NETGEAR NeoTV – NTV200 Connected Media Streamer
If you are in the market for an inexpensive connected media streamer, the number of options has exploded recently. A couple weeks back we took a look at Roku’s XS, and today we have the newest member of NETGEAR’s NeoTV lineup – the NTV200. At first glance, the unit’s price ($79.99) and lack of a USB port for local content sets it neatly in the middle of the multitude of players currently available, but breaks from the pack by offering VUDU alongside Netflix and the many other “also ran” applications we have come to expect from this segment.
The NETGEAR NTV200’s combination of retail friendly packaging and impulse-purchase pricing make it an easy streamer for those with HDTVs lacking (or having, but since abandoned by the display manufacture) a connected over the top (OTT) media platform to bring home. Unfortunately, like many others in this category, displays without HDMI support are left out because that is the only option for video output. There is a bit more flexibility on the audio side, however, as a TOSLINK (optical S/PDIF) is available for use with an older audio video receiver (AVR). An infrared (IR) remote comes with the NTV200, providing enough buttons for even the most demanding media playback scenarios. Control is limited compared to the Roku 2, which supports Bluetooth, so while there are casual games available for the device, only those requiring limited interaction (i.e. card, word, number, etc. based) are possible. Not being a gamer, I do not find this to be a negative factor at all, but depending on individual preference it might tip the scale. Compared to the Roku 2, this NeoTV has a slight disadvantage when it comes to size, but unless space is at an incredible premium, it will not translate into a tangible gain in application, with the NTV200 slotting neatly into the same space (beneath the soundbar) occupied previously by the other streamer.
NETGEAR absolutely nailed the first run setup experience with the NTV200. It is EDID aware, so the correct resolution for the display (a Panasonic TH-C42FD18) was automatically selected for video, as well as 5.1 PCM (not shown here, but confirmed in the device settings) on the audio side for maximum compatibility. WPS is also supported, so setting up the WiFi connection was quick and painless. Once connected, it then checks for updates to ensure that everything is up-to-date before launching the main UI.
For ninety percent of users, the first run settings will work perfectly. For the ten percent who like to tinker, or want the AVR to handle decoding, a trip to the settings area will be required. There are some other goodies in there as well, most notably a toggle for HDMI CEC, which provides a reliable, single-remote solution (usually the TV’s) for those without a good universal. All with no additional power consumption (1W standby, 5-6W in use) when enabled – well done!
Not surprisingly, as the bandwidth between the NTV200 and the content end point is usually much lower than what is available either via wired or wireless connection in the home, there was no significant difference when measuring speed via the settings page using either connection type. The results (~2Mbps) were misleading given that VUDU’s HDX (which requires at 4.5+ Mbps connection) streamed perfectly on the device, and both their speed test and Speedtest.net put the connection in the 20+ Mbps range at the same time. Most likely, the results were not wrong per se (i.e. probably measuring bandwidth between the device and NETGEAR’s servers), they just were not useful in a broader context.
The pleasing and responsive user interface (UI) arrives fifteen seconds after powering on the NTV200, providing quick access to a wide variety of content channels. Some of the pivots are a bit redundant with little additional value provided, as they contain a similar selection of the channels sorted in a slightly different way. I was unable to find a way to customize the UI to remove pivots or channels, so it appears that this complaint is permanent, but with everything I found useful on the platform contained in the “Most Popular” grouping, there was little reason to navigate elsewhere.
The NTV200 provides a comprehensive list of streaming content channels including Netflix (stereo only and with no subtitle support), VUDU, and Pandora but Amazon’s Instant Video is notably missing. This highlights an unfortunate problem in the market for these devices. We cannot just select the best hardware and software solution; content availability and artificial functional limitations are a significant consideration when choosing what takes space in the A/V stack. Channels are either loaded or not, so there is no support for background audio via a service like Pandora; a scenario that would be very useful for casual games or browsing services like Picasa. Lacking support for local content made it impossible to use our preferred calibration patterns to test for proper video rendering, so a Netflix provided sample was substituted with the correct results observed.
Offering seamless setup, HDMI CEC, WiFi and Ethernet networking, and a good selection of IP content including Netflix and VUDU at a very competitive price; the NETGEAR NTV200 is a serious contender for bringing over the top media to your home theater. Unfortunately, where the hardware and underlying software platform are very solid, the device it is let down by the lack of Amazon Instant Video and the full Netflix 5.1 audio/subtitle experience. Hopefully these oversights can be corrected, as currently no streamer in this price range delivers flawlessly, requiring significant compromise in content availability or consumption.
- Comprehensive list of streaming content, including Netflix and VUDU
- Fast startup
- Low power
- Easy setup experience
- HDMI CEC
- No Amazon streaming
- Netflix lacks subtitle and multichannel audio