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CES 2009: Hands-on with Netgear's new streaming media devices

Certainly one of the big stories at CES this year has been TV manufacturers finally embracing the Internet on their new sets, thanks in large part to the widget platform that adds real-time streaming info on-screen while you're watching shows. But home networking companies aren't yielding the living room just yet, as Netgear demonstrated to me this afternoon at their booth.
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Written by Sean Portnoy on

Certainly one of the big stories at CES this year has been TV manufacturers finally embracing the Internet on their new sets, thanks in large part to the widget platform that adds real-time streaming info on-screen while you're watching shows. But home networking companies aren't yielding the living room just yet, as Netgear demonstrated to me this afternoon at their booth.

Info on the company's new Digital Entertainer Elite EVA9150 leaked a few weeks ago, but now the streaming media device is official. The big upgrade from its previous iteration is the 500GB hard drive it possesses; the drive is removable so you can add a higher-capacity one if you'd prefer. In addition to playing back the media files on that drive on your TV through its various outputs (including HDMI, component-video, and composite-video), the Elite can stream them from your home network (including NAS devices) or external storage you attach to its two USB ports.

The Elite can handle 1080p HD content, as it delivered a Blu-ray trailer flawlessly. Of course, it was using a wired connection, so mileage may vary for 1080p video delivered wirelessly through its built-in 802.11n. Make that dual-band wireless, as it can work on either a 2.4GHz or 5GHz network. Though Netgear's content partners are limited in comparison to other streaming devices that have Netflix or Amazon on-demand programming capabilities, the Elite makes up for it with a huge number of file formats supported, including DviX, Xvid, MP4, WMV, and AVI videos, the usual digital audio formats, and even high-def audio like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

If you have more than one Elite unit, you can start watching a video on one TV and then continue it on another. But given the $399 price when it ships next month, I'm not sure just how many people will be doubling up. Nonetheless, the Elite seems like a good solution if you have a large library of videos in nonproprietary formats.

With the Internet TV Player (ITV2000), Netgear is taking a totally different approach than with the Elite. This tiny device is a plug-and-play Internet video streamer that doesn't add a ton of other features. It connects to your home network either through its Ethernet port or a USB wireless adapter, and hooks up to your TV with an HDMI port. Its menu system offers a YouTube "channel" as well as a number of other online video content providers, such as the BBC, National Geographic, TMZ, ESPN. Video quality, of course, depends on the source file. Netgear has partnered with CinemaNow for paid streaming downloads, but doesn't offer Netflix or Amazon on-demand video streaming like some other competitors. Support for Hulu.com, on the other hand, is more likely in the future.

One market segment that the ITV2000 seems particularly well-suited for is fans of international TV, as its other key feature is its ability to display TV stations that stream their programming over the Web. That includes a number of European stations; with a couple of taps on the included remote, SkyTV from the U.K. was streaming from the sample unit I saw demoed. Finally, the device can work as a BitTorrent client in concert with USB-connected external storage.

Still, the ITV2000 may be a tough sell given its $199 price point and the lack of premium services attached to it. Since it isn't due out until summer, Netgear could potentially adjust its features or pricing in the meantime.

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