Netgear has a history of offering streaming media players that support a wide variety of file formats to play on your HDTV, like its latest introduction: the NTV550 or NeoTV 550. But can NeoTV make itself a place in the marketplace when Google TV is on the way, Apple appears set to release a new version of its TV as early as this afternoon, and even Sony has a compelling streamer in its new Netbox?
NeoTV has a couple of strikes against it right out of the box. It only has an Ethernet port, while some competing media streamers include built-in Wi-Fi. Netgear won't even offer it in a bundle with one of its new Powerline networking kits; instead you have to buy one of those or the WNCE2001 wireless USB adapter separately. When I asked a Netgear rep why there wasn't built-in Wi-Fi or a bundle with a Powerline adapter, he said Netgear prefers to let the buyer to choose how he or she wants to connect the device to the Internet.
The other disadvantage the NeoTV 550 ships with is a paucity of third-party content partnerships -- so it lacks, for instance, a Netflix streaming app. It will offer YouTube support, but that won't cut it when seemingly every other player (not to mention connected HDTVs or Blu-ray players) debuts with a suite of content apps. Netgear did not share any plans with me for additional content partners at this time.
If neither of those drawbacks concerns you, then the NeoTV 550 should excel at streaming files from your home network to your set. It supports 1080p full HD and Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound and has DLNA/UPnP compatibility, so it can handle streaming any Blu-ray movies stored on your computer's hard drive. It also comes with a pair of USB ports, an eSATA port, and an SD card slot to add external storage to the player. Video formats supported include DivX, Xvid, and MKV.
The final hurdle for the NeoTV 550 is price. When it becomes available this fall, the streamer will cost $219.99, or nearly $100 more than Sony's "Netbox" SMP-N100 Network Media Player, which includes DivX support, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Netflix streaming. How quickly will Netgear need to drop that price to make it competitive with the myriad streamers already available and coming soon?