NetGear – EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite review

NetGear's much anticipated return to the media streaming market
Photo of NetGear – EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite
£350

The Netgear EVA8000 is one the few media streamers we’ve really been impressed by over the last couple of years, and this is largely to do with the fact that the company successfully updated and revised the product to correct problems and address consumer requests long after release. So we were quite excited to see what it would be introducing with the new Digital Entertainer Elite, otherwise known as the EVA9150.

NetGear was obviously happy with the physical design of the previous model, since not a lot has changed here. The Elite is a rather large and heavy unit, though this is partly to do with the pre-installed 500GB hard drive, and is around the same dimensions as a typical DVD player. On one hand this means that it should fit quite nicely atop another set-top box, but we were starting to get used to the slimline, portable models that have been appearing elsewhere in recent times.

It’s predictably packed with connectivity and includes an HDMI connection, two USB ports (front and back), SCART and 10/100Mbps Ethernet. It also has an internal wireless antenna that supports 802.11n, so it ticks just about all the boxes when it comes to attaching and connecting to compatible hardware.

The EVA 9150 introduces you gently to the setup process by using a wizard-based approach to guide you through configuration, which includes setting the television type, connection and entering network details. This simplifies things for beginners yet it still offers custom modes for those who require a greater degree of control.

Setup on the computer side involves installing NetGear’s Digital Entertainer software, which will scan a machine for relevant media folders and allow you to choose which to share, or add undetected sources manually. During this process you’ll also be asked to detect and allow access to the Elite box, which may involve tweaking a firewall slightly to permit communications. Most users shouldn’t have a problem getting things up and running in under ten minutes, though it’s worth spending a bit of time getting to know the Digital Entertainer software fully.

Using the tools available it’s possible to configure the box remotely, copy files across a network and even control it via a computer using a rudimentary mirrored interface. You’ll also find access to the documentation here, which is definitely worth a read as the range of features and various nuances to the Elite are extensive, to say the least.

Whether you copy files directly to the internal drive or stream across a network, you’ll find everything accessible through the relevant video/audio/photo menus on the interface, which is clear and easy to browse. Video collections can either be viewed as simple folder-based lists or by categories such as year, genre, artist and rating. To make the most of the latter you’ll need to make sure your video files are populated with the relevant details, and NetGear’s Tag Tool is provided to help you do just that.

In terms of performance, video playback is excellent and we were genuinely surprised to see HD resolutions up to 1080i stream admirably over a wireless network. A delay of no more than a few seconds is needed for the file to buffer and we’re comfortable in saying that this is the most effective device we’ve seen to date at handling this high-demand content without wires.

There’s also an excellent degree of control including aspect ratio, subtitle support, searching via the numeric keypad and auto-resume. Perhaps the most notable feature here, though, is the massive degree of support for various formats and codecs, a full list of which can be viewed from the company’s web site, linked below.

Audio playback is similarly impressive, with content split into artist, album, genre, etc. to make selection from large libraries a breeze. Playlists can be created, there’s support for Internet Radio, and music can be left playing while you explore other areas of the EVA9150 or, for example, view a photo slideshow. Here you’re offered full control over timings and transitions with zoom and rotate controls and thumbnail views for easy selection.

Protected music and videos can also be played, provided the software that handles the protection (i.e. iTunes or Windows Media Player) is present on the host PC.

Media control and playback is generally top-notch, then, and the speed at which you can navigate the menus during playback to access other functions, as well as the intuitive layout of the remote control, make this a truly enjoyable experience.

Speaking of which, this is probably the only media streamer we’ve seen where it’d be wrong not to dedicate at least a paragraph to the supplied remote. The solid build and intuitive layout oozes quality and notably it also acts as an all-in-one for up to four devices. A dedicated PDF manual will help configure the extra three slots for typical home cinema components and, along with all the controls you’d need, there are four additional hotkeys that can be programmed for custom tasks. As a means of comparison, we’d equate this to the same standard as the remote supplied by Sky for its ‘+’ and ‘HD’ boxes, which is a considerable accolade for a device of this type.

Rounding the main features off nicely is access to online content which is predominantly focused towards YouTube. Here you can run a custom text-search or view the top-rated, featured or most viewed videos as well as signing into an account to access favourites. Video selections can be queued, aspect ratio can be adjusted to full screen and, as we’ve grown to expect by this point, playback is exceptional.

Obviously the quality is tied to the video itself but the EVA9150 can play back HD versions where available and, though a slightly longer wait is necessary, it still handles this with aplomb. We were particularly impressed by the fact that you can browse back and forth through a video mid-playback (at least at SD resolutions) with no more than a few seconds wait for rebuffering, which is to date almost unheard of with this sort of setup.

In addition to YouTube and the aforementioned Internet Radio, a range of other channels are available and configurable including RSS feeds, Flickr, local weather and news, though these do vary quite wildly in terms of accessibility and performance.

It should be fairly obvious by now that there’s quite a lot to talk about with the Entertainer Elite, and we’ve really only covered the main features and most useful subtleties of the device. Other advantages include direct PC access, which allows you to view and control your desktop via your TV to run software or check emails, though in practice this is only responsive enough on a wired connection and even then isn’t too practical.

There’s also multi-room support to share resources between multiple Elites in the same home, parental controls and customisable skins, along with a massive range of supervisor and advanced settings for fine-tuning even further.

We’d love to round this off by saying that NetGear has found a way to provide a product as impressive as this at a reasonable price, but unfortunately at a little under £350, with built-in 500GB hard drive, it’s up there with the most expensive on the market. In this light it’s really only a choice for serious users with large collections, though if the price falls in a few months’ time it could open up the market.

Company: NetGear

Contact: 01344 45 8200


Verdict
It's difficult to find enough good things to say about the Entertainer Elite, which builds on the EVA8000 primarily through a more responsive interface, better streaming performance and file management and an excellent remote control. When you throw in strong support for online content and a massive degree of flexibility and custom settings, it's difficult to think of a more versatile and better performing media streamer in the current market. Unfortunately you're paying a lot for the privilege of this exceptional performance and range of features, so for the time being at least this will be a choice for serious digital media users only.