I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a pre-release version of the latest streamer from NETGEAR, the NeoTV 550 (NTV550). NETGEAR already have plenty of experience in the streamer market with the EVA700, EVA8000, EVA9100, EVA9150 & EVA2000 already under their belt so I was keen to see just how this new model compared to its predecessors. NETGEAR are pitching this streamer at the upper end of their suite of streamers so I’m hoping to be blown away by it. But my hopes will be well and truly dashed if it turns out to be a pile of junk. Let’s find out…….
What’s in the box?
In the box you get the unit itself, a wall wart power adapter, network patch cable, component cable, composite cable but alas no HDMI cable. I'd expect that the majority of people will be using HDMI to connect the NTV550 to their TV/amplifier so it would have made more sense to include an HDMI cable in the box rather than, say, the component cable which relatively few people will use. The composite cable has a 3.5mm plug on one end and the standard RCA connectors on the other. The component cable has standard RCA connectors on both ends. You also get a small plastic stand which slots into the side of the NTV550 to allow you to stand the unit up vertically. It also comes with a very nice looking remote, plus batteries for the remote (naturally!). Mine didn’t come with any sort of wireless network adapter and it seems there are no plans to include one in the final release. Given the NTV550 is a high-def streamer and so will be pulling a fair amount of data across your network then in many environments a wired connection will be the only suitable option. If wired is not an option then there are plenty of wireless “N” adapters around (in their marketing literature NETGEAR recommend using the WNCE2001). Of course you can always go with a Powerline adapter.
I’m sure the final version will also come with a setup CD (or at least a link to download one from the NETGEAR website) but you don’t actually need one if you know how to “share” the relevant folders on your desktop computer and open the relevant ports on your computer firewall to allow traffic to pass between your computer and the NTV550. If you’re using a NAS to store your media then I doubt a setup CD will be of any use to you other than for use as a funky beer mat.
The unit itself
The unit casing is of similar design to the EVA2000. It seems NETGEAR have moved away from the 18” footprint of the EVA700, EVA8000 & EVA9150 models. This one measures 218mm wide, 35mm high and 148mm deep and weighs in at approximately 430grams. The NTV550 won’t win any awards for its looks, infact it looks more like a router than a media streamer. However, its small size means you can put it pretty much anywhere. With the 18” design of its predecessors you would sometimes struggle to find somewhere to put them especially if you were using them with a 2nd TV, say in the bedroom for example.
On the front of the unit you get a USB port, an SD Card slot and the power button. Plus a very visible “hole” which is covered by thin plastic. This hole is for the remote control sensor but I’d hope in the released version of this streamer that the hole is a lot more discreet looking. Infact it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole casing is somewhat more slick and professional looking than the one I have in my hands right now. Don’t get me wrong, the general build quality even of this pre-release unit is just fine but given this unit is going to be taking pride of place in people's living space you’d hope that the final version looks a bit snazzier than this one does. Let’s hope this streamer performs better than its looks!
Turning to the back of the unit you get 3 RCA sockets for the component cable, a 3.5mm socket for the composite cable, an HDMI socket, S/PDIF optical socket, eSATA port, another USB port, the Ethernet socket and the socket for the wall wart power adapter. Plus there is a tiny little hole labelled RESET. Ahem, let’s hope we won’t be needing that!
The remote control
On to the remote control. Unlike the remote that came with the EVA9150 the remote with the NTV550 is a single device remote. I was actually quite excited when I first saw the remote for the EVA9150 because I thought I could use it to control all the other units under my TV. Unfortunately, that excitement was rather short-lived once I discovered that it couldn’t actually control any of them! This new remote is a very classy looking thing, much nicer looking than the remote for the EVA9150. It has a glossy front with a “grippy” matt black plastic on the back. It feels very nice in the hand with a finger-grip recess on the back and although it's very lightweight it's not at all flimsy. It also doesn’t creak when you use it unlike some remotes I’ve used in the past. The buttons are nicely laid out and clearly labelled although the labels on the bottom half of the remote are not quite as bold or as crisp as those for the top half of the remote. Maybe that will be addressed before release. I would have liked the remote more if it was backlit but all the buttons (except for the 2 lines of buttons at the top) are luminous and so glow in the dark.
Another slight disappointment is the remote is infra-red and not RF. Given the NTV550 is so small and lightweight, coupled with the fact that it's not particularly attractive, I'm sure many people will want to hide it out of sight completely (affixed to the back of their TV perhaps?) so the ability to control the unit via RF would have been fabulous. That aside, I found the angle of the remote to be very good; you can point it in the general direction of the unit and it'll work fine. The range is also good too; I could control the NTV550 by bouncing the signal off the ceiling and walls with no problems. Erm, am I the only one who likes to do that?!
There are a few buttons on the remote worth mentioning:
Firstly, the Time-seek button (labelled TmSeek). With previous EVAs, if you wanted to skip through big chunks of a movie (for those movies without chapter support) you had to rely on the numeric keys. So, if you wanted to jump to 70% of the way through the movie you hit the number 7. To jump to 20% you hit the 2 and so on. To start from the beginning of the movie you hit the number 0. If you’ve ever tried to navigate your way through a video relying on your mental maths to do so then you’ll know what a pain it can be – “Hmm, so, this movie is 2hr 20 minutes long and I want to skip the first 25 minutes of it. Right, 2hr 20 minutes is 140 minutes, 25 minutes is roughly 18%. Hmm, so I can either hit the number 1 and then fast-forward a bit….or I could hit the number 2 and then rewind a bit.” Hitting the new Time-seek button reveals a pop up menu where you can specify exactly what time in the movie you want to jump to. You can specify this in hours, minutes and seconds. Also, if the movie has chapter support you can skip directly to any chapter via this pop-up menu too. NOTE: For those of you who wish to exercise your brain whilst watching a movie you can still use the number keys on the remote to jump around in the movie as before.
Next is the Rotate button. On previous NETGEAR streamers there was quite a learning curve to be able to drive them. For example you had to learn that to rotate a photo required you to press the arrow keys. Many of these quirks have been addressed on the NTV550 by having dedicated buttons for the more obscure functions.
Powering it up for the first time
Powering up the unit for the first time we get presented with a set-up wizard. This wizard takes you through various functions such as choosing the Language, the TV Resolution, the Country you live in, the Town (for a localised weather report) and finally you get to specify where your media is located. If you specify a password-protected share you are automatically prompted for the username and password for that share. When you choose more than one media location the NeoTV attempts to access subsequent shares using the previously supplied username & password details. If it fails to connect then you’re prompted to enter details pertaining to that particular share. Very neat! The NeoTV supports both NFS and SMB (samba). More on this later.
Once you’ve selected your media locations and pressed the Home key on the remote the NTV550 starts scanning your media. This scan runs in the background so you can continue using the unit. There is a progress indicator on the main screen which tells you how far the scan has to go to completion. For fun, I tried watching a video whilst the scan was running in the background and experienced no stuttering whatsoever indicating that this unit has plenty of oomph.
Along with many other streamers on the market the NeoTV supports ID tags (artist, album, director, actors etc.)