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08/20/2012

Review: Sony Internet Player with Google TV a welcome addition to the living room

Google_sony_tvFor years we’ve heard how the Internet is going to revolutionize TV, and we’ll be able to watch web content straight on our TV without any fuss.

That,for the most part, has been false. Getting the Internet to look and work well on a gigantic screen has been a challenge, one that perhaps Apple hasn’t yet mastered.

So it was with cautious optimism that I fired up Sony’s new Internet player powered by Google TV, technically known as the NSZ-GS7.

The unit, about the size of an old VHS tape, looks sleek and stylish near your TV. Have an existing cable or satellite set-top box? Plug the HDMI cable from it into the Sony TV for live TV pass-through, which lets users brows the web, update Twitter or check IMDB while watching your “normal” TV programming.

You can also use the IR blaster to control your cable box with the Sony remote – and you should ditch all other remotes for this one.

On one side is a mini QWERTY keyboard, and on the other is a slick little clickable trackpad with a directional selection button. Then you’ve got practically any other button you could want on a remote.

You can also control your existing Sony TV with this remote out of the box, and on newer TVs, the remote can control the set over the HDMI cable. And change the channel or adjust the volume using cleverly hidden rocker buttons along the side.

While the Apple TV remote is painfully simple, the Sony remote knocks it out of the park.

You could also use your Android smartphone as the remote control – but the provided one works great.

The Sony unit can connect to the web using either an Ethernet cable or over Wi-Fi. There are also two USB ports for storage drives, and 4 GB of available on-board storage space.

Running the latest version of Google’s Android-based TV OS, you can download and install a healthy selection of apps that are designed specifically for use with a TV. The ecosystem isn’t big (yet), but the basics are all out there. You can download everything from third-party media players to dedicated ‘channel’ apps, like the TVO or NFB apps.

Brows the web using Chrome, or use the search function to find whatever it is you’re looking for, whether it’s a video on the web or a song stored locally.

Using the web browser, you can visit the websites of traditional broadcaster and then play your favourite shows on the TV, on demand. No need to be hunched over a laptop on the couch, now you can just sit back and watch it the way it was meant. 

Since this Google TV device is from Sony, there’s access to the Sony Entertainment Network for music and movies.

But the key here, and the advantage this has over Apple’s offering, is that it comes to us with open arms, willing to play whatever file format you throw at it.

From .AVI videos to .MKV files downloaded from potentially dubious sources, this thing can play it.

I did, occasionally, have trouble playing a couple of video files but they were either laced with DTS audio or encoded in a way the NSZ-GS7 couldn’t play back.

For $199, the Sony Internet Player with Google TV is a little pricier than its competitors, but it can handle so much more. 

- Maurice Cacho, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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