Setting up the NTV-2500 to play movies is no more complicated than setting up any other DVD player, but taking advantage of the browser, e-mail functions, and picture phone will probably mean spending some time on the phone talking with Neon's technical support staff. Unlike when you subscribe to WebTV, you need an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to use these functions (and you can't use America Online).
The NTV-2500 is a full-featured DVD player handicapped by lackluster audio and video performance (see lab results on page 84) and a remote that serves too many masters. The remote has a dedicated A/B repeat button, but you can't access any of the three fast-scan speeds without first cycling through two slow-motion speeds. Having both a Menu Bar button and a DVD Menu button is confusing, and I found it too easy to inadvertently hit buttons that booted me from the movie without being able to return automatically to where I'd left off.
Once I hooked up an antenna and ran a modem line to the NTV-2500 and connected it to a set of inputs on my TV, I let it scan the airwaves to find stations. A commercial TV station appeared, accompanied by a list of functions along the left side of the screen that included DVD playback and Web browsing.
Having been a WebTV enthusiast, I was curious to see how SurfReady performed. Getting on the Internet and surfing to various sites using the built-in 56 kilobit-per-second modem was as fast as any dial-up device I've used. The screen was readable, but there's no way to adjust the size of the image. We're all used to scrolling down Web pages, but here they loaded with the right-hand side lopped off, which made it necessary to scroll across, too.
A nice touch is a magnifying window that pops up when you press the remote's Display button. The magnifier can then be moved over any portion of a Web page. And I was pleased by the variety of audio formats the SurfReady browser played hassle-free. Though it couldn't handle flash animation or video or Windows Media Audio files, it played RealAudio newscasts, streaming (but not downloaded) MP3 music, and MIDI files. It also showed JPEG and GIF images in e-mail and played audio WAV-file attachments.
Attaching the microphone and camera allowed me to converse with and see Neon's tech-support guy in California on the TV screen in my New York office. There was about a 2-second delay after I asked a question before I heard his response, and the picture wasn't video but still images updated at the sender's discretion. (Each image took about 10 seconds to scan into a quarter window on my TV screen.) But I wasn't using a broadband connection, and it was easy to see how farflung family members could get excited about being able to converse at length, along with seeing live snapshots of each other, for the price of a local phone call and a monthly ISP fee.
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