Netgear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite

I was just about to go ahead and order my Popcorn Hour C-200 when I ran into the EVA9150 from Netgear. And I’m happy I did. I had been keeping an eye on the Popcorn Hour since the first revision came out, and later the revised A110.

While waiting for the C-200 to come along, I had been using a Shuttle computer, placed next to the amplifier under the 42″ Samsung LCD-TV. On the Shuttle, I was running Mythbuntu, a specialized Ubuntu-derivative focused on audio and video. Coupled with a Logitech diNovo mini keyboard, it made for a nice multimedia player. The only real problem was that the rest of the family wouldn’t use it without me being around, and that sort of defeats the purpose for me. Sure, a souped up Shuttle computer doing screaming eagles at 3+ GHz with 4GB of RAM and a 1TB harddrive, with a Geforce-based graphics card with HDMI output, makes for a sweet media center, but if I’m the only one using it, it’s a pretty useless heap of hardware 🙂

I’m typically not a fan of the major manufacturers’ attempt at putting these “complete solutions” into a box and slapping their label on it. They usually miss out on something vital, or corner you with mediocre hardware performance or lack of flexibility. This is one of the reasons I’ve been holding off on my purchase. I have to say that after having obtained the EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite from Netgear, some of my skepticism has been turned into appreciation for the fact that “complete solutions” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This has nothing to do with the fact that I actually put up money for it, had it not been useful, I would have gotten rid of it in a heartbeat.

Simply put, the EVA9150 works. And that’s no small feat.

It plays my audio collection, mostly based on MP3 media. It plays my video collection, based on a number of common and not-so-common video formats, including full HD/1080p. It performs well on my N-draft home wireless network. It handles plugin USB-media. It handles configuration and updates via the Internet very well. It handles images, RSS-feeds, Internet Radio, Youtube, and a few other nice things quite well. From standby to ready, it takes but a few seconds. A cold start takes a while longer, but nothing that annoys anyone. My bundle included a 500GB Seagate Pipeline SATA drive, and a remote control. The interface is intuitive and simple enough for just about anyoen to use.

So.. isn’t there *anything* that annoys me about the EVA9150? Well, there are a few things that I would have done differently, and there is one really annoying issue.

Performance when plugging in external USB-media sucks, in a word. I was using an external USB-drive to move parts of my multimedia collection between systems, because it’s not feasible to transfer 500GB of data over a wireless network. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Netgear has not managed to boost USB connectivity to a better level of performance.

I would have made room for one more drive bay. An alternative would have been to have a harddrive inside the box and one in a pluggable drive bay. Sure, I can replace the drive with a 2TB drive, when there is one that the EVA9150 works with, but having the option of two drives still sounds like a better idea.

The only other thing that I don’t quite understand is why Netgear has chosen to force DTS-sound to be passthru only. The appliance can downsample other high quality audio to 2-channel stereo output, but when it comes to DTS, it will only pass it straight through to the S/PDIF digital output connector. I understand that it requires CPU power to do DTS downsampling on-the-fly, but I would think this to be a nice challenge for the developers, rather than an obstacle.

Summary: You want a media center box that just about anyone in your family can manage to handle, that plays most media formats and just makes sense.. take a serious look at the Netgear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite. On a scale 1-10 where 10 is the highest, I’d give the EVA9150 a 9.5 rating. Well done Netgear!

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