CES - Netgear box plays YouTube, other content, on TVs

Netgear introduced an appliance that lets users play a variety of content from the Internet or PCs on their TVs.

Netgear may be hoping to steal some of Apple Computer's thunder by introducing on Sunday an appliance that lets users play Internet and other digital content on their TVs.

Apple is rumoured to be planning to announce this week at the Macworld Conference and Expo a set-top box, potentially called iTV, that would let users play video from their computers on their TVs.

Netgear's Digital Entertainer HD, introduced at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, discovers content on a variety of PCs, servers and storage devices in a user's home and can play that content, including video in high definition format, on a user's TV.

Customers can also use the Digital Entertainer HD to access and play content, including streaming video, direct from the Internet.

Netgear said that it is the first to deliver YouTube content direct to the TV. "We access YouTube through YouTube [application programming interfaces] directly to their servers," said Michael Spilo, vice president of engineering for Netgear. Netgear executives would not comment further on the relationship between the companies but hinted that they might make a further announcement about a partnership in the future.

Users connect the box to their home entertainment system and to a router. Computers, including PCs, Macs and Linux machines, can connect to the router via wireless or powerline networking. The Digital Entertainer HD also includes two USB 2.0 ports to play content from Flash and other storage devices.

"This is the first digital media player to bring the universe of digital content to the TV," said Vivek Pathela, vice president of marketing for Netgear.

Parental controls can restrict content for certain family members and users can tag content to help organize it.

In order to stream content in HD format over the network, customers will need to use powerline or another high-speed networking technology to accommodate for the required high throughput. Current Wi-Fi standards aren't fast enough yet to support HD.

The Digital Entertainer HD can play music from iTunes but only from PCs, not Macs. It can also record TV content for playback at a later time.

Users aren't required to have a computer to use the appliance but some capabilities require a PC. For example, in order to watch TV through the box, a user must connect to a PC with a TV tuner in it. A PC is also required to watch YouTube videos through the box.

The Digital Entertainer HD also has features to support multiple appliances in the same home. A "follow me" capability lets users stop a video on one TV, shut off the TV and resume watching the video an another TV.

The Digital Entertainer HD can play a variety of music file formats including MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, M4A, AAC, AC3 and video file formats including MPEG1/2/4, WMV, XviD and H.264.

Pathela said that since Apple hadn't made the iTV announcement yet, he couldn't comment on how the Digital Entertainer HD might compare to it. "There are a lot of unique capabilities with the Digital Entertainer that others might not be able to offer," he said.

The Digital Entertainer HD is expected to become available in the first quarter for US$349.

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