Apart from using a notebook installed with Windows XP Media Center Edition to enjoy high-definition digital multimedia content on your HD-ready TV, the next easiest mode would be to invest in a media streamer such as the new Netgear Digital Entertainer EVA 700.
That being said, the EVA700, like many other media streamers, is an add-on unit that can be easily integrated into your existing home theatre setup. Incorporating the unit is not that much different as how one would with an entertainment notebook; video via either Component or Composite output and audio through either stereo RCA jacks or digital S/PDIF coaxial output. HDMI and DVI connections have been left out, probably because the cheaper and vastly more compatible component output is deemed sufficient to output its maximum 1080i video resolution, which is just one level short of 1080p. Unless you happen to have terabytes of 1080p high-definition content stored in a networked computer somewhere in your household, EVA700 and its 1080i resolution support should be adequate. Design wise, the fascia is clean and uncluttered with nothing other than the Netgear logo to suggest that the EVA700 is different from other AV devices.
Despite being noticeably wider than many of today's DVD players, the EVA700 is actually very light as there are not much components inside. A piece of PCB, a power module and several cables basically form the innards of the system. Unlike several media streamers that provide users with the option of installing a hard drive for improved storage and playback versatility, the EVA700 was strictly designed to be a media streamer for movies, photos and music. You'll not find any software or hardware provision that would suggest the EVA700 can be fitted with a hard disk drive, but interestingly, there is a reserved section on the PCB with pin fittings matching that of a standard 40-pin IDE port commonly found on computer mainboards.
Being a new player, the EVA700 has been programmed to support a variety of digital audio and video formats.
In addition to supporting the ubiquitous MP3, MPG, WMA and WMV formats out of the box, you can expect the digital entertainer to decode and stream Xvid, OpenDivX3, DivX 4 and 5.11, OGG, and TS media files as well – though the player disappoints by being unable to play TS files in a series seamlessly. Extending the disappointment is the brutally bland user interface that is in dire need of refinements for easier navigation and a more visually captivating graphical user interface to make it more engaging to use. This blandness however, is only an eyesore when the EVA700 is used in the absence of Intel Viiv technology. Connect the EVA700 to an Intel Viiv PC and a compatible router and the user interface is more attractive and much easier to use, resembling Windows Media Center. Without an Intel Viiv PC or router, configuring the EVA700 for network streaming could prove challenging as it involves manual configuration of network properties and installation of "Windows Media Connect" utility before the EVA700 can interface with your home network.
The various video output resolutions supported by the streamer were found to be decently sharp when corresponding video files were played. There are no advanced options such as video sharpening, noise reduction and aspect ratio adjustments, which means video quality is largely dependent on either the source file or advanced settings offered by your television set. No problems were encountered when streaming content, be it via wired or wireless connection (802.11g). The same can be said of its onboard USB direct play option from external USB storage devices.
The Netgear EVA700 may offer video streaming but it is important to note that its full potential can only be realized when it is connected to an Intel Viiv PC and compatible router for easy network streaming. We do like the extensive format support and a host of connectivity options it packs, but unfortunately for anyone without an Intel Viiv PC, the EVA700 will not offer much in the way of value or ease of use for its US$269 sticker price. Conversely, if you own an Intel Viiv PC, the Netgear EVA700 will be a fine addition to your home entertainment setup.