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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 14, 2007 at 10:36 AM

Netgear takes aim at Apple’s iTV

If it can get the price down a bit, Netgear will probably sell a boatload of the “Digital Entertainer HD” devices it released today.

The gadget, with a suggested price of $399, streams video and other media content from a PC to a high-definition television. What’s new here is that it can handle high-def video and downloaded videos in protected Windows Media formats. It also works with BitTorrent, displays RSS newsfeeds, shows NOAA weather reports and of course works with video sharing services like YouTube.

Devices like Netgear’s make it easier to use their PCs as a TiVo/broadband video recorder without putting the PC in the living room by the TV.

But what really signals the crossover from the PC world to consumer electronics is that the device has HDMI output, so you need only a single wire to connect the thing to a flat panel TV. From the release:

Using the included remote, consumers can search their entire media library by multiple criteria including title, actor, date, genre or thumbnail images (from photos, album art or DVD covers). An HDMI port displays video resolution up to 1080p on big-screen TVs and optical digital audio output (TOSLINK) transmits full digital surround sound to the consumers’ digital audio receiver. When the PC has an optional TV tuner installed, consumers can schedule recordings and pause or rewind live broadcasts without the need for an additional DVR device. If there are multiple Digital Entertainer HDs in the home, the “Follow Me” feature enables consumers to pause a video in one room and resume it in another. While in “Party Mode,” they can synchronize music playback for whole-home listening.

Netgear showed early versions at CES in January and announced today that the product’s going on sale in the second quarter of this year.

It’s a tough competitor for Apple’s delayed iTV offering, especially if iTV doesn’t handle high-def and only works with videos purchased from iTunes.

Families and gamers living in a Windows world may still opt for an Xbox, though, which can also stream video from a Media Center PC. It’s a tradeoff — the Netgear device isn’t a game console, but it will run quieter and use less power and the Xbox still doesn’t have HDMI output. 

Unlike the Xbox, the Netgear device will also stream media from Macs and Linux machines.

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