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Price: $149 (MSRP)
Pros: HMDI output, lots of streaming content choices; offers handy keyword search for Internet video; 802.11n Wi-Fi support (via add-on adapter)
Cons: no 1080p output and limited codec support for 720p; BYO HDMI cable; some features will require additional subscription fee
In the past year or so, the act of television "cord cutting"—dropping cable or satellite TV service and opting instead to obtain video programming entirely from the Internet—has become increasingly popular. But whether material from the Internet comprises all or just part of your video diet, watching it while hunched over a PC isn't quite the same as doing it while sitting on a couch with remote control in hand and pointed at a spacious TV screen.
But Netgear's Digital Entertainer Live EVA2000 offers a more conventional and comfortable viewing experience by delivering a wide range of material streamed or downloaded from the Internet to the TV of your choice.
Design, Specs and Setup
The DE Live is an extremely small and light device (it employs the same chassis—albeit in black instead of white—used by Netgear's consumer-focused 5 port Ethernet switches) that easily sits on or next to a TV or will fit in all but the most cramped AV cabinets. The unit's Spartan front bezel sports a single light indicating both power and network connectivity, while on the back you'll find a 10/100 Ethernet port, a pair of USB ports, and a choice of two AV connectors.
The DE Live's AV options are pretty much on opposite ends of the spectrum— a mini-DIN style plug with included custom cable provides composite video/analog audio (the familiar yellow/white/red trio). For a simpler and higher-quality connection, there's also an HDMI port. It's disappointing that you must supply your own HDMI cable, but they're inexpensive enough to buy ($10 or less) provided you avoid doing so at a brick-and-mortar electronics retailer.
The DE Live can output at either 480p/576p (NTSC/PAL) or 720p depending on whether you employ the composite or HDMI connection, and the device supports pretty much any video codec (WMV 7/8/9, VC1, VP6, H.263, H.264, MPEG 1/2/4) or container format (AVI, DivX 4.x, DivX 5.x, Xvid, MOV, MP4, MPEG2-PS, MPEG2-TS, DVD VOB, FLV, Matroska, ASF) you would care to use. The presence of HDMI implies HD support, and there is some, but the DE Live's ability to play high-definition video is currently limited to MPEG2 video, which it can decode up to 1280 x 720 resolution. All other codecs are limited to standard-def (720 x 480/576) as of this writing, though Netgear says a firmware update due in late November will enable 720p decode for WMV 8/9, VC1, and MPEG 4. (The DE Live upscales SD content to 720p.)
Getting the DE Live up and running is easy—connect to power, network, and the appropriate AV input and you're pretty much ready to roll. The DEL lacks built-in Wi-Fi, but you can add it if you're willing to spring an extra $40 for Netgear's EVAW111. The EVAW111 is an EVA2000-specific, 2.4 GHz Wireless N USB adapter, and it comes with a stiffed USB extension cable allowing you to position the adapter for optimal signal strength. The EVAW111 is easy to set up too—you just pop it into either of the USB ports and enter your encryption key—or use WPS if your router supports it— no driver install required.
Lots of Content Options
The DE Live's UI is basic and attractive, and the included palm-sized remote control lets you easily browse content from among myriad available sources. For starters, the DE Live can stream video (as well as display JPEG photos) from a UPnP or DLNA media server (like Windows Media Player or a compatible NAS device) on your network. It also works well with MediaMall's excellent PlayOn software, which installs on a Windows PC and can stream content by pulling RSS feeds from a range of Net-based sources including Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, (and many more through the use of third party plug-ins). Sadly, the DE Live doesn't bundle a copy of the $40 PlayOn software, but it's available for a 14-day trial download and using an included link (with the coupon code "NETGEAR") will let you buy it at a 25 percent discount.
In addition to streaming media from local network servers, the DE Live can also pull video directly from numerous Internet sites, starting with the seemingly inexhaustible font of material that is YouTube. The DE Live integrates software from Verismo Network's VuNow service that you can use to browse video clips from dozen of other Web sites ranging from mainstream outlets such as HBO and National Geographic to edgier ones like The Onion and My Damn Channel. The VuNow service also provides access to scores of live streaming TV stations –and a smattering of radio stations—from around the globe.
With the DE Live's integrated search tool—which is powered by vtap—you can find videos across a wide range of providers by performing a keyword search. The search tool is easily accessible via a dedicated key on the remote, and it's responsive too, returning results quickly and updating them as you compose your search term. When you come across content you like, be it a stored video or a streaming station, you can bookmark it for future reference.
If you're in the mood for movie rentals and aren't accessing Netflix through PlayOn, the DE Live makes flicks available through Roxio's CinemaNow service (since CinemaNow films are downloaded rather than streamed, you must save them to a DE Live-attached storage device).
For times when your preferred mode of connectivity is Sneakernet, the DE Live will access content directly from an attached USB storage device formatted with FAT 16/32 or NTFS. (Despite the pair of USB ports, the DE Live can only accommodate one storage device at a time even if you're not using the aforementioned EVAW111 Wi-Fi adapter.)
The EVA2000's streaming quality was excellent over both wired and wireless connections. Image quality was generally quite good as well, though it mostly depends on the content; low-res and/or heavily compressed video doesn't necessarily look great when it's upscaled to 720p any more than it does when you play it full screen on a PC.
The Bottom Line
One important caveat regarding the EVA2000's VuNow services—when we used them for the first time, the license agreement stated that after 3/31/2010 the service would reserve the right to charge $24.99 a year for access. The VuNow stuff represents a significant portion of the EVA2000's feature set, so even though the subscription fee amounts barely more than two bucks a month, you'll want to factor it in when considering the overall cost of the device. (Incidentally, VuNow offers a device similar—though not identical—to the EVA2000 that it calls the VN1000HD.)
The cost of the EVA 2000 plus all the accoutrements you may to take full advantage of its potential (the Wi-Fi adapter, PlayOn software, and eventual VuNow service subscription) can easily ring up a bit north of $200. That's no small chunk of change these days, especially considering that some other media streaming devices in the same price range (the WD TV Live HD and FreeAgent Theater +, to name two) output up many video formats up to 1080p. That said, few offer the EVA2000's bredth of content options.
The EVA2000's incomplete HD repertoire means it's probably not the best choice if you download a lot of high-resolution torrents, but it's a great one if you're fine with mostly SD content and want access to the widest possible variety of it from your couch instead of your computer.