Netgear’s New Box Takes Aim at Roku

Netgear LiveNetgear 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, 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 and Netflix 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.

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