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Multimedia & VoIP Reviews

Inside

The figure below shows the top of the NeoTV MAX's circuit board. The device is powered by a Mediatek MT8653 Main processor with 512 MB of RAM and 256 MB of flash.

NeoTV MAX PCB top showing processor and memory
NeoTV MAX PCB top showing processor and memory

The PCB bottom shows the Ralink RT5372L single band 802.11bgn Wireless SoC. Although only single band, at least the MAX and PRO versions both support potentially higher wireless bandwidth via dual stream "N" ("N300") vs. the single-stream (N150) wireless found in other products. Note the two antennas on the left side of the PCB.

NeoTV MAX PCB bottom showing Wi-Fi SOC
NeoTV MAX PCB bottom showing Wi-Fi SOC

Setup

Setup is really simple. You should be up and running in less than 10 minutes. Just connect the NeoTV MAX to your TV, select the appropriate TV input, connect to your network and plug it in. On first run, the setup wizard checks for and allows you to download and install a firmware update, if available. My MAX installed version 1.00.48NA update dated 10/17/2102.

After the device reboots from the firmware update, you select your desired resolution - Auto is the default choice. Next, you select the standby settings from choices of off, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. The next screen shows an image of the front and back of the remote with descriptions of the buttons.

When you finish setup, you land at a screen similar to the one below. There's a menu along the left side of the screen. At the bottom of the list you can go into the setup menu to check the settings for your MAX, confirm your Internet connectivity and test your connection speed.

Most popular sites from the NeoTV MAX menu page

Most popular sites from the NeoTV MAX menu page

Hands On

After completing the setup, I went to the Settings > Network > Test Connection Status page to test the connection speed. I ran several tests using both a wired and a wireless connection, and the setup connection test reported 1.9 - 2.1 Mbps. This sounded way too low. I immediately ran speedtest.net on my computer and speedtest.net reported 30+ Mbps down and 6+ Mbps up. I also ran the Internet speed test function within Vudu to see if my connection would support Vudu HD Movies. Their connection test reported >9 Mbps - more than enough for HD. Clearly there must be something wrong with the NeoTV's connection test.

It won't take you long to realize that NeoTVs are focused on Internet streaming, similar to Roku's players. NETGEAR claims "hundreds of channels and tons to choose from", but I counted 108 different apps or "channels" as NETGEAR prefers to say. The list includes a real smörgåsbord, some of which you'll actually use regularly (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Vudu, YouTube, Ted) and others you may never click on unless you are really, really bored or curious (London landscapes.tv, iVid, Fred).

Channels are organized into groups with some channels appearing in more than one group. The My Channels group is initially populated to get you started. But you can add or remove any channel there, or rearrange them as you wish. The Most Popular group looks more like a listing of all the available channels, so is the place to go if you want to browse. If you've added a channel to My Channels, a little green plus icon is superimposed on the channel icon when you see it in the other groups.

The other groups, Movies & TV, News & Education, Web TV, Music & Photos and Lifestyle are conveniences to help you more quickly locate channels. Unlike the WDTV, is also a Games group with a small assortment of popular games as Blackjack, Texas Hold 'em, Memory and Kaboom.

Each product has some content not available on the other. For example, the WDTV Live has better music offerings including Live 365, Shoutcast Radio, Spotify and TuneIn, in addition to Pandora and Rhapsody found on both products. But the sheer numerical superiority of the NeoTV offerings means that in some categories, it has a significant edge over the WDTV Live.

Comparing social sites, the NeoTV supports both Facebook and Twitter, while the WDTV Live has only Facebook. The News and Education category is also a clear win for the NeoTV, with providers including TED, TMX, NASA 360, The Whitehouse, CNN, CNBC Podcasts, PBS Podcasts, Fox News Podcasts and the Discovery Channel. However, the WD TV Live holds an edge with a unique sports category that features MLB.TV, RedBull TV, SEC Digital Network and XO College sports.

Of course, this is just a snapshot in time. The firmware in both media players can be upgraded and additional providers could be added (and deleted). If there are "must have" content providers, you should check the manufacturers' sites to see if there's a full listing before you buy.

I tested streaming video from Hulu Plus, Netflix and streaming audio from Pandora using a wired connection on both the NeoTV MAX and the WDTV Live devices. I found that the user interface for Netflix and Hulu Plus were virtually identical. Both devices streamed video content from both sources without any interruptions or dropouts. Video and audio appeared to be in sync.

I watched quite a bit of Video during the course of testing. I never saw any dropouts or frame freezes during any of my viewing. The video was as good as I get from my HD cable box on my big screen. I also tried some Vudu HDX content and the video quality was surprisingly good.

I also listened to a lot of music – both from DLNA media servers as well as locally-attached storage. There were no audio problems, but then again, I really didn’t expect any. Audio doesn’t really take much bandwidth at all. However, I saw a significant difference when using Pandora. The Pandora client in the NeoTV MAX has a different user interface that provides a better experience by allowing channel changes from the playback screen (screenshot below). There's also a history of tracks that you've played.

NeoTV MAX Pandora interface

NeoTV MAX Pandora interface

By comparison, the user interface for Pandora on the WDTV Live looks dated, and requires menu navigation to change channels.

WDTV Live Pandora interface

WDTV Live Pandora interface

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