ViewSonic media hub tries to do it all but falls short. (September 6th, 2010)
The VMP75 NexTv is ViewSonic's latest foray into living rooms for what's quickly becoming a crowded field of media hubs. This network media player can serve up content from a variety of local and online sources and even has its own web browser. But is it a strong balance, or trying to do too much at once? Our NexTV review hopes to provide an answer.
Product Manufacturer: ViewSonic
- Good connection options.
- Flickr, Netflix and Internet radio.
- Simple setup.
- Slow and unresponsive.
- Terrible web browser.
- Overall poor interface.
Hardware, connectivity, and content
Let's start with the good parts: the NexTv has great connectivity options. For storage options there is both USB and eSATA, and for multimedia output there is both HDMI and digital audio as well as traditional composite (RCA) video and analog stereo audio outputs. The USB port can also accommodate a wireless network receiver for those that don't want to or can't run an Ethernet cable to the NexTv.
The NexTv hardware is quite small and can easily fit into any home theater setup. The included 43 button remote is comfortable enough to use, but a real pain for text (more later). The quality of the remote is fine, but with so many buttons, it feels a bit cramped; the buttons don't give a very good tactile feedback to users . Setup for the NexTv is plug and play; once the device has an Ethernet connection, power, and a TV to pipe content to, it's up and running.
There are two main types of content that the NexTv can play: internet content and local content. The NexTv can display five different types of graphic files, play 15 types of audio files, and show seven main different types of video encoding. Locally stored content played back wonderfully both from USB sources and from networked locations. Media loaded as quickly as we would expect, and the playback quality was acceptable.
For online content the NexTv can pull in pictures from Flickr, audio from SHOUTcast Radio and Live365, and videos from both YouTube and Netflix (subscription required). In addition to accessing online media sources the device also supports web browsing (supports being a very generous description). Accessing audio content from SHOUTcast Radio and Live365 was quick and easy. Both audio sources provide a variety of free content, and the audio quality is good.
The YouTube and Flickr implementation on the NexTv both leave something to be desired, Flickr being the better of the two. The Flickr user interface works but loads content slowly and is awkward to try to navigate quickly. Users can search for Flickr content by tag or user. YouTube is accessed through the NexTv web browser, which provides a truly bad user experience. Video quality and load times for YouTube were acceptable, but the web browser was not. The YouTube experience on the NexTv is very similar to that on a desktop, but between the browser and the control mechanism, we'd rather have a simpler, optimized interface.
The entire user experience with the NexTv is sub-par. We found ourselves consistently waiting for menus to load and for commands to be executed. Several times we were even wondering if the device had frozen and needed to be restarted. Even simple tasks like changing video output settings made the device 'think' for several seconds longer than most users would reasonably expect. All in all, the menu controls and operation of the NexTv feels sluggish and underdeveloped.
Controlling the Internet browser on the NexTv is unintuitive and entering text from the remote is an arduous task. Instead of providing users with an onscreen keyboard to scroll through for selecting characters, users instead use a cellphone-style text entry method that uses the number pad on the remote. If ViewSonic wants users to be able to type text while using their network media players they need to come up with a better text input option.
Regardless of the text entry issues the entire web browser experience is deplorable. Using the arrows on the remote to control the cursor is largely guesswork, as the cursor seemed to always travel at random speeds. Sometimes the cursor would change from simply moving around the page like a mouse cursor to jumping from one hyperlink to the next, and there is no obvious way to switch between the two navigation options. Web pages load at decent speeds and content seems to render accurately, but actually browsing the web from the NexTv is worse than browsing mobile websites from an old cellphone on a 2G network.
While the NexTv is designed to be a high definition device, its standard definition video output is unimpressive. We felt that the video quality was less than average, while the sound quality was mediocre.
While we applaud ViewSonic for providing users with a variety of connectivity and content options, these features simply don't make up for the lousy user experience that the NexTv delivers. We were really disappointed in the non-HD picture quality, internet experience, and general responsiveness of the NexTv. This device may have the worst menu interaction of any network media player we've tested before.
The $150 cost is probably a fair price for this device given its feature set, but with the experience we had in testing the NexTv we're not sure we would keep it in our living room if it was free; the user experience is just that frustrating. It's especially true in the light of Apple's new Apple TV, which provides almost all of the same content but in a more polished format -- and for $99. Unlike most of ViewSonic products, the NexTv feels like it was hastily designed and rushed to market before it was really ready, and we're not sure its creator could afford that route.