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Netgear’s New Box Takes Aim at Roku

Netgear LiveNetgear (s NTGR) will release its Digital Entertainer Live set-top box next week, as the company tries a less techie approach to getting over-the-top video to your TV.

The simplified set-top box looks like a router, but is more reminiscent of a Roku with its small, unassuming design. The box is powered by Verismo’s VuNow technology and pipes in web video from YouTube (s GOOG), CinemaNow, and other live and on-demand Internet TV channels (BBC, Revision 3, etc.) as well as connect to your personal media stored on your home network. You can also search for web video through vTap, and access Hulu and Netflix on your TV through the PlayOn software.

Priced at $149, the DEL is aimed at the Roku set (though the Roku is fifty bucks cheaper), and is half the price of Netgear’s more powerful Digital Entertainer Elite ($399). But can Netgear compete with the Roku?

To be fair, I haven’t run the DEL through its paces, but Netgear sat me down for a demo of the device yesterday. Some of it is definitely cool, but there are some big red flags I can see that might hamper widespread adoption of the device.

Though it has an HDMI output, the Live won’t access HD streams on YouTube, which seems silly for a device meant to be plugged into an HDTV (even more silly if YouTube starts renting movies). The Live will play HD content you rent or purchase from sources like CinemaNow, but that requires that the movie be downloaded to a storage device connected to the Live. Netgear says this is to avoid the hiccups that direct streaming from services like Amazon (s AMZN) and Netflix (s NFLX) can sometimes experience.

You can access Netflix streaming and Hulu on the Live, but that’s done through the PlayOn software, which has to be installed on your PC for the DEL to connect to. There’s a 14-day free trial, but you have to purchase a license to use the software after that.

Netgear’s pitch is that though the DEL is a little more expensive than the Roku, you can access more web content choices and content stored at home. But Roku keeps adding content partners and is a simpler user experience, there aren’t any connections to computers or additional software needed on other machines. Netgear’s supposed to send us a review unit in the next few weeks and we’ll see if that changes our minds at all about it, but right now it seems too complicated for mass adoption.

(Update: Netgear decided to bump the release date a day)The Digital Entertainer Live launches on Sept. 9 8.

7 Responses to “Netgear’s New Box Takes Aim at Roku”

  1. As Roku ads more content providers It is clear that this type of streaming technology is the future direction of Televsion. There still remains a number of problems with wide open streaming of internet content, namely in the way of parental controls and family friendly programming. Something traditional network tv & cable still provides in various forms.

  2. Brighfonops comment is just FUD. Take a look at the specs and you’ll see that the real story with this box isn’t what’s available it’s what’s not there. Despite having a long history with DivX, we don’t see any support for DivX or MKV files. This seems like a really curious decision for a company that is trying to sell an “internet video” device. At $99, Roku is definitely the better alternative, but if they would have included support for content outside of their precious walls, then the extra $50 would be a drop in the bucket for the added convenience.

    At the very min., Matroska support could have been included at zero additional cost. The lack of support for these two sources of content make me wonder whether or not the movie studios are playing hardball with the gadget makers. Why else would Netgear neuter their product? If the studios refused to let them Netflix or other content on the same box as a DivX or MKV supported device, how would this not be collusion and some kind of anti-trust violation? Over the last few years, the stand alone box has seen strong support for these formats, yet none of the connected devices hitting the markets these days seem to offer a solution for consumers who don’t want to be wedded to a single video provider. If the studios told the gadget makers to stop supporting these formats, it would explain this omission. In the meantime, consumers are still left waiting for a solution that is truly format neutral and will still support advanced services like Netflix, Amazon and Blockbuster.

    • Chris Albrecht

      @brightfonops – Netgear is getting content from CinemaNow and YouTube on the up and up. The web video is pulled from internet feeds unmolested, though Hulu is only possible through PlayOn.

      @Davis – I don’t know how important all that stuff is for more mainstream audiences. Actually, I do. It’s not. :)

  3. brightfonops

    The big difference may be that Roku is getting its content legally via content partners. Does Netgear have content partners or is it simply diverting the content meant by web sites for the PCs to the TV via this box? It will be interesting when the cable operators find out about this one. That would make me nervous about buying this box. More so when it is $50 more than Roku.