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You are here: Multimedia & VoIP Multimedia & VoIP Reviews Two More $100 Streamers Compared: Roku 2 XS vs. NETGEAR NeoTV MAX - Hands On-Netflix, Pandora

Two More $100 Streamers Compared: Roku 2 XS vs. NETGEAR NeoTV MAX - Hands On-Netflix, Pandora

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Hands On

The real test of a media streamer is how well it performs, and how usable is the user interface. While it's preferable to use a wired Ethernet connection if possible, I recognize that many people will be using a wireless connection.  So for these tests, I unplugged the Ethernet cable on both devices and connected to my wireless network.

I tested some of the most popular apps/channels including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Picasa.  While there is a lot of overlap of applications, the Roku has hundreds more applications - you could spend a long time if you checked out all of them.  I've included a lot of screen shots in the gallery below.  Be sure to check them out.

Netflix - Roku

The Roku Netflix player has a fairly straightforward interface. It launches in about 6.5 seconds and lands immediately at the main interface that shows a linear presentation of your instant queue across the top. It only displays eight titles at a time. The other two locations on the screen are used by balloon information that shows you information, such as running length, resolution, rating, etc.. related to the currently selected item

Roku Netflix screen

Roku Netflix screen

As you scroll down the screen, additional categories such as recently watched, Top 10 for you, Popular on Netflix, etc. appear.  You scroll left to right to highlight your selection, which appears in the middle of the top line. 

Below the instant queue, there's a large magnifying glass for that you can use to search for movie titles.  The Roku client appears to have relatively poor search capabilities as you can only search for a movie title or TV show name.  I tried searching for Jeff Bridges and although Jeff Bridges appeared in the suggested search results, there were no movie or TV results featuring Jeff Bridges.  However when I searched on True Grit,  the movie starring Jeff Bridges appeared alongside with the original True Grit with John Wayne.

The Roku Netflix player launches video very quickly.  It appears to load the first 30 seconds or so in standard definition video to get the movie started quickly.  Then as it buffers, the video switches into high def.  Here are some sample load times:  True Grit – 5.94 sec; Margin Call – 6.19 sec; Big Lebowski – 5.56 sec.

Video quality looked good – even streaming over my wireless connection.  There weren’t any dropouts, and with the exception of the opening moments of the movie in standard definition, the video looked very good.  Voices were in synch with the video, and sub titles worked as expected.

Netflix - NETGEAR

The Netflix player on the NeoTV takes between 30 and 40 seconds to load before the opening screen appears.  The landing pages lets you select between Netflix or Netflix Just for Kids.  The NeoTV makes better use of the screen real estate by displaying 12 titles at once along with additional information about the highlighted movie/TV series on the right hand side of the screen. 

At the top of the screen, there are icons for Search or to change to the “Just for Kids” section.  Like the Roku Netflix player, you scroll through the categories presented by Netflix with your Instant Queue and Recently Watched items appearing at the top.

NETGEAR Netflix screen

NETGEAR Netflix screen

The search feature on the NETGEAR seems to work significantly better than one on the Roku. Not only can you search for a movie or TV show name, you can also search for a person. Using the same search criteria that I used on the Roku, I searched for Jeff Bridges. As I typed in the first letters ”J”, “E” and “F”, the matching searches progressively appeared.  I was able to easily select Jeff Bridges with just a couple of keystrokes. 

Once I selected the name, a list of all the movies with Jeff Bridges currently available on Netflix instant viewing appeared.  For those of you keeping track, there are currently 13 Jeff Bridges movies available on Netflix for instant viewing.  With the Roku, there would be no way to determine all the movies that a particular actor appears in.

On the downside, it took the NeoTV significantly longer to start playing video than the Roku. It took a little over 28 seconds after pressing the play button before True Grit appeared on the screen.  Resuming playback of a previously partially viewed title appears to take less time, however. Margin Call took just a little over 13 seconds and The Big Lebowski took about 15 1/2 to resume playing.  As with the Roku, there were no video dropouts and the audio remained synchronized with the video, using my wireless connection.  Subtitles worked as expected, if included in the movie.

Pandora - Roku

You can create an account or sign in with your existing account.  Input is done via the remote and an on-screen alphabetically arranged keyboard.

Once signed in, the landing page gives you the option of creating a new station, enabling shuffle of all stations, or selecting one of your existing stations. Only five stations appear on the landing page - you have to use the remote to scroll through more.  An options icon in the upper right corner, accessible by hitting the "*" on the remote lets you play or delete a station, sort stations by date created or alphabetically, sign out/switch accounts or close.

Roku Pandora Home screen

Roku Pandora Home screen

The screen displays the channel name, artist, album name and length of the cut.  The album cover icon contains a progress bar for the current song playing, but there isn't a way to see how long the current track has played or how much longer is left to play.  To change channels, unlike the Interface on the NeoTV, you have to navigate back one level to the landing page. 

You can create new stations based on genres or artist, track or composer.  If you choose genres, there are 27 genres pre-populated with between 6 and 19 pre-configured channels.  Within the Roku interface, you can't add artists to channel seeding.

No playback issues were experienced during my tests using a wireless connection.

Pandora - NETGEAR

The Pandora user interface on the NeoTV device is one of the best that I’ve seen.  The home page provides you with virtually all of the information you could want.  Your stations appear along the left side of the screen.  In the center of the screen, you see the currently playing station name, artist name and album name as well as the elapsed time/remaining time for the current track.  You can skip, pause or thumbs up/down or even change stations all from the same page.

NETGEAR Pandora Home screen

NETGEAR Pandora Home screen

In addition, the right side of the screen shows a track history.  The options menu is more comprehensive than the one on the Roku.  You have the additional options of bookmarking and artist ortrack, checking to see why the current track is playing, and postponing playing the current track for a month.

From the options menu, you can create a new station.  Unlike the Roku, you can create a new station based on an artist or a track.  However, the Roku holds an edge on station creation.  The NeoTV doesn’t allow for station creation by genre; the Roku does.

As with the Roku, no playback issues were experienced during my tests using a wireless connection.




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Reviewed by tom
January 05, 2013
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U said we can leave comments OR reviews, but u force us to choose ratings?

To the Reviewer - overall, not a bad job, but:

1) You are not giving an adequate comparison for the rest of us, without including YOUR SPECS. The brutal
truth is that not everyone has 50Mb/sec speed - so, unless you show us the specs you use in testing, there's
not a lot to give your readers a base-level idea of "what" actually was compared. If I, for example, am stuck on the old
2nd-tier Comcast 4.5Mb/sec speed, and you are on 50Mb/sec speed, then we are in two completely different ball-parks.
Ditto with your model of wireless router, your wired infrastructure (Linksys with Gigabit ports is a different world from low-budget wireless-G with 10/100 ports)

Anyway, I have to say that these devices are WAY below spec! Manufacturers should keep these items in mind:

1) ALWAYS go with a Gigabit port - it's really not any more/less cost to make it GB vs. 10/100
and I think both have only a 10/100 port. Gigabit has been out for MANY YEARS.
2) Always - *ALWAYS* make your players DLNA-capable - this is another area where the Netgear has the clear edge.
Netgear always has been good about that. And it's another place where it really does not add much, if any cost,
to the manufacture of the player - and DLNA makes it INFINITELY more useful.
3) More formats would be nice but, to be honest, ANY format can be converted to virtually any other format.
Many times, simply "renaming" a ".MOV" file to ".MP4" will work just fine, so I don't really see that as a buy/no-buy factor.
4) Manufacturers always - *ALWAYS* - need to start including 300MB (dual-stream) *AND* 5Ghz dual-band capabilities.
Especially since that is what the 5GHz range was built/meant for - HD streaming.- Note: it does have less range, but more bandwidth.
5) I don't like remotes including "special 'direct' buttons," because it becomes ONLY those that the MANFACTURER thinks is important!
Always - ALWAYS - include an "Amazon Instant Videos" App [and] button! It is one of THE best options available; at a cost of about $6.66 / month,
and wider selection than most, it beats out Vudu, CinemaNow and many others.
6) USB - ALWAYS make it USB3 - My understanding is that these are USB2.

Anyway, those are my main observations on items that would make such a device a near-perfect media device.