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Topic # 25851 3-Sep-2008 16:39
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Hi all,

I started asking around in the forums a little while ago about pre-built HTPC units, and became interested in the NEO Digital and the http://www.mypvr.co.nz/mypvr/ systems.

Geekzone member Ghoop answered a number of my questions, then kindly offered to send me a test unit to review. After having it a couple months, I've pieced together the start of a review, which I've posted here (below). I had a few questions for Ghoop, and he's responded in italics.

Feel free to ask any questions and I'll try to respond to teh best of my (limited) abilities. I havent yet figured out how to take screenshots but will try to get this sorted in the next bit.

So without further ado;

NEO Digital

"Picture This

Your new lounge has a wall mounted Plasma screen home theatre, with a six-channel sound system built into the walls. You are about to watch three episodes of your favourite TV program, that was recorded a month ago. And yet, there's not a VCR in sight. Nor for that matter is there a DVD, or a CD rack in the house. It's a touch bright in the lounge, so the lights dim at your request. There is a knock at the door - you see who it is and let them in. And now, with the ads on, you can quickly check your emails....

And the whole time, you never left the couch.

Introducing NEO™ Intuitive Technology "

A very tidily boxed up package arrived a fair few Friday nights ago. As I was going out for dinner I didn't have long before we had to run out the door, but I was obviously very keen to get the NEO unboxed and set up as much as I could in the little time I had. 

Surprisingly in only took about 5 minutes from opening the box to booting up the NEO for the first time. Ghoop kindly included a Sat splitter and the various cables I would need (excepting a SCART to S-Video setup which I happened to have). 

The initial boot screen is the standard Linux one detailing out each service as it gets invoked up until the NEO launch screen. Boot time was OK, not super quick (to fair as compared to say MySky or the like) but once booted I was straight into it to check out some pre loaded music and short video files (pre loaded for testing purposes only). 

I put a stopwatch against the boot time and made it to be around 1m 20s over 3 or 4 tests.

From the boot screen we can see that the box is running Gentoo Linux, or at least a form of it. 

Listed below are the Features of the NEO system;

Digital Video Recorder
Pause Live TV
Pay TV Manager
Karaoke Server
CD Music Server
Integrated CD Database
iPOD Integration
USB MP3 Integration
USB HDD Support
Multi Zone Sound
Karaoke Server
DVD Server
Surveillance Camera
Movie Info Database
Photo Manager
Multi Zone Sound
A/V Streaming
Lighting Control
Infra Red Manager
Touch Screen & PDA
Web Browser
Radio Remote
VOIP PBX
Hot Button Controls

Future Features;

Movie Editing
Multi User Profiles
Remote Internet
PIP Display
C-Bus Scenes
Wake Up Alarm
Panic Alarm
Security system
Online Movies

Positives

Simple menu structure and interface - easy to understand and navigate. 

VCD aka Downloads

This is the feature I used the most to watch shows I had recorded/backed up previously. I'm in the middle of training for an Ironman triathlon which takes up a tonne of my time. I am loving being able to record stuff on the NEO, then watch it whilst cycling indoors on my windtrainer via my modded XBox in the basement - sorted. I guess if I really wanted to, I could link up the NEO box upstairs to the downstairs TV via S-Video/audio or something like that and make the most of the RF Remote control. But I'll save that for a rainy day (yeah I know, of which there have been many of late). 

Network
Once plugged into my network, the NEO box appeared straight away under Finder on my Mac. Perfect. A quick browse of my video collection then dumping them onto the NEO box. You can create whatever folders you so wish on the NEO, then its simply a matter of using the Firefly remote and browsing to the Downloads menu item - Browse Collection, selecting the file and then play.  Excellent, follows KISS - keep it simple stupid. 

Remote
The guys @ NEO kindly supplied a Firefly RF remote that (once I changed the batteries) performed magnificently. I particularly love the feature when browsing menu's whereby you hit either left or right on the navigation keys to jump to the start or end of menu's. No more scrolling line by line - zzzzzzzz. 

You can also navigate from your laptop using the NEOZone Controller. Or even via a PDA. I tried the iPhone version which, once you turn to landscape mode, fits the screen well. 

Recording

Whilst watching Freeview, a push of the Red Record button and your in business. The screen cuts briefly to the NEO default screen, then returns to live TV - however it returns in letterbox mode and has intermittent pixilation. Presumably this is the box struggling to Record and Play at the same time.

Note.
The system records in whatever format is being received off the satellite stream, hence the letterbox format. The pixellation is a bug that occurs only when "chasing" (ie watching something that is currently recording) and only manifests itself on TVNZ channels. TV3 and C4 do not exhibit this...we are still trying to track this down.


I had an issue with the Freeview guide not updating, so navigated into the config and changed the settings to get the guide from the internet rather than via the Satellite dish.

Note.
There is no Freeview guide per say, simply the guide available from the Sky stream. The satellite version and the network version are the same. If you are not getting the satellite version
  there must be a configuration problem with the config setting.
 
Timer Recording doesn't seem to be working too well for me. I wonder if its due to the guide being sourced differently to the default? Basically I tried to setup weekly recordings whilst I was away for over a week and neither worked :(  Also the basics of setting up something to record can sometimes be a bit more long winded than say a Sky+/MySky type box. It would be great if a on screen display came up when you want it to along the bottom of the screen, then be able to scroll forward time wise and through channels this way, then be able to push the record button. An easy series link menu item would be fantastic too for setting up multiple recordings.

Note.
Not sure why you have had problem recording. Is the NEO time set correctly?
To set a recording simply use the EPG then press [Select] on the item you want to record.

Resolution
The default output is 1024. On my 1080i 1980x? Sony 40" inch LCD this is somewhat of a let down. I guess though I am not playing any HD content so its suffice for now. 

Volume
There is a marked difference in volume levels between running via the TV's built in tuner and when using the NEO box. Basically I have my TV normally on circa 20 and via the NEO at around 50.

Note.
True
. The sound card simply doesn't crank out the same level of sound as the TV pre-amp. Normally the NEO is connected to a separate amplifier, so this isn't too much of an issue. Otherwise the integrator needs to place a pre-amp in between the NEO and the TV to allow the sound levels to be calibrated..
 
[I've since brought a lovely Denon AVR Amp and set it up to make up for the volume difference between the NEO box and the TV - sorted!]

Miscellaneous

I raised some early points with Ghoop who supplied the NEO box for my review, and he responded as follows;

To address your points:

-No on screen display of channel nor EPG guide for Now and Next shown in bottom of screen.

Agreed...NEO is not really intended for "live" TV watching so that feature didn't seem particularly relevant.

-Changing channels goes blank between channels, showing NEO background.

This is true for Freeview only . The analog tuner (Sky and TV) does not exhibit this behaviour.

-Once you stop say a video part way through, you dont appear to be able to resume at the same point, at least not easily.

True, we don't have the "restart" facility. However, if you press [select] before you quit the movie NEO will show how far into the movie you are and the total time. When you resume, press [select] to show the run time and then I find it simple to jump/skip to the appropriate place to carry on.

-Can only record one channel and not watch any other channels at the same time. From the documentation it doesnt appear to be a capacity of the system even if there was another 1 or 2 tuner cards?

Each tuner card can only be used for one activity at any point. So if you are recording Freeview you are then restricted to watching Sky, or TV (assuming 3 tuners). Obviously if you are recording on all three tuners, you can then watch TV by using the TV tuner directly.

-When playing music in Zone 1, then going to watch a Video or VCD, the video plays but without sound, the Zone 1 music keeps playing. You have to go back one level to the Video menu, press stop then go back to the video. However there's still no sound in the video, so you have to go back into the music menu and stop it there, then go back to Video's. Presumably this is something to do with Zone 2 music?

This is a "feature" much loved by by colleague who prefers to leave the music playing while he browses his collection. I am not keen on this myself and we are planning to make this configurable. It has nothing to do with zone 2.
Mind you, if you use the "TouchIT" interface you can program the macro to stop any music before launching a video.

-Video card output appears to be limited to 1080?

Video cards keep changing. The current NVIDIA offering has following spec:
*Dual integrated 400MHz RAMDACs for analog display resolutions up to and including 2048x1536 at 75Hz.
*Dual-link DVI capability to drive the industry's largest and highest resolution digital flat panel displays up to 2560x1600 at 60 Hz.
*Integrated HDTV encoder provides analog TV-output (Component/Composite/S-Video) up to 1080i resolution

We currently default NEO to 1024x768

Display

Taking up on the developer, Ghoops point above, whilst the output is only 1024x768, it is of pretty good quality. I'm not sure if this is the reason Freeview seems to cut the left & right hand sides of the screen off. Especially frustrating whilst watching the Olympics Road Race cycling - we couldn't tell how far was left to go in the race as it cut off the on screen display off KM's left to go. Argghhhh.

Note.
So hard to please everyone! Originally we displayed the picture as it comes off the satellite stream (ie. letterbox or 4:3 in widescreen or whatever) but our customers didn't like this, so we overscan to fill the screen which is great for 4:3 in widescreen, but obviously compromises standard widescreen by chopping off the edges. As a compromise we left the recorded stuff as received so that the user can fill the screen (or not) as they choose. This would be great if we still didn't have the "pixellation" bug mentioned previously.


It would be great to have HDMI outputs at HD quality, but I guess that is more video card dependent than system, presumably NEO settings can be increased to suit.

Note.
We have not yet managed to track down a driver for the DVB-T card so don't yet have any true HD content to display. We have experimented with Blu Ray though and once this technology becomes more ubiquitous will install Blu Ray optical players in the NEO. At this time we would increase the resolution option.


Some minor Negatives

No on screen display of channel nor EPG guide for Now and Next shown in bottom of screen.

Changing channels goes blank between channels, showing NEO background.

Note.
Only Freeview..


Once you stop say a video part way through, you dont appear to be able to resume at the same point, at least not easily. 

Can only record one channel and not watch any other channels at the same time. From the documentation it doesnt appear to be a capacity of the system even if there was another 1 or 2 tuner cards?

When playing music in Zone 1, then going to watch a Video or VCD, the video plays but without sound, the Zone 1 music keeps playing. You have to go back one level to the Video menu, press stop then go back to the video. However there's still no sound in the video, so you have to go back into the music menu and stop it there, then go back to Video's. Presumably this is something to do with Zone 2 music?

Video card output appears to be limited to 1080?

Other Features Not Tried

CCTV, PABX - looks like support for the Asterix PABX system,

Note.
Yes Asterisk is on board and pre-configured for 8 extensions. I use the Slingshot Italk service.


Zone 2 sound - I have only just setup our new Denon AVR amp that has support for dual zones, but if I had the time I would love to try integrate the NEO Zone 2 audio with the AVR amp. 

USB devices - I tried attaching a USB key and a USB external drive but couldn't get the system to read off them, at least not easily as I didnt try too hard.

Note.
When you plug in a USB device you have to wait a little while (10 secs?) while the system negotiates with the device. It will then show up in a number of the menu items (music, photos, downloads) as either play or archive.


Conclusion

There are many more features and uses for this jack of all trades box including hooking up a CCTV security system.

We briefly had Sky in the house but not long enough to try it out with the NEO box and the included IR Blaster. IR Devices allows you to train NEO to control other IR controlled equipment such as TV, Amplifier, Heat Pump, Projector and so on.

From the NEO website (http://www.neodigital.net.nz/) I see that there is a new interface due to be launched that looks more intuitive.

Note.
Version 2 will have a more intuitive interface and allow two way communication from the NEO to the control device (Ipod Touch or Iphone) which will allow muic to be selected without having to turn on the TV.

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Uber Geek
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  Reply # 161932 3-Sep-2008 19:04
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Thanks for the review. It was very interesting to hear what their product is capable of.





Generally known online as OpenMedia, now working for Red Hat New Zealand as a Solution Architect for all things Linux, Virtual and of course Cloud. Still playing with MythTV and digital media on the side.

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