Home Theater PCs, Streaming Media devices, and other homer entertainment electronic devices are an interesting market. It is also one that has died and been resurrected more than once. Right now it is on an upswing with devices from multiple companies dropping products on the market. We have been taking a look at a few of these not only from a technology perspective, but also from a usage standpoint. Some of these are very basic with limited functionality and, to be honest, are not worth the price that the manufacturers are asking. However, as with any product, there are ones that stand out. We are taking a look at one of these today in the form of the NETGEAR NeoTV MAX.
The Box and Goodies -
One thing that is common with the new media devices is that their packaging is almost identical. You get a small picture of the device (usually a boring device that looks like a square hockey puck) along with a short list of the major streaming media sources that the device supports.
The back of the box shows you how to use the NeoTV Max in your home not that most people buying this would need it. NETGEAR also has the now familiar QRC on the top of the box so that you can get extra information about the NeoTV Max on your smartphone.
Inside the box is you will find everything that you need to get things running. There is the NeoTV Max, a Remote, power adapter, and an AV cable. There is no HDMI cable in the box which is unfortunate, but not a deal breaker.
The NeoMAX TV -
As we mentioned before the new class of media players are not attractive. They are small, squares with little to no adornment. The NeoTV Max is not an exception. It is a plain box with very little on it other the NETGEAR logo embossed into the top. The front has a single LED to indicate when the NeoTV Max is turned on.
The back side is where all of the connections are. In addition to items like power you have ports for HDMI, Ethernet, and an AV out just in case you do not have the option for HDMI on your TV or Monitor. Well that is about it on the outside, like we said these new devices are boring to look at.
On the inside things are a little different. The NeoTV Max is powered by a Mediatek MT8653GDAG. This is an ARM based processor that has been designed specifically to run this type of device. The NeoTV Max also has 2GB of Hynix DDR3 1333MHz RAM backing it up. There is also a Texas Instrument DAC in the board to help translate audio. NETGEAR has made sure they have put in appropriate shielding to make sure that you do not get any interference from outside signals. This is important because the NeoTV Max is can also connect and stream media over its 802.11n wireless chip that is buried inside. This should have more than enough bandwidth to stream 1080p video through your house (provided you have good enough signal from your wireless access point). It is a fairly well built device from looking at the design and also the quality of the build itself.
The list of supported Apps, protocols and codecs is pretty impressive as well. Not only an you stream video to your TV it can also act as an Intel WiDi outlet which will let you stream video content from an Intel WiDi device. You can check out the rest of the specs below.
The remote that comes with the NeoTV Max is something pretty cool as well. It is designed to be easy to navigate. You have a single power button with a home button next to it. Below these we find an interesting button. There are four directional keys, an OK button and four “soft” buttons. These will change depending on the app you are in.
The buttons below that are typical playback buttons including a menu button that will give you different options in each app and also when on the home menu. NETGEAR also decided to put in some quick access buttons that will get you directly to the major apps on the NeoTV Max.
Now while all of that is cool, one of the best features of the remote is on the back. NETGEAR decided to give you a full QWERTY keyboard. This is a nice touch considering some of the many features and applications that you can interact with and it is certainly a huge step up over the many on-screen keyboards we have seen of other products.
Now, while the remote is a great feature, there is something missing that we hope NETGEAR will address these later. Both the front navigation and the keyboard are very difficult to read in low light. For the front this is not an issue as you can feel your way around. On the keyboard side it becomes impossible to use. Even a little back lighting here would be nice and be a big improvement.
The Web UI -
The UI of the NeoTV Max is nice looking and allows for a decent amount of customization. We could write quite a bit on everything you can do with it, but in the end we thought that a video would be a better option.
Another cool option is the control app that lets you control the NeoTV Max using a smart phone or tablet. The control is over WiFi so you phone or tablet will need to be on the same network as the NeoTV max. The app lets you control the NeoTV Max using the same controls as are on the remote, or through gestures. You can also directly access the apps installed on the NeoTV Max through the phone.
The NeoTV Max does a good job at what it is designed for. It streams media to your display device from multiple sources and has other internet based options such as Facebook, Twitter etc. However, there are some things that need to be improved. One of these is the application load times. As you saw in the video the load time of these applications is slower than what you would expect (and slower than many smartphones). Netflix was one that stood out and can take quite a while to load up. Part of the issue is with the OS on the NeoTV Max, but the other side of the problem is with Netflix. The good news is that NETGEAR can improve the optimizations on the OS side to help with this issue. During our testing we already have seen three updates that have corrected one issue or another and each has also brought some performance improvements as well. Oddly enought we also had issues with getting Intel WiDi to work in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. We do not think this is a NETGEAR issue, but a driver problem on Intel's side.
Another area of concern is the remote. Although the remote is easy to navigate it has a very narrow field of operation. From our testing we identified about a 90 degree horizontal field of view on the sensor. The vertical field of view is a little more limited with about a 40 degree field. When using the keyboard is can become more difficult if you are not inside this area. In most living room settings this is not any issue, but can be a problem in other areas where you are no directly in front of it.
Heat Buildup -
The NeoTV Max is a small product and as such you might be inclined to stuff it away somewhere. However there is an issue of heat that prevents a problem. In extended use we have seen the NeoTV Max lock up after a few hours of play, if there is not adequate ventilation. NETGEAR might want to consider putting in a little more beefy heatsink in future versions of the NeoTV max.
Ease of use -
The NeoTV Max is very easy to setup and use. The “regular” side of the remote allows for quick access to certain apps (Netfilx, Hulu. etc.). The soft buttons give you extra options when inside the different applications on the NeoTV max. On the other side you have a keyboard that gives you easier searches (in the right light). The icons for the apps are large enough to be seen easily across most rooms so you can see what you are doing. In all it is simple to use and should fit into any skill set.
Value is another very subjective topic. What is expensive to some might be a deal to others. You can look at this topic in multiple ways. One is raw price and the other is what you get for the money. Each is accurate and both are correct ways to look at price/value. We tend to look at features, performance and real-property when we discuss value. However, we also take into account the raw cash cost of the item. The NeoTV Max can be found on the web and at retail outlets for around $70. At this price it is right in line with many others on the market from Roku and Sony. It is also much cheaper than putting together your own HTPC, although it is not as functional as a fully-fledged PC. Still considering its versatility it is a good price for what you are getting.
The NeoTV Max shares a common flaw with almost all of the other media players on the market: the internal OS is often annoyingly slow. This problem can lead to frustration when using the NeoTV Max especially if you click on the wrong thing. Now, as we mentioned, some of this is are not the fault of the media player, but the guys on the other end. That does not make things better for the end user, but it is what it is. On the other side of this the NeoTV Max is very flexible and has a lot to offer. NETGEAR also has an advantage as they can continually work on optimizing their OS to speed things up as well as offer more features. In all it is good product that could use some improvements to make it a great one.
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