It was always the NTV 550's local media playback specifications that had everyone enthused. Netflix or no Netflix, if the NTV 550 managed to playback the users' local media files and Blu-Ray ISOs with full menu support, I am quite sure a majority of the users would have been quite happy. Prior to talking with Netgear today morning, I put the 325NA firmware version through our full test suite. Though playback capability had improved compared to previous firmware versions, it was clear that the product was still far away from being ready for prime time. I filed a list of bugs and linked Netgear to the sample streams for the bugs. A summary of the reported issues is reproduced below. In case you are planning to purchase a NTV 550 in the next few weeks and have media streams fitting the following criteria, do not be surprised if they fail to play back in a satisfactory manner.

  1. WMA / WMAPro decode (when set to PCM in the Audio menu) is not multi-channel. The AV receiver sees only 2 channel PCM.
  2. When the 'Aspect Ratio' is set to 'Auto' in the setup menu, the output doesn't obey the aspect ratio information in the container. However, this is not a serious issue, since it is always possible to change the aspect ratio with a few key presses when the video is being played.
  3. Some TrueHD soundtracks in M2TS containers sends static to the AV receiver
  4. Many test streams with AAC audio play back blank or corrupted video. Multi-channel AAC decoding to multi-channel LPCM appears broken in some test streams.
  5. There is no support for Vorbis / ADPCM audio tracks.
  6. SRT subtitles with foreign languages (such as Arabic, Thai, Hindi etc.) don't display properly. Experimenting with various settings for subtitle encoding didn't seem to help much.
  7. TrueHD audio track in some MKVs hang playback
  8. The M2TS splitter in the NTV 550 seems to be based on ffmpeg and has an issue affecting some other Sigma Designs SoC based streamers such as the WDTV series also. More details are available in this link. I haven't seen this issue in any Realtek streamer so far.
  9. Playback of MKVs with VC1 video tracks is not reliable. Some stutter (reproducible consistently), while others hang after playing back a few frames.
  10. Forced PGS subtitles in MKV are not forced. The user has to manually open up the Subtitle track selector popup and choose the 'Forced' track. It is only logical that forced subtitles be on by default.
  11. Some streams exhibit pinkish / discoloured video on playback, but these are not consistently reproducible.
  12. Dolby Digital Plus bitstreaming is bitstreamed as Dolby Digital with dropouts in some cases, even though the information about the clip in the NTV 550 interface indicates it to be DD+.
  13. TRP and WTV extensions are not recognized. MOV compatibility is a bit flaky. FLVs with H264 streams are also not recognized.
  14. Some 3D Blu-Ray ISOs created with AnyDVD HD hang after playing the first title. Only recourse to get the player back in business was to eject the ISO.

The above issues are relevant to streams which I expected the NTV 550 to play back. There are other Real Media streams, MPEG 4 streams with multiple warp points etc. which are not supported by the Sigma SoC and hence don't play back. I don't consider these as negative aspects of the firmware. I have also not touched upon UI quirks, networking performance and other such aspects in this section. They will be covered in the final review.

Netflix on the NTV 550 Future Plans and Final Words
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  • mfenn - Saturday, May 07, 2011 - link

    should be this morning Reply
  • MeSh1 - Saturday, May 07, 2011 - link

    I'd go for AMD fusion htpc Reply
  • burntham77 - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    I am with you. I have tried to find alternatives to my HTPC that use less power, like these media streaming boxes, and none of them are as flexible as a Windows 7 HTPC. The fact that I only need one box to handle all of my media needs is just great. Reply
  • Blaze-Senpai - Sunday, May 08, 2011 - link

    There goes the DRM making things more difficult than it has to be.... Reply
  • dbone1026 - Sunday, May 08, 2011 - link

    Ganesh,

    Thanks for the update. Am I the only one who is getting tired of these companies advertising features that either do not work or are not available at release???

    As far as the Netflix certification process with the PCH, I wouldn't be surprised if Syabas simply decided it wasn't worth pursuing since non-US makes up a large part of their customer base. Had the Popbox been a viable product at launch maybe that would have motivated them to move forward with certification

    Cheers
    Damian
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Damian,

    Is PCH trying to get Netflix certification for their players? That is news to me.

    If they are trying for their 8654 based player (do they have any?) then it is possible since that platform is certified by Netflix. If it is for their C200 (8642 based), I hope customers aren't holding their breath.

    I hope that at least some media streamer manufacturers endeavour to market a box with equal and good emphasis on both local and OTT media playback.
    Reply
  • shawkie - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the update. Can you also clarify the situation on BDA certification and support for external blu-ray drives? This was promised in some early reviews but now seems to have been dropped from the specifications.

    So on the whole the Dune players are more polished devices? I've heard that they do have some problems of their own though - the big one for me is that apparently they can't even play back CD audio (let alone FLAC or MP3) gaplessly.
    Reply
  • stevekgoodwin - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Having experienced Netgear's lacklustre support for the EVA8000 media player, I've got to say I'm not that suprrised to find the same kind of thing here. While the EVA8000 kind of mostly worked, it was never great.

    Worse, was Netgear's rather dismal view on telling the truth in the forums (to be fair, they had a couple of really helpful guys... but they were obviously required to toe the corporate line wrt to disclosure of what was really going on).

    What I learnt was
    a) Netgear releases products before the firmware is fully cooked
    b) They aren't that interested in cooking the firmware properly.
    c) read the forums thoroughly before purchasing (keeping in mind forums are by their nature heavily waited towards those people having problems).

    In general, I don't think media appliances are quite done yet, there's a few more years of evolution to go yet before they're ready for everyone.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    I didn't spend too much time checking up on the EVA lineup. Now that I see more talk about those products, I think what you are writing seems well substantiated and the NTV 550 also seems to be going the same route.

    That said, I am hoping that the sort of coverage we do for media streamers on AnandTech will somehow make the NTV 550 a better player (Or, I can just keep on dreaming :D)
    Reply
  • micksh - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Maybe they are busy implementing Cinavia and can't dedicate enough resources for Netflix? Reply

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