Sony LCDs build in Google TV, cost $599 and up

Sony's much-anticipated series of LCD TVs is the first of its kind to build the Google TV service into a television. The NSX-GT1 series starts at $599 for the 24-inch model.

Sony NSX-GT1 series of TVs is the first to incorporate Google TV. Sony Electronics

Today Sony announced full details on its NSX-GT1 line of LCD TVs and its NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player, the first products of their kind equipped with the Google TV service.

The TVs range in size from 24-46 inches, in estimated selling price from $599 to $1,399, and will ship starting October 16 (preorders available now at Sonystyle.com and Best Buy.com). The Blu-ray player is available at the same time for $399.

Sony's NSZ-GT1 Google TV-equipped Blu-ray player. Sony

The promise of Google TVs is to integrate all available video content--regardless of whether it comes from cable, satellite, antenna, or the Internet (like Netflix or YouTube)--onto one screen that you can search as easily as Google.com searches the Web. The Sony TVs and Blu-ray player come with a special remote control with a keyboard, can control other devices in your AV system, and even enable you to surf the entire Web with a built-in Chrome browser. Aside from actually hooking a PC to your TV, it's the closest you likely come to converging the two devices.

Google TV's software offering was first introduced on the $300 Logitech Revue set-top box, which still provides the least expensive way to add the service to an existing system. Sony integrates Google's service into the LCD TVs, so no additional box is required--although most people will hook the Sony devices to a cable or satellite box at least. One major difference between Sony and Logitech, however, is that Sony's TVs and Blu-ray player will not allow streaming of music or video files from in-home PCs or other networked devices at launch, although Sony says this feature is in the works.

Sony Internet TVs
The Sony NSX-GT1 series, which will inevitably be known as "The Google TV," and which Sony calls the "Sony Internet TV, the world's first HDTV powered by Google" in its ads, includes four sizes.

Sony NSX-GT1 series (Google TV)

  • Sony Bravia NSX-24GT1: 24-inch ($599 estimated sale price)
  • Sony Bravia NSX-32GT1: 32-inch ($799 estimated sale price)
  • Sony Bravia NSX-40GT1: 40-inch ($999 estimated sale price)
  • Sony Bravia NSX-46GT1: 46-inch ($1,399 estimated sale price)

Each TV has four HDMI and four USB inputs, as well as built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi, so you don't need to run an Ethernet cable to your living room to access the Internet.

Otherwise, aside from Google TV, NSX-GT1 is a relatively basic edge-lit, nondimming LED-based LCD that's missing step-up features like 120Hz found on the KDL-EX700 models. Its closest equivalent in Sony's 2010 TV lineup is the KDL-EX600 series, whose list pricing at Sony's Web site makes the rough "premium" for Google TV on a Sony NSX-GT1 $250 at 46 inches, $200 at 40 inches, and just $100 at 32 inches--relatively affordable considering the $300 Logitech Revue (the 24-incher has no ready equivalent among current Sony TVs, and uses standard CCFL backlighting instead of LED).

Sony's TVs operate similarly to the Revue. You plug your cable or satellite box in via HDMI, and the Google TV service overlays the TV feed, which can also appear in an inset window Sony calls Dual View. The TV also has an ATSC tuner for over-the-air HDTV reception, and Google TV search incorporates local TV channel listings, including OTA.

The TV controls a cable box using infrared emitters to power up, change channels, and schedule DVR recordings, for example. Sony includes a second IR emitter that allows control of other devices, like a home theater system, but unlike the Logitech there's no discrete emitter built into the front of the TV, so you'll have to put up with the clutter of physical IR balsters. Users of compatible Dish DVRs are treated to "full integration," which means that control happens via Ethernet and that the Google TV search will also find current recordings on the DVR.

Sony's remote is designed for thumbs-only use, complete with touchpad (upper right, under the 'home' key). Sony

The Sony remote included with the TV was first leaked by ABC News and spotted by Engadget, among others. It's held just like one of Sony's PS3 game controllers, and the full QWERTY keyboard and touch pad are designed for thumbs-only operation. The remote commands your other gear as well, so you only need one remote, and interfaces with the TV by radio frequency so you don't need line-of-sight.

In a brief hands-on I found the remote ergonomic enough, the "shoulder" keys for scroll and zoom a thoughtful touch, and the responsiveness of the thumbpad a pleasant surprise--it worked like any laptop touch pad for shoving a cursor around the screen, albeit more sensitive (sensitivity is adjustable). The sheer number of buttons and shortcut keys was a bit intimidating, although I'm sure I'd get used to it in time.

On the downside the clicker was bulky, and the large keypad was a stretch even for my big hands. At first blush I prefer the Logitech's mini keyboard option ($139) or a full-size keyboard, especially for heavy searching. Of course, like the Revue, the Sony will work with any Android or iPhone as the controller via forthcoming apps, and Sony says you can plug standard PC keyboards (wireless or otherwise) into the TV too.

Using Google TV on the Sony revealed excellent response times, similar to what we noted on the Revue and the lightning-fast PS3. Searches came up quickly and we noticed no lag navigating between menus.

Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player
The NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player operates just like the TVs, includes the same remote and ability to command other gear, and features a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, similar to the one on the PS3. It has one HDMI input (for your cable box, to enable the Google TV overlay) and one output, with connectivity otherwise identical to the TVs--although it lacks the ATSC tuner.

One additional extra is integration with the Gracenote service (a Sony property) for easy searches on meta-information, such as a movie's page at IMDB, an artist's Web site and the like, from inserted discs. Sony also says the NSZ-GT1 is technically capable of being upgraded for 3D Blu-ray playback , but wouldn't elaborate on whether it was in the works.

Google TV software
Both the Sony TVs and the Blu-ray player share essentially the same Google TV software with the Logitech Revue set-top box.

The basic pitch for Google TV is the ability to search all of your TV content through a search bar similar to Google.com. The bar overlays whatever screen you're on and combs through online video sources as well as live TV from your cable/satellite box--or antenna in the case of the TVs--to find content (currently the Sony TV can only search only DVR programs for Dish DVRs, although a Sony representative told us he expects compatibility with non-Dish DVRs to roll out over time). The idea is that you don't need to know whether the video originates from Netflix, your cable box, YouTube, or a random Web site--Google just finds it.

For launch, the Google TV software has support for several streaming-media services, including YouTube, Amazon VOD, Netflix, Pandora, and Napster. Google announced partnerships with TBS, TNT, CNN, and HBO, which take the form of customized Web sites and, in the case of HBO, access to HBO Go's service for subscribers.

Sony adds many of the niche streaming video providers found on its Bravia Internet Video service, such as Blip.tv, Howcast, and the like, to its products, along with its proprietary Qriocity video-on-demand play.

Google TV also has built-in apps for Twitter, the NBA, and CNBC at launch, and we'd be shocked if Facebook didn't show up soon. Later in 2011, there will also be support for the Android Marketplace, so you'll be able to use Android apps on your HDTV. Phone apps will be scaled to fit bigger TV screens, and Google expects developers to start creating apps specifically for the Google TV platform.

Beyond these services, however, Google TV's big selling point is the capability to directly access any Web site. Google TV has a built-in Chrome browser that supports Flash 10.1 and HTML5 video. No other current Internet-connected TV features a built-in Web browser. Google's browser should allow virtually the entire world of video on the Web, including video from sites like ComedyCentral.com and PBS.org, to show up on your HDTV.

The accent is on "should," however, and at launch Google TV is already missing one of the key providers of Web-based video: Hulu.com. The browser inside Google TV is technically capable of handling Hulu.com's massive library of free streaming video, but as of press time we were told Hulu is blocking the Google TV from accessing its content. Google and Hulu are apparently in talks regarding the situation, but it's unclear whether that would mean paid-for Hulu Plus access (at $9.95 per month) or full free access to the Hulu content available on a standard browser. We're guessing Google TV will get Hulu Plus once the dust settles, but there's no telling for now.

Our take
Despite the relatively affordable price, Sony's Google TV faces an uphill battle. Like many other readers, I prefer a "dumb monitor" to a features-festooned super-TV, if only because those features can look painfully outdated in a year or two. Boxes are cheaper to replace or upgrade than TVs, and most people are saddled with at least one box already--the one from the cable company.

Then there's the fact that, if the proliferation of Android phones provides any indication, Google TV will soon be available on numerous other devices sure to cost less than these first-generation Sonys and Logitechs.

The main audience for the NSX-GT1 series of TVs, as far as I can see, is comprised of Sony fans looking for a new TV who don't mind paying the premium for the Google TV experience now. It might also appeal to cord cutters who want to use the ATSC tuner and who don't mind missing a DVR . Hey Sony, why not allow an attached USB drive to record content from the NSX-GT1's ATSC tuner, huh?

Sony's $399 Blu-ray player is somewhat appealing for early adopters choosing between it and the $300 Logitech. Blu-ray players with streaming services and built-in Wi-Fi currently sell for around $150--and don't have nearly the capabilities of the Sony NSZ-GT1. On the other hand, a certain other $299 Sony Blu-ray player has seemingly unlimited capabilities and upgradeability too. Hey Sony, where's the firmware update or $99 dongle/remote bundle that gives the PS3 Google TV? Talk about widespread adoption.

Either way we're looking forward to checking out Sony's new Google TV products in our full reviews. In the meantime, let us know what you think in comments.

 

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