Sony Internet Player with Google TV

Sony’s Google box does Web browsing and apps on your TV

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Sony Internet Player with Google TV
  • Sony Internet Player with Google TV
  • Sony Internet Player with Google TV
  • Sony Internet Player with Google TV

Pros

  • Chrome Web browser is very good
  • YouTube and Sony Entertainment Network apps are good

Cons

  • Some localisation issues
  • Google Play library is small and unappealing
  • No popular streaming video on demand services

Bottom Line

Sony's debut Google TV device in Australia is effective at bringing Web browsing to the big screen -- the Chrome browser works very well. The Google Play app store claims thousands of apps, but few are appealing. Some of the best Google TV apps - HBO Go, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video -- aren't available in Australia, so the Sony box's appeal is largely limited to Web browsing and Sony’s video and music services.

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Currently, the Sony Internet Player with Google TV is only sold in a bundle with selected Sony BRAVIA TVs. It is unknown whether it will be sold separately.

Google TV has been around in the States since 2010, and Sony has released half a dozen products with the service built in. The NSZ-GS7, better known as the Sony Internet Player with Google TV, is the first one to reach Australian shores and the first model in a revamped second generation of Google TV products.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV: Design and setup

Google TV aims to bring the interface and app selection from the company’s Android smartphone and tablet operating system to the biggest screen in your house. The idea is one box that lets you browse the Web, and play apps, streaming video and music, and games.

The NSZ-GS7 set-top box is about the size of a paperback novel, measuring 204x130x35mm. It’s a surprisingly solid and heavy box with an attractive glossy black finish on the front and top. Beyond a single white power LED, there are no screens or buttons to speak of — the system is navigated entirely with the bundled remote control.

Around the back, you’ll find some different ports to what you’d expect from a standard media streamer. As well as the standard fare of HDMI output, two USB inputs, power and optical digital audio, there’s also an IR blaster jack — useful if you want to use the Internet Player as a universal remote for controlling your TV or sound system — and a HDMI input.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

Connections at the rear of the Sony Internet Player with Google TV.

The HDMI input is novel in that it’s designed to be used with a digital TV set-top box or personal video recorder — you plug that into the Sony Internet Player, and then watch free-to-air TV through a Sony Internet Player app. This could be useful for anyone that wants to browse the Web while watching TV, but if you don’t use a PVR or set-top box, it’s a redundant feature. In any case, it requires another device to work properly.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

The front face of the Sony Internet Player's remote control.

The bundled remote control is not the only way to control the Sony Internet Player — you can use an Android or iPhone app on your smartphone or tablet — but it’s the best. We were sceptical about such a complicated remote control when we first learned about it, but after a few hours of use it proved itself to be generally effective and useful.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

The rear face of the Sony Internet Player's remote control.

The remote control uses both sides of the traditional candy-bar format, with one side dominated by menu and playback buttons surrounding a multi-touch trackpad, and the other featuring a full QWERTY keyboard with tactile buttons a la Logitech diNovo Mini. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve learned when and where to switch between navigation buttons, the trackpad, and the keyboard, it’s surprisingly easy to use.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV: Features, apps and performance

The Sony Internet Player interface is reminiscent of an Android smartphone, but the interface has been shuffled around to suit a TV screen. The grid layout of apps is easy to navigate, and the Google Play store is reasonably straightforward as well.

After setting up our Sony Internet Player, we were presented with a series of setup steps — fine-tuning screen size, connecting a network, and learning to use the remote control. After that, you’re left at the device’s home screen with a variety of apps including YouTube, Chrome, Video Unlimited and so on.

Before we go any further, we should say that the main appeal of the Sony Internet Player in Australia has to be the Chrome web browser. Used in conjunction with Sony’s double-sided remote control, the full Chrome browser works very well on a big TV screen — it’s easy to read text from a comfortable viewing distance, the browser works quickly and we didn’t have any problems with any pages not loading. Flash is supported, HTML5 works perfectly — the Internet Player is able to load any page that a full PC would be able to. The service integrates well with the YouTube app that’s pre-loaded, as well — if you come across a video you want to watch, it’ll load in the native YouTube app with the full remote control features usable.

The YouTube app is also impressive, as you’d expect from a Google-developed product. As far as we could tell the full library of content was available (a far cry from the limited library on the iPhone), and all the Google account features like playlists and favourites were easy to access.

The Sony Entertainment Network app allows access to the Sony Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. Video Unlimited is Sony’s movie streaming offering — it’s not the best-priced way to watch movies from the Internet, but it’s got a reasonably large catalog of new release and older movies. Expect to pay around $7 for a 48-hour HD movie rental and a dollar or two less for standard definition. Music Unlimited is a streaming music service as you’d expect, with content from Sony’s record label. These two services are useful if you want to listen to an album on your TV or watch a movie without running out to the video store.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

The Sony Internet TV Player and its remote control.

Now, onto some less impressive features. Our test Sony Internet Player with Google TV had a variety of streaming video apps pre-installed like Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon Instant Video. We’re unsure whether these will appear on the production version of the Sony Internet Player in Australia, but we hope not — if they’re unusable in Australia, we would prefer they be blocked off in the Store as well. Google TV’s TV and Movies is also unusable locally.

There’s no access to any local services like ABC iView, SBS On Demand, Quickflix, BigPond Movies on Demand, or any catch-up TV from the commercial networks.

Since these video streaming apps are a big part of Google TV’s overall appeal, this puts a big limitation on the usefulness of the Sony Internet Player. Functionality is limited to the Chrome browser and the variety of apps that are available on the Google Play store, and Sony’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services.

There are some good apps in the Google Play store, like the Boston Big Picture photo blog and Panoramio, but the variety of apps is nowhere near as extensive as you’ll find on an Android smartphone or tablet. The games we saw included Freecell and Solitaire and Gem Miner 2, but we didn’t find anything particularly memorable or appealing. You can add media streaming and Apple AirPlay functionality to the Sony Internet Player with the Plex and Airtight, which does restore some features that are otherwise missing.

The Media Player function of our Sony Internet Player was marked as ‘Coming Soon’, so we weren’t able to test what video or music files the device is capable of playing. There is a Photos app that can read any USB stick that’s plugged in, though — it works well enough for viewing JPEG slideshows.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

The featureless front fascia of the Sony Internet Player.

As it stands, we see the main appeal of the Sony Internet Player being the Google Chrome web browser, YouTube, and Sony’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. Everything else is unappealing, unnecessary or unavailable in Australia. We hope the Australian retail version of the Sony Internet Player has unusable apps blocked off from the Google Play store, and any US-specific features hidden from the device’s home screen.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV: Conclusion

We were both impressed and unimpressed with various aspects of the Sony Internet Player’s performance. The Chrome browser and YouTube are the best we’ve used on a TV, but the app selection and lack thereof are a major problem.

If you want a good Web browser and YouTube viewer on your TV, the Sony Internet Player handles these very well. Sony Entertainment Network music and movies are also workable, although prices are high. For more advanced features, this device is hard to recommend.

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