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First Look: Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite

First Look: Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite

By Evan Ackerman

Last week, we were given a chance to take a look at some of the stuff that Netgear has been working on recently… Sort of a preview of all of the goodness they’re preparing to unleash at CES this January. One of the highlights was the Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite, a box about the size of a DVD player that’s designed to perform just about all of the media tasks your computer can do, only better and easier and in a smaller, sleeker package.

The Digital Entertainer Elite is basically a computer, in the same sense that Apple TV or an XBox 360 is a computer. It’s got a hard drive (a swappable 500 gig SATA, no less), wireless N, and an interface that you access with a remote. Unlike a computer, it’s intended specifically for media integration, with component video, composite video, s-video, HDMI, and even an optical digital out. It can handle just about every possible audio and video format, which is important, since the idea here is that you’ll use the Digital Entertainer Elite to play all of the media which until now has been stuck on your computer.

Plenty more, after the jump.

The Netgear Digital Entertainer Elite (which I am going to herein refer to as “box” for the sake of brevity) acts as a hub for all of the media (including DRM’d audio) located on all of the devices attached to your home network. Additionally, it can connect directly to websites like YouTube, and stream videos from there onto your TV. Same goes for sites like Flickr. The box can also access things like RSS feeds, and toss those up on your TV in full, or you can have it harvest the video out and play that back directly. And it’s got a built-in Bittorrent engine, too. So yeah, it does tons of stuff, but the nutshell is, it’s a comprehensive way to connect your home theater system with your local media and internet media. Oh, and while some details seem to still be getting finalized, I was told that the box will have the ability to play Netflix movies, as long as you start them on your PC first.

As I see it, there are two downsides to this box. One is the pricetag of $399 (it’ll be available next year, by the way). You’re basically paying for three things: a big HD, a big bitrate (up to 40 mbps), and big compatibility. If you’ll be utilizing all of these things, this is the hardware for you and it’s worth the cost. The other downside could be the interface. I spent about 20 minutes getting a demo of what I was told is pretty much the final menu system, and I’m slightly worried that it’s in that uncomfortable limbo where users accustomed to full fledged media PCs will be frustrated at the lack of options, and less experienced users might get a little bit lost. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading some hands-on reviews and seeing how that all plays out. We’ll keep you updated.

As for the rest of Netgear’s new electronics, well, I could tell you about them, but then I’d have to ship Netgear my head on a pike. And seeing as how I don’t have a pike handy you’ll just have to hang on until January rolls around. But it’ll be worth the wait, trust me.

[ Netgear ]