The first Intel Viiv-certified digital media adaptor/extender has arrived, and it's a compelling proposition for those with loads of multimedia content on their PC that they'd like to enjoy through a TV or stereo.
If it wasn't for the Netgear logo plastered on the front and the two Wi-Fi antennae jaunting out from the back of the unit, we'd struggle to tell the EVA700 apart from any other consumer electronics device in your typical living room.
The front is mostly bare, save for a power LED, headphone jack and USB port. Although the main purpose of the device is to stream content between your PC and TV, the USB port enables the EVA700 to also obtain content directly from an MP3 player, thumb drive or digital camera.
The back is where all of the I/O ports are housed, and there's quite an attractive selection: SCART, composite, component and S-Video for video; and both S/PDIF digital and stereo for audio. Curiously, HDMI connectivity isn't offered, but high-definition (HD) video can still be sent over the component connection.
Strangely, the front of the EVA700 lacks a display for status and file details, so you'll have to rely on on-screen prompts for this information. Also lacking here are playback controls, which are left to the bundled remote control. The remote is fairly generic in its design, but offers all of the functions we required during testing. We particularly like the existence of dedicated "Music", "Video" and "Pics" buttons, which allows users to jump directly to the category of content they're looking for.
The user interface of the device is generally quite bland, but fairly easy to navigate. Cycling through your content is largely a text-based affair -- for example, the software won't automatically grab album art and display it next to the relevant album title, and there are no thumbnails for previewing pictures and video.
The EVA700 can connect to your home network either wired or wirelessly, thanks to the 10/100 Ethernet port and dual Wi-Fi antennas supporting the 802.11b/g standards. The existence of two antennas boosts wireless range and signal strength; however, if you're going to be taking more than just a passing interest in HD content you'll want to use a wired connection, according to Intel and Microsoft.
Netgear's specifications page says that the device supports up to 1080p HD content streams, but doesn't state whether this is accomplished through wired or wireless connections. Regardless, the distinct lack of true HD content at present means that this shouldn't be a significant issue just yet.
Standard definition content is more than catered for by the current Wi-Fi standards, and it's pleasing to see that the device supports the WEP wireless security standard, offering up to 128-bit data encryption. WPA-PSK support can be added through a firmware upgrade.
Although it would be redundant to list each one here, users can rest assured that all of the major audio, video and picture file formats are supported by the device. A full list of the supported formats can be found on the product's specifications page.
For those with larger content libraries, files can be filtered according to certain criteria. Video can be sorted by actor, folder and genre, photos can be sorted by album or date taken and music by album, artist, folder, genre or playlist.
The EVA700 is the first digital media adaptor to be Intel Viiv-certified (more information about what this exactly means can be found in our Viiv feature video), so if you've got a Viiv PC and compatible router it can be installed and configured using the Viiv wizard. This process is incredibly simple and for the most part automated, including the configuration of wireless security settings. A mouse and keyboard aren't required, either.
Those without a Viiv network have access to the same features as Viiv owners, but the installation process is a little trickier -- you'll need to whip out the installation CD and add the EVA700 to your network using the slightly less intuitive "Windows Media Connect" utility.
Our testing environment consisted of the EVA700 connected to a wired network, streaming content from the Viiv-certified Acer Aspire e650 PC. The EVA700 and e650 detected each other's presence virtually instantly -- despite there being numerous other machines connected to the network -- and we were sharing files between the two devices within minutes.
The first aspect we tested out was the EVA700's ability to stream content that's encrypted with digital rights management (DRM) protection. Netgear confirmed that, provided your media centre PC has "Windows Media Connect or the Intel Viiv Media Server" installed, DRM-protected files will play fine. However, Netgear's Jeff Fulton told CNET.com.au that this currently "precludes directly playing content purchased from iTunes, due to restrictions in Apple's rights system.".
In general, we found that the device accomplishes pretty much everything it sets out to. We were able to stream all sorts of multimedia content to the device with negligible waiting time, and during playback we didn't notice any artefacts or slowdowns.
The EVA700 offers everything we love about Zensonic's Z500 digital media extender -- such as extensive format support and connectivity options -- and also manages to rectify many of its flaws such as the lack of WPA security and unintuitive installation process. We'd certainly recommend it to someone in the market for such a device.