Review: Netgear Digital Entertainer EVA700

The Netgear Digital EntertainerEVA700 (and EVA8000) are Netgear‘s entries into the networked multimedia device category, essentially bringing the content on your computer network into your traditional audio/video entertainment center. I had high hopes for the EVA700, but unfortunately it fell way short. Read on for the full review.

Design:
EVA700
The EVA700 comes in pretty standard form factor like any other piece of A/V equipment; it’s silver and its big differentiating factor ar ethe 2 antennae sticking out the back. There is a USB port in the front so you can connect your thumb drive or digital camera to view content on those media. Although it offers wireless connectivity (802.11b/g), it also has a 10/100 Ethernet port in the rear. I felt the unit should also have had an LCD screen that displayed at least basic status information.

Setup:
For the most part, setup wasn’t too difficult, although I found the interface lacking when it came to inputting the WEP key and wireless config. Using a key on the remote to incrementally go through alphanumeric characters is painful, and if you screw up something in the entry, it wipes the screen and you have to start over. Once I was connected, I was immediately able to see and use the Internet Radio option.

In order to view the files on your home computer, you need to install the Windows Media Connect (WMC) software if your computer is not Intel Viiv compliant. In my case, WMC was already a part of Windows Media Player 11 (on Win XP), so I simply added content to my Media Player library and then shared it. This was a very simple and quick process. I was then immediately able to see those shares on the EVA700.

Interface:
This is perhaps the aspect of the 700 that needs the most work. Although I’m usually a utilitarian type of user, I was still disappointed that the interface lacked any real cosmetic flair. It’s probably akin to putting lipstick on a pig, but it helps users to feel that the designers put some time into making it look good. But worse than that was the actual usability. The videos and photos were only displayed by their filenames and no thumbnails were displayed. At least the music files were broken down by genre, artist, and album. Here was the worst part: the interface is slow; not bearable at all. In fact, there were times when I thought the unit had crashed, because it had frozen up. As there is only one way to navigate the menus and no shortcuts, it would be nice to get back to the top of a tree quickly, but the system simply does not work that way. There appears to be no caching of information from the PC, as going to another page of information takes even longer than core menu operations.

Audio and Video Quality:
But it’s not all bad news. I was surprised that the photos and videos maintained their quality. I tried out some YouTube sized videos that weren’t of the best quality to begin with, but found that the EVA700 expanded them to fill my TV screen and while I expected them to look grainy, they looked remarkably good. I wasn’t as impressed with the audio quality, as the MP3s that I tested were ripped at 196kbps, and the quality coming across wasn’t anywhere near as good as what I get on my computer.

One suggestion that may be made is that for better quality, one should use the wired connection, and while that may be academically true, one can’t argue with people preferring to use wireless over wired. After all, how many people have their home wired for Ethernet? It can’t be that difficult to perform some kind of buffering/caching so that the audio quality is maintained.

Conclusion:
Although you can pick up an EVA700 for under $200, we recommend you pony up a little more money and get a networked multimedia bridge that does a better job, particularly with the interface. You may consider the 8000 (good review at LiveDigitally), and there are many other boxes from other vendors as well, such as Mvix, Roku, Olive, Acoustic Research, Philips and Sonos.

Overall
2 Stars
Even at it’s relatively low price, it’s not worth the aggravation that you’ll have to endure in using its slow GUI that also needs quite a bit of usability improvements.

2 comments

  1. In the conclusion you suggest spending a little more on the EVA8000 instead of getting the EVA700…don’t. The Netgear Eva8000 is a great product on paper and if you enjoy lock ups, freezes, reboots and frequently crawling around unplugging and replugging in your eqiupment when it locks up. The picture quality however is fantastic

    I bought 2 Eva8000’s for separate rooms. They’re both pathetic. I have had the previous model (EVA700) for about 6 months. This has a completely different (more basic) interface and, unlike the EVA8000, is an absolute pleasure to use. It seems that Netgear are not content with only releasing crap hardware (EVA8000), installing Netgear’s Digital Entertainer software causes certain files to bomb out when played in windows. This leads to Media Centre (both XP & Vista versions) to completely crash (regardless of which other codecs are installed – I tried numerous combinations and versions including just the latest divx & xvid official codecs).
    Removing the Netgear software makes Media Centre work again every time. The best thing one can say about the Netgear software is “it uninstalls well”. If my Eva8000 were to catch fire it would improve my life as I would stop the futile exercise of trying to get it to work without locking up or rebooting (and yes I do have the latest firmware).

    Rebooting takes about 2 minutes and then one has to rescan the media library which takes about 15 minutes for 3000 files. The cheaper Eva700 is practically instant on and adding media doesn’t require a rescan. Why didn’t they just keep the Eva700’s operation, “Windows Media Connect” software and add hi-def capabilities? This would have made the Eva8000 an unbeatable product.

    Although I am a fan of Netgear products the EVA8000 is a piece of crap. I cannot believe anyone would actually sell something so buggy. I’d rather have smallpox than another EVA8000. If you can find one…get the EVA700. It isn’t high-def, but it works flawlessly.

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