Each of these shortcomings may seem minor on its own, but they really do add up and make the SMP-N200 more frustrating to use than it should be. That's a shame, because its core functionality (at this price) is among the best we've seen.
As you'd expect, the Sony SMP-N200 has both an Ethernet port and built-in Wi-Fi for accessing online content. When the SMP-N200 was announced, Sony put a lot of emphasis on the fact that it can handle 3D content, but we don't consider it to be an important feature on a streaming-media box. (There's not enough 3D content, and there aren't enough buyers interested in 3D.)
A streaming-media box is all about which streaming services are supported, and the SMP-N200 does a good job of filling up our chart.
|Other: Sony Video Unlimited, Sony Music Unlimited, CinemaNow, Crackle, Slacker, Moshcam, NPR, plus dozens of additional niche video services|
The SMP-N200 really shines with video services, and the combination of Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Vudu will certainly be attractive to the cord-cutter crowd. The music side also has some interesting options, including NPR, Slacker, and Moshcam. (Moshcam is actually a video service that streams live concerts for free.)
There are some significant missing services. MLB.TV is nowhere to be found, nor are many of the popular music subscription services, such as Rhapsody, MOG, or Spotify. (Sony's own Music Unlimited is supported, although that doesn't have nearly the support on other devices that competitors do.) There aren't any social media (Facebook, Twitter, and so on) apps, either, although that's not a big loss, since they usually don't translate well to the big-screen environment. We do miss support for a major photo-sharing service like Flickr or Picasa, as using a box like this is a nice way to show off photos.
In addition to all the streaming content available over the Web, the SMP-N200 is also DLNA-compatible and supports playback of several different file types off its USB port as well. The complete list of file types is available on Page 27 of the manual (PDF), and the important ones include MKV, Xvid, and MP3. We actually had pretty good success playing back a mishmash of content off a connected NAS drive, but you're best off searching user opinions on CNET and elsewhere if you're looking for compatibility with specific media types.
We'll also quickly note that there's an Internet browser, but the experience is so slow and frustrating that we doubt we'd ever use it.
|HDMI output||Yes||Analog audio output||Stereo|
|Component video output||Yes||Digital audio outputs||Optical|
|Composite video output||Yes||USB ports||1|
Most home video devices, like the Apple TV, are moving toward HDMI-only connectivity, but the Sony SMP-N200 still offers a full set of video outputs. That's good news if you have an older TV without HDMI, but it does add to the size of the box. There's also a USB port on the side, which is handy for playing back a USB drive full of digital content.
Performance was overall excellent with the SMP-N200. We had no problem streaming media over our home network or over the Internet, using both the wireless and wired connection. Although the SMP-N200 doesn't technically support 1080p Netflix streams, we found the HD Netflix titles to offer very good image quality anyway. Of course, streaming-video quality and network performance depend a lot on your broadband connection and home networking conditions, but we had consistently solid playback with the SMP-N200.
Is it better than the Roku 2 or Apple TV?
There's a narrow argument to be made for recommending the Sony SMP-N200 over its two major competitors, the Roku 2 and Apple TV. The Roku 2 doesn't really handle your own digital media collection and the Apple TV is limited in the streaming services it supports. The Sony SMP-N200 fills that niche, with a good selection of streaming services and decent playback of your own digital media.
The problem is that the SMP-N200 doesn't do anything particularly well. The subpar user interface holds it back as a streamer and it's just OK at handling your own digital media, especially compared with boxes like theor . And the SMP-N200 lacks a killer feature like AirPlay to make it stand out from the crowd. We imagine most buyers will go with the box that handles their personal lifestyle the best (Apple fans would go with the Apple TV, heavy streamers would stick with the Roku 2, and so on), which leaves the Sony SMP-N200 with limited appeal.