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Hulu Plus

I tested Hulu Plus on both devices using my wireless connection and found that the user interface is virtually identical.  I streamed a number of TV shows and movies and found, most notably, that the transition between Hulu's commercials and content wasn't very smooth. But since I noticed the same behavior on both devices, I'm concluding that it must be the way that Hulu streams its content.  On both devices, the streaming content was delivered to my screen with no glitches and with video and audio in sync.

Picasa

The Picasa experience in both players was similar. When you log into Picasa using the NeoTV, you immediately see thumbnails of your albums. By switching tabs, you can also view featured photos or search for photos on Picasaweb. When you select an album, thumbnails for the photos in the album appear - a nice plus.

NETGEAR Picasa album browse

NETGEAR Picasa album browse

The presentation of the Roku-based landing page on Picasa isn't quite as intuitive. You land on an icon that's labeled Explore Picasa. As you scroll to the right, other options, such as search and your personal albums appear. When you select one of your albums, the first image appears on your screen. From there, you can scroll forward or start the slide show.

Roku Picasa album browse

Roku Picasa album browse

Both players support slideshows of a selected album. Roku's interface lets you select the slide interval. The NeoTV's doesn't.

Local Storage

Both the Roku 2 XS and the NeoTV MAX will play back multimedia content from USB storage that is attached to them.  Both streamers have the same, fairly limited file support:

  • Video: MP4 (H.264) MKV (H.264)
  • Audio: ACC, MP3
  • Image: JPG, PNG

You access USB storage (and SD card in the case of the NeoTV MAX) from one of the “channels”.  On the NeoTV, the channel is “My Media”, accessible on the Most Popular default page.  On the Roku, you select the Roku USB Media Player channel.  You can scan on either device for photos, music of movies.  Once you make a top level choice, you can drill down farther with a folder view.

The real difference between the Roku 2 XS and the NeoTV Max is DLNA support.  The NeoTV MAX supports media playback from a DLNA server; the Roku does not. But DLNA doesn't bring any additional format support. The NETGEAR still is limited to playing the same small list of formats, whether from local storage or from a DLNA server.

Closing Thoughts

So how do you choose?  After all of the comparisons and lots of screen shots in the photo gallery, it’s easy to see that in different areas, each of the products has an advantage over the other.  Here’s how I scored it:

Roku
2 XS
NETGEAR
NeoTV MAX
Comment
Content X   The sheer number of available channels blows away the competition – both on the NeoTV MAX and other devices I’ve looked at.
Value   X At $79.99, it’s $20 cheaper than the Roku 2XS and does as good a job, if not better in some categories, than the Roku 2 XS.
Gaming X   The XS model with its gyroscopic Bluetooth remote makes game playing on a media streamer enjoyable.  Games using arrow keys are awkward and reminiscent of the early days of gaming.
Remote X   Even though the NeoTV has a QWERTY keyboard, it doesn’t work in all applications.  The keyboard layout with the corner keys near the arrow keys is awkward.  And, I felt that there was more latency in the NeoTV controller.  Bluetooth gives the 2 XS a clear advantage because it doesn’t have to be line of sight with the device.
Netflix   X Better search features and a better screen layout with more icons gives the nod to the NeoTV.
Pandora   X The Pandora player has the best screen layout and the most options.  The playlist history is a nice bonus.
Hulu Plus X X The interface is the same on both platforms.
Picasa   X The nod goes to the NeoTV because it has a thumbnail view once you select an album.
Local Content   X NeoTV – playback capabilities for USB devices was essentially a push since both players played back the same types of content.  The NeoTV wins this category because it supports DLNA media servers.  If you use a consumer NAS, chances are that it has a built-in DLNA server which can serve up your media in a much more granular way than the folder-like presentation found for USB storage.
Total 4 6  

By the sheer numbers, NETGEAR's streamer would seem to win this matchup. But note that both the Roku 2 XS and the NeoTV MAX do a credible job of streaming internet video. With my Comcast connection, neither device showed any glitches playing back video or audio on either a wired or a wireless connection.  In the end, the device that's right for you depends on how you weigh each of the categories above.

I noted in Jim’s review that he had a lengthy rant.  While I don’t have a rant, I do have a pet peeve.  After purchasing a device, the last thing I want is for that device to be used as an ad delivery conduit.  Both the Roku and the NeoTV have ads on their home pages that take up valuable screen real estate.  I’m guessing that serving ads on media streamers is a growing trend, but certainly one that I don’t embrace.

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