Blu-ray players have had streaming media apps since 2008, but players are limited to the apps a manufacturer makes available. So if you've got an LG player, you can get Vudu, but you can't get Amazon.com's Video On Demand, and vice versa with a Panasonic player.
Google TV could end that, and the Sony NSZ-GT1 is the first Blu-ray player with Google's new software platform built in. Not only does Google TV create a cross-manufacturer platform for streaming media apps, it also adds cable/satellite box control, a built-in Chrome browser, and Google's powerful search bar. Google TV's potential is huge, but right now the experience is lacking, with all major TV networks blocking access to streaming video content, not to mention an antiquated Netflix App and sometimes inaccurate TV listings. Even if you're willing to put up with the quirks of Google TV, we weren't sold on the Sony NSZ-GT1, with its frustrating controller, high price, and large size making it a runner-up to Logitech's initial Google TV offering.
If you're an early adopter who needs to get Google TV right now, the Logitech Revue would be our pick. But for mainstream buyers, we'd pass on both the Revue and the NSZ-GT1 until Google TV irons out its issues.
While the Logitech Revue's size makes it feel like a minor addition to your home theater, the NSZ-GT1 is imposing. It comes in at a whopping 13 inches wide, 2.3 inches high and 9.8 inches deep, which is jumbo-size even by Blu-ray player standards. The front and sides of the NSZ-GT1 feature a matte white finish, while the top is glossy black. It's not our favorite color scheme; white tends to stand out in a home theater rather than blend in (see: the original Nintendo Wii and Apple TV).
If we were mildly unenthused by the design of the main box, we were much more frustrated by the design of the controller. It makes a decent first impression when you pick it up, feeling a bit like a PS3 controller with a keypad added. But while Sony's PS3 controller is finely tuned to zip around the game console, the NSZ-GT1 tries to pack so many controls into its gamepadlike design that it doesn't really control anything well.
There are two thumbpads that flank the far right and left of the controller. The right pad also includes a touch-sensitive surface (Sony calls it the optical finger sensor, or OFS), so you can control a cursor onscreen (like a mouse), which is needed for Google TV's browser-centric design. It's a decent idea, except the cursor control is imprecise, which gets really tiresome when you're trying to click on, say, a specific link on a Web page. We opted to use the left pad for navigating through menus whenever we could, but we still got stuck using the touch-sensitive pad more than we'd like.
The NSZ-GT1 includes the majority of features we expect from a Blu-ray player at this price level, but there are some surprising omissions. Most Sony Blu-ray players this year--and most players this expensive--include 3D Blu-ray support, but the NSZ-GT1 does not. The NSZ-GT1 has 8GB of onboard memory--much more than typical Blu-ray players--but it lacks analog audio and video outputs. For most people, the NSZ-GT1 will provide all the Blu-ray functionality you need, but those with older audiovisual equipment or those wanting 3D will have to look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the universal remote setup portion is more like setting up a cheapie remote you'd get at a drug store than the more advanced setups we've become accustomed to on Harmony remotes. That means the NSZ-GT1 will try a certain IR command and ask you if it changed the volume on the TV, and will repeatedly go through that until you find the right code.
We were also disappointed to see that Google TV's Netflix interface is still the first-gen interface we saw on the original Roku Netflix Player. That means there's no search functionality or the ability to see movies that aren't in your instant queue. There's really no excuse for that, with much better alternatives available on devices like the new Roku XDS, PS3, Xbox 360, and Apple TV.
Along the same lines, the Google TV software has some powerful options for the tech-savvy. For example, if you're watching live TV, you can hit the picture-in-picture button to minimize the TV to a small window, while you surf the Web in Chrome in the main window--it's really slick. Android users will also feel right at home with the home, back, and menu buttons, which make it easy to jump among functions from any screen.