NETGEAR NeoTV - NTV200 Connected Media Streamer

Oct 25 2011

NTV200If you are in the market for an inexpensive connected media streamer, the number of options has exploded recently.  A couple weeks back we took a look at Roku’s XS, and today we have the newest member of NETGEAR’s NeoTV lineup - the NTV200.  At first glance, the unit’s price ($79.99) and lack of a USB port for local content sets it neatly in the middle of the multitude of players currently available, but breaks from the pack by offering VUDU alongside Netflix and the many other “also ran” applications we have come to expect from this segment.

The Device

The NETGEAR NTV200’s combination of retail friendly packaging and impulse-purchase pricing make it an easy streamer for those with HDTVs lacking (or having, but since abandoned by the display manufacture) a connected over the top (OTT) media platform to bring home.  Unfortunately, like many others in this category, displays without HDMI support are left out because that is the only option for video output.  There is a bit more flexibility on the audio side, however, as a TOSLINK (optical S/PDIF) is available for use with an older audio video receiver (AVR).  An infrared (IR) remote comes with the NTV200, providing enough buttons for even the most demanding media playback scenarios.  Control is limited compared to the Roku 2, which supports Bluetooth, so while there are casual games available for the device, only those requiring limited interaction (i.e. card, word, number, etc. based) are possible.  Not being a gamer, I do not find this to be a negative factor at all, but depending on individual preference it might tip the scale.  Compared to the Roku 2, this NeoTV has a slight disadvantage when it comes to size, but unless space is at an incredible premium, it will not translate into a tangible gain in application, with the NTV200 slotting neatly into the same space (beneath the soundbar) occupied previously by the other streamer.

Setup

NETGEAR absolutely nailed the first run setup experience with the NTV200.  It is EDID aware, so the correct resolution for the display (a Panasonic TH-C42FD18) was automatically selected for video, as well as 5.1 PCM (not shown here, but confirmed in the device settings) on the audio side for maximum compatibility.  WPS is also supported, so setting up the WiFi connection was quick and painless.  Once connected, it then checks for updates to ensure that everything is up-to-date before launching the main UI. 

For ninety percent of users, the first run settings will work perfectly.  For the ten percent who like to tinker, or want the AVR to handle decoding, a trip to the settings area will be required.  There are some other goodies in there as well, most notably a toggle for HDMI CEC, which provides a reliable, single-remote solution (usually the TV’s) for those without a good universal.  All with no additional power consumption (1W standby, 5-6W in use) when enabled – well done!

Not surprisingly, as the bandwidth between the NTV200 and the content end point is usually much lower than what is available either via wired or wireless connection in the home, there was no significant difference when measuring speed via the settings page using either connection type.  The results (~2Mbps) were misleading given that VUDU’s HDX (which requires at 4.5+ Mbps connection) streamed perfectly on the device, and both their speed test and Speedtest.net put the connection in the 20+ Mbps range at the same time.  Most likely, the results were not wrong per se (i.e. probably measuring bandwidth between the device and NETGEAR’s servers), they just were not useful in a broader context.

Use

The pleasing and responsive user interface (UI) arrives fifteen seconds after powering on the NTV200, providing quick access to a wide variety of content channels.  Some of the pivots are a bit redundant with little additional value provided, as they contain a similar selection of the channels sorted in a slightly different way.  I was unable to find a way to customize the UI to remove pivots or channels, so it appears that this complaint is permanent, but with everything I found useful on the platform contained in the “Most Popular” grouping, there was little reason to navigate elsewhere.

The NTV200 provides a comprehensive list of streaming content channels including Netflix (stereo only and with no subtitle support), VUDU, and Pandora but Amazon’s Instant Video is notably missing.  This highlights an unfortunate problem in the market for these devices.  We cannot just select the best hardware and software solution; content availability and artificial functional limitations are a significant consideration when choosing what takes space in the A/V stack.  Channels are either loaded or not, so there is no support for background audio via a service like Pandora; a scenario that would be very useful for casual games or browsing services like Picasa.  Lacking support for local content made it  impossible to use our preferred calibration patterns to test for proper video rendering, so a Netflix provided sample was substituted with the correct results observed.

Conclusion

Offering seamless setup, HDMI CEC, WiFi and Ethernet networking, and a good selection of IP content including Netflix and VUDU at a very competitive price; the NETGEAR NTV200 is a serious contender for bringing over the top media to your home theater.  Unfortunately, where the hardware and underlying software platform are very solid, the device it is let down by the lack of Amazon Instant Video and the full Netflix 5.1 audio/subtitle experience.  Hopefully these oversights can be corrected, as currently no streamer in this price range delivers flawlessly, requiring significant compromise in content availability or consumption.

Pro:

  • Comprehensive list of streaming content, including Netflix and VUDU
  • Fast startup
  • Low power
  • Easy setup experience
  • HDMI CEC

Con:

  • No Amazon streaming
  • Netflix lacks subtitle and multichannel audio

Comments

This is the WORST devices I have ever seen... Why you ask? Because from today moving forward, if you do not offer a application for Windows 7/Vista Media Center you are official "THE WORST".

For the last two years, we have seen applications and devices being born with media center in mind but nothing developed to work natively within Media Center has been developed short of the Netflex application. Come on COMPANY(Drunk stop just seeking a profit of $75 for a piece of hardware! Ssshhhheeeee, I wouldn't even mine if I paid $100 and it integrate with Media Center so that I could use it as part of a MC network or just a standalone device. Companies could leverage the device by offering different features based on your install and/or usage.

It's like imagination doesn't exist just GREED!

The NeoTV line is mainly targeted at end users who do not want the complexity of a HTPC or want to supplement their existing HTPC capabilities with OTT content (like VUDU) that aren't available on that platfrom.  With that in mind, I think this device meets the goal quite well at a very reasonable price.  Obviously it doesn't do everything that a full fledged HTPC can, and it would be nice to have a < $100 extender for 7MC, but those are separate topics; this isn't a zero sum game.

Please note, my issue with the device is not:

  • with installation and setup
  • the additionof OTT content
  • targeted audience

Strictly that: Media Center started the 10 UI movement with the PC, following RePlay and TiVo on the hardward side and as a enthusitist it's quite disappointing for me to see major vendors develop pass the HTPC which has endless possibilities because it limits there profitablity when creating hardware.  As an example, Hulu and Boxee have PC applications that are not natively intergrated into MC.  This lack of support has stiffled the grow of the HTPC.

I understand you consider my posting a RANT but when I think about purchasing a device that does nothing but communicate with itself it's difficult to warrant the expenditure.

 

You missed the point.  I'm stating that this type of technology should of been created for the Media Center and expanded to the current usage.  Instead, stolen and put into a standalone box. 

Mainstream consumers don't want HTPC.  I don't hold that preference personally, but it is valid and I understand many of the motivations that support it.  You can dislike that fact, but I don't see the value in attacking a product that provides something people want, cheaply, just because you don't like how the market expresses itself.  That said, everyone is entitled to an opinion irrespective of the fundamentals; thanks for sharing yours.

Andrew, thanks for making a well reasoned and professional argument.  I love that this site isn't overrun with trolls and that we can discuss things curteously with one another.  I do share ARobinso's disappointment with the lack of development for Windows Media Center.  However, I don't think hardware designers like Apple, Roku, Netgear, etc. are solely to blame.  The blame rests with the content providers and Microsoft.  MS has not devoted nearly enough publicity to the Media Center concept.  It's sad that they pretty much dumped the extender concept right about the time that Cable Card finally became a reality.  I think we should look to MS & hardware vendors to re-evaluate the extender model now that it's more desirable.  Having cheap set-top boxes in the sub-$100 range in each room of the house is what MC needs to succeed.  Having full cable lineups w/ shared recordings, online streaming content, personal movie collections (photos and music too), and so much more in one box is the ultimate dream.  That's what got me into this - one device to rule them all!  On the other hand, I think these set-top boxes are great for holiday gift ideas for non-techie siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.  It's great that things have progressed to the point of being so small, inexpensive, and simple to use!  I look at these small streaming devices as the "gateway drugs" to the world of HTPC's.  I would gladly get something like the NeoTV or a Roku for my friends or family this holiday season.  Once they get used to it they'll be wanting more.  That's where we come in.  Every chance I get, I show of my HTPC and multiple extender set up to friends and family when they come to visit.  I've actually started some people out with Roku's and eventually helped build full HTPC's for them when they wanted the do everything device that is an HTPC.  Those of us that are avid Media Center enthusiasts need to keep introducing this stuff to people.  My experience has been that most average users don't really know what MC is and what it's capable of.  Also, we need to keep badgering content providers with requests to develop for MC.  Maybe Windows 8 will help to push the HTPC concept even further along.  The standard user interface is just begging to be on a 60" plasma!

Sorry for the rant, but that is my Multimedia Manifesto - Hey, that has a nice ring to it!

I'd go as high as $200 for the extender if it had an BD ODD :) 

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