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My review of DVD portion of the NeuNeo Helios X3000 Network Streaming DVD Player

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Old 11-22-2006, 12:34 AM   #1  
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Thumbs up My review of DVD portion of the NeuNeo Helios X3000 Network Streaming DVD Player

NeuNeo Helios X3000 Upscaling Network Multimedia & DVD Player:

http://www.neodigits.com/new/body/pr...line/x3000.asp

INITIAL IMPRESSION:
First off, what I noticed is that it was kind of strange the way the power button works. The physical button must be in the on position for the on/off on the remote to work. Whether the unit is turned on or not by the remote, it has a orange light lit on the physical power button on the player. When you turn it on via the remote, the light is on also, but you do not see anything else change for about 5-10 seconds. After 5-10 seconds the display lights up to let you know it is on. At first I kept hitting the remote power button, because I expected an instant change in the front display, but now know to give it a couple of seconds.

BUILD QUALITY:
The build quality is pretty good for the price, but the buttons on the player for Play, Stop, Fast Forward, & Rewind are fairly flimsy. This model is not the higher end build quality of some units I have played with. The build quality is a notch or two above the NeuNeo 2085 (now called the Helios 2085), but I suspect it is a notch below the X5000 model in this same XLine.

The drive mechanism on this model is better than the one on the Helios 2085. The loading tray is not as thin as the 2085 model either and is better than many low profile players. It doesn't seem too flimsy, but I long for the super sturdy PC style trays of a couple of years ago. It just seems to make the whole unit seem to have much better build quality when the drive tray is built like a tank.

PACKAGING & REMOTE:
The unit did not come with the 2 AA batteries required for the remote, so I had to hunt up a couple of them. The previous model 2085 I reviewed last fall did not have the batteries either. They sent me an updated remote before I even had a change to set up the player but they looked identical. The new remote was supposed to be more responsive and provide a stronger signal but it did not seem much better to me. The remote itself is not as responsive when you push a button on it as the prior model 2085, and does not seem to have the range the old model’s remote had. This is too bad since you had to be under 8-9 feet away and pointing it right at the sensor on the player. It seems to be a trend with most of the DVD players I have tested lately in that most seem to be sluggish when you pushed the button and had to wait a second for the player to respond, or point it directly at the unit to get any response.

Manufacturers need to understand that with most features requiring the remote itself, that they need to make this work perfectly to provide a truly pleasant experience with the products. The prior model NeuNeo 2085 responded instantaneously like the older DVD players do. I could point the remote up toward the ceiling and it still responded immediately with the old model I reviewed. It is a shame that they used an under powered IR transmitter in the remote with this unit, but it can be resolved with any decent universal remote and is not an issue with the player itself. My Harmony 680 remote works great with the playback functions but I needed Harmony’s help setting it up because their database only had it categorized as a media player and not the DVD player portion of this model. This should be resolved by now for those who have a Harmony remote.

I also spoke with someone at Neodigits who told me that they will be using a new remote with a more powerful IR transmitter in it going forward in the next/future manufacturing runs.

NETWORK, VIDEO & SOUND SETUP:
This network multimedia player has both an Ethernet connection AND a 802.11G (54mbps) wireless connection as well and they were both easy to setup. The Ethernet was foolproof and only required you to plug in the Ethernet cable and you are instantly setup with this connection as long as your router/gateway has HDCP enabled which is the factory setting on most. The only issues I had with this is it is a pain to enter the WEP/WPA encrypted security key code in for the wireless connection if you have that setup in your wireless router (which everyone should). Entering the code is like text messaging with your cell phone, so if you do not mind texting, then this will be nothing to you.

Once you setup the ethernet or wireless connection and get it running you can get firmware updates directly through the unit and it is a very quick and smooth update process. I have already gotten several updates with the latest being 10/20/06. One thing to note about the updates is that everything gets reset to the original defaults after a firmware update, so you have to change all your settings including the wireless security settings. Also make sure you remember to change all the other setup changes for display type, etc. after any firmware update.

When I threw in the Digital Video Essentials calibration disc, the first thing I noticed was that with the HDMI video connected, and the Toslink optical cable, it had absolutely no hesitation displaying the video over HDMI. There was no delay because of HDCP, which was very nice since some players take more than 3-4 seconds to re-sync when you either connect or change resolutions. It defaulted to a 4:3 letterbox display so that needs to be changed to 16:9 if you have a widescreen TV. It also needs to be changed back to 16:9 if you get any firmware updates too. I thought the latest 10/20/06 update caused problems with aspect ratios after it updated until I eventually remembered that the aspect setting gets reset too.

There are so many resolutions supported by this model that it would almost fill a page just listing them, but all the major (i.e. 480i/p, 720p, 1080I & 1080p) are available on both HDMI and component outputs. It also has 50mhz refresh rates for PAL. Basically, just about ANY resolution you could need is supported.

The video setup adjustments are not as complete compared to my old higher end JVC, which has controls for Gamma, Y/C delay, brightness, contrast, and sharpness. The X3000 has only Brightness, Contrast, & Color Saturation. These adjustments can be accessed by hiting the setup button WHILE a DISC is playing, but requires you to stop the player and then resume from the auto bookmark feature (just hit play after stop) for them to change. I would have liked the changes to take effect right away or at least once you exit out of this mode by hitting setup again.

It also did not have distance & volume settings for each individual speaker like the JVC, which is important to calibrate the analog 5.1 audio (only needed to use the player's built-in decoders) or your receiver cannot adjust each speaker level. If you use your receiver's decoders connected via Optical/Dig. Coax this will not be a problem. They have taken my advice and told me they “We will put this feature in our development plan”.

VIDEO QUALITY - HDMI:
Now for actually playing with the video, I found the picture to be very good, but I did notice that I had to increase the brightness setting about 5%, and lower the contrast setting about 3% as well to give the picture some POP. This model adds the controls to change both of those settings plus Color Saturation and the settings are remembered not only for each output, but also each resolution on each output. This is very important if TV video connections are shared through the receiver or a switch so that no compromises in calibration need to be made for different equipment. This is a very nice feature that ALL video equipment should have, so I think Neodigits deserves kudos for doing it. I was initially disappointed that this player did not display Blacker Than Black (BTB) when I when to the Pluge screen on DVE. After spending some more time I realized that by changing the brightness/contrast with the adjustment controls provided by this unit, instead of the HDTV’s brightness control it did pass BTB. The prior NeuNeo 2085 model reviewed did not allow BTB over HDMI so another thumbs up for Neodigits for correcting that too.

I had no jittering when I advanced from a couple of the test screens on DVE like the prior model NeuNeo 2085 had, and overall the picture was more stable than ANY HDMI/DVI SD DVD player I have tried before this one. Those include the Samsung HD-841, Pioneer 578A, LG 418, & Toshiba SD5980 (the worst). Overall the picture was very good, and it is EASILY the best upscaling picture I have seen yet from a SD DVD player. It was sharp, and good color saturation after you turn the color control up slightly and the brightness up 5% to adjust the brightness/gamma levels.

This leads me to believe the factory sets the gamma/brightness level too low, but luckily they did include player level adjustments. This allows you use a HDMI switcher (or component switcher) like the one in a higher end new receiver, if you are lucky enough to have a receiver with that feature, or with a dedicated switcher for those with only one HDMI input on their HDTV. Having two pieces of equipment with different gamma/brightness levels connected on the same input doesn’t require changing the settings when you switched between them with this unit because it has player level adjustments. VERY NICE!

VIDEO QUALITY - COMPONENT:
One thing that is nice about this player is that when trying to decide which output from the player to use for best PQ, you can leave the HDMI connected when also using the component connection too! This allows you to just change inputs on the TV to see which looks better.

I initially actually liked the component connection a lot better than the HDMI connection BEFORE the latest 10/20/06 update, but when I told them that there was a lot of video noise on the HDMI connection they corrected it with the current firmware update. Now I think the HDMI connection is a little better.

What I noticed was that after the 10/20/06 firmware update the HDMI connection resulted in a rock solid picture with LESS video noise than the component connection. The firmware also corrected another problem I mentioned to them about the HDMI connection shifted the screen about 4 inches to the left of center on my 50” HDTV. Now it is dead center with both connections.

But there is a problem switching between the component and HDMI outputs. The “TV Mode” button toggles each output and each resolution one by one. There appears to be a bug using this, and the alternate way of going into the setup menu to change the output & resolution too. Whenever the change is from HDMI to component or vice-versa, the player hangs and requires it to be shut off and restarted. They have been informed of this and have told me they will fix this with a firmware update and already have a "HDMI organization certified" HDMI code and are ready to put in the next firmware release.

I am really impressed with how they have responded to issues I had with this player and I believe Neodigits is serious about keeping customers happy and providing a high quality product.

VIDEO QUALITY - IN GENERAL:
Both outputs produced about the same PQ with an edge to the HDMI output for a little more video POP, and a slightly sharper image. When running the test video screens from DVE, which I know very well from hours of tweaking, it has very good shadow detail. This was probably because I calibrated each input with DVE before full comparisons of these scenes. It has good black levels when the player’s own video levels are set properly. The picture was sharp and detailed and I noticed some things that I didn't remember seeing with my old dependable higher end JVC. Of the 8 or 9 SD DVD players I have tested so far, this unit has the best PQ I have seen. It even slightly beats out my JVC which had not been beaten by any previous SD DVD players. The only player I have tried that beats this player on SD DVD content is the Toshiba HD-DVD player which is an exceptional upscaling player as well as a true HD-DVD player. It would not be fair to compare this upscaling player with the true HD player, but it is almost as good as the upscaling done by the Toshiba HD-A1. That is no small feat so I would give this X3000 Network Media and DVD player very high marks for PQ.

SOUND QUALITY:
The sound quality was very good with the optical Toslink output. I did not try the built-in DD & DTS decoders, but the optical out was very good. It has the best sound of any of the above previous upscalers I tried. In fact the sound was almost as good as the optical output of the Toshiba HD-DVD player when I used the same Star Wars Episode I disc for comparison. There isn't much to set for sound on this unit other than Stereo, PCM, or Raw 5.1 output.

THE NEGATIVES:
You knew there had to be something in this department since no one can make something that works perfectly, especially for $379.00 with all these new network features and the video improvements they made with this model. I already mentioned the Gamma/brightness being too low (on both outputs) out of the box which happily can be adjusted within the player settings, and the 5-10 second delay for the player to fire up after hitting the power button. Although I saw no Y/C delay they really should add Y/C delay adjustments as well as sharpness, and gamma settings with a firmware update to give you complete control over video at the player level.

There was THREE things that really bothered me about this player:

1. The remote which is no where near as responsive as the prior NeuNeo 2085 model which they are correcting with a new remote.

2. The video screen seemed to lose a few horizontal pixel lines of resolution when using the 720p resolution on both the component and HDMI outputs, which they are investigating.

3. The bug that hung the unit when switching between component and HDMI outputs, which they believe will be resolved with the next firmare update.

All the video testing was done at 1080i output resolution once I noticed the 720p issue early on. I am sure these issues will be fixed with a firmware update based on how responsive they have been thus far, and I have forwarded these issues to Neodigits. With the new remotes having a more powerful IR transmitter in it, this fine product will truly be a joy to use.

SUMMARY
This is a very good DVD player and it has very good PQ and SQ. In fact, it has the best PQ I have seen yet out of 7 or 8 SD DVD players I have played with. I have only started to play with the networking/streaming portions of this player but I will do a “Part 2” post in the near future to discuss that.

There are a couple of minor bugs left that I am sure they will fix with the firmware updates they told me are coming. I think with the mass adoption of Internet access nowadays, most CE products by all companies are getting released sooner in the development cycle because of how fast changes occur, but having easy Internet access built-in this player the update process is very painless even for the average consumer.

Picture quality rating compared to other SD DVD players is 4.5 of 5 stars.

Sound quality rating compared to other SD DVD players is 4.0 of 5 stars.

Usability rating on this player is 3.0 of 5 stars.
(Once they fix the issues with the next firmware/remote I expect this to go to at least a 4.0 of 5 star rating).

Network/streaming features are still to be decided with more work to be done.

Sound would have gotten a higher rating if the speaker level/distance settings were already in place instead of coming in a future firmware update, but this only effects using the players internal decoders through the 5.1 analog outputs. If you plan to use the Toslink/Optical or Digital Coax audio connection then those adjustments would not matter anyway since the receiver would do the decoding and allow for them to be adjusted in the receiver.

I feel comfortable recommending this player just as a DVD player alone, but with the added network streaming that I am still playing with (and will provide a review of this aspect of the player in the future), this is really an innovative product that just plain looks and sounds great! Just make sure you get a 3rd generation remote from them with the more powerful IR transmitter for this player and it will be a joy to use this player.

Hope this review helps!

Last edited by PFC5; 11-22-2006 at 12:38 AM..
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Old 11-22-2006, 08:13 PM   #2  
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Very interesting component, nice thorough review.
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Old 11-23-2006, 02:02 PM   #3  
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Thanks Daleb! Coming from you that is a real compliment.
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Old 11-23-2006, 05:12 PM   #4  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PFC5
Thanks Daleb! Coming from you that is a real compliment.
That's right, because you will not get many from me!! LOL haha

Have a great turkey day!

I am interested in what NeuNeo (as well as Oppo, etc.) has in the area of HD players in the future.
It's amazing you can get some excellently designed components from some of these smaller companies and for less money. I tend to gravitate to the pioneers of the industry vs. the 'common names' when I can.
They generally have some problems at first but great customer service.
One exception would be Brillian and their projection displays. By the time they started lowering the price on their well reviewed displays, all the big names had already jumped the technology for less money.
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Old 12-04-2006, 10:44 PM   #5  
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Thanks for the review. I just purchased the X3000 today and I am looking forward to getting it up and running. I am interested to see what you have to say about the networking and browsing software. I'm not sure how long it will take to ship and arrive but I imagine it may make it by the weekend hopefully. I think their warehouse is in KY.
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Old 12-05-2006, 08:00 AM   #6  
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Did you ask them about the 3rd generation remote? Make sure if you do not get it with the player that they will send you one. As my review said at the end, this 3rd G remote is a must!
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Old 12-14-2006, 05:06 AM   #7  
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Great review!

It's very possitive that issues are being solved with firmware upgrades.

Are there any plans of reviewing the new Helios H4000 HD upscaler?
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Old 12-14-2006, 06:47 PM   #8  
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Thanks for reading it and enjoying it! I am glad you found it informative. I agree that providing updates and supporting a product is always high on my list when I consider a product.

If Neodigits sends me one I would be happy to do a review of the H4000 too. I am very busy right now with work so it would be tight fitting it into my schedule, but I am curious about that player also.
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Old 12-23-2006, 05:39 PM   #9  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PFC5
There was THREE things that really bothered me about this player:
You should have mentioned that the device has a high-speed LG IDE DVD-ROM drive, which makes really loud noise. Normal DVD players have low-speed drives, which generate almost no noise at all. But a similar DVD drive as in PC is VERY noisy. I don't understand why they don't limit the drive's speed or didn't use some low-speed drive.

Maybe I have to open the device and wrap the drive in to some silencing foam ;-)

If I put the device in a cabined behind a glass door the low frequency buzz can still be heard. With this kind of high-quality player the noise is a really big disappointment and totally unacceptable.

The device is very slow to read 3-5Mpx images from a USB memory stick. Probably it has too slow scaling GPU. Also DivX movies don't play well from the USB memory. With PC using the same USB memory the movies are played well. I haven't tested with a USB hard drive.

When displaying pictures from a PC over the 100Mbps LAN connection there is a slow fade-to-black transition effect between pictures. I believe it does not come from the PC server software, but from the device because I changed the server software from Neodigits-server to open-source Wizd and the transition was still there.

I think the transition effect is there because the device cannot display pictures fast enough. I don't understand this because the wizd server software scales the images to a predefined screen resolution before sending them to X3000. I'd like to see the next picture instantly when I click the remote or when the slide show automatically changes the picture. Why can't the device load the next images while I'm watching the current one?

I have send these comments to Neodigits and I really hope these issues will be fixed in next firmware release. Neodigits support is very fast to reply and very helpful.
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