I suspected that sooner or later entertainment delivered by my cable modem, initially for the computer screen, would displace the time and premium dollars I'd be spending on conventional cable channels. That day has arrived at the point in the chain where cable companies are most vulnerable - on the TV itself. I wouldn't yet call the Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD a universal Internet media player for your TV, but as media receivers go, it comes pretty close. And unlike the walled garden of Apple TV, which restricts itself almost exclusively to iTunes-distributed content, the EVA8000 embraces a much larger world of Internet-based content, and does so with gusto. Sure, the EVA8000 is more complicated to use, thanks largely to its many, many capabilities. But, as you'll read, the payoff is access to millions of sights and sounds that are simply unavailable in the cloistered world of Apple TV.
SETUP Included with the EVA8000 are a composite-video/stereo-audio cable, an S-Video cable, an Ethernet cable, and an installation disc for Windows computers (unnecessary for Mac users). For HDTV connections, the EVA8000 also has component-video and HDMI outputs, for which you must supply your own cables. I initially connected the Ethernet cable between the EVA8000 and my Netgear router (saving the wireless option for later) and linked my 50-inch plasma to the media receiver using my own HDMI cable. My HDTV failed at first to recognize EVA, so I switched to component video, but if I'd read the manual, I would have learned that you have to press the remote's TV output mode button to activate the HDMI connection. (Netgear says it plans to change the default video setting from component to HDMI.) Though the EVA8000 offers HDTV viewers a choice of HD signal formats up to 1080p, I chose 720p to match my set's native resolution. After then entering my zip code (to get localized weather information), I was prompted to install the Netgear software on a computer connected to my home network.
The Digital Entertainer for Windows software seemed to run without a glitch, and it was soon scanning the computer for music, photos, and videos. The application loads each time you turn on the computer so that the PC is ready to serve up content to the EVA8000. The software, incidentally, was originally developed for Skipjam, an advanced A/V distribution system I reviewed back in the September 2005 issue (see here) and that was discontinued when Netgear bought the company.
Back at the TV, the EVA8000 informed me that configuration was complete and I now had access to nearly 3,000 photos, 1,800 videos, and ... only 15 songs? Using the EVA8000's onscreen menus, I rescanned for music, and this time it found the more than 1,200 tunes I actually had on my computer hard drive.
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