Netgear has been in the business of making digital media-streaming boxes longer than most of its competitors, with its MP101 audio streamer appearing way back in 2004. Of course the streaming market has changed drastically since then and the move to "the cloud" has meant that streaming PC-based media within the home isn't as crucial any more. Services like Netflix and Pandora mean that you no longer need a home library of digital files, and can stream them remotely instead.
While its competitors still include some sort of in-home streaming support, Netgear jettisoned it some time ago with the entry-level NTV200, and this trend continues with the NTV300. However, you can upgrade to the NeoTV Max, which includes WiDi laptop mirroring, DLNA (streaming media from networked Macs and Windows PCs), and a QWERTY keyboard remote for $69.95. And new for 2013 is a Google TV version, the NeoTV Prime GTV100.
At its current sale price of $39.95, the NTV300 is 10 dollars cheaper than the basic Roku. But the Netgear offers far fewer channel choices, with only YouTube and the SlingPlayer app (for streaming content from Slingboxes) as major differentiators from the Roku. Moreover, the Netgear's interface is a step down, too; the Roku LT's simplicity wins it extra points.
Design and features
Unless you buy a (now discontinued) Boxee Box or a Roku Streaming Stick, then most streaming-media boxes are interchangeable from a design standpoint. They're roughly square, a little bigger than a hockey puck, and usually black. This is the case with the NTV300, and while ports may differ on each box, the Netgear has a minimum of an HDMI port and an Ethernet connection. If you have a legacy TV without HDMI or want to play back media from a USB key (or even anywhere else in the house), this isn't the model for you; upgrade instead to the aforementioned NeoTV Max for those features. Thankfully, though, the most affordable NeoTV does offer Wi-Fi, so you can also connect to the Internet wirelessly.
The remote control has its good points but they're outnumbered by its bad ones. While most users will appreciate the remote's shortcut keys for popular services such as Netflix, and its relatively ergonomic feel, the eight-way pad needs some attention. It gives you the usual up/down/left/right, but in the corners -- and with no clear delineation -- you also get RGBY buttons, which can actually interfere with navigation if accidentally pressed, and while I'm at it, they're very squishy.
Content: What you can watch
The NeoTV is strictly a cloud-streaming device but has a decent selection of services. Netflix is here, along with Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube, Rhapsody, and Pandora. Indeed, there's even a CNET channel, too.