Internet video will soon be the norm rather than the exception, and Sherwood, builder of audio components since 1953, wants to be part of that revolutionary transition. That's why it created the Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx, a powerful 700-watt 7.1-channel A/V receiver with Internet streaming video capabilities built-in. Can it deliver the goods on both audio and Internet video?
Listening to high quality CDs and DVDs, the Sherwood audio heritage became readily apparent, delivering clean sound and plenty of power to all channels. It sounds every bit as good as its 700-watt specification would imply. We also like the three HDMI inputs in the back. You might not need many more than those three HDMI inputs if you're also looking to connect an Internet streaming device, because there's one built into this beautiful, rounded, gleaming white unit. Plug in an Ethernet cable, or use the included Wi-Fi dongle, and you're ready to start streaming video over your home network or from the Internet.
However, we noticed that the on-board streaming capability feels like an afterthought. Even at its best, its resolution is only 720p, and at its worst, its video quality is unwatchable. Some of those resolution and quality shortcomings are no fault of Sherwood's — streaming video is still quite restricted and dumbed-down circa 2010, and the company tells us this is a first version, vowing to improve its quality.
The NetBoxx lets you watch video from YouTube, CinemaNow, and a few others, but the resulting video quality is blocky, pixilated, and plagued by compression artifacts. You'll have better luck with its streaming capabilities using content from your own network, watching video or listening to audio you have on your computer (PC only). Even then, it's still limited to 720p.
You can also connect the receiver to the PlayOn service (for a one-time fee of $40 after the two-week free trial), a server you set up on a network-connected PC, and then stream the video to the NetBoxx. Unfortunately, that video didn't fare much better, not even coming close to doing justice to Amazon Video on Demand, Netflix or Hulu. Is it HD? Not really. You'd be better off using a real PC to receive these video services in your home theater.
The surprise highlight of our testing was the new Dolby Volume capability. Because we like to watch loud, explosion-filled action movies after everyone else has gone to bed, this is an extremely useful tool for keeping the peace in our household. It levels the dynamic range of whatever murderous action movie you're watching, so you can turn the volume down very low and still hear both the loudest and softest passages. It even tones down those obnoxious loud commercials. Wow. Dolby Volume gets a big thumbs up.
The Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx gets a lukewarm response from us. It works well as an A/V receiver, but falls way short as a video streamer. The build quality of the receiver looks good, but the remote control is so flimsy that it failed toward the end of our testing. And, its commands aren't yet available on our trusted Logitech Harmony 900 universal remote. We think it would be best to wait until the next version emerges from Sherwood before you spring for such an all-in-one receiver. Meanwhile, get yourself a much cheaper HDMI-equipped A/V receiver, and connect a home theater PC that does much more than this $481 me-too NetBoxx, for about the same price.
UPDATE: Sherwood sent us replacement remote control today, and after about 10 minutes of use, it locked up just like the first one. Unless this is a coincidence, there is something seriously wrong with the NetBoxx. Without a functioning remote, the receiver is useless. Given this development, we have serious reservations about this product. Do not buy!