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NeoDigits Helios X5000 Review

Highs

  • Exceptional audio performance; firmware upgradeable; attractive; versatile

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 5

Lows

  • Does not support SACD or DVD Audio; poor remote response; slow boot times
If you are in the market for a high-end media streamer or server, we think you should give the Helios X5000 a try.

Summary

The NeoDigits X5000 DVD player outsmarts the competition by adding media streaming capabilities through either WiFi or Ethernet. That’s right, this DVD player will not only play your favorite DVDs, but it will also wirelessly connect to your home PC to play movies and music through your home theater. Now this is not really something new in theory, there have been other DVD players that do this (KiSS, Gateway), but the NeoDigits X5000 has some features that differentiate it from the others; audiophile circuitry. The X5000 has a sticker price of just $599. Read our full review here.

Design and Features

There are always the manufacturers that decide to wait and see how a new technology unfolds before putting all of their cards into the pot. With Blu-Ray and HD DVD still waiting to shake out a winner (HD DVD is looking to be ahead for now) there are companies like NeoDigits, Oppo Digital and even Denon and Yamaha that are waiting to see which technology is likely to win the race. So what do you do in the interim? Build on what is already available, for an affordable price.

Case in point is the Neo Digits X5000, a DVD player that doubles as a media streamer. Now as we have mentioned, the concept is nothing new and although only a handful of companies have attempted a DVD player that streams music and video, the idea really has not caught on; anything related to a PC is always complicated and can be hard to sell. The X5000 has another appealing aspect that really does separate it from the other players, the inclusion of a Wolfson DAC and BurrBrown OpAmp; two components normally associated with mid-range audiophile equipment. So even if you are not excited by the media streaming capabilities of the X5000, you might be turned on by its audiophile prowess.

The X5000 is a fairly attractive system thanks in part to its aluminum front panel, metal case and gold-plated jacks. The buttons on the front faceplate tell another story though; they feel like buttons found on computer chassis rather than a home theater component. The remote control, although backlit, lacks the same refined look as the X5000. The only positive about the remote is that the buttons are easy to read. A lot of these smaller DVD player manufacturers appear to have a tough time finding an aesthetically pleasing remote control.

NeoDigits X5000
Image Courtesy of NeoDigits

The back of the X5000 reveals a plethora of inputs and outputs. You have the option of using either composite, S-Video, component video or HDMI video outputs, although the HDMI connection is the only one that will give you 1080p playback. The system also gives you the option of both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs. There are two USB ports on the X5000, one on the right side of the case, and one in the rear. This allows you to plug a thumb drive into the player directly for picture viewing. There are two network connections to choose from when connecting the X5000 to your home network; the integrated WiFi 802.11b/g or 10/100 Ethernet connection.

X5000
Image Courtesy of NeoDigits

When it comes to movie playback, the X5000 will upscale DVD’s to 720p, 1080i and 1080p using the HDMI output connection. The system can also playback video encoded in MPEG 1/2/4, DivX 3.11/4/5, DivX 6/HD, Xvid HD, WMV 9/HD, VOB, and TS; basically any popular video codec.

On the audio front, the X5000 supports WMA/ WMA Pro, MP3, MPEG/MPEG2, FLAC, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis. Now since the X5000 is a streamer and not an audio bridge, it will not support DRM protected content such as iTunes media for example.

So what makes this a good system for playing your favorite music? Well besides the Wolfson DAC and BurrBrown OpAmp, the X5000 comes with a professional audio grade capacitor, R-core linear power supply and gold-plated jacks.

Also worth mentioning is the lack of support for Super Audio CD and DVD Audio. Apple users will also not be able to use the X5000 system since it solely supports Windows (please read the requirements on the specifications page).

Included with the X5000 is an HDMI cable (5 Ft.), wireless antenna, RCA cables, backlight remote control with batteries, and their quick start guide.

Setup and Use

One of the biggest pet peeves we have is an incomplete instruction manual. NeoDigits includes a glossy fold-out Setup Guide that explains the setup process in 15 “simple” steps. This guide walks you through connecting the X5000 to your TV, installing the Helios NeoLink software on your PC and connecting the X5000 player to your home network. Sounds simple in theory, but as you probably already know, connecting anything to your PC through a network is not always easy to do. NeoDigits does include a 36 page detailed instruction manual in the form of a PDF file on the included CD, but a physical manual would have been our preference.

The Helios NeoLink software is a very basic program that essentially categorizes your media content into specific folders such as music, audio, and photos. Then when you plan to play the media file through the X5000 player, you just browse the folder you want on your PC and it will stream the content over to your PC. You also have the option of subscribing to RSS feeds, podcasts and even book marking your favorite websites for web browsing through your TV. If you have multiple PC’s in your house, you can install the NeoLink software on every PC and stream content from them as well; you are not bound to just a single computer. The X5000 is firmware upgradeable using your internet connection, so make sure you have the latest firmware upon the initial setup.

NeoLink Welcome Screen

NeoLink Music Screen NeoLink Picture Album

You have to have a small degree of tech-saviness when configuring the X5000 for first time use. This means knowing what screen resolution your TV supports and setting up the X5000 accordingly. If you choose a display mode in the setup menu that your TV does not support, the screen will distort. Wait 30 seconds and hit the <video modes> button the remote until you get a clear picture. You will also need your home network SSID and pass code if it is encrypted. Full setup time should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Boot up time on the X5000 is excruciatingly slow; expect to wait about 15 to 20 seconds at the very least before playing your content.

Setup and Use Part 2

For our tests we used the following hardware:

Onkyo TX-SR702 receiver
Hitachi 42HDT51
Axiom Audio Epic 50 Speaker System

One of the biggest problems facing media streamers is codec compatibility. The kicker is finding a media streamer that supports the same codec you use to encode your movies or music on your PC. The X5000 seems to have that basis covered for the most part, at least on paper. As we mentioned before, the X5000 will not be able to stream DRM protected media from your PC, instead you will have to burn the music or movie to CD or DVD and then play it through the system directly as opposed to through the software side. Some people may have an issue with this.

X5000 Remote ControlAudio files streaming from our PC sounded great on the X5000 thanks in part to its Wolfson DAC. We did not experience any drop-outs or interference using the WiFi connection either. The X5000 was able to play back all promised audio file formats without a hitch. The NeoLink interface on the player will not necessarily display all of the song or tag information correctly, and it’s definitely not as pretty to look at as other streamers, but it gets the job done here. The X5000 does not support either SACD or DVD Audio, and we think that support for either one should be expected here, especially since the X5000 is directly targeting audiophiles.

We were able to stream most video files with the exception to a few scenarios’. Some DivX encoded movies would not stream to the player directly, but were able to be played off of a DVD or CD. This could be due in part to their large size. The X5000 would act like it was about to play the file, then simply stopped with an error message. We did not encounter this issue as often when connected to the Ethernet connection, so it appears to be a buffering issue with the WiFi.

Video playback from DVD is good and if you have a 1080p capable TV, it should look at its best. We are big fans of the DCDi chip from Faroudja, but the Sigma Design chip used in the X5000 does a decent job with minimal jaggies on some video content. This can be argued, but the video side of the X5000 is not the player’s strongest attribute. We are also currently reviewing the Oppo Digital DV-981HD DVD player and feel it produces a better picture. We would love to hear what you think about the X5000’s video capabilities in our user review section, or our message boards.

The remote control has some real issues to contend with. First of all we experienced very poor reception within acceptable distances (10-15 feet) in addition to a 2-3 second lag between when the button on the remote was pressed and the players response. This is something they will need to work on.

Conclusion

Our take is that if you are in the market for a high-end media streamer or server, we think you should give the Helios X5000 a try. Not only does the X5000 sound great, but it plays digital and DVD video. You would be hard pressed to find a media streamer that does that for fewer than $600 bucks. The X5000 is not without its faults and you should expect to spend sometime fine tuning its settings, you will also need to be patient with it’s boot times. Remember, the X5000 should be treated as one part PC and one part DVD player.

Pros:

• Audiophile components
• Firmware upgradeable
• Supports multiple audio and video types
• Backlit remote control
• Attractive looking

Cons:

• Has trouble streaming larger files
• Software interface and player is amateurish
• Remote control looks and feels cheap
• Poor infrared reception and response
• No physical manual, it’s in PDF form on the included CD
• Does not support SACD or DVD Audio