NeoTV 550 - Netgear's Flagship HD Media Player

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

When Netgear introduced the NeoTV 550 last summer, their goals was to make a complete digital media server that plays movies, music, and photos shared on your computer or networked devices including PCs and Macs.  The NeoTV 550 displays and plays your media in full 1080p with HD 7.1 Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound.  It has a built in SD card slot as well as a couple of USB ports so that you bring over your media directly to the media player without a network.

The immediate problem for the Netgear NeoTV 550 is that in the past year or so, there has been a tremendous influx of media players and media streaming enabled devices on the market.  With a retail price of $199, the NeoTV 550 starts off behind the curve being one of the most expensive players on the market.  One of our favorite players – the Western Digital Live Hub carries the same MSRP, but the Western Digital comes with a 1TB hard drive for on-board storage.  The question is: Can the NeoTV 550 deliver performance to justify this cost?

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

Netgear recently released a robust firmware upgrade for the NeoTV 550 HD Media Player to give what was already a solid media player a few new bells and whistles.  Firmware 3.0.325 which was released a short time ago features Video and Audio improvements as well as a slew of multimedia streaming upgrades and bug fixes. Today we look at how Netgear’s newest upgrades compares to other top players on the market. 

The Netgear NeoTV 550 Featured Specifications

System Requirements
Connections
Languages
Media Sources
Video and Audio Output
Digital Media File Formats

NeoTV 550 - Box Contents & Setup

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

Netgear packs the NeoTV 550 with everything that you need to start viewing and listening to your media.  You get a full-sized remote control (with batteries), an Ethernet cable, an AV (composite) cable, Quick Install Guide, Resource CD, and power adapter.

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player


Unlike other companies, Netgear didn’t equip the NeoTV 550 with a HDMI cable, so if you are planning to view your media in high-definition, be sure to have an HDMI cable in hand.  Other than this omission, Netgear’s package contents are par for the course.

The NeoTV 550 casing is very nondescript.  When you look at the front you can see a power button to the far right, an IR receiver window, an SD card slot port, and a USB port.  There are no indicator lights besides the light under the power switch. 

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

On the back you will find a bunch of different input and output ports.  No matter what kind of television or monitor you have, the NeoTV will be able to connect to it. 

You can connect via component cable, as well as composite, and HDMI.  There is an Optical (S/PDIF) and pots where you can directly connect an eSATA or USB drive.  You will also find a 100MB Ethernet connection, reset button and power plug. 

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

On both sides you will find ample ventilation – which is important since the NeoTV 550 is a fanless unit.  

The Netgear NeoTV 550 is powered by a Sigma 864x processor which powers many of the most popular media boxes (Popcorn Hour, QNAP, etc).  Traditionally, the chip has been quite capable and has had the ability to play most multimedia including Blu-ray ISOs. The NeoTV doesn’t come with any fan so we expect quiet running.

The entire package looks exactly like a standard-size Netgear router.  In fact, if you put the NeoTV and my Netgear WNDR3700 Router side-by-side it be hard to tell which one is a router in which one is a media player.  The over size of the box is not very large at all and should easily fit inside of your AV rack for those who are interested.

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

When we look at the remote control that comes with the Netgear NeoTV 550, we find a full-size 48 button remote control which dwarfs many other media player controllers.  What I like about it is that it actually has a full-size number pad as well as the D-pad directional button in the middle.  Netgear has also outfitted the remote with shortcut buttons to go directly to the source that you wish.  All in all, it is a very good remote that gets you what you need when you are navigating around.

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

For those new to electronics and hooking up peripherals, Netgear has a nice little Setup Wizard that will take you step-by-step through the process of configuring your video, audio, and network connections.  All-in-all, the setup process should take less than 20 minutes from box opening to playing your first audio or video file.

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player



NeoTV 550 - Navigating and Playing Blu-ray ISO Menus!

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

The Netgear NeoTV 550 does a lot of things very well and for an MSRP of $200 we should hope that it does!  While it doesn’t have the latest and greatest microprocessor on board and is not the slickest GUI we have seen, it turned out to be one of the most responsive and functional players we have tested. 

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

The NeoTV 550’s Main Menu features 7 submenus – Videos, Music, Photos, Browse Folders, Internet Media, Streaming TV & Movies, and Settings. I found myself using the “Browse Folders” features the most since you are able to get a preview of each kind of multimedia file you have in your library.

Each multimedia file we tried played every time without hiccup or drama.  No matter what the packaging or codec was used, the NeoTV 550 played it.  During our testing we played all sorts of media files – but mainly HD MKVs and MP3s - and each responded and played quickly and accurately with no stuttering.  Remember, the NeoTV can only function at 10/100 mbps speeds, so the fact that it could stream our 1080p MKV files impressed us.

Netgear NeoTV 550 Blu-ray ISO

What impressed us even greater was the NeoTV’s ability to handle Blu-ray ISO files.  Most quality players on the market can at least play these files, but Netgear trumps most players by allowing the user to navigate the Blu-ray ISO menu! 

Netgear NeoTV 550 Blu-ray ISO

Netgear NeoTV 550 Blu-ray ISO

If you didn't know that you were watching a movie off of the hard drive you would never know the difference.  Even with no on-board hard drive and the NeoTV attached to the network, we saw no stuttering or skipping of the video.  While the player’s GUI wasn’t that high tech, there were enough features to satisfy our basic needs to play, pause, and search around for the file we wanted to view. 

Netgear NeoTV 550 Blu-ray ISO

Netgear NeoTV 550 Blu-ray ISO

Using the NeoTV 550 turned out to be a great experience and we really have to commend Netgear on this latest firmware upgrade to the NeoTV player.  Unlocking the power of the Blu-ray ISO menu navigation is not a trivial thing and we are hoping that other manufacturers will follow suit. The bar is basically set for future players.


NeoTV 550 – Not Perfect, but Very Solid

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

When we first saw Netgear NeoTV 550, we really didn’t think too much of it.  The specs said Netgear designed and built the media player around a 2-year old chip – the 667 Mhz Sigma 8642.  We were worried that when we got the player in the LR Bunker that it would simply fail to perform like the competition. 

Boy, were we wrong!

When using the Netgear player, we had the feeling that we were playing with something special.  Even though the retail price of the player is on the high end – especially for one that doesn’t include any on-board storage – the player’s performance when playing content from your hard drive is hard to beat. 

Below you can see how the Netgear NeoTV stacks up against some other popular players we have reviewed.  (Click on the chart for the full-sized picture.)

Netgear NeoTV 550 Comparison Chart

The NeoTV 550’s glaring weakness is in its internet offerings:  If you are married to Netflix, you need to move on; If you can’t live without Pandora, you’d better try and live with YouTube and Flickr.  Netgear has promised their NeoTV users more upgrades in the future that should bolster it's internet offerings, but for now, we are left with the bare minimum.

Netgear NeoTV 550 HD Media Player

As a “movie guy” who has been stuck watching AVIs and MKVs for the majority of time, I must admit that I’ve  missed the days of being able to load up a Blu-ray disk and just ‘surfing’ around all the extra contents of the disk.  With the popularity and accessibility of high speed internet, inexpensive hard drives and Bittorrents gaining in popularity, not only does the movie industry suffer, but ‘viewers’ miss out on the content that directors and producers package with their disks.  With more and more media players being able to read and navigate ISO menus, players like the NeoTV 550 should attract more users who want to preserve the entire disk’s content so that they can (legally) stream/broadcast around their house. 

In the past, most people just ripped the main video and audio tracks from movies as MKVs or AVIs because that’s all most popular media players could handle.  For those that like to archive their Blue-ray or DVD disks by ripping them to a hard drive as ISO’s this is tremendous news.  Of course Netgear isn’t the only one who has this ability, but the fact of the matter is that Netgear’s name is quite popular and carries with it a tremendous amount of weight.  Even at $199, there aren’t that many Media Players that can do what the NeoTV 550 can with respect to High Definition video. 

Legit Bottom Line:
The Netgear NeoTV 550 Ultimate HD Media Player is a solid – but slightly expensive - high-definition media player. Netgear’s newest firmware release gives it an extra punch when viewing and listening to HD. While it plays most every media file under the sun, what really sets the NeoTV 550 apart from the crowd is its ability to play Blu-ray ISOs with menu navigation support.