The Netgear NeoTV NTV550 is an HD media streamer that's pretty close to being the best in the streaming business.
The Netgear NeoTV NTV550 has an easy-to-use interface, a fast processor (which means good responsiveness) and plenty of connectivity features. You can use the NeoTV to play files from attached hard drives, and you can stream content directly off the computers in your network. It's a heck of an improvement over the last Netgear streamer we reviewed, the EVA2000.
Design and connectivity
The NeoTV NTV550 is small and it looks stylish. You won't feel embarrassed having it sitting next to your flashy big screen TV and visitors are likely to comment on how good it looks, too. Of course, you'll want to make sure that any drives you connect to the streamer look stylish as well. The streamer can be connected to your TV using either HDMI or Component connections, and there is also an option to connect to an older TV via a Composite cable.
There is an easy to access USB 2.0 port on the front as well as an SD card slot, while the rear has another USB 2.0 port, 10/100 ethernet and an eSATA port. When you connect a hard drive to the streamer it will show up in the menu with a name that depends on the USB port it's plugged into, if you've plugged it into the rear, it will show up as 'BackUSB'. This is a good way of differentiating drives if you have two plugged in simultaneously and don't know their particular model names.
Setup and menu system
After you've connected the Netgear to your network and boot it up for the first time, it will look for a firmware update and, if it finds one, ask if you wish to apply it. This process takes the better part of five minutes and after it's done the unit restarts and you need to set it up. It may take a while, but the setup process is very easy - if you can't get it working, then you should probably give up on the prospect of streaming media altogether and go back to renting DVDs from your local video store (if you still have one).
To play media from locations on your local network, all you have to do is share the folders with your media in them (turn off password protected sharing to make things easier) and the NeoTV will find and list media from them in a jiffy! Media can be accessed quickly by pressing the 'Video', 'Music' or 'Photo' buttons on the remote control, and the NeoTV does a great job of segregating and sorting all the media it finds. Furthermore, media found on hard drives and at network locations is shown in the same list, which is very handy as it means you don't have to browse folders to find what you're looking for. You can always browse folders anyway, if you don't want to browse through a long list of files.
The menu system is similar to the one found in older Netgear streamers such as the EVA8000, but it has undergone a glossy update. We really like the way it looks, but most of all we like how it performs. It's a very swift menu system, and navigating from one area to another doesn't take a long time. Even the indexing of files doesn't take a long time, not as long as it used to take with the EVA8000, for example. You can play files individually by hitting the OK button on the remote, or you can play files in series by pressing the play button while you are at the file listing.
There are few little touches to the menu system that we like. For example, it marks files so that you know, at a glance, which files have been fully watched or half-watched. This way you know where you're up to or what files you've missed. Furthermore, a bunch of half played files might be an indicator to you that those files aren't worth watching and you should just delete them. We like the fact that when you listen to music you are given the choice to either display the music's info on the centre of the screen, or to invoke the screen saver.
In addition to watching your own media, the NeoTV can be used to view YouTube clips (including H.264-encoded high definition YouTube files), and it can access Flickr and streaming radio stations. All these features worked in our tests.
There are some annoyances, though. The biggest one is the NeoTV's inability to forget or let you delete a network location. Previously shared folders that you may have abandoned for newer folders will still show up in the menu and there is no option to delete them. The only thing you can do is restore the streamer to its default factory settings and start again from scratch.
The remote control is a huge improvement over the remotes shipped with previous Netgear streamers: It's much bigger, and it has segregated number keys, arrow keys, volume keys and playback keys.
The only thing that would make the remote better is a backlight so that you can see what you're pressing in the dark. But because the keys are segregated, it makes it easier to memorise key locations and feel your way around it.
The NeoTV NTV550 played everything we threw at it: Divx, Xvid, MPEG4, H.264, MKV, MOV, VOB. It will even play ISO files from Blu-ray discs, and it's compatible with Profile 2.0.
However, some files didn't start playing correctly. They had a lot of echo that could only be removed by forwarding the file a little then hitting play again. It was frustrating, and it seemed to occur mainly on H.264 files.
While it's operating, the NeoTV uses around 10W of electricity. While it's in standby mode (which is pretty much always), it consumes a hefty 7W of electricity. You can use a device such as the Belkin Conserve Insight to measure the electricity consumption of your home entertainment gear.
Despite a couple of little blemishes, the Netgear NeoTV NTV550 is a solid network streamer that's very easy to use. We like its style and features and it performed as it should in our tests. At £136, it's more expensive than smaller media streamers such as the Seagate GoFlex TV and Buffalo LinkTheatre LTV100, but because of its better media handling and menu performance, we think it's a much better buy.