Introducing Netgear's New Streaming Player

Netgear_NeoTV_MAX-6Today we look at Netgear’s next-generation of multimedia player, the $69.99 shipped NeoTV MAX. The NeoTV MAX is designed to play your personal media from external drives and DLNA media serves.  Netgear wanted their users to be able access the ever-increasing online content that is available. From Youtube, Hulu, Vudu, Pandora, Spotify, and others, Netgear wants you to have every opportunity to grab your content without relying on your cable or satellite provider.

NeoTV_box

The NeoTV MAX comes packed with a bunch of features which will be very attractive to those who don’t own a so-called “Smart TV”.  The NeoTV can play 1080p HD video and produce 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound, and has built-in WiFi making placement easy.  Netgear even includes a full QWERTY keyboard that is on the bottom-side of the remote control.  You can even stream 3D movies from Vudu to your television.  This all comes in a very small package that rivals the tiny Apple TV.  In fact, the Netgear NeoTV is actually thinner than the famed Apple TV. The NeoTV unit measures in at just over 7 inches by 6.5 inches and 2.5 inches thick. Because it’s so small, you should be able to connect the NeoTV device to any television or monitor in your house.

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Let’s take a quick look at the official feature list that Netgear built into the NeoTV MAX:

 As we mentioned, the NeoTV MAX is one of three new players in the Netgear NeoTV family.  Here is a quick comparison:

Netgear_NeoTV_chart

Netgear’s NeoTV MAX (NTV300SL) is one of a series of set-top multimedia players that Netgear has recently introduced.  The biggest difference in the units is the remote control and the ability to play from USB storage.  You can find the NTV300 for $39.99 shipped and the NTV300S for $49.99 shipped.  The NeoTV MAX (NTV300SL) is still a pretty good deal at $69.99 Shipped.

Let’s go ahead and crack open the box and set the unit up.

What’s in the NeoTV MAX box?

Netgear NeoTV MAX ContentsNetgear packs the NeoTV Max with the bare essentials to get you up and going. Besides the main unit, the box contains an Audio/Video cable, Power Cable and dual-functioning remote control. For less than $80, we really aren’t complaining, but potential customers need to know that there is neither a HDMI cable nor Ethernet cable that comes in the box so make sure your television is ready.

Netgear NeoTV MAXIf we take a quick tour around the outside of the NeoTV MAX, we see the front is very non-descript with only a NeoTV logo on the front and a very small power light towards the right side of the box.  For anyone who is worried about bright components, the NeoTV MAX will not concern you at all.

Netgear NeoTV MAXOn the side, there is a USB port so you can connect your external drive with all off your multimedia files.  Over on the back, you will find an HDMI port, Ethernet port, MicroSD slot, reset pin slot, AV port, and power.  The AV port is used when your television or monitor does not have an HDMI and you need to connect the NeoTV using composite cables (red, white, yellow).  Netgear actually packs a set of these cables in the box so that you can use.

Netgear NeoTV MAX

Netgear NeoTV MAX GUI

Netgear NeoTV MAX GUIAfter connecting our NeoTV MAX up to our living room television, we powered it on and were greeted by a fairly busy looking home screen.  Netgear presents their GUI like tiles or apps that a user can choose from.  You are able to choose from a ton of multimedia streaming applications.

Netgear NeoTV MAX GUI

As of this article, there are at least 100 online services and applications.  Here is the list that I put together scrolling through all the application titles:

 Netgear NeoTV MAX GUI

Whew!  That’s 106 applications, games, Web TV channels, and content providers. This list doesn’t even include functional abilities that the NeoTV MAX has like “DLNA Play To” or “Intel WiDi Wireless Display” and of course, using your own media on a local drive.  I have to admit that I didn’t know about 20 of content providers shown.  “Media Pulp”??? “Kaboom”??  Many of these apps were new to me.

Using the Netgear NeoTV MAX

Netgear NeoTV MAXThe first thing you notice about the Netgear NeoTV MAX is just how small the device is.  I have a pretty long HDMI cable and when I connected it to the machine, it almost pulled the device from off the table.  The NeoTV is smaller than the Apple TV and that might be why my wireless connection was so spotty. For the first few days of use, the NeoTV connected to my Netgear R6300 with no problem to both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channel.  The built-in Wireless-N receiver is rated at N300 so that should be good enough to wireless stream 720p HD video.

Netgear NeoTV MAX & Apple TV

Once you get into the GUI, you will notice (besides all of the different applications) is that all of these applications are placed into a sub-category that you can easily access: “My Channels", "Most Popular", "Movies & TV", "News & Education", Web TV", "Music & Photos", "Lifestyle", and "Games".

Once you found your content that you want to view, it is fairly simple to click and go. Many of the apps like Netflix, Vudu, etc., require the user to type in their username and password.  When we set up our Pandora account it was an opportunity to use the QWERTY keyboard on the opposite side of the remote.

NeoTV NTV300SL

Using the remote was not as easy as I was hoping.  Yes, I think it’s a great idea to include a fully-functional remote control, but it took me a while to get used to how the thing actually worked.  First, you have to hit the “unlock” button to start using it. I wasn’t quite sure where to try and point the remote since my keystrokes weren’t always registered.  It took a while, but after multiple tries using the remote to search, I finally got the hang of it. As far as I could tell, there was only one IR emitter so holding the remote at the correct angle.

NeoTV Remote

Another thing that I didn’t like about the remote was that it didn’t have all the functions of a typical A/V remote.  I would have really like to have seen volume control on the remote so that I don’t have to keep picking up the television remote. 

NeoTV Remote

I did like the 6 physical shortcut buttons on the remote.  Obviously, these are the major partners that Netgear is trying to get consumers to go visit.  Overall, the remote with the QWERTY pad on one side and basic navigation on the other, works pretty well.  It would have been nice to have a volume button or even a subtitle, our audio track selection button.  The remote give someone at least basic use of navigating around the NeoTV.

 NeoTV Remote

Netgear NeoTV MAX Final Thoughts

Netgear NeoTV MAX

The main function of this set-top box is its streaming capability.  We have already seen how big the library of web and streaming content is, but what if you aren’t really a fan of all that online stuff and you just want to play your own media files?  Could you play the content that you have stored on your hard drive or network attached storage?

We connected our Netgear NeoTV to our home network to see if we could access our shared multimedia files.  For us, this really was one of the most important tests of the unit.  We looked at a large suite of popular multimedia files that included MKV, AVI, MOV, ISO, TS, M2TS, RMVB, MP4, VOB, WMV, MPG, JPEG, WAV, FLAC, and MP3.

Netgear NeoTV MAX GUI

The Netgear NeoTV MAX’s interface was response and playback was pretty quick when streaming. We had some problems with some of the files we tested, however, that sucked some of our excitement away.  The first AVI file we tried to play didn’t work.  I thought it might be because it was an older file so I tried another and it worked.  The other issue we consistently experienced was when we had an MKV video that was recognized, the sound would be mute when the movie played.  Overall, most of our MKV files played whether they were 720p or 1080p resolution but the sound issues frustrated us greatly.

We were also disappointed to find that the NeoTV MAX would not recognize – let alone play – our ISO files.  We had absolutely no problems playing our FLAC and MP3 music files.  The NeoTV would only recognize and display our JPEG files so if you have any other kinds of image files, you will need to make sure to convert them. When they did play, the HD MKV videos were very sharp and looked fantastic on our HD screens.

Netgear NeoTV MAX WiDi

We didn’t get to test out the Intel WiDi Wireless Display that wirelessly connects your laptop computer to your television, but having this ability in the box makes NeoTV MAX a device you can use for the future.  Then again, WiDi really hasn’t taken off and you really don’t even see it being offered in many of the television sets on sale now.

If you are looking for a set top box that gives you access to tons and tons of web content, then you will be quite pleased with the Netgear NeoTV MAX.  For those of us who have the need to access a variety of multimedia files, you will probably run into compatibility problems. For around $70 however, it’s a solid device that works.

 Netgear NeoTV MAX

Legit Bottom Line:

Netgear’s NeoTV MAX is an extremely capable streamer, but comes up short in media playback versatility.  If you use Netgear, Hulu, or Vudu exclusively, this will be a great device which comes in at a very economical price point.