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Sometimes a new toy appears on the horizon amongst a sea of similar toys which really seems to stand out from the crowd. In a world where hundreds of DVD players are released every year, it really does take something special to stand out and the news that NeoDigits were releasing their X-Line Network Media players caught our eye at DVDActive. NeoDigits have released two X-Line players in their HELIOS range – the X5000 and the X3000. This review will focus on the X3000 with the more expensive X5000 having more audiophile grade components and a chrome facia being the only differences.  

It would almost be easier to list the things this player won’t do than list the full functions nevertheless here goes. The X-Line media players obviously play DVDs and are multi region out of the box so no problems there. They will also play CDs and various types of video file including DivX and XviD file types. It will also display digital photos in certain formats and so can be used to pump holiday snaps onto your TV. Media can either be burnt to CD or DVD (or RW) or even just copied to a USB drive and plugged in. This feature makes quickly displaying photos or upgrading the firmware quite easy indeed! The player’s coup de grace however focuses on its networking side. It will connect to a network via Ethernet or 802.11g wireless. Installing and running the NeoLink server software on a compatible PC will mean the X-Line player can browse and stream music, videos and photos over the network from the PC to the TV in your lounge. Also the device can connect to the internet, check the weather, stream internet radio and TV and even perform firmware updates. Oh, and it also upscales all media to HD resolutions up to 1080p. There is a full list on the manufacturers website but you get the gist of what this bit of kit is capable of.

NeoDigits Helios X3000 Network Media Player

Contents
Inside the box presented with the DVD player was a remote control (batteries are included), HDMI lead, standard video cable (composite with audio), a wireless antenna and a quick start guide. Originally the manual was not included with the device and whether this had anything to do with my comments I cannot be sure, but I am now told that all players shipped will include a manual on CD, as well as the NeoLink software and the quickstart guide. The online version will always be the latest and greatest, but it is nice to hear a version is included now with the retail package. I'd recommend downloading it before purchase to make sure it has all the connections and features you require - you can get it from here.


Aesthetics
What with all the silver equipment pushed on consumers over the last few years, for some it will be a nice change for a return to black. The X3000 doesn’t stand out as being a beautiful machine, perhaps leaving that more to its more expensive brother, the X5000. On the whole it looks like, well, a DVD player. The buttons seem to have been made out of a cheaper plastic when compared to the rest of the facia which is a shame and the USB port stands out a bit like a sore thumb but otherwise no real complaints – the X5000 however addresses these issues. There is a bevel across the middle of the machine which also features across the drawer, navigation buttons and the main power button. I don’t ever leave my equipment in standby mode given the choice and the main power button sticks out when in a powered off state which detracts from the players otherwise calculated lines.

NeoDigits Helios X3000 Network Media Player

Ergonomics
A mixed bag here. I would say to not use the buttons on the front of the player too much. The tactile feedback is not too hot however that isn’t really too much of a problem since most people will just use the remote control anyway. Nice to see that there are mains and standby power buttons on the deck itself and standby on the remote control. Not all devices seem to have a mains power button of late which appears to be a little short sighted and shows the manufacturer here has thought about the product.

There is a warning in the manual about drawer access time. This can be one of my areas for complaint in a DVD player however it is explained as to why it takes so long to open. This range of players bear more resemblance to a Linux based PC than to a pure DVD player and so take about 20 seconds to start up to a point where media can be inserted from a total power off. This can be reduced to around 10 seconds if the player is accessed from standby mode instead. Not the end of the world by a long shot since the reason this is present is so that the player has access to its other wealth of features. Another mild annoyance is that currently when the firmware is updated the device settings are wiped from memory which means the player needs to be connected via composite again so that your chosen video option (in this case HDMI 720p) can be selected and other information such as a WEP key can be inputted again.  This can be a little frustrating at times as WEP codes take a while to enter. However it seems many of the original small bugs are now resolved and so firmware updates will become few and far between.

The remote control is, well, functional. It is not a bad device as they go but its not brilliant either. On the plus side it lights up when a button is pushed which is great in the dark, however if it is dark you would need to press a button in the first place to light it up to see what to press. The layout is not brilliant with the main navigation buttons for movies (play, pause, stop etc) are fairly non descript and the same size so it can be hard to tell which is which without looking at the remote. It does however feel quite good in the hand. Not the heaviest of items, it does have some weight and a convex back in which an index finger can rest when holding it. The buttons are soft to touch and depress easily with the smaller ones feeing tighter around the micro switch below than the larger ones.

The player originally came with a remote which was superseded by a new model with an improved transmitter. This would have been a flaw with the older remote, however this has now been addressed. The new remote is otherwise identical physically and in function to the older one and all newly purchased players will ship with the newer remote.

Whilst we are talking about shipping, it is worth noting that NeoDigits have now setup a distribution network across Europe too including the UK which means DVD players will not have to travel half way around the world in one go, and will also be subjected to rules and regulations from each individual country. This should also improve delivery times – not that there were any real problems there in the first place (mine arrived via courier very quickly).

NeoDigits Helios X3000 Network Media Player   Picture Quality
The tests here were performed using the players top resolution supported by the reviewing equipment – that is 720p via HDMI. The player itself supports 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p and finally 480i. It will upscale via HDMI and via analogue component cables and will support DVI via an adapter. Ultimately I have been quite impressed with the video quality of this player, not just for DVDs, but for other file types either played from disc or streamed via the wireless network. This is where the player has to deliver and the Sigma chipset for the most part does. It isn’t quite as impressive as some of the other chipset performances however this player does a lot more than most. I would say here that whilst not blown away, most will not be disappointed. I don’t rate this quite as good as other upscaling DVD players with the Faroudja DcDi chipset however it is a close run thing and this player offers so much more than most.


Audio Quality
Audio quality is has come to be semi redundant almost now what with many of us using a digital connection to external decoding equipment. In doing this the player functioned as expected with no issues (only the optical digital connection was tested). The player also has an inbuilt decoder and 6 analogue audio outputs. Using basic stereo leads connected directly to the television there were no issues. There is not too much I can say on stereo audio other than it worked. If the player had supported DVD-Audio I would have tested all analogue outputs but since it doesn’t all testing was performed using the optical connection for 5.1 surround sound. The player performed as I expected it to in this instance – easily as good as any other good DVD player I have looked at.


Extra Features
As already covered, the X3000 will play a wide range of compressed video files from either its DVD drive, USB interface or via a wired or wireless network. This makes doing things like punching up photos for the family to see a real breeze. If not on USB or disc, they can be navigated to using the NeoLink PC connection software. File type support is limited however and so JPGs are your best friends here. Perhaps in future other file types will be added via firmware updates as JPGs being a lossy format are certainly not my choice for taking pictures (NeoDigits – NEF format support would be great thanks!).

NeoDigits Helios X3000 Network Media Player

The NeoLink software is installed on a Windows based PC and in the setup, folders are chosen in which your music, photos or films are stored in. Then once connected, it is possible to browse these file types from afar. I found no problems with streaming video, photos and even music. Even with a large music collection the browsing software quickly presented the list of music and now with the latest version of Neolink, even supports FLAC. However a few minor niggles with the interface – for instance when browsing music to select the next page of music you have to be at the bottom of the current page and then press down/right on the remote instead of being able to navigate from the top of this list. I am sure this can easily be addressed however.

A nice feature is that it can access all your bookmarks stored in your web browser making it easy to get to your favourite sites with to be displayed on your TV with minimum effort. However this player was never really designed to do this – the web browsing side was more of a by product it seems of using the players other internet and streaming based features. So the feature is there, but it does not turn your TV into a fully featured web browser. I’ve been asked to stress that whilst this feature is available, it is not a selling point and should not be thought of as so. If you are purchasing a player with a requirement specifically of browsing the internet also, this might not be the one for you.  

There is also a list of internet TV and radio stations and even selected podcasts such as MSNBC Tech Watch and CNN News Update which are available via the media players web interface. Some of the provided channels for TV and radio do not appear to work. I am told that NeoDigits continually review these however so I would expect the non working ones to be fixed/removed at regular intervals.

NeoDigits Helios X3000 Network Media Player

Conclusion
I hope this review sounds as positive as I have found this player to be. The interfaces at times do need work with the highlight cursor not always appearing where you might think, and there is no SHIFT/CAPS LOCK equivalent key for entering such things as network SSIDs which caused a few problems. However these are relatively minor problems (addressable via firmware updates) compared with how the player performed. I have also heard NeoDigits are looking to support even more codecs via firmware updates so even more compatibility is to come for these X-Line machines. I did not have to reboot the machine once throughout my time with it which especially when we recall it is more of a PC than a standalone DVD player, is a testament to its stability especially in comparisson with similar devices.

The wireless/wired networking side of this player really feels like it opens up home cinema usage and for me personally, was quite a revelation in the features it allowed me to access. NeoDigits appear to be building this “online portal” for their players to access and I will say that its not there fully yet, but I can see what they are trying to achieve and it is an ambitious project which will be very flash once finished.

The remote control isn’t the best out there but it also isn’t the worst by a long shot. Perhaps future models will address this but for the moment; I think NeoDigits will be proud of their latest product line. It’s about time DVD players really started pulling their weight and this one really does!  


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