Hands On: Seagate Central Networked Home Storage

We get up close with this NAS, which is designed for use in and out of the home, as well as in the home theater.

Oct. 21, 2013 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

The act of backing up audio, video, photos and other important files always seems to be an afterthought. In other words, you don’t really think about it until everything is gone. Baby videos, vacation photos, and a lifetime’s worth of music could all be gone in a flash. Yes, accidents happen and most people never think about prevention until they’re crying over a burnt hard drive.

Of course, maybe backup wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it were more seamless and actually made some of those goodies available for daily use. Get it together, people—literally. The Seagate Central provides a place to back up everything, organizes that stored content, and actually makes it available from almost anywhere.

Simple Central Setup
Just as an FYI: This entire review was completed using an iPhone 4 and two Windows PCs (one with XP, one with Windows 8), so that’s the perspective I’ll be describing throughout. However, it’s important to know that the Central is compatible with Mac and Android devices as well.

The Central’s setup process is so insanely easy, there aren’t even any words in the manual. Instead, it’s just two pictures. The compact box plugs into your router via an Ethernet cable and plugs into the wall with the included power cord. There is no wireless option on this model. The Central also has a USB 2.0 port on the back. However, this is strictly for connecting an external hard drive. The Central isn’t designed to be hooked directly to your PC.

As soon as everything is connected, the rest of the setup process is completed online and takes all of 5 minutes. From there, the Central is set up and ready to be filled. The Central is available in 2TB (MSRP: $174.99), 3TB ($189.99) and 4TB ($269.99) models, with several ways to make content available for sharing. Windows users will be able to see the Central on the network, right under the list of networked devices in Windows Explorer. Anyone with a computer on the network can easily add, delete or use whatever goodies you have stored, without any special software. Just drag and drop it.

Once you leave the house, there are several other ways to take the Central along for the ride.

Get Out!
Of course, we’ve all heard the expression “you can’t take it with you.” Them’s fightin’ words, when it comes to the Seagate Central. The box makes all of its stored, shared content available to users both in and outside of the home. Because let’s face it: You’re going to want to leave the house eventually. (It’s true!) However, you’re not going to want to load all of your music, photos and other important digital tidbits onto a laptop or thumb drive. Thankfully, the Seagate Central can be accessed remotely in a few ways.

First, you can tap into every single item on the Central via a good, old web browser. The Seagate Central has its own website, which allows users to log in and access the Central like you’re sitting in your living room. Of course, the interface isn’t as easy as drag-and-drop. You’ll actually have to click things! However, you can access absolutely everything that’s stored. Also worth noting is that you can view photos and slideshows, as well as stream music and videos right through the web browser. The quality may vary, based on your connection speed. However, I didn’t have any problems streaming content through the web.

Besides providing a remote way to access stored content, this interface allows users to download files (if you need them on a remote device) or share them through Facebook, Flickr or YouTube. Of course, users can also upload new material through the web interface.

If you want to tap into your Central box from a portable, Seagate does have a free app for iOS and Android devices. This allows users to stream music, photos and video from the box, but it’s slightly more limited.

For me, photos and music were pretty seamless on my iPhone. However, every time I tried to check out a video, I received a message saying that it needed to be downloaded first. According to Seagate tech support, the app will actually download video files to your preferred mobile device. Those files will then live on that device, until you delete them. Not to worry, though; if you delete the files from your smartphone or tablet, you won’t be deleting them from the Seagate Central. However, once you delete the file, you’ll need to download it again to view it through the app. The download process varied with my file sizes, with some being extremely slow. However, once the videos are loaded, they should play without any buffering issues.

Something else worth noting is that app will only provide access to the Central’s Public folder. So while computers can see and access other folders you create on the Seagate Central, only the Public folder can be accessed through the app.  Also, even though you can access all of those goodies remotely, you can’t upload anything to the Central through the iOS app. The only way to do that remotely is through the aforementioned web-based interface.

What Else Can I Do With It?
The Seagate Central is a media server at heart and can share content with DLNA devices, as well as the Apple TV. In fact, the Apple TV would really complement the Central, especially if you plan to load it up with iTunes-based content. After all, it won’t play back any of that stuff on your TV/stereo, if you don’t have an Apple TV connected. Remember, Apple doesn’t like to share anything! Seagate also has something special for those of you with one of Samsung’s Smart TVs or Blu-ray players (or both). Samsung’s Smart TV platform actually has its own Seagate Central app, so you can easily access all of the box’s stored content through the interface displayed on your HDTV.

If you don’t have Apple or Samsung, you can still share stored content with that big screen. Many of today’s HDTVs, Blu-ray players and other devices are packing in DLNA support. For instance, when I navigated to networked devices and DLNA on my Panasonic DMP-BDT220 3D Blu-ray player, the Seagate was right there for the taking. Like everything else connected to the network, this didn’t require a password to access the Central’s Public folder. However, like the app, you’ll only be able to access what’s Public. No other files will be visible.

While using DLNA, both the Music and Videos options were a bit limited. You aren’t going to be able to download music or movies from iTunes for playback on your TV. It makes sense. After all, Apple wants you to buy the Apple TV, not the Seagate Central. So I wasn’t able to play a lot of my stored music, as well as a few random videos. If you have all MP3s, you’ll have a much more extensive selection available at your fingertips. Photos, on the other hand, didn’t discriminate, with everything from the Central available for viewing. My one gripe is that there appears to be no slideshow option, although that may be my specific Blu-ray player.

Um, What About Backup?
Of course, the Seagate Central is designed for backup and backup you shall have—and pretty easily, I might add. This is where the Seagate Dashboard comes in. This is a downloadable program that makes saving your files as seamless as you want it to be.

Download the Dashboard to the computer that you want to back up and you’ll find three options: Protect, Share and Save.

Protect offers its own trio of options. Users can protect files at whim or set up a “backup plan.” This allows you to schedule routine backups of certain folders or the entire contents of a computer. Once you decide which items you want to back up, you can create a backup plan that will run automatically without another click. Options include Hourly, Daily, Weekly and Monthly. There’s also a Continuously option for just that, as well as a Snapshot for backing up select files just one time. Finally, the Protect header also has a Restore option, in case you have one of those unfortunate accidents and lose everything on your PC, on your iPhone, in your Facebook account, or anywhere else that you previously backed up.

Share allows users to upload pictures and/or video to Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. You will need to log into those respective accounts to share content. Save will back up any photos and video loaded to Facebook and Flickr. I don’t know about you, but I post a lot of videos and photos directly from my iPhone. This makes backing up those posts easy, without having to download anything to a main computer.

Bottom Line
The Seagate Central isn’t really an all-in-one device for home theater users. It’s not supposed to be. In other words, it’s not really meant to be a replacement for the Apple TV, a Roku box, or some other media streamer. That said, it will back up all of your audio, video and photos—and make most of it accessible from anywhere in the world. It also backs up a lot of it, thanks to an internal 4TB hard drive. Of course, I would still recommend (from experience) that you get a back up for this backup. Still, it does get all of that storage into your regular digital rotation. Is it the be-all end-all of home theater devices? No. It is a possible lifesaver? Absolutely, which makes it well worth the MSRP

Seagate Central Shared Storage
Starts at $174.99

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