Sherwood R-904N Netboxx Review
7.1 Channel A/V Receiver, $650
Let's begin with the basics. The Sherwood R-904N Netboxx is a very good 7.1 channel (110W per) A/V receiver.
Now add that it supplies three HDMI 1.3 inputs (and one output) and Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoders and it becomes a great media hub for Blu-ray players, game consoles and set-top boxes.
Finally, true to its name, the Netboxx allows you to access a wide array of web content without being connected to a computer. Simply plug in this Swiss army knife of an A/V receiver into an Internet connection, (either wired or wireless), and the built-in VuNow technology can stream a flood of programming directly to your HDTV.
Sherwood's DS-10 iPod dock
About the only thing missing on this unit is a direct connection for an iPod or iPhone. Though Sherwood does offer the DS-10 iPod dock, (about $70 street price), that you can attach and operate with the Netboxx's remote control.
Nowadays, connectivity has become a buzzword in the consumer electronics industry. With Internet apps popping up on new TVs and Blu-ray players, you have plenty of options if you want to stream content onto your HDTV from Internet providers like YouTube, Netflix or Pandora.
Since many of these devices offer similar web programming links, which you choose as your connectivity center is often the case of where you are in your refresh cycle.
If your A/V receiver is the next piece of home theater equipment that you plan on purchasing, then the Sherwood Netboxx would make a good connectivity candidate because it provides the largest selection of Internet providers that I have seen.
Out of the Box
The stylish curved edge design of the Sherwood R-904N is a welcome relief from the traditional big black box A/V receivers that you are glad to hide away.
It would be a shame to seclude this sleek sinuous seductive ebony beauty. If your room's color palette is lighter, Sherwood also makes a white version that, except for the cool blue light accent, would almost disappear on a white bookshelf.
On the front are the operational buttons, all of which are replicated on the remote control. On the left, next to the Power/Standby button, lies the Speaker, Video Input and Audio Input buttons.
On the right, a touch sensitive panel includes controls to change the Surround Modes and to raise and lower the Volume. Below the panel are three stereo mini-jacks, a Headphone, a Front Aux In (for attaching MP3 type players), and a Setup Mic In (for the Room EQ setup that I will discuss later).
Also a little pullout tab reveals a USB port. There is a second one on the back panel. Either can be used to connect a USB flash drive to play video or music files or to download rented videos from the VuNow service.
Sherwood also supplies a VuNow USB wireless adapter that you can plug in to either USB plug for a wireless internet connection.
On the back of the unit, the Sherwood designers have filled almost every square centimeter with a connection of some type or another. Starting from the upper left corner, you can plug in the supplied FM indoor wire antenna into the first connector.
Next are three HDMI inputs and one Output, allowing you to switch between three high definition video sources like a Blu-ray player, a set-top box and a game console.
Below those HDMIs are three Digital Audio inputs (two Coaxial and one Optical). The one DIGILINK-i jack attaches to the Sherwood iPod dock and allows you to control the iPod with the Netboxx's remote control. Also in this group is a Subwoofer Pre out.
Moving up and to the right is the other USB port and the LAN connector. Adjacent are three stereo sets of Audio ins and outs for devices like CD players and iPods. Notice that this receiver does not provide a set of six analog Audio ins, which could accommodate a Blu-ray player that has 5.1 analog outs.
The panel includes two Component Video ins and two Composite Video ins alongside one Component Video out and one Composite Video output.
Finally come the speaker connections, Front (L/R), Surround (L/R), and Center. To round out the 7.1 channel system are Surround Back (L/R) plugs.
If you opt for 5.1 arrangement, these last two terminals can be used for a separate pair of Speaker B speakers that can be placed in another room to listen to stereo playback.
The Netboxx does not convert Component Video inputs to HDMI outs nor vice versa. Simply if you feed the receiver a Component Video signal, you will have to run it out to your TV through the Component Video output.
Also, the receiver only tunes in FM stations and not AM. It also does not have a connection for Sirius satellite radio.
As is the custom with these A/V receivers, their remotes are full of little buttons with even littler labels. This Sherwood remote is non-backlit, which makes it even more difficult to read the labels in low light.
Unless you are a remote savant, I suggest that you peruse the manual before setting off on exploring all of the features.
The major attraction of this Netboxx is Verismo Networks' VuNow technology that is integrated into the unit. VuNow is the brains of the system that connects to the Internet and organizes all of the content making it easy for you to access it.
Click on the VuNow button on the remote and the interface loads. It takes a minute or two. (Do a few push-ups while you're waiting. You know you need the exercise.)
Don't expect to see a standard web browser. The initial menu is rather stark looking. But as you page through the VuNow categories, you'll soon discover an amazing array of sites and programs.
For example, in the Internet TV section, VuNow has amassed links to streaming TV sites from literally around the world with shows in a Babel-like range of languages.
Of course, you have access to sites like YouTube, CinemaNow and SHOUTcast Internet radio. If you purchase MediaMall Technologies' PlayOn media server (a life time subscription is $39.95), NetBoxx can play content from additional sources including, Hulu, Netflix (requires a paid subscription), CBS, CNN, ESPN and Amazon Video On Demand (you pay on their normal per rental or purchase basis).
In addition, you can directly access photos, video and audio files stored on your home network. I will discuss how well all this technology performs later.
The EPA is now publishing a list of ENERGY STAR qualified TVs. (You can find it here.) And they are finalizing the Version 2.0 ENERGY STAR Audio/Video specification, which includes devices like Blu-ray players and A/V receivers.
To measure power, we hooked the R-904N Netboxx up to our watt meter, called Watts up? Pro, and took a reading during playback of a Blu-ray disc and another with the unit turned off.
When the receiver was turned on, but not playing anything, the meter stayed in the 37W range. During playback, the meter reflected the volume setting and the content. At a volume of 39 (out of 100), the meter stayed in that 38W range, which is on par with receivers like this.
When I cranked up the volume to 50, the power rating rose to around 41W as K.D. Lang sang "Hallelujah."
Remember that these readings are unofficial. And I was only running a 5.1 surround system. I could imagine that a 7.1 configuration with larger speakers would require more juice.
I was pleased to see that when I turned the Netboxx to Standby, the meter dropped quickly to 0W and then occasionally blipped up to .1 or .2W. This low standby power rating is important since this receiver will be off for a majority of the time and it doesn't need to suck extra energy while it's resting.
Setting the Netboxx up is a two pronged process. First, after you plug in all your cables and place your speakers in the room, you should adjust your surround sound.
Sherwood calls their system, Room EQ (equalization). You plug in the provided microphone into the Setup Mic input on the front of the receiver and place it where you will be sitting.
This procedure is started by one touch of the remote and then automatically runs through the steps of adjusting each speaker. Luckily, it is a painless operation because all the information is conveyed by reading the single line readout on the receiver's display.
The readout is easy to see but I would prefer if I could view the receiver's multi-line menu on my TV. I searched through the manual but never found a way to do this.
I cannot really expound further on specific settings since your configuration of devices and speakers may be so divergent from mine, that it is hard to generalize.
The second phase of bringing the Netboxx up to speed deals with the VuNow features. Once again, this process is straightforward and nearly automatic.
The technology only works through an HDMI or Composite connection, not through Component. Obviously your best choice is HDMI because you get the benefit of high definition resolution. Though VuNow's maximum video playback resolution is 720p.
The first time you access VuNow, you will set up your network connection through the Network Wizard. Unless you have a special system, the whole shebang is over in a few clicks of the button.
You can even test your system's download speed. Sherwood recommends 768 kbps or more. I would emphasize the "more" part and say that at least 2.5Mbps. Actually, over 10Mbps would give you a little breathing room for future high bandwidth applications.
VuNow is a wide ranging feature that is worth exploring and learning. I suggest that you read the 14 pages about it in the manual and set aside some time to become familiar with it.
Considering where Sherwood places the R-904N in their lineup of receivers, I wouldn't call it state of the art, especially when comparing audio and video technologies.
Sherwood has announced or released models with better video processing chips or audio amplifiers, but the R-904N has plenty of muscle to support all but the high end home theater systems.
The real allure of the Netboxx - and what sets it apart from other receivers - is its connectivity. Next to a computer, I have not experienced another piece of equipment, whether an A/V receiver, a set-top box, a Blu-ray player, an HDTV or a stand-alone device, that offers this many Internet content providers.
I guess I should qualify that statement by saying that Verismo Networks does sell standard definition and hi-def stand-alone VuNow Pod devices.
Beyond the amount of content, the VuNow interface on the Netboxx is the most responsive that I have had the pleasure to use. Often on other Internet app equipment, when you make a selection, the response is quite slowpokey.
With that said, I would love to see a couple of improvements in the Netboxx's delivery of web content.
First, as I mentioned, the highest video playback resolution through the VuNow interface is 720p. Now, I realize that we are lucky if web video is even 480p and that pushing it to 720 is often an unsightly stretch. But higher resolution video on the Internet is inevitable. We are seeing some movie streaming sites offering it now.
Also, when I was sampling different Internet TV sites, I received this message more than I would like. For example, I curious to see and hear what TV Bratislava was streaming and then was disappointed by "the stream has stopped..."
I had a similar experience in the Popular Websites category. When I chose The Onion site, I saw "This channel is under maintenance. Will be back soon."
I haven't played with the Netboxx long enough to get a sense for how often or how long these sites are down on VuNow, but I encountered more "not available" messages than I would like.
At less than the MSRP of $650 for the Netboxx, you can buy a comparably powered A/V receiver. Or, if you already own a receiver that you like and want the VuNow Internet connectivity capabilities, you could purchase the $179 Hi-def VuNow Pod from Verismo Networks.
But if you are itching to upgrade your receiver (to add HDMI switching or HD Audio for Blu-ray, for example) and don't already have an Internet app device, then Netboxx's combination of features make it a compelling value.
The Sherwood R-904N Netboxx is an elegant, all-in-one package. This 7.1 channel A/V receiver can act as the hub of your home media network by converging Internet content, Blu-ray movies, and broadcast TV and displaying it all on your HDTV.