NewTeeVee Review: Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite, Internet Set-top Box

I like to have choices, and Netgear’s new Digital Entertainer Elite (EVA 9150) certainly provides them. This set-top box will play back multimedia files from its built-in hard drive, your home network, or the Internet. You can connect it via Ethernet or wirelessly. In short, there’s not a lot the Digital Entertainer Elite can’t do. But mastering its many features can definitely be a challenge.

The Digital Entertainer Elite‘s specs are impressive: It supports HD content up to 1080p, and can upconvert lower-res content. It finds and plays back audio, video, and image files from connected PCs, Macs, and network-attached storage devices.eva9000 It streams content from YouTube, Flickr, Internet radio stations, and other web-based sources. It has a built-in 500GB hard drive for storing content locally. It supports 802.11n networks for high-speed wireless a connection.

And those specs are backed up in its performance — content looks stunning. I tested the Digital Entertainer Elite over both a wired and wireless (802.11g) connection, and was consistently blown away by the quality of the video. HD content streamed from my PC looked just as good as HD content I transferred to the device’s hard drive. Even HD YouTube videos looked good; they were clearly not as sharp as my own HD content, but they looked very clear even when viewed in full-screen mode.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that getting to the point where you’re actually viewing the content is more confusing than it needs to be. Setting up the Digital Entertainer Elite isn’t terribly difficult, but it’s not made any easier by the barebones instructions that Netgear provides.

Once the box is connected to your TV (via HDMI or component A/V) and your network, you instruct it to scan your network for media files. It will prompt you to install the included Netgear Digital Entertainer software on a computer on your network; the app then helps you make sure your media files are shareable so they can be discovered by the set-top box.

When the software has completed its work, the Digital Entertainer Elite automatically shows the results on your TV. Again, the process isn’t difficult per se, but it’s made overly complicated by unwieldy language and a lack of helpful explanations. For example, when the Digital Entertainer app was done scanning my computers, the set-top box displayed a message asking if I’d like to scan for network shares. I said yes, and was subsequently presented with a list of folders and told to “Please provide a writeable server location that the system will use to store persistent data (Media Library, PVR, etc.).” I’m still not sure exactly what that means, but I left the default selection intact, and everything seems to be working fine.

If you have a sizable home network with a fair amount of HD content that you’d like to view on your TV, Netgear’s Digital Entertainer Elite is a good option. Its video quality is unsurpassed by any similar device I’ve tested. It comes with a nice selection of accessories, including a well-designed remote control, and all the necessary cords you’ll need (even an HDMI cord). You can even swap out the hard drive for a larger model, or attach an external device to its USB port. Like I said, the Digital Entertainer Elite gives you options. Just be prepared to spend a lot of time getting to know your way around it.

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