Netgear is the latest to chip in with a rather feature-packed addition to the streaming media market, with its EVA8000. Billed as the ‘HD ready’ addition to the range, you’ll find support for up to 1080p resolutions, which – along with the built-in HDMI interface – makes it well prepared for high definition content. You also have the option of either wired or wireless operation, the former being inevitably more stable and almost a prerequisite if you’re looking to stream and manage HD video.
To call the EVA8000 a media streamer in the same light as the impressive enough D-Link MediaLounge would be selling it a bit short. Netgear has produced a far more versatile unit, both in terms of performance and the sort of content you’ll find you can stream and view.
In a similar manner to the D-Link unit, setup requires you to correctly configure the Netgear box to be picked up on either a wired or wireless network so that it can be accessed from your PC. From here you can choose which folders to ‘share’, but in this instance you’re not just limited to the content stored on your home PC.
In the case of video, for example, you can search for and view YouTube content (provided your PC is hooked up to the Internet) directly. This can be done by entering keywords via the remote, browsing the current top 25, or adding favourite videos or users. In the case of audio playback you can choose to browse Internet radio stations and have this stream directly to your television as well as local media, adding a nice degree of versatility.
We’d love to report that all of this works flawlessly in both wired and wireless operation with no pauses or performance issues, and while it’s fair to say we were impressed, it’s still not perfect. A wired connection certainly helps when streaming video but it’s difficult to achieve faultless playback when streaming from a site like YouTube to your PC and then across a network to a television, simply due to the range of potential bottlenecks that exist in between.
One thing we noticed when doing this is a strange loss of sound during playback, which can sometimes be rectified by pausing and restarting or tracking back or forwards a bit. We saw no such problems with Internet radio however, suggesting it’s simply a bandwidth issue that’s inherent to the technology rather than Netgear’s box. It would have been nice to see a more effective media buffer for video content to help solve this problem: most users would be happy to wait a minute or so for playback to start if it meant watching an entire clip without pauses or loss of sound.
In addition to this range of viewable content there’s a host of other handy little features built in, such as the ability to view the news (via RSS feeds) and local weather forecasts and find out if you have any new e-mails or Instant Messages. You’ll also find that you can view more than one type of content at once, so you could start some music playing while you’re setting up a photo slideshow, browsing for online media or configuring your shared content. File support is very good across the board: we didn’t encounter a single mainstream format that wouldn’t open, and you can even view purchased or DRM-protected content from major online services.
If you have a TV tuner set up in your PC then you can watch and schedule recordings for TV programming via the Netgear box. If you so wish you can pick up more than one media box for different rooms of the house to utilise features such as ‘Follow me’, which allows you to pause content in one room and resume from another. All of this combines to form one of the most comprehensive media access platforms we’ve seen to date, but sadly all of this accessibility isn’t without its drawbacks.
Aside from the seemingly inevitable glitches with streaming video, we also found the interface on the Netgear box a little hard to follow. Considering the range of content available it’s obviously important to make media access as straightforward as possible, which is certainly not the case here. You’ll find a number of ways to browse photo, video and audio content, usually based around choosing to view a list of ‘newest’ media, a complete listing, folder view or range of categories such as genre, cover art, actor, year, etc.
This actually ends up being rather confusing and, since the layout of the interface prohibits more than eight files being listed on the screen at any one time, it can make for some quite frustrating browsing. Part of the reason for this apparently contrived layout is down to Netgear’s Tag Tool application. Using this you can add file information to your media, ranging from cast members, the director or rating for films to more traditional album, artist and genre for audio. You can also add a picture of either cover art or a still screenshot snapped from a certain point in a movie.
This is admittedly a nice idea, but those with large collections may be daunted by how long it would take to trawl through and populate everything with this sort of information.
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