A couple of months ago I reviewed the Roku 2 XS Streaming Player, which allows you to stream online content from Netflix, Pandora and other online services to your television. This time around I take a look at the NeoTV Streaming Player from Netgear, a competitor to Roku. With it you can stream movies, TV shows, music, photos and more to your TV. After using the model that was given to me, I found that the NeoTV offers similar functionality to the Roku 2 XS, but falls a bit flat in the execution.
At 4.45 inches wide by 4.45 inches long by 0.94 inches high, the Netgear NeoTV player has a relatively small footprint, albeit not as small as the Roku 2 XS, which measures 3.3 inches wide, 3.3 inches long and 0.9 inches high.
Immediately upon unpacking the NeoTV, the disappointment began. Unlike the Roku 2 XS, which can be connected to your TV or receiver using either HDMI or composite cable, NeoTV only supports HDMI. While I admit I am a bit behind in television technology, after having the option of using a composite cable with the Roku 2 XS, I was a bit surprised by this lack of functionality with NeoTV. After acquiring an HDMI-to-composite converter, I was able to connect the NeoTV to my home theater system. The process is extremely simple—hook the power source up to the player, plug it in and then connect the HDMI cable to either your TV or receiver. However, be aware that the NeoTV does not come with an HDMI cable, something you do get with the Roku 2 XS, so you will need to purchase one separately in order to hook up the NeoTV player.
Once the player is connected and powered up, you begin the menu-driven, on-screen setup. Compared to the Roku 2 XS, the process wasn’t quite as simple or user-friendly. This is not to say, however, that it was overly difficult. You specify your TV resolution (NeoTV supports up to 1080p HD), digital audio output, the standby time, and finally your Wi-Fi network. NeoTV allows you to connect to the Internet via a wired Ethernet connection or via an 802.11n Wi-Fi connection (b/g/n compatible). If you are connecting to a wireless network, you select the desired network and, if necessary, enter your network password. NeoTV does support Wi-Fi Protected Setup, so if your wireless router or access point is set up for WPS, you are able to join the network without typing in the password. I had to shut off the NeoTV player a couple of times in order to first enter in my network password and then again to allow the player to let me finish the Wi-Fi setup. All of this is done via the included remote, so it can be a little time consuming if you have a long network password. Seemingly the third time was the charm, and the player recognized my network information and connected to it.
Once the NeoTV is connected to the Internet, it checks to see if there are any software updates and then you are ready to start viewing. Unlike the Roku 2 XS, you do not have to register your player, nor do you need to enter any credit card information.
The overall setup time was about 30 minutes, which was slightly longer than with the Roku 2 XS, mainly because I had to reset the box a couple of times in order to enter my wireless network information.
Having used the Roku 2 XS for a few months, I wasn’t impressed with the offerings available over the NeoTV. The player supports Netflix and, unlike Roku, YouTube. You can also listen to music via Pandora. With NeoTV you can also access content from Picasa, Facebook, Twitter, CNN and CNET.
Beyond that, I found that most of the movies available via NeoTV were pay-per-view. With Roku, there were hundreds of free movies at my fingertips. Lastly, the NeoTV player lacks any expansion slots, which means you are not able to stream your own content from an external device.
Since the NeoTV player streams content over the Internet, your overall experience is dictated in large part by your Internet connection. Netgear recommends at least a 1.2Mbps connection to watch movies instantly. Obviously, the faster your connection, the better the quality. According to Netgear, for high-quality video and audio, a connection of 2.5Mbps is required, and for HD 1080p movies, a 4.5Mbps connection is required.
I found there to be a considerable lag, as much as three minutes, between when I selected a movie or TV show and when it actually began. This is in stark contrast to the Roku 2 XS player, where playback begins almost instantaneously. This may be due to the converter box I was running NeoTV through, but either way the lag was painful.
The Netgear NeoTV doesn’t fail to achieve what it sets out to do—deliver streaming content to your TV. If I had never used the Roku 2 XS, I probably would have found the NeoTV to be a good streaming media player. However, I have used the Roku, and I love it. It seems that at every turn the NeoTV player falls just shy of the Roku 2 XS. Furthermore, the NeoTV player is available from Netgear for $99, the same cost as the more robust Roku 2 XS. All in all, I cannot see why you would opt for the Netgear NeoTV over the Roku, unless you cannot live without YouTube.
Netgear NeoTV Streaming Player (NTV200)
$99.99 (currently $69.00 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.