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Why doesn’t this great audio receiver include great audio/video streaming tools? The NetBoxx R-904N sounds good, but its streaming is more annoying than awesome. You have to dig up your own Mac software, you’ll fight the weak interface, and you’ll be rewarded with video-resolution issues. We’d hoped that this one box could rule our A/V needs, but you’re much better off buying a standard audio receiver and an Apple TV.
Too bad that hitting the power button switches the hardware from "stylish" to "blinded by the lights."
The NetBoxx acts as your home theater hub, connecting a TV, components, and speakers, but it rations its ports rather tightly. It supplies three HDMI inputs and two sets of component and composite inputs--but absurdly, you can use just three devices total, plus an additional audio-only source. After getting close to maximum capacity with just a PlayStation 3 and TiVo HD, we attached 7 speakers and a subwoofer. You’ll provide your own speakers and can get by with fewer, but the 7.1 surround modes are the receiver’s strongest suits. The included calibration mic listens to the speakers’ test tones to automatically set levels based on the size of your room and speaker configuration. Since the receiver supports Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and more, movies sound great. The system produces a rich range of audio from any source, and dialogue was clear.
The NetBoxx also streams network music and video via Ethernet or an included USB-to-Wi-Fi adapter. But Sherwood doesn’t bundle any media-streaming software. We tried both TwonkyMedia ($29.95; twonkyvision.de) and EyeConnect ($49.95; elgato.com) and had no problems sending music in MP3, WMV, WAV, and AAC.
The embedded VuNow (vunow.com) streaming interface, however, marks the first of many problems. Once a song starts rolling, you can’t pause it--you can only stop and return to the prior menu. Worse yet, browsing your collection means endless scrolling through long lists, and the songs will only play alphabetically, instead of respecting track-number data. First-generation media players stopped making that mistake years ago.
Video streams are even more problematic. The streaming interface runs at a maximum resolution of 720p--but not from a Mac. Tech support couldn’t give us a solid answer on what the max resolution is, but in our tests we did successfully stream files up to 800x450. Nearly all online sources, including HD YouTube clips, show a black border around the picture--even those already formatted 16:9. You can use a zoom feature to blow everything up, but you’ll lose resolution in the process.
NetBoxx audio sounds great…as long as you only want to use a scant three inputs. Streaming features, however, are awful on the Mac--and tech support was consistently baffled by our questions.
REQUIREMENTS: Home theater speakers; Ethernet or Wi-Fi network; composite or HDMI TV (or DVI TV and adapter) for streaming; Mac DLNA streaming software.
Great sound quality. Plays audio, video, and photo files from network, online, or USB. Slick microphone setup tool simplifies calibration. Small, elegantly shaped hardware. Optional, add-on iPod dock.
Clunky interface. Requires your own Mac DLNA server software. Black borders and 720p video playback issues. Can’t stream to component-connected TVs. Six front-mounted lights shine bright blue. Outputs your video devices only through same-style input. Streaming software takes 1 minute, 20 seconds to first start. No Netflix or Amazon streaming. Tech support has no experience using their hardware with Macs, so you’re on your own.