Netgear EVA8000 network media player
Now with Matroska support
The beta firmware is distributed via Netgear's online support forum - you need to request access to download it. An updated version is generally available every couple of weeks - sometimes more frequently - and the latest release, version 2.0.140, released 8 December 2007, not only incorporates reliable MKV support but also includes many fixes that affected stability in early versions.
Hardware wise, the EVA8000 has everything you'd want
However, although the beta firmware expands the number of file options available, it's not without its own problems - somewhat to be expected, given that it's an unfinished version. The most notable of these is that it struggles to play back high bit-rate files without dropping frames or skipping audio. Testing the device with a series of 1080p H.264 files encoded from the open source movie Elephants Dream at bit-rates from 1Mb/s to 15Mb/s showed that the maximum bit-rate the beta firmware could handle when playing back from a USB-connected hard drive was 9Mb/s. The official firmware, on the other hand, managed to keep going up to 13Mb/s before the footage started stuttering and became jerky.
While the results are a little worrying, the issue becomes much more significant when playing back material over a network. Using the wired Ethernet port on the back, playing back the files from a PC connected to the same hub resulted in a maximum bit-rate of 5Mb/s for both the beta and official firmware before the picture broke up. Using the same approach, but this time playing the files over the network with a 200Mb/s Homeplug AV connection in the middle - it transfers the network signal over the mains cabling in your home - the maximum attainable bit-rate from both firmware versions was a scant 3Mb/s.
This is slightly disappointing, since one of the major benefits of a network-enabled player is the ability to store the content anywhere in your home and stream it across the network. If you've got a wired network you might just be fine, but if you're relying on HomePlug AV, then you'll find your content choices severely limited.
Part of the problem could no doubt be solved by equipping the EVA8000 with a larger data buffer, but it doesn't even make the best of what it's got. When stuttering occurs, it doesn't pause playback and attempt to rebuffer, but just carries on with jerky, unwatchable video and no sound.
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