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Craving a spot at the commercial online media buffet, but not at all interested in ripping your own media? Netgear has just the right dish. The NeoTV taps your broadband connection to serve up Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, YouTube, Picasa, and plenty of other online services; but it can’t tap media stored on your own network, and it doesn’t have any USB ports to access local storage.
We initially considered this to be a major disappointment: If you own a late-model Blu-ray player or a Smart TV, the NeoTV has very little to offer. But plenty of us haven’t made such investments, and if online entertainment is all you’re looking for, Netgear’s device costs $40 less than Western Digital’s. You’re not getting as many features, but you’re also not being forced to pay for features you won’t utilize.
The NeoTV’s built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi adapter performed just as well as the one inside the WD TV Live—we had no problem streaming Netflix and Vudu movies without wires (although we were once again limited to 720p resolution; we needed to plug in a CAT5 cable to enjoy Vudu movies at 1080p). The only other connectivity features on the box are HDMI and S/PDIF—there’s no support for analog audio or video devices at all.
Netgear provides a very basic remote control with the NeoTV. We have no complaint with the button layout, and we like the clicky, tactile feel it provides much better than the mushy buttons on Western Digital’s controller; but there’s no alpha-numeric keypad for typing search queries (you must use the arrow buttons to navigate an onscreen keyboard), and there’s no mute button. But Netgear redeems itself with a free app that will turn your iPhone or Android phone into a compatible remote. That’s sure to come in handy when the regular remote’s two coin batteries crap out late one evening.
There's also a very good collection of streaming media services on tap. While Western Digital scores a big win with its support for Spotify, Netgear can deliver movies in HD and in surround sound on demand via Vudu. And if you’re a Napster subscriber, you can listen to your tunes on the NeoTV, but not on the WD TV Live. There’s a long list of other less interesting services, including a host of video podcasts (does anyone actually watch those?) and some very basic online games (the same ones that Western Digital offers, including Black Jack Royale, Kaboom, Sudoku, and Texas Hold ‘Em).
Enthusiasts will want more than what the NeoTV delivers, but this is a good product to recommend to friends and family who just want an easy way to stream media from the Internet to their entertainment center.
Strong collection of media-streaming services, including Vudu; built-in wireless adapter; smartphone app.
No USB ports; no analog outputs; can't access media stored on your own network.