Like the Digital Entertainer WVA700, which did not include an HDMI port for 1080p output, the EVA8000 looks like a traditional set-top box (view photo gallery). The metallic enclosure is slim and eye-catching, and the connections on the back of the unit are well marked, so you can easily understand where the cables go. The remote control is functional and powerful, but the buttons are too small, and the light print is hard to read in a dark room.
You can choose between basic and advanced setup options. The basic setup, which tries hard to guess which options might work best, is actually more complex than it should be. Instead of just listing video modes, it tries each one ad nauseam until the EVA8000 finds one that works. The advanced setup process is quite thorough, which is helpful for those who know the difference between HDMI and component video. For example, it lets you configure multiple network shares, and the unit easily found local folders and a network drive.
Once it was configured, we could navigate easily to videos, music files, and photos stored on a remote laptop over 802.11g using the colorful, textual interface. The company also includes PC software, which lets you configure network shares and even power down the device from your laptop, but it's not required for the unit to work. Netgear wisely uses an organizing scheme that runs on the EVA8000; thanks to advanced tagging features, you can browse your collection based on keywords, many of which are generated automatically based on data in the file. For example, you can search by album name, MPAA rating, or the date a photo was taken.
Most videos, music, and photos played perfectly fine over our home network, even though the EVA8000 does not support 802.11n. The device also features a USB port that lets you play media locally. Support for just about every popular video format, including MP4 and Xvid, as well as most popular photo and music formats, means the EVA8000 will rarely balk at an unsupported media file. Of course, it won't play purchased iTunes tracks, most of which are still DRM-protected, but it had no problems with CinemaNow and Movielink videos or a downloaded movie in the Windows Media format.
Another major benefit of the EVA8000 is that it plays Internet radio stations quite well, lets you read RSS news feeds, and even supports YouTube videos directly. Finding these user-submitted videos was a snap; you can even view the daily top 25. The EVA8000 has many other powerful features, such as weather maps and an e-mail notifier, that make it seem like a smart computer. The PC Access feature streams your PC's desktop on your TV, while the EVA8000's remote drives the keyboard and mouse so you can check your e-mail or surf the Web.
Where the EVA8000 really stumbled, however, was with a 1080p movie file. We streamed a WMV-HD test file of Robotica in full 1080p resolution. It played perfectly on an Xbox 360 streamed over our 802.11n wireless network. Playback on the EVA8000, however, stuttered and made frequent audio dropouts. Other 1080p files had the same problems. Interestingly, we could stream a standard-def video and an audio file at the same time (a unique feature on the EVA8000) without any stuttering. The overall impression is that the player works well for most files over wireless, but to truly take advantage of the HDMI port, you'll need to use PowerLine adapters or a wired connection to stream high-def.
The lack of 802.11n support is what ultimately what makes this premium-priced streaming device less than spectacular. But for media junkies who demand support for all of the major video formats and don't want to be trapped in Apple TV's walled garden, Netgear's EVA8000 is as good as it gets.
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