Media streamers add access to internet-based entertainment sources such as NetFlix, Hulu Plus, You Tube, Pandora Radio etc. to your TV. Depending on the brand and model that you purchase, you may also be able to view multimedia content from a storage device plugged into the streamer’s USB port, or even a DLNA media server, if there’s one connected to your network.
Even though many TVs, Blu-ray players and gaming consoles come with access to popular streaming services baked in, there still is a market for standalone streamers. But not all streamers are created equal. Prices for these devices start at about $50 and top out around $100. Most companies that produce media streamers offer more than one model, with the more expensive models having more features.
I recently reviewed NETGEAR's NeoTV MAX. Since our head-to-head review comparing the Roku 2 XS and WD's WDTV Live was so popular last holiday buying season, Tim asked me to do a similar comparison of NETGEAR and Roku's top-of-line players.
As with the previous head-to-heads, this one won’t be a complete product review. Rather, I’ll be looking at some of the supported services to see how well each of the devices tackles its tasks of streaming content and providing a good user experience.
Roku 2 XS
Priced at $99.99, the Roku 2 XS is Roku’s top of the line “Fully loaded with games” product. As compared to the previously-reviewed (and now discontinued) Roku 2 XD|S, you pick up a Bluetooth remote that’s suitable for motion control for games, a free Angry Birds™ game, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, and a USB port.
The figure below shows the rear panel of the Roku 2 XS, which has HDMI and compositie AV outputs, a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port with Link and activity indicators, power input jack and reset button. The micro SD slot can be used to store additional channel information. Local storage of channel information greatly speeds up channel load times should you fill up the 2 XS’s memory with your added channels. There's a single USB port on the right hand side (looking at the front) that you can use to play local content from a flash or external drive.
Roku 2 XS rear panel
Unlike the NeoTV MAX, the Roku 2 XS arrives sparsely populated with channels. You can add additional channels either from the device's "Channel Store", or you can add them from the Roku website and the channels will be downloaded into your registered Roku device. Although the channels are conveniently arranged into categories, you can also search for a channel if you know its name.
If you're looking for the widest selection of internet content, a Roku device will be your choice. Just a brief sampling of Roku's channel store yielded the following: Movies/TV - 72 channels; Music - 49 channels; News/weather - 33 channels; Internet TV - 59 channels.
The figure below shows the Bluetooth controller for the Roku 2 XS. It features only 14 buttons, but they are well placed and easy to use. The built-in gyroscopes provides it with motion capabilities which makes playing the included Angry Birds game a fairly good experience.
Roku 2 XS controller senses motion for game playing
Though I prefer Angry Birds on either my iPad or Droid Razr, I will probably play the game again on the 2 XS because of the larger screen. In general, I preferred this controller to the NeoTV MAX controller because of the button placement. On the NeoTV remote, all too often I hit one of the colored buttons instead of the arrow keys. And though the NeoTV had an alphanumeric QWERTY keyboard on the back side of the controller, in many applications it didn't work. Finally, the Roku remote doesn't have to be pointed directly at the device in order to work because it uses Bluetooth. In fact, the Roku could be mounted behind your TV, out of line-of-site required by IR controllers, and still work.
The appearance of NeoTV MAX is very similar to the Roku 2 XS. Both devices come in a highly polished black case and have a single indicator light on the front panel along with their product names. Measuring 3.57" X 3.58" X 1.00", the NeoTV is slightly larger than the 2 XS, which measures 3.35" X 3.35" X 1.00". The figure below shows the rear panel of the NeoTV MAX.
Netgear NeoTV MAX rear panel
You'll note that there aren't too many differences between the NeoTV MAX rear panel and the one on the 2 XS. The differences are that the NeoTV MAX doesn't have link or activity lights on the Ethernet port and the micro SD memory card inserted into the rear panel slot can contain multimedia files that can be played on your TV. The micro SD slot on the 2 XS is reserved for storing additional channel information only.
Both devices have built-in 802.11b/g/n capabilities (2.4 GHz only) so you can connect either media streamer to your network wirelessly. Neither device as a physical WPS push button, though the NeoTV MAX does have a WPS software option in the network setup menu. The NeoTV MAX features N300 (two stream) Wi-Fi. Though there aren't any specifications on the Roku site, based on the internal photos from the FCC, it appears that it also is a dual stream device.
The NeoTV MAX arrives populated with icons for all of the channels available for the device. For some channels, when you click on the icon for the first time, the channel downloads into the device.
The figure below shows the controller supplied with the NeoTV MAX. Unlike the 2 XS controller, it is an IR controller, so it has to be pointed directly at the device. And since it doesn't have motion sensors, you have to navigate through the 10 included games using the arrow keys. I do like the direct access buttons, but found that the QWERTY keyboard was of limited usefulness since it didn't work in a number of applications.