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Sony NSZ-GS7 review:

Sony NSZ-GS7

And even for techies, the remote isn't great for just plain old TV watching. The most often-used TV-watching buttons (play, pause, volume, channel) are all given secondary status, either relegated to small buttons on the bottom or rockers on the side. Contrast that to the design of a Logitech Harmony remote, with its central positioning of the channel and volume rockers, plus DVR controls. The Harmony can be used by anyone, whereas the NSZ-GS7's remote is strictly for techies.

Google TV software
The tragic element of the NSZ-GS7 is that no matter how good the hardware is, it's still running Google TV -- which remains buggy, confusing, and not nearly as functional as it strives to be.

Google TV defenders tend to focus on its features (full Chrome on your TV!), but rarely do they mention the bugs. As a reviewer, I worry that I sometimes miss intermittent bugs, because I don't spend nearly as much time with products as actual owners. But even with limited reviewing time, I've always encountered frequent bugs with Google TV. Within the first few hours of testing the NSZ-GS7, I had the following problems:

1. The NSZ-GS7 froze up the second time I powered it on, requiring me to unplug/replug the unit to get it working again.

2. I downloaded a highly rated podcast app (BeyondPod for Honeycomb) from the Google Play store and the first time I ran it, it not only rebooted the NSZ-GS7 when I tried to search on it, but it made terrible screeching sounds through my home audio system. (Luckily I had my volume on low.) After rebooting, loading the app and trying to search again, it crashed and rebooted again, although thankfully without the screeching this time.

3. I tried to access my Google Music collection using the app, but flat-out couldn't get it to work, despite the NSZ-GS7 being signed into my Google account. It asked me to activate the device using a PC, but there's no place to "activate" a device in the Google Music settings (I got Google Music working via the Chrome browser, but it's not ideal for several reasons, including the fact that remote buttons like "pause" don't work).

And those are just the major flaws I ran into. Other frustrations include getting kicked to the Chrome browser when trying to play Amazon content, because there's no dedicated Amazon app, which is even more annoying now that there's a great app available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. (The HBO Go "app" is also just a link to the Web site.)

The TV and Movies section is a great idea for being able to browse content across different streaming services, but it still doesn't work that well. Prices for Amazon content don't reflect if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, so you have no way of knowing if the content might be free to watch with your subscription until you click through. There's no Hulu Plus app, so it doesn't search that content either. And amazingly, Google's own movie and TV rental service (part of Google Play) doesn't appear to be supported, as only Amazon Instant appears as an option for most recent movies. That means if you purchase a movie on Google Play on your Android phone, there's not an immediately easy way to watch that same content on your Google TV device.

The built-in Chrome browser is another feature that sounds great, but there are huge caveats. The original Google TV dream of being able to watch free Hulu and TV using Chrome continues to be dead, with Hulu, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Comedy Central, and MTV all still blocking Google TV from streaming video on their Web sites.

Still, the full-fledged Chrome browser provided the most enjoyable experiences of using Google TV. I was able to watch full episodes of "Conan" on using the Chrome browser, which isn't possible on nearly any other mainstream device. (And yes it's sort of a hassle to navigate the Web site on your TV to watch the episodes, but hey, it's free TV.) And watching full-screen videos from Vimeo was great, although that's available on competing products like the Apple TV, Roku, and Boxee.

Google TV as a concept is surprisingly still compelling, but it's no longer ahead of its time. The Xbox 360 already has an excellent implementation of cross-platform voice search, with tons of supported apps and even the ability to access live TV with some cable providers. If Google TV wants to catch up, it's running out of time.

I went into this review thinking that the NSZ-GS7's improved controller, and perhaps some Google TV bug fixes, would soften my initial harsh opinion of Google TV's latest Honeycomb software. But the software still hasn't improved, and it's hard to recommend even to tech enthusiasts, who are likely better off rolling their own XBMC box or Media Center PC than struggling with the Google TV software.

Editors' note: This review originally, and incorrectly, stated that the NSZ-GS7 lacked built-in IR blasters. The error has since been corrected.

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