Two years in and Google TV is still trying to find its footing in an entertainment ecosystem that already offers simple, easy-to-set-up access to online services, either through connected HDTVs and Blu-ray players or dedicated media hubs like the Roku LTand the Apple TV. To date, Google TV offers much more functionality than any of those solutions, but it does so at the expense of polish and ease of use.
Sony has tried to make the experience as sleek as can be with the Internet Player with Google TV NSZ-GS7, a new Google TV box with a well-designed remote control, plenty of features, and a reasonable $149.99 (direct) price tag. It’s a top choice if you want power and functionality in your home theater, even if other, less-expensive media hubs offer smoother viewing experiences.
Sony’s sleek, black aesthetic extends to the NSZ-GS7. It’s rectangular, black, glossy, and slightly curved, with nothing distinguishing the box except for a Sony logo on its top. The back of the NSZ-GS7 holds an HDMI input for your cable or satellite box, an HDMI output for your HDTV, two USB ports, an optical audio output, and an Ethernet connection if you don’t want to use the built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. Nearly every function requires a network connection, so you’ll have to use either Wi-Fi or Ethernet to get any functionality out of it.
The included remote is sleek and comfortable, with one side for navigating with a touchpad and conventional remote buttons, and one side for typing with a QWERTY keyboard. The touchpad side of the remote is dominated by the aforementioned 2.7-inch touchpad, which physically clicks when you want to select something on the screen. It’s flanked by TV controls and a navigation pad on the top, and playback controls and four color buttons below, all of which take second stage to the touchpad. The navigation pad is flat and slightly awkward to feel for blindly, but it’s still functional for navigating menus without an onscreen pointer. The other side of the remote is a QWERTY keyboard with a row of numbers on top. A function button turns half of the keys into menu and playback control buttons, letting you change settings without flipping the remote back over. Finally, Volume Up/Down, Channel Up/Down, and Mute buttons reside on the side of the remote, easily accessible with your thumb.
Google TV Features
The NSZ-GS7 uses the same conventional Google TV interface we’ve seen in previous Sony Google TV products and the Logitech Revue. The menu system is based on Android, with an overlay that lets you watch the active video source while navigating menus. Pressing the Home button brings up a menu bar with commonly used functions like Apps, TV, and the Chrome browser; from there, you can access any app or service available on the device.
Because it’s Android-based, the NSZ-GS7 can access Google Play, which includes thousands of apps. Not all Android apps are compatible with Google TV, though the Google Play store points you to the Google TV-friendly apps. But Google TV has the same problem as Android; the ecosystem isn’t regulated, so it’s easy to get lost in the massive selection of mostly mediocre apps. The selection is worthwhile if you can force yourself to sift through all the options, though. That’s the line where you have to weigh functionality against polish. Accessing your media on an Apple TV or Roku LT is fairly effortless, with choices generally limited to the useful and functional. Opening the selection up to an entire app store filled with apps that include the mediocre and untested means actually accessing all of the services you want can feel like a chore. It’s a worthwhile chore if you’re willing to work for it, but most people don’t want to pore through their media hub to access the most useful features.
For online services, the NSZ-GS7 offers a wide variety of selections. You can access all the standards like Netflix and Hulu Plus, you can browse Google Play’s music and movie library and rent or buy videos, and you can access the Sony Entertainment Network service, which includes its own Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited libraries.
Of course, the NSZ-GS7 has a functional Chrome Web browser like all Google TV boxes. Web pages are easy to find and navigate with the remote’s touchpad and QWERTY keyboard, and the browser renders everything accurately, as if it was a desktop computer. It doesn’t support many multimedia features, and Flash-heavy sites like blip.tv and Kongregate won’t load properly or let you watch their videos or play their games. However, for news browsing and general Web surfing, Google TV offers an experience that’s far nicer than the Web browsers built into some HDTVs and Blu-ray players, and is completely lacking in media hubs like the Apple TV and Roku LT.
You can program the NSZ-GS7′s remote to control your HDTV and cable or satellite box easily by entering the manufacturer of the device and performing a few basic tests to find the right remote control signal. Once you do that, you can integrate Google TV into your TV watching. The Live TV function passes through all video from the HDMI input, and the remote lets you navigate your cable or satellite box’s program guide and DVR features as easily as the Google TV menus.
Two years after Google launched Google TV, it still lags behind Apple and Roku’s media hubs. The Sony Internet Player is an affordable and attractive upgrade over Sony’s previous Google TV products, but it’s still limited by Google TV’s design quirks and massive sea of apps. Considering it’s a $150 box that lets you access online media services, the Web, apps, and use a touchpad and QWERTY keyboard to navigate Web pages and enter text like a computer, it offers a lot of functionality despite its limitations. It’s $50 more than the Vizio Co-Star, but the sleeker design and more comfortable remote, along with the access to Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services, make it a better choice. If you want to game on a budget, though, the Vizio Co-Star supports OnLive and the OnLive Wireless Controller, which adds a console-like gaming aspect to the device.
Here’s the thing, though: Neither Google TV device offers the polish and experience of the admittedly less functional Apple TV, which remains our Editors’ Choice by offering a highly curated, nearly flawless media experience—and that’s despite lacking the expandability of apps. Google TV offers a lot of functionality, but it’s still a clunky system you need to be dedicated to slog through. If you just want a device to access a few popular online services, a large media library, and your own media (including content on your iOS device through AirPlay), the Apple TV is still the way to go. But if Google TV’s added power and flexibility appeal to you, the Sony Internet Player with Google TV NSZ-GS7 is a top choice.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc