Black box of tricks

Netgear's NeoTV player offers plenty of features, but some niggles, too

It may not boast all of the ‘gadgets’ of the iXtreamer, but the NeoTV 550 will still give media moguls plenty to sink their teeth into. It’s made by Netgear, a company with a good track record in network equipment (I used its ReadyNAS Ultra 4 as one of our servers during this test).

The NeoTV can be seen as a ‘halfway house’ between the PicoHD5.1 and iXtreamer in terms of sophistication. It’s networkable, although once again you’ll have to use Ethernet unless you’re prepared to pay extra for a Wi-Fi dongle. Content can also be loaded via the convenient front-mounted USB and SD card slots (which, for all its gadgetry, were conspicuously absent on the iXtreamer).

Rear-panel AV connections are component and HDMI, with an optical digital output thrown in for good measure. Composite video and stereo audio are also available, via a 3.5mm jack (as with the PicoHD5.1, the necessary phono-terminated cable is supplied). RGB and S-video options are ignored, though.

Jostling for space alongside these are an eSATA and additional USB port for storage devices.

The box itself is surprisingly lightweight, and not much to look at. It’ll just sit on your rack and look inconspicuous. The handset is one of the better ones supplied with these devices, although once again it’s not backlit. However, it’s nicely laid out and dedicates buttons to movies, music and photos. On top of this is an on-line content portal that, in contrast to the iXtreamer, doesn’t require you to install storage. Amongst other things, you’ll find YouTube, Internet radio and Flickr; a shame there’s no 4oD or BBC iPlayer, though. During setup, your location is specified; this allows the NeoTV to display a regional weather forecast within the media selection menu.

Once connected, our review unit listed plenty of servers that weren’t there. It had obviously been elsewhere. A master reset sorted that out, and I could now see my own folders with the NeoTV’s pleasant user interface.

One of the most useful functions of this media player in an AV setup is that you can arrange for each type of audio to either be ‘passed through’ as a bitstream, or decoded by the unit itself. As a result, you can tailor the player to the capabilities of your ancillary equipment. Something else unique is the ability to turn on or off the available network shares individually; some might not, for example, contain any AV content and are thus irrelevant as far as the player is concerned.

As with the other units, all output resolutions (from 480/576i to 1080p) are available in 50/60Hz – and 1080p24 is supported too.

The player can handle all current hi-def soundtracks, which is a boon if Blu-ray content is envisaged. Like the iXtreamer, you can play optical discs if a drive is connected via USB; however, Blu-ray as well as DVDs are catered for. ISO disc ‘images’ and DVD-derived VIDEO_TS folders will play just like the discs from which they’re derived, with menus intact.

Although Netgear claims a considerable amount of format support, I experienced a few occasions where some files could be seen in the content menu – which can be displayed as a thumbnail carousel or a conventional list – but refused to play. These included MKV and TS files.

AV performance, however, proved to be excellent, although the unit’s volume control can add distortion if advanced too high, and the photo slideshow seemed a little juddery. Also, I couldn’ get it to automatically play the next file in a folder, which makes listening to music something of a chore.

These niggles, combined with its less than stellar design and sizeable price tag, make it not quite the perfect media player it could have been.


HCC VERDICT

Netgear NEO TV
Price:
£140 Approx

Highs: Decent remote and connectivity; network, USB and SD-card support
Lows: Some supported files wouldn’t play; JPEG slideshow a bit juddery
Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

Video file support: MKV (but not all), DIVX, XVID, WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2, MP4, TS (off-air - not all), VOB (DVD files), ISO (disc image)
Audio file support: MP3, FLAC, WAV, M4A, WMA, Dolby Digital (analogue decode), Dolby Digital (bitstream), DTS (analogue decode), DTS (bitstream), Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio
Image file support: JPEG, BMP, PNG
Connections: Component, composite, HDMI, optical digital audio, USB, eSATA, SD card slot
Dimensions: 220(w) x 35(h) x 145(d)mm
Weight: 0.5kg
Features: DLNA/uPnP support; file-sharing support; screensaver; subtitle support; playlist support; time-search bar; 1080p/24 support; photo slideshow; internet content