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Local Playback

Both the NeoTV MAX and the WDTV Live devices include a USB port (the WD has two) so you can plug in storage devices. The NeoTV MAX also has a microSD card slot on the rear panel directly above the HDMI port. In fact, it's close enough to the HDMI port that unless you're pretty dexterous, you'll need to unplug the HDMI cable to insert/remove the microSD card.

You access local content via the My Media channel. This is not located on the default My Channels screen. You'll have to hunt it down in the Most Popular section and add it yourself to your My Channels screen for easy access. You can browse both USB and SD card storage and view individual photos, play slide shows of a selected folder, play music from a selected folder or play videos. Both devices let you browse by folders for playable media content.

The WDTV Live lets you do all the above. But it also lets you view media on the local storage device in the same way that you view it from a DLNA server. Music, for example, can be viewed by Artist, Albums, Genre, All tracks, Folders, plays lists, favorites, etc.

Speaking of DLNA, both devices can play back media from local DLNA servers. To test this, I set up three DLNA servers on my network: a Seagate GoFlex Home NAS, Synology DS107+ NAS and an external USB drive attached to the USB port on my NETGEAR WNDR3800 router. All devices had their DLNA servers enabled with the device's default settings.

The NeoTV MAX discovered only two of the three DLNA servers. Interestingly, the one that it didn't discover was the DLNA server built into the NETGEAR router! The WDTV Live detected all three of the DLNA servers and I could easily switch between DLNA servers and locally attached storage.

Both devices played the media content properly on the DLNA servers that they found. I tested photos, videos and music on each of the devices, and neither had a problem with any of the content (in the supported formats, of course).

Some folks don't have a DLNA server or prefer to not have to deposit content in the folders required by a DLNA server. If that's your case, the NeoTV MAX won't be able to find your content, because it can't browse network (SMB) shares. The WD has an edge here, supporting browsing of SMB shares to find and playback content.

When it comes to supported file formats, the WDTV Live holds an big edge over the NeoTV MAX. I checked both manufacturers' web sites and here's what I found:

File format support

File format support

The NeoTV's short list of supported formats, especially video, belies its internet streaming focus. I tried an assortment of local content and here is what I found:

Video

  • .3gp – played sound only (video shot on DroidX)
  • .avi – did not play
  • .wmv – played OK
  • .mp4 – played OK
  • .mov – did not play correctly – played back very fast – seemed to jump to key frames. I used .mov files shot on my Canon SX210IS

  • Photo
  • .png – OK
  • .bmp – NO– directories showed as empty
  • .tif – NO– directories showed empty
  • .jpg – OK

Audio

  • .mp3 – OK
  • .m4a – OK
  • .mp4 – directory showed as empty

These results reinforce the point that if you are looking for a player that can handle a video collection amassed over time, the NeoTV is not the product for you.

WiDi

Section by Tim Higgins

Craig didn't have a computer that supports WiDi, so I jumped in to write this section. One of the unique features of the MAX and PRO flavors of the NeoTV is integrated support for Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) technology. WiDi is Intel's pre-standard implementation of the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Direct spec rolled out almost three years ago. Wi-Fi Direct begat Wi-Fi Display, which has since been rebranded as Miracast.

Miracast has slowly made its way to market and Intel says that it will eventually merge/support Miracast and WiDi. But in the meantime, NETGEAR has decided to integrate WiDi support into the new NeoTVs. As noted in our announcement article, the PRO and MAX boxes are supposed to get upgrades to add Miracast support sometime late this year. Owners of older NeoTV models are out of luck. NETGEAR says you won't be getting any WiDi upgrades.

WiDi works only with computers built with Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, Intel HD graphics and Centrino wireless. This Intel page has the exact list of requirements.

It took me an hour or so to get WiDi running. I first tried downloading and installing the Wireless Display software, but got an error message. I tried Googling the message, which led me to some old Intel support forum posts that were not particularly helpful. In the end, I discovered that my error was in not enabling the installation of Intel My WiFi Technology when I ran the Intel installer for my Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 wireless adapter.

Your wireless adapter has to be running both Intel My WiFi Technology and Wireless Display software for WiDi to work. The My WiFi piece adds Wi-Fi Direct support and Wireless Display enables, uh, that. As noted above, My WiFi Technology is an option in the Intel wireless software installer. There is a screenshot in the gallery below that shows what the wireless installer should look like if you are set up to install My WiFi.

Wireless Display then has to be downloaded and installed separately. Things will go more smoothly if you make sure that My WiFi is installed and enabled (screenshot in gallery) before you install Wireless Display. The gallery below walks you through the process of getting WiDi up and running.

Once everything is installed, operation isn't hard to figure out. Everything on your notebook's screen gets mirrored to the connected display. But be warned that your notebook's resolution will be changed automatically when WiDi connects. Since my notebook is 1366x768, all my desktop icons got scrambled when WiDi lowered resolution to 1280x720. (Hate when that happens...)

You even get a pointer that mirrors the one on your desktop. The pointer is set to be an arrow by default. But you can check a box on the WiDi app Properties screen that allows the pointer to change. The change is a bit funky, however. When I moved the pointer to the lower corner of a browser window to resize it, I got both the arrow and the resize pointers.

The screenshot below is a (crappy) photo of my TV screen showing multiple windows open.

WiDi in use

WiDi in use

The projected image is a bit soft. But (internet) video I tried was surprisingly watchable on a 23" TV in my office. Not crisp and clear 1080p HD, but not soft and fuzzy SD, either. Had I been watching on my 50" plasma upstairs, however, I might feel differently about image quality.

There is, of course a bit of a lag between the laptop screen and projection. So when moving the pointer around, keep you eyes on one screen or the other.

Closing Thoughts

If you're considering purchasing a media player and your primary interest is streaming Internet content, the NeoTV MAX is a good choice. It ships with dozens of Internet services including Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and Vudu. And if NETGEAR is correct about its HTML5 underpinnings, adding new apps/channels should be easy.

If, however, you're more interested in playing your own content from local media stores, the WDTV Live is a much better choice. In addition to playing media from an attached USB storage device, it can also play media from SMB shares. So whether your content sits on Macs, PCs, Linux boxes or NASes, the WDTV Live will be able to find it and also play it due to its much broader format and codec support.

You do pay for the wider format support, however. The WDTV Live is around $90 new vs. the $70 that the MAX will set you back. But if you're willing to buy a refurb, you can pick one up from Amazon for less than what a MAX will run you. Just remember that by selecting a WDTV Live, you will definitely be getting access to fewer Internet streaming services.

Though I'll continue to use the WDTV Live because of my local playback needs, the NeoTV MAX is a great value for Internet streaming content. And since I have a spare HDMI port on my TV, maybe I'll leave the NeoTV MAX connected too and enjoy the best of what both devices have to offer.

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