Apple TV vs. Neo TV

by Volker Weber

Recently I started using two streaming TV products, one from Apple, one from Netgear. With a few weeks of usage, I have a very clear understanding of which one you would want. They are completely different animals.

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The Apple TV is a slick Apple experience. If all your media lives in iTunes and iPhoto, that's the device you want. Other than the original Apple TV, it does not draw a lot of power, it hardly gets warm at all. It also does not have user accessible storage, so you don't have to think about syncing. It will stream everything that lives on your Mac in iTunes or iPhoto. But you won't be able to access files you have on a NAS (network attached storage), unless it's your iTunes or iPhoto library and the Mac is running. You will also be able to stream from the Internet and that experience may be fine in the US, but it is seriously lacking in Germany. I do like to use it to watch movie trailers though.

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The NeoTV 550 from Netgear is quite different. It's not slick at all, the user interface leaves a lot to be desired. The box is as ugly as it gets. But it will play absolutely everything you throw at it. You connect it to your network, and you will be able to play files from your shared volumes, be it from a NAS, a PC or a Mac. You can attach eSATA or USB drives. It talks to Bluray players. It plays Matroska containers with HD content, Bluray and DVD folder rips or ISO images, it goes all the way up to 1080p.

Although the Apple TV is limited to 720p, it does have one benefit over the Neo TV: Airplay. This lets you push content from your iPad, iPod or iPhone to the big screen. Very cool to quickly play some photos from your iPhone on the TV. It's a bit limited today. You can't play videos you shot with your iPhone on Apple TV without going through a PC or Mac first. And it isn't very reliable yet. When I try to show a few photos on the screen, it often hangs on one photo without advancing to the next. I think Apple will need a few iterations to make it work as designed.

What the Neo TV needs is a designer. Not only for the box, but also for the whole user experience. It's very similar to the EVA 9150 I used before but they managed to move some often used functions like a library rescan ever further away from the user. What used to be the first item on the second page now moved into Settings/Media Locations. I believe the user interface is broken beyond repair and needs a fresh start. But once you got used to it, it will play absolutely everything you want it to. And that's what counts.

I have good use for both devices. But if one had to go, I'd keep the Neo TV.

Comments

Well, then take a look at the Boxee Box. It will play anything you throw at it, like the Neo, and the box has a good design (at least some say so). The interface is probably not as stylish as Apples, but it is not too bad, and it also plays a lot of streaming stuff. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but currently it is my preferred streaming solution (for video).

Dirk Steins, 2011-01-01

Dirk, I did take a look at Boxee, running on the aluminum Apple TV, but I am not convinced. It has the same limitations as Apple TV when it comes to Netflix or Pandora, and I can't make use of the social networking stuff. Why would I want a Boxee when I have a NeoTV?

Volker Weber, 2011-01-01

I'm looking forward to your review and comparisons of the Logitech Revue.

David Bailey, 2011-01-01

I don't see a Logitech Revue in my future. It's not released here. Besides, I don't "get" Google TV.

Volker Weber, 2011-01-01

Have you tried the WDTV Live, its got a pretty good interface and plays everhting I have thrown at it.

Neil Gower, 2011-01-01

No Netflix capability. This system will never be popular with content providers. It will be too easily used to bypass digital rights management software and hardware restrictions. Some will see this as an advantage, but if it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain certain kinds of HD programming, it will lose its relevance to the mass market.

Paul Johnson, 2011-01-01

I do not get the sin of such devices yet for me. I see via media classic player all i need.. my 23 tft are better than tv and i can even watch movies via nas in mcp.

Thorsten Ebers, 2011-01-02

Neil, the WDTV recycles a HD case where the NeoTV recycles a router box. ;-) I have a friend who enjoys his WDTV but I have not tried one myself.

Paul, that's the problem. Netflix is only available in the US. One of the things that make the Apple TV less desirable here.

Volker Weber, 2011-01-02

I would terribly like to see the neoTV here in comparison to the popcorn hour.
For about approximately 5 years i'm searching for the right solution at my place. In the living room I've chosen a Winner, well sort of, the xbox360 as an MCE with windows7 on my PC does the music and picture part, like no one else. maybe with a mac it would be apple tv. the one thing that did the trick was my girlfriend, she should be able to use it, without problems and well it works.
But i'm not quite happy with the limitations and i don't want to save my DVDs as mpeg or anything else, so i'm looking fpr a nice streaming box, to get rid off my buffalo link theatre (using twonky media)in the bedroom, where watching films is so much more comfortable :-)
mostly I'd like to store the DVDs as an image (iso) or at least, the client should be able to user the menues of the dvd, when stored as vob/ifo
HDMI would be nice, too.
btw. Zune in the XBOX360 is getting better, although still too expensive, but it's nice for watching trailers.

Kai Schmalenbach, 2011-01-02

I would say in Europe right now, to make the most of online media one still needs a real computer and a mixture of clients, VPNs and connections. Right now for us, that's a large screen iMac, EyeTV (for Free to air digital TV), Plex, Hulu, iTunes, LoveFilm (the UK equivalent of Netflix) and StrongVPN/Netflix for US content. If we went to a larger screen, that would be a MacMini and large TV.

I love the idea of a one client/setup box fits all approach, but it just doesn't seem possible currently. Certainly sounds as if neither the AppleTV nor the NeoTV hits the mark...

Stuart McIntyre, 2011-01-02

I was biased between WDTV and popcornhour (or even popbox), and while my Samsung plays mkv and avi with even fancy latest divx stuff (BR rips in 720p with 1/3 the GB of a H.264) I need any sound system that deserves the name, so no more internal player for me with the Samsung built- in sound.
I am still waiting for the right box and need to save some money for some amplifier that does real sounds, HDMI, and - right - a Sonos system supposedly comes right after...

Alexander Koch, 2011-01-02

Well, you may be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Volker Weber, 2011-01-02

For the record, the new Apple TV streams perfectly for me, even though I am in Germany, too.

Stefan Tilkov, 2011-01-04

I am very happy with my Apple TV.

I like to rent movies and watch them on my big screen. I like to listen to my music on my "not-the-best-but-quite-good" home theater equipment. And I like to use my iPad/iPhone to control it. And it just works. I can switch to my iTunes US account and rent recent movies not available here.

I know I have to stay put in the Apple ecosystem, but I feel quite comfortable.

Jan Fuellemann, 2011-01-06

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