podcasts, music or any other digital content that may be living on your hard drive (as long as it’s not squelched by some DRM straightjacket) can be whisked away by this tiny little box to your television with little to no fuss.

Indeed, what really sets the Theatre HD Player apart from the rest of the field is how immaculately it performs all these tasks. Once you’ve downloaded Kodak’s EasyShare display software, everything is pretty much taken care of. Have a hard drive filled with extra content? No problem. Simply hook it up to one of the player’s USB ports and you’re ready to go.

Even more impressive is the fact that everything actually looks exceedingly good once it arrived at our HDTV. Displayed in all their high-res, 16:9 glory, our library of digital photos popped off the screen. And with support for most digital media file formats and codecs, we had no problem streaming 1080p video at 30 fps with relatively few hiccups. The player even managed to transform YouTube video into something slightly less horrible — no small feat if you’ve ever watched YouTube on a PS3 or Apple TV.

As icing on the content-serving cake, Kodak even includes a clever gyroscopic remote. Yes, it resembles a rotten miniature banana. But when it comes to setting up accounts or simply scrolling through hundreds of photos, it makes every other controller look like antiquated junk. Best of all, it’s RF wireless, so there’s no need to worry about line-of-sight or syncing issues.

All told, it took us less than 10 minutes to get the Theatre HD up and running. And once we started streaming up HD videos and browsing friends’ Flickr feeds, it was frankly hard to stop. 

Yet for all the things that Kodak did right with its inaugural media streamer, the company still has plenty of work ahead of it. Almost everything the Theatre HD does (while truly seamless) isn’t hard to find on other devices — devices that cost a great deal less, we might add. Throwing Netflix streaming into the mix and rounding out the player’s ability to stream more internet content would certainly sweeten the pot, especially for those of us with other boxes already tethered to our television.

Still, as far as quality and simplicity are concerned, Kodak has pulled off what few companies have. Here’s hoping this little box will continue to evolve into a creature more advanced.

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