Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx Review

sherwood r 904n netboxx review r904n

Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx

“Sherwood’s Web-savvy R-904N NetBoxx receiver oozes features, but frustrating snags at every turn keep it from reaching its potential.”
  • Excellent 7.1 surround sound
  • Wired and wireless networking
  • Entertainment from around the world
  • Support for second listening area
  • Front panel has many blinding blue LEDs
  • No love for Mac & Linux
  • $40 fee to stream video via PlayOn
  • Horrible image quality for Netflix, Hulu and other web-based video
  • Possible quality control issues
  • No support for Pandora
sherwood r 904n netboxx review r904n

Introduction

With all of these Blu-ray players and HDTVs pulling double-duty, it would only make sense that streaming media would trickle down to other components in your mix. Although many might consider a new receiver to be an afterthought, it’s hard not to notice Sherwood’s R-904N NetBoxx. This slick, super receiver delivers decoding for all of the latest and greatest audio formats, while also adding streaming media into its mix of tricks.

Out of the Box

Sherwood might not be the first name you think of when considering a new receiver. It’s probably not even the third name. However, for what they lack in brand recognition and retail displays, they are making up for with features in the NetBoxx.

To look at this unit is to know that Sherwood certainly isn’t messing around. At 17 by 2.88 by 12 inches, this unit is slightly bulkier than a Blu-ray player, but pretty sharp looking in a glossy black (it also comes in white) with sleek, curved edges. Blinding blue LEDs illuminate from the front, highlighting manual controls for power, standby, audio and video inputs, surround sound and stereo modes, and volume. There are also jacks for USB devices, headphones, an auxiliary device, and the included setup microphone.

sherwood r 904n netboxx review r904n

The back of the unit is a playground for A/V geeks, featuring three HDMI inputs, another USB slot, a network Ethernet connection, and plenty of component, composite, digital audio and optical ports for all of your A/V goodies to join the party – even in different rooms. That’s right; aside from the 7.1 speakers you could be rocking in your main listening area, the R-904N also has two jacks that can play a different source in another area of the house.

Features

If you told us there was a cotton-candy button on the side of the NetBoxx, it wouldn’t be a big surprise. This unit does its best to do it all. First and foremost, though, it’s a receiver. For A/V processing, the company called upon Texas Instruments – three times. The unit includes two 32-bit digital signal processors (DA787 and D788) for audio and the TMS320DM6446 digital media processor for video.

Aside from being the hub for your A/V goodies, the NetBoxx packs in web goodness for an endless source of entertainment. The unit not only snags audio and video from your home computer, but can tap into CinemaNow, YouTube, TV channels, SHOUTcast web radio, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Rhapsody, and other outlets. Oh yeah, it also does FM radio, too

For the web stuff, you can use the Ethernet connection on the back of the NetBoxx. Sherwood was also kind enough to include a USB Wi-Fi adapter for wireless users which is pretty amazing.

sherwood r 904n netboxx review r904nPerformance

This box wasn’t giving up a review without a fight – and it wasn’t pretty. We received two units during this process. The first kept clicking into standby mode, with no plans to come out. The replacement unit came with a defective remote. We didn’t care so much about getting off the couch or the permanent thumb imprint it caused, but the NetBoxx needs that remote for many of its functions. Now we see why it’s important to buy from a reputable dealer; that warranty may come in handy.

Despite the problems, we were able to get through all of the NetBoxx’s features. One area we could not complain about was audio performance. The unit takes a tight grip on speaker wires and cranks out audio beautifully. It helps that the unit comes with a microphone to help configure the best sound possible. We used B&W and Klipsch speakers, as well as a Samsung Blu-ray player, a Nintendo Wii, and our Dish Network VIP622 DVR for testing purposes.

We were extremely pleased with the power that the NetBoxx pumped into our current setup. Everything sounded great, most notably during some of the Olympic programming and on our Blu-ray movies. Each piece we used to test sound seemed to ooze with crisp, impressive detail.

Next up was Sherwood’s VuNow service, which is where they’ve stashed the extra AV goodies. Logging into the service treated us to a nice aerial shot and musical interlude while channels were loading. From there, we were given a menu, which includes My Collection, YouTube, Popular Websites, Video Search, Movies, Internet TV & Radio and Settings.

Sadly, what was to come was a lot of heartache. Let’s start with the obvious. First, we tried YouTube. Of course, the video wasn’t great and the audio didn’t always match up with the video, but that’s the magic of YouTube. The guys at Sherwood aren’t magicians and we only expected the original source to match what we would get on the big screen. That said, this unit delivered one of the more user-friendly YouTube interfaces we’ve seen.

The same could be said for Internet TV & Radio. This selection provides hundreds of options from all around the world. However, not every option was available at any given time. Still, we had more than enough selections to choose from. We did have issues with buffering and choppy video. Oh — and none of it is in HD. That said, it was still pretty cool to watch a few minutes of news in Greenville, South Carolina, then switch to EuroSport News, then to KTV2 in Kuwait, all from the comfort of the couch.

sherwood r 904n netboxx review r904n

Next, we took a peek at our movie selection. We’ve seen a lot of set-tops trying to incorporate movie choices. However, we’ve never seen any of these choices. Under the Movie menu, we clicked on the popular CinemaNow service to uncover some of the least popular movies we’ve ever seen. Freeway Killer? Impy’s Island? Godzilla? All of these are more unknown titles were listed under the Most Popular heading.

My Collection is where most of the movie magic happens. However, it might be easier to make an actual rabbit come out of your hat than get that video going. To receive video from services such as Hulu, Netflix, CBS and others, you will need to install PlayOn on your home PC. That service is free for 14 days. Once you’re hooked, you’ll need to play $40 to keep the system streaming. It’s a one-time fee (although you’ll need a subscription for Netflix). We downloaded and frantically searched, but were told that we needed to reinstall Silverlight for Netflix and Flash for Hulu.

Both were hardly worth the effort. Going in, you can guess the quality of YouTube and other web video. However, Netflix was almost unwatchable. About 2 minutes into the pilot episode of 30 Rock, our screen froze. We restarted the video three times, only to have the picture go black in the same spot. We switched over to the 1995 movie Clueless and then to Hulu. Again, we lost video within a minute of the start time. The next day, we got semi-better results. The blackouts were gone, but the image quality was still poor and sort of choppy.

Conclusion

All of the little extras are cool, but are they $650 worth of cool? Probably not. Still, this is a receiver first and foremost and Sherwood won’t disappoint anyone with its audio capabilities. We would have no problem shelling out the money to make this our receiver. However, the web extras are more frustrating than fun.

Highs:

  • Excellent 7.1 surround sound
  • Wired and wireless networking
  • Entertainment from around the world
  • Support for second listening area

Lows:

  • Front panel has many blinding blue LEDs
  • No love for Mac & Linux
  • $40 fee to stream video via PlayOn
  • Horrible image quality for Netflix, Hulu and other web-based video
  • Possible quality control issues
  • No support for Pandora