- YouTube: Sony provides nearly complete YouTube functionality, including the capability to log in to your account, search for videos, add tags, select the most viewed, popular, and newest playlists. The one catch--you can't add your own comments.
- Amazon Video On Demand: Amazon's streaming video service offers TV shows and movies to rent, and unlike the other channels, there's plenty of good content. Most movies cost about $3 or $4 to rent and TV shows go for about $2.
- CBS: A selection of videos from CBS, presented without commercials. It's a great idea, but the execution is off the mark. While you can watch the latest Survivor episode or the premiere of Worst Week, we couldn't find any CSI, The Mentalist, or the latest full episode of the Late Show with David Letterman. (Editors' note: CNET is a subsidiary of CBS.)
- Yahoo Video: a competitor to YouTube that tends to show editorially featured videos rather than user-voted submissions.
- Blip.tv: Known for its video blogging services, the company mainly focuses on episodic content instead of viral video.
- The Minisode Network: Owned by Sony Pictures Television, the channel shows condensed--sometimes down to as little as seven minutes--episodes of popular television shows, such as NewsRadio, The Facts of Life, and more.
- Sports Illustrated on Demand: The title explains it all--short episodes of your favorite sports moments.
- FEARnet: a multiplatform horror network created by Lionsgate, Comcast, and Sony, where horror fans can watch free, full-length films as well as red carpet and convention coverage, trailers, and shorts.
- Wired: Based on the geek-tastic monthly magazine, the channel has a variety of videos covering how technology affects culture, the economy, and politics.
- Style.com: Coverage of the runway for those infatuated with fashion and glamour.
- Video Detective: The most popular movie trailers are categorized as HD but do not even close to hi-def video quality.
- CBS College Sports: a hastily assemblage of CBS sports videos that are neither up-to-date nor listed chronologically.
There are certainly a lot of content partners here, but without the recent addition of Amazon's streaming service, we'd almost completely write off the device. Many of these videos are either listed in the wrong category or are out of date. It takes enough patience just to browse through all of CBS's content to find a particular show (more on the sluggishness in the performance section), but it's only made worse to find it listed in the wrong category or missing altogether. In addition, no standardized resolution or aspect ratio is used for the content; some videos appear with blacks bars on all sides. Perhaps this isn't Sony's fault, but it doesn't make for a consistent user experience.
It's also important to note that, unlike the Apple TV, the BIVL isn't capable of streaming movies and music from networked PCs. That's a pretty big downside, especially since we found the content to be lackluster--you're stuck with what Sony provides.
Content aside, the BIVL was a very reliable video streamer in our experience. Sure, videos took a few seconds to buffer, but once they started playing we didn't experience any dropouts or stuttering. Of course, this all depends on your Internet connection, but it's good to know that if your connection is solid, the BIVL will serve your content glitch-free. That being said, we did have the device hang on us a couple times, which required us to unplug the unit and restart it.
While we were impressed by the buffer-free playback of the videos themselves, it was hard to look past the sluggishness of the actual menus. Compared with services such as Apple TV, Xbox Live, and PS3 store, browsing the BIVL is slow, which is only made more frustrating when there's so much mediocre content to scroll past. When you first select a channel, it's not unusual for it to take more than 10 seconds to load the initial screen of choices, and then you'll hit another delay when you want to go to the next page. It's not pleasant.
Image quality on the videos is a mixed bag, but we found ourselves disappointed more often than not. Obviously, YouTube clips blown up on a 46-inch HDTV are going to look a little rough, but we were surprised that a lot of the other Web video was of similar quality. For example, we loaded some clips from Sports Illustrated and were shocked that the quality was YouTube like, or perhaps even worse. Of course, Sony's job is just putting Web video on the big screen, but we can't imagine too many people will be happy with the experience. To be fair, some of the videos actually looked pretty good. A trailer for Hancock was sharp and relatively artifact-free and Michael Moore's Slacker Uprising (hey, it was the only free movie) via Amazon Video On Demand service was probably the best-looking video we saw, hitting at least DVD quality. But even content from CBS, such as Worst Week, was worse than standard-definition cable. If Slacker Uprising can look good, why can't the other programs?