About a month ago I received a Netgear NeoTV 550 for review. I am an avid Media Center PC user, which meant I was immediately skeptical of any replacement for my beloved HTPC. Initially I found my skepticism warranted, but over the past month that changed. It changed for two reasons – one was my own network setup problem and the other was a Netgear update.
A few weeks ago I posted a brief unboxing tour of the device. As with any new electronics that show up on my doorstep, I was excited and intrigued by it. I hurriedly set it up in test mode – which means I didn’t take the time to pull out the media cabinet, take the back off, and hook it up properly. This setup was quick and dirty – plug in the device, composite cables to the TV for sound and video, and an ethernet cable (Cat 5E) for access to the home network.
The NeoTV 550 will not do WiFi, in case you’re wondering, but since I have wired access to my home theater, that wasn’t an issue. This may be a deal-breaker for some users though.
As for the 2 issues I mentioned earlier – the first was on my end. The NeoTV found my Music folder, but always said it was empty. I thought it was the box, because both my desktop and laptop found it fine (it’s stored on the Media Center PC in the living room). But, when I started using another Windows 7 device and it gave the same message, I looked closer and discovered a network sharing issue. Once I corrected that the NeoTV found the music just fine.
The second issue was in Videos. We have a lot of TV shows stored on our HTPC and they are all in folders by show name, then further divided into folders by season number. In short, it’s easy to access any show from Media Center. The NeoTV took all of these videos and put them in one folder – hundreds of shows that had to be scrolled through to find what we wanted to watch. This was solved by a software update and now all of our folders are intact and easily accessible.
The interface for the NeoTV is clean and simple. The menu is very succinct – you have Video, Music, Photos, Browse Folders, Internet Media, Streaming TV and Movies, and Settings. There’s a remote included that makes accessing all of these menu items simple and fast.
Internet Media contains such favorites as YouTube, RadioTime, Shoutcast, Flickr, News, and Weather. In News you have many favorites like ESPN, Wired Science, and CNN. You can also add your own RSS feed.
Streaming TV and Movies, when clicked on, gives the message “This feature will be coming in a future firmware release”.
The Video option allows you to drill down through the menus on your source PC – we can choose from TV show, movies, home video, and everything else that’s in the video section of our HTPC. File names are on the left and cover art is displayed to the right. Again, it’s a clean, simple interface. You can change the look to get more of a Media Center My Movies look with cover art only across the screen, allowing you scroll from one movie to the next. For more on what you can do with your movies see the Tech Specs below.
Music and Pictures work the same as video – folders and titles to the left and artwork to the right. Or, you can choose an alternative look.
The only thing I found lacking here was the absense of a Search option.
Under the Settings option in the main menu you will find Setup Wizard, Audio / Video, Media locations, Parental Controls and security, User interface, Network, and System.
Options inside of these include:
Audio / Video – Display, Audio, Playback options, and Blu-ray options
Parental Controls – This allows you set set a password, lock the system, enable or disable HTML access, and a few other things.
User interface – Change language, skins, and set a screen saver.
System – Set your time and location and enable weather, check for updates, manage files, and much more.
The remote control, which is included, measures 8.5″ x 2″. It includes the standard Play, Pause, Stop, FF, and RW buttons along with others that include Home, Menu, Subtitle, Repeat, and Popup Menu, to name a few. Featured at the top are 4 colored buttons that allow easy access to Video, Music, Phot, and Web.
As for tech specs, the NeoTV 550 comes with an infrared remote, ethernet cable, and a composite a/v cable. It has 2 USB ports, an SD card slot, eSATA port, 10/100 ethernet port, and an HDMI 1.3a.
It supports AVI, Xvid, MOV, MP4, MPEG2 PS, MPEG2-TS, DVD ISO/VOB/IFO, MKV, ASF, AVCHD, DivX, WMV, M4A, M2TS, MTS, MP1, MP2, MPG, DVR-MS, and Blu-ray. Personally I was surprised by the .iso support. A lot of our DVD’s are stored as .iso files to preserve all of the menus, extras, etc., so that was unexpected. Incidentally, playing the .iso movies on the Netgear box allows the same options you have when playing an .iso on a PC. YOu can click the Menu button on the remote and jump straight to the DVD main menu. That is killer for me.
Can the Netgear NeoTV 550 replace a Media Center? Well, no, but it does make a good extender for someplace like the bedroom. It won’t pull MC extras like Netflix, but it can play pretty much every media format stored on your Media Center – or home server or any normal PC. The interface is clean and simple and remote works great. The setup is simple – anyone who can click My Computer and navigate to a file can easily tell the NeoTV where to look for music, pictures, and video.
Playback of all media is very fast and I encountered no problems with video stutter, macro-blocking, or any other common problems that are associated with video. If you plug into your receiver then music playback will sound every bit as good as any other component (plug audio into your TV and you get what you get – with any device).
The big question is do I recommend it? Yes, but with a couple of caveats. For a complete technophobe it may be too difficult, but for the average to advanced user it should be no problem. If you currently use an HTPC I wouldn’t replace it with this, but I would use this with a second TV. Finally, if you’re not an HTPC user, but have a bunch of media stored on your everyday PC or server then definitely yes. The OS is solid, the setup is pretty easy, and playback is smooth. And they will updating the software so it will only get better.