Aside from actually hooking a PC to your TV, Sony's Internet TV with Google TV, aka the NSX-GT1 series, is the closest you'll likely come today to converging the two devices. That's both an advantage and a disadvantage compared with more conventional Internet-connected TVs, which typically rely on a "walled garden" of apps and streaming services to channel that fire hose of Internet content into discrete, useable streams. On the upside, the Sony's built-in Chrome browser--which behaves basically like the one on your computer, aside from an inability to get video from Hulu and many other sites--opens up the hose very effectively, offering significantly more content than those TVs. On the downside, Google TV threatens to soak users in too many choices, and suffers from many of the same bugs and issues that can make PCs frustrating.
The main difference between this Sony and the two other Google TV products available now, namely the Logitech Revue set-top box and Sony's own NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player, is integration. The Sony TV builds Google TV right in, delivering the whole caboodle for one price--just add the Internet (cable TV optional). On the hardware side, Sony's compact, thumb-centric remote isn't as easy to use as Logitech's, but the bigger problem to critical viewers will be the TV's mediocre picture quality. While Sony Internet TV is surprisingly affordable for all that it can do, and we're sure Google software will evolve significantly in the coming months, at this point we have a hard time recommending the NSX-GT1 series to anyone aside from early adopters who don't want a dumb monitor.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sony NSX-46GT1, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The exception is the 24-inch Sony NSX-24GT1, which employs standard LCD backlight technology as opposed to the edge-lit LED backlight used on the larger sizes. For that reason the picture-quality related notes do not apply to the 24-inch model.
|Models in series (details)|
|Sony NSX-24GT1||24 inches|
|Sony NSX-32GT1||32 inches|
|Sony NSX-40GT1||40 inches|
|Sony NSX-46GT1 (reviewed)||46 inches|
|Panel depth||2.3 inches||Bezel width||1.3 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||No|
Seen from straight-on, the Sony Internet TV reminded us of a gigantic iPhone in landscape mode set atop a sleeker version of the infamous paper clip stand. The clean aesthetic--the only markings are a Sony logo with defeatable illumination and a couple of indicator LEDs--would blend right in at your neighborhood Genius bar, as would the TV's white backside.
Sony's unique metal stand may look precarious but supported our thin, 46-inch review sample well enough. The panel's 2.3-inch depth out-chunks LED-based sets like the 1.2-inch Samsung UNC6500, but we're guessing that extra inch better accommodates the Google TV hardware packed inside. Overall, we don't like the NSX-GT1 series' look as much as that of Sony's high-end "Monolithic"-styled TVs, like the KDL-NX800 series, but it's still plenty slick for both standard and atypical TV rooms, like the kitchen or bedroom.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||3.3 x 5.3 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||88||Backlit keys||0|
|Other IR devices controlled||1||RF control of TV||Y|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||Onscreen explanations||Yes|
|Other: Remote has RF control, full QWERTY keyboard, and optical thumb-mouse.|
Sony isn't the first manufacturer to include a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard on an Internet-enabled TV--that honor belongs to Vizio starting with the 2XVT series--but Sony's clicker is much better. Despite the Sony's compact size and a thumb-centric design, we think the Logitech Revue's larger keyboard provides the best way to control Google TV.
Sony's novel "optical finger sensor," which is basically a thumb-operated touch pad with a fraction of the real estate devoted to a typical laptop touch pad, just never felt completely right. At the lower sensitivity settings, we were frustrated by the slow-moving cursor, while the higher settings caused sudden jumps across the screen and were still relatively unresponsive. Clicks of the central button often caused inadvertent jumps as well. We eventually settled on the third-to-highest setting and after awhile became more used to the control, but overall we prefer the standard touch pad on the Revue's keyboard.
In many cases we ditched the right thumb pad for the directional cursor under our left thumb, which worked fine to browse menus and jump between selections. At times confusion between the two set in, however, especially when clicking one or the other to make a selection. It didn't help that in some apps, like Netflix, the pad simply didn't work (despite the appearance of the cursor arrow).
Sony's QWERTY keyboard will overwhelm initiates with its array of buttons, and reaching many of them, including the all-important Search at the bottom, are a stretch for even big hands. We had to inch up and down the remote as we moved between the white keyboard and the black buttons/touch pad section. Typing was responsive enough, but the wide spacing between keys (which might be a boon for novice thumb-typists) made it slower for us than on a good smartphone keyboard. We also missed the illuminated keys and dedicated button for aspect ratio control found on many TV remotes.
The remote does a lot of things right, however. The control groupings in the top section are intuitive (especially to anyone familiar with Android phones), the capability to command other gear is well-implemented (we liked the "Amp" key, which toggles the volume/mute to control either the TV or a connected audio device), and we loved being able to control the TV and IR blaster-connected gear without needing line-of-sight. Its smaller size makes it easier to just pick up and use than Logitech's standard Revue keyboard, but since most Google TV usage will be done from a sitting position on the couch, we don't consider that a big deal.
Our favorite feature on Sony's remote was the two keys shoulder-mounted under our index fingers. Holding down one enabled a simple swipe of the thumb pad to scroll up or down within the Chrome browser, while the other magnified the page with a swipe. Depressing both together enabled easy text selection, which will be especially useful if Google TV eventually supports copy-and-paste.
We really appreciate that the GT1 integrates all of the standard TV control items, such as picture, audio, and channel settings, into the Google TV menu interface. The menu screens themselves aren't as good as Sony's own menus from other TVs and can definitely feel cramped in complex areas like picture settings, but they get the job done.
Getting the NSX-GT1 up and running is a much more-involved process than on a normal TV, but we didn't have any major issues. The remote must be paired with the TV, followed by a brief, welcome onscreen tutorial using the newfangled clicker. Then you'll have to connect to a home network, create or sign in to your existing Google account, and finally set up your TV service and device control. On the TV you can choose from over-the-air (OTA) or the more common option of getting your TV via cable or satellite.
Unlike the Logitech Revue, the Sony lacks a front-mounted IR blaster, so you'll need to use the included wired blasters, placed carefully in front of your equipment's IR receiver(s), to allow the TV to control your cable/satellite box and/or AV receiver. Sony's setup routine is also less polished than Logitech's, requiring you to try various codes instead of simply inputting the model number. We didn't actually set up a cable box or receiver control for this review, but we did with Sony's NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player; see that review for details.
Google TV user interface
The main home menu looks modern and feels responsive. Press the home button at any time and the menu will overlay whatever content you're watching. That means it takes just seconds to go from watching live TV to browsing YouTube, then jumping back again.
That being said, the interface certainly leans toward the tech-savvy in its layout. Whereas the Apple TV's main menus, for example, use simple phrases like "Movies" and "TV Shows," Google TV's interface has less-straightforward phrases like "Applications," "Bookmarks," and "Spotlight." Google TV is greatly customizable and you can make the "Bookmarks" or "Queue" show all your favorite content, but it's not something that tech novices can jump right into.
We did like the "What's On" section, which is Google TV's version of an electronic program guide and lists current TV programming, but again the layout will be unfamiliar. It includes the traditional "channel list" in a vertical, not a grid form, but also breaks down programs into genres such as "Movies" and "Sports and Information." The home menu also includes "Sony Recommends," which leads to the company's VOD service and a bunch of niche video sites (see below).
The 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. The home, back, and menu buttons, which make it easy to jump between functions from any screen. Once you get the hang of it, Google TV and Sony's remote make for a powerful surfing experience, but there's no denying it caters to the power user.
Press the dedicated button on the keyboard and the search bar pops up at the top of the screen, regardless of whether you're using the Chrome browser, streaming Netflix, or watching live TV. The search combs through streaming video, the Web, and regular TV to find the programming you're looking for, and can even search Apps, Twitter feeds, and numerous other sources. It's really the perfect solution to the problem of finding content spread out among many sources--except when it doesn't work.
To start off, the Google search bar doesn't search Netflix, which is a significant oversight considering it's probably the most important service on the box. We also found search results to be occasionally inaccurate. When we searched for "The Colbert Report" on November 5, the Google TV series results page showed the most recent episode as October 14, despite numerous newer episodes being available on Comedy Central's Web site. The series page was also inexplicably missing episodes from October 13, 12, and 11; the next-newest was October 10. Given similar problems we experienced with the Logitech Revue, it's obvious that Google TV's series page--often the first result when you search a show title--needs some work.
We wouldn't be surprised if many of these bugs disappear over time, but in its initial incarnation, we didn't feel the search bar functionality and cross-platform TV listings delivered the experience we were expecting from a company with Google's reputation for search.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|3D compatible||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Refresh rate(s)||60Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||No||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes (built-in Wi-Fi)||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
|Other: Google TV services; integrated device control via IR blasters; can control Dish Network DVRs via Ethernet|
We noted when covering Sony's announcement of the NSX-GT1 that the company apparently decided to keep costs down by incorporating Google TV into what amounts to an entry-level LCD, albeit one with edge-lit LED backlighting on all sizes but the 24-incher. Extras like 120Hz/240Hz refresh rate and 3D go missing, for example, but to our surprise the 60Hz Sony passed our test for 1080p/24 processing.
One standout Google feature is the capability to control your gear. The Sony is capable of sending commands to your cable/satellite box using its IR emitters, which we would expect could enable DVR control via Google TV's interface. At this point, however, Google TV can only schedule and search DVR recordings with Dish Network's ViP 622, 722, and 722k DVRs.
If you have another service (or another Dish DVR), Google TV's DVR integration is pretty disappointing at present. When you search for TV content, Google will find it, but can't set your DVR to record it. All it can do is bring up the guide, and you're forced to find and record the show on your own, like you would without a Google TV. The same thing goes for setting Season Passes. Yes, it's nice to be able to find the program quickly, but it's a huge letdown from what you expect it to do. Google says it is working with other cable/satellite providers to provide further integration, but there are no guarantees as to when or if it will actually happen.
Of particular interest to people looking to ditch cable or satellite service completely, the NSX-GT1 is the only Google TV product with a built-in OTA tuner, enabling it to tune digital and HDTV stations for free via antenna. In our tests it worked well, and we liked Sony's informative overlay with information like soundtrack, native resolution and, of course, show title and time.
In addition to Google's What's On program guide, the GT1 makes Rovi's EPG, with up to 24 hours of program listings, available when you hit the Guide button in OTA mode. Unfortunately, selecting a future program simply tunes to the channel, without even the courtesy of the notification seen above. We also wish the listings matched the rest of the Google TV interface or were directly integrated into What's On in standard grid format.
|Other: Full-function Chrome Internet browser; NBA Game Time, CNBC Real-Time|
Google TV makes Sony's NSX-GT1 the most-capable Internet-connected TV yet, hands-down, but the amount of red in the chart above proves that Google's service needs some updating before it can compete on the Apps front against the likes of Samsung and Vizio. Photo support beyond Picasa is nonexistent at the moment and, unlike the Revue, the Sony is missing videoconferencing.
On the other hand, CNBC and NBA Game Time are a cut above your average Yahoo widget. CNBC complements a standard customizable stock ticker with video streams and a newsfeed. NBA Game Time mixes news and a scoreboard with numerous high-quality video clips courtesy of NBA.com for a similarly rich experience.
We have no doubt key missing Apps like Facebook and dedicated weather and news services are coming soon, and Google TV will get access to the Android Market sometime in 2011. This has the potential to add tons of innovative apps, and in the meantime having a full-function Chrome browser (to actually visit Facebook.com and Weather.com, for example) should satisfy many users.