We have been closely following Netgear's efforts in the media streaming space since the NTV550 / NTV350 was launched almost two years ago. Around that timeframe, online media streaming services such as
Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu started to see explosive growth. With the rise of these premium streaming services, media streamers also moved to a IPTV STB (Set Top Box) model. The D-Link Boxee Box and the WDTV Streaming Media Player also paid attention to local media streaming, but came in with a price premium.

The star of the streaming media player space in 2011 was undoubtedly Roku. From Roku LT's $49 to Roku 2 XS's $99, they had models for every price point. Though we didn't find the value proposition at $99 to be good enough compared to the WDTV Live Streaming Media Player, their huge marketing push enabled them to sell more than a million of the Roku 2 players last year alone.

In December, we reviewed Netgear's answer to the Roku challenge, the NTV200 (It had launched in late September). Netgear's suggested MSRP was $79.99, but it was common to find it being sold for $49.99. This low price enabled them to sell around 200K units (similar to Boxee Box, but in a much shorter time frame).

At CES, we talked briefly with Netgear about their efforts in the media streaming space. It was indicated to me that Intel's WiDi would make its appearance as an app in the NTV200, and it would probably be a paid upgrade. I had also made a note of that in our CES coverage. We also talked about a model based on the NTV200, but with an added USB port. Today, Netgear is introducing the first of the two improvements. However, instead of an app, it has turned out to be a new unit called NeoTV Pro (NTV200S). The unit is priced at $69.99 and it available right now.

There is no hardware difference between the NTV200 and the NTV200S. The difference lies only in the software and the codec licensing. Upon receipt of the press release, I was quite upset as to why Netgear would want to make users buy a fresh unit just for this functionality. My impression was that Netgear could have just asked interested users to pony up $20 for the app and call it a day. Netgear explained that the necessity for a fresh unit had to do with codec licensing. In the rest of this piece, we will discuss the WiDi initiative, with emphasis on what Netgear has done till now.

Brief History of WiDi

Intel's Wireless Display initiative started in 2010 with the introduction of the Arrandale processors. It was intended as a technology to help connect a notebook to the TV or another display in a wireless manner. WiDi is available only if the WiFi adapter in the notebook belongs to the Centrino platform. The GPU drives a second virtual display (which is basically a clone of the current desktop) which is encoded and transferred through an ad-hoc wireless network (device to device) to the WiDi sink / receiver connected to the TV. Since Arrandale doesn't have QuickSync, the encoding had to be done in software. Maintaining HDCP or multi-channel audio or even 1080p resolution wasn't possible. Since there was not enough horsepower available for real-time low-latency H.264 encoding, the computationally easier MPEG-2 encoder was used. The encoded bitstream was sent over a device-to-device Wi-Fi connection for decode by the receiver connected to the display / receiver.

Netgear had an exclusive on the receiver side for one year. In that year, they started off with the Push2TV PTV1000 model priced at $129.99. In 2011, the PTV2000 was introduced at $99.99. With today's release of the NTV200S, the PTV2000 has been given End-Of-Life status. Netgear indicate that in the last 2 years, they have sold more than 400K PTV units all over the world.

After the appearance of Quick Sync and Quick Sync 2.0 in the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge iGPUs, WiDi could suddenly encode much faster. In addition. H.264 (which provides better quality at the same bitrate when compared to MPEG-2) could also be used. With Intel Insider, the setup also gained HDCP support, 1080p capability and multi-channel (5.1) audio.

The main problem with WiDi is the fact that it is quite difficult to achieve very low latency encode and decode. In the first two generations, Netgear observed that the latency was around the 200 ms mark. They claim that the NTV200S will bring it down to under 150ms. This is still not good enough for gaming purposes or live usage. However, general web / photo browsing and media playback should not be affected too much by the latency factor.

Note that the NTV200 is only licensed for H.264 decode, but WiDi support needs a MPEG-2 license also (just because the Arrandale based WiDi notebooks need to be supported). This is the reason why Netgear had to spin out a new SKU for the NTV200S.

WiDi and Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Miracast

With Computex going on in full swing, we have seen a number of press releases and claims about the WiFi Alliance's WFD (Wi-Fi Direct) display solution termed as Miracast. A number of vendors including TI, Marvell and Cavium already seem to have added support for this initiative. There is a misconception making the rounds that Miracast is intended to be an alternative to Intel's WiDi. In fact, Intel contributed to and is supportive of the new Wi-Fi Alliance program (Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Miracast). Intel also plans to support Miracast with an upcoming Intel WiDi release. It will be pre-installed on new systems, Existing users with Intel WiDi on a 2nd or 3rd Gen Intel Core processor based system will also get the upgrade.

I am sure many readers are wondering whether a WiDi receiver purchased today (such as the NTV200S) would be compatible with Miracast devices in the future. Fortunately, the answer is yes. Intel has developed an update for implementation by each receiver device vendor. This update can make today's Intel WiDi receivers to be compatible with future Miracast certified devices. Intel is working with receiver device vendors to integrate, test, and distribute that update to their customers in the future. The good news is that Netgear confirmed that the NTV200S would definitely be Miracast compatible after a firmware upgrade.

Final Words

It is quite difficult to differentiate and compete in the crowded, low margin streaming media player market. Many companies just go in for more and more streaming services in their units. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, we do need to applaud Netgear for integrating an app which millions of existing notebook owners can take advantage of.a Roku did try something with their gaming apps, but that experience doesn't really work for us. All said, our comments at the end of the NTV200 review from last year still stand.

Personally, I would like to see companies concentrate more on local media playback (including Blu-ray backup playback capacity), but the movement of the market clearly indicates that streaming devices such as the NTV200 and NTV200S are the ones that are going to sell well. Do readers believe that the reduced price for the WiDi receiver will make wireless display tech popular? Let us know in the comments!

Before signing off, the TL; DR version : Netgear's NeoTV NTV200 is now officially priced at $49.99. It comes with Vudu, Hulu Plus Netflix etc. The WiDi enabled NeoTV Pro NTV200S model (priced at $69.99) has the WiDi app in addition to everything present in the NTV 200. If you are looking for a WiDi receiver, the NTV200S is the cheapest one in the market right now.

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  • lurker22 - Thursday, June 7, 2012 - link

    Plex support on this model? I tried Roku for Plex, and it and the app were both so buggy I returned the Roku 2
  • Impulses - Thursday, June 7, 2012 - link

    I don't see why WiDi WOULDN'T eventually catch on and become a very popular feature, it's on the short list of requirements for my next laptop... With receivers at $70 (ideally $50 in the future imo) it becomes an impulse buy for a ton of people.

    I'm quite certain a lot of people would rather pay $50 to wirelessly hook up their laptops to their TV and enjoy pretty much ALL available online content than pay $50 for a STB that may or may not have access to what you want. The Apple TV is $99 and one of the biggest reasons people get it is to mirror their iPads or Macs unto the TV!

    Sure if you're a home theater enthusiast you want a more permanent/streamlined solution than a laptop, but for a lot of people this is a killer feature. Intel needs to start marketing it better imo.

    Hell, I'm about to pay $72 (with a discount) for a similar receiver that only works with HTC phones (AFAIK) and which I may dump a year or two from now... I'll gladly pay as much for Netgear's device once I have a WiDi enabled laptop.
  • brunchto - Friday, June 8, 2012 - link

    since their previous NTV550 model is no more supported (in less than a year), with a buggy firmware, without youtube support, without external DVD BD support despite advertised ... so ... i won't give a cents to netgear device anymore
  • ultimo - Friday, July 13, 2012 - link

    There is one fatal flaw here, it cannot play commerical blu ray discs, which would of made it more useful.
  • lapettie - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I understand it is difficult to measure electronic reliability when a new brand or model hits to market however I feel readers would appreciate reviews should also include when possible electronic reliability when reviewing electronic items.

    There is no point in reading raving reviews of electronic items when there is a high degree of electronic failure this especially includes media streamers.

    Just outside my warrant my Netgear Neotv 550 failed. It will not boot at all. Tired everything to recover & or get my Neotv 550 to boot. This unit if anything was the biggest piece of crap I had the displeasure of purchasing.Yet at the time I was ready to make a purchase many reviewers of this crap product all raved how good this media player was.Original purchase price was $200.00 Au, USA dollars - I see on internet other people experience the same failure of the Neotv 550.

    I will never buy a Netgear product again.

    Secondly it seems to be so problematic I see all over the internet most media streamers have poor & badly written software/firmware. It is apparent companies that manufacture & or supply media streamers many seem to be out there for one thing TO MAKE A DOLLAR. Many companies do not care at all if they release bad or hastily written firmware & or do not release updated firmware leaving many consumers high & dry with inoperable electronic items especially ref to media streamers.

    Netgear is a typical corporate company does not care at all concerning its customers. Netgear are no longer updating firmware for the Neotv 550 & yet this media player is still buggy in late 2012. Western Digital did the same thing by discontinuing updating firmware then release new model model media streamers within a short time frame.

    One has to question & be highly cautious of purchasing any electronic item made in China. Gone are the good old days when you could purchase an electronic item with confidence knowing the item you purchased would not breakdown & or fail within a short time frame. This is not the case today.

    While media streamers are becoming cheaper in cost this is not necessarily the best road to travel. Personally I prefer to pay more money for higher quality & better electronic reliability.

    Keep your eyes on Thailand. China is now gaining a reputation of now becoming expensive, poor electronic reliability therefore some corporate companies are now looking at electronic manufacturing in Thailand cheaper wages & Government incentives..

    I wonder if things will change in Thailand = cheap price better electronic reliability - most likely not!

    I see perhaps in the future network media streamers may disappear altogether because of the advancements concerning network TV/L.C.D. & we may see in the near future network Blu Ray players will transcode a significantly wider range of video/media formats than they transcode now - only time will tell!

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