Updated: Since the original review six months ago we've had a chance to look at the EVA8000 with newer firmware, and while stability has improved markedly and the interface is considerably more slick, it still suffers from a few problems.
With the surge of digital media content being downloaded, ripped or stored on home PCs and networked devices, Netgear's HD Digital Entertainer EVA8000 provides a way to take videos, music and photos from the confines of your computer and into your living room. The Digital Entertainer HD is a streaming media device designed to plug into your high-definition television -- although it will connect to standard TVs, too -- allowing you to enjoy your videos and listen to music, including Internet radio, from the comfort of your lounge.
Compared to others in its class, the EVA8000 in terms of design sits somewhere between the elegant Apple TV and the geeky . It's a rather banal blue-grey box with dimensions similar to a slimline DVD player (51mm by 432mm by 254mm), although there is no disc tray at the front. A USB input (for ad-hoc connection of storage drives), headphone jack and infrared receiver are the only things visible on the front of the unit; two rotatable wireless antenna rise like fingers from the back. It should fit easily into most cabinets, although if you want to use wireless try to clear some room above to optimally position the antenna.
At the back are the A/V connections, which include enough options for beginners right through home entertainment enthusiasts. Composite video, S-Video, component, SCART (for European TVs) and HDMI are all onboard, which let you use the EVA8000 with a regular or HD TV, while audio connections include analog stereo, optical and co-axial. If you've got your living room wired for home networking there's also an Ethernet jack as an alternative to the built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi.
The remote control is laid out reasonably intuitively with shortcuts for all of the main menu features and frequently used functions given prominent positions, but there are some oddities -- like the eject button being used solely for rotating pictures. For text entry it's used sort of like a mobile phone, with the numbers on the remote able to cycle through specific letters -- but nowhere on the remote or in the manual is it mentioned that the "1" and "0" buttons are used for punctuation like underscores, which could confuse first time users.
The on-screen set-up wizard guides you through the slightly tedious installation process. Using the EVA8000 remote, you choose a language, set the TV resolution, verify your Internet connection (wired or wireless) and select your country and city. Security options for Wi-Fi include WEP, WPA-PSK and WPA2-PSK.
You're prompted next to install the Netgear Digital Entertainer HD for Windows on the PC hosting your media files. This doesn't take too long; it searches your computer for audio and video files then lets you select which folders to share and sets the security privileges accordingly. Mind you, if you update your firmware you'll be prompted through the whole mind numbing process again.
Once the network is configured and the software is installed on a Windows XP or Vista PC, the main menu gives you the option of TV/Video, Music, Photos, Schedule Recordings, Internet media and News from RSS feeds. Current weather conditions for your city are shown on the right -- and despite the manual stating only US cities can be shown, an update has clearly enabled the feature for us Australians.
Like its predecessor, the, files can be filtered and sorted accordingly -- you can browse video by actor, folder and genre, photos can be sorted by album or date and music by album, artist, folder, genre or playlist, and you can quickly filter out filenames by entering text through the remote for quick access in a long list.
File format support is decent -- you can stream MPEG1, MPEG2 (and will interpret .VOB, .IFO and .TS files), MPEG4, AVI, WMV, DivX and Xvid on the video side, and MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC music. It'll even open .ISO files, so long as the video format contained within is playable. The recent beta firmware would also play the video of MKV files but with no sound, and OGM support is nowhere in sight. It also crashed when you altered the volume in a .TS file, and wouldn't recover gracefully from the screensaver -- but given we're talking about beta firmware, this is understandable -- the stable software exhibited no such issues.