Sony Bravia NSX-GT1 series (Google TV) review: Sony Bravia NSX-GT1 series (Google TV)
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.
|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 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|
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.
|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|
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.
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.
The main thing separating Sony's Google TV from those other Internet TVs is the built-in Chrome browser. There's support for both HTML5 and Flash 10.2, which means you're technically capable of accessing nearly any video source you can find on the Web.
The emphasis is on "technically," though. The reality, as mentioned before, is that many content providers, such as ABC, CBS, and Hulu, are currently blocking Google TV devices from streaming video from their sites (we also tried loading Comcast's Hulu-like Fancast site but were never successful). The main issue is that major content providers don't mind people watching these videos for free on a computer, but don't like the idea of the same content showing up in the living room. The apparent reasons: Web advertising still doesn't pay nearly as much as traditional TV advertising, and--unlike cable and satellite companies--Web video currently doesn't offer any affiliate fees (read: revenue) for TV content providers.
Unfortunately we expect this problem to stay in flux, with hobbyists finding workarounds, content providers trying to plug the holes, and official deals between content providers and Google coming slowly (although we'd bet Hulu Plus comes soon). It is worth pointing out, however, that some content providers don't seem as vigilant with their content. Comedy Central and Cartoon Network, for example, currently aren't blocking Google TV--though that could change at any moment. We expect access to the extensive video archives at PBS.org to remain Google-TV-accessible indefinitely, however.
Content issues aside, the experience of surfing the Web on your big screen is simultaneously frustrating and awesome. It's frustrating when the browser feels slow (which happens sometimes when Flash is used on the site) or when a pop-up window fills the entire screen. It's awesome when Chrome intelligently maximizes videos to full screen (which happens on Amazon VOD), and that you can now access any niche video site from your home theater. For better or worse, it essentially duplicates the feeling of watching videos on a slightly underpowered laptop, except you have the benefit of the big screen.
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||No|
|CinemaNow||No||DLNA compliant||Photos only|
Compared with other Internet-enabled TVs, the Sony's lineup of dedicated streaming services is nothing special. We were disappointed that Google TV's Netflix still has the first-gen interface we saw on the original Roku Netflix Player. That means there's no search functionality or the capability to see movies that aren't in your instant queue. Most other Internet TVs also feature the basic version of Netflix, however, and we expect the interface to update soon.
The GT1's "Sony Recommends" menu has all of the niche video content providers from the company's previous Bravia Internet Video Link TVs, including Sports Illustrated, the Minisode network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, and numerous video podcasts. They seem tacked-on, however, since the providers' Web sites are accessible via the browser anyway, and Google TV's Queue can search and subscribe to podcasts in a much more efficient manner. Potentially more valuable, especially if Sony Pictures decides to give it exclusive content, is the Qriocity on-demand service, with first-run movies available now and music coming soon.
In terms of local file support, the NSX-GT1 played back our test videos, photos, and music in a variety of formats from an attached USB drive. We did not extensively test DLNA support via networked computers and other gear, in part because Sony tells us it's still a work in progress--even the company's support site contradicts itself, in one answer claiming to support only JPEG picture files and in another both video and photos. The GT1 did "see" DLNA-compatible devices on our network including a PC running PlayOn (users interested in PlayOn via Google TV could try this method, but we couldn't get it working).
|Adjustable picture modes||5||Independent memories per input||Yes|
|Dejudder presets||0||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||4||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||4|
|Color temperature presets||4||Fine color temperature control||2 points|
|Gamma presets||7||Color management system||No|
Sony managed to shoehorn all of its standard picture settings, including a fine color temperature control, into the Google TV menu system. Given the TV's feature set noting crucial goes missing, and it's nice that full control is available within apps like Netflix and Amazon VOD, complete with a single dedicated independent memory slot in Custom mode.
|Power saver mode||Yes||Ambient light sensor||Yes|
|Picture-in-picture||Yes||On-screen user manual||Yes|
In addition to the three standard Power Saver modes is a Picture Off setting that delivers sound only--great for Pandora!--and reduces power use to 39 watts. Sony's traditional Eco menu adds a Quick Start mode that enables the GT1 to turn on in about 4 seconds--just like a standard TV--as opposed to the 45-odd seconds it takes to boot up Google TV normally. In that mode, the TV uses 24 watts of standby power instead of the default 0.14. The TV's picture-in-picture is restricted to viewing a small window showing the TV source inset into the larger Google screens.
|HDMI inputs||2 back, 2 side||Component video inputs||1 back|
|Composite video input(s)||(1)||S-video input(s)||0|
|VGA-style PC input(s)||0||RF input(s)||1|
|AV output(s)||1||Digital audio output||1 optical|
|USB port||4 side||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
While blessed with plenty of USB and HDMI ports, the Sony NSX-GT1 series lacks an analog VGA connection for PCs and has just one analog video connection, a component-video port that can be sacrificed to accept composite video.
Google TV performance
Using Google TV on the Sony, aside from the issues noted above, was a mostly satisfying experience via the wire connection. Response times in the menus, apps, and browser were generally quite snappy, pages loaded as quickly as we expected, and even pages with flash seemed to appear more quickly than on the Logitech Revue--although once the PBS site caused flash to crash.
We do mean "generally," and lag beyond simple page loading was more common than on typical Internet TVs. We experienced lag at times with the search bar, picture-in-picture, and even volume, mute, and input changes, where a button-press would take a second or 5 to mature into a response from the GT1. The issue reminded us of using a modern Android smartphone heavily--lag was intermittent and tolerable for the most part, albeit system-wide and tough to pin down.
As expected we experienced worse performance with Wi-Fi than Ethernet, and recommend using the latter if possible. Via wireless pages took longer to load or sometimes didn't load at all; sound and video were more prone to breakup; and a bandwidth test at Quiocity said our connection was only good enough to stream SD quality. We've had no problems with many other streaming Wi-Fi devices, including Sony TVs, in the same environment.
Streaming video quality was fine, and as usual depended on the source. HD streams from Amazon and Netflix via Ethernet looked great, SD streams less-so, and most Internet video sites looked bad blown up on the 46-inch screen. We were especially disappointed in HBO Go's quality--"Boardwalk Empire" looked blocky, soft and generally unworthy of our high monthly subscription rate.
Image quality on the Sony NSX-GT1 was below average compared with its peers. Google TV's frequent full-screen fields exposed the panel's uneven uniformity more frequently than typical video content would. Black levels were relatively bright, and we saw occasional flashes in the shadows during transitions. Color accuracy after calibration was a relative strength, however, and surprisingly the TV handled 1080p/24 content well.
Editor's note: The remainder of this review does not apply to the 24-inch NSX-24GT1, which uses a different backlight technology than the other members of the series. We cannot comment on the picture quality of that size.
The Custom picture mode was slightly more accurate than Cinema overall, with good average gamma (2.24 versus the 2.2 target) that remained linear except in the brightest areas, and a consistent albeit too-blue grayscale--so we used it for our Before numbers in the Geek Box below. Our calibration was able to improve the grayscale significantly, although it still remained slightly uneven, and also help gamma further. Sony doesn't offer a CMS so the highly inaccurate primary color of red had to remain so.
Our image quality tests compared the Sony NSX-GT1 to the following TVs, using the Blu-ray of old favorite "I Am Legend."
|Samsung UN46C6500||46-inch edge-lit LED-based LCD|
|Sony KDL-46EX700||46-inch edge-lit LED-based LCD|
|Samsung LN46C630||46-inch LCD|
|Panasonic TC-P46S2||46-inch plasma|
Black level: The Sony fared poorly in this area compared with the others in our lineup, rendering a lighter, less realistic shade of black than any of them. The difference was most visible in dark scenes, such as Chapter 3 when Dr. Neville closes up his house. The letterbox bars, fades to black, and very dark shadows all appeared relatively bright and less impactful in our darkened room.
We also noticed unusual flashing in the shadows during transitions. One example appeared at the 12:12 mark, when the shadows on either side of the doorway flashed brighter then darker again as they brightened from black. The same thing happened starting at 1:02:45, again during a fade up from black. The letterbox bars even flashed slightly when we hit Select on our PS3 to disappear the status display.
Shadow detail was passable given the relatively light blacks, but some shadowed areas seemed flat. In Chapter 8's exploration of the zombie nest, for example, the GT1 outdid the C630 and S2 at delivering realistic detail in areas like Neville's shaded face, but didn't quite match the C6500 or EX700.
Color accuracy: After calibration the Sony appeared relatively accurate. The skin tones of Anna and Ethan in Chapter 20, for example, came closer to our reference than on the C6500, although they weren't as close as the C630 or EX700. The inaccurate color of red also made the pillows on Neville's couch, for example, look less realistic than on the other sets, but the difference wasn't drastic. Saturation and richness also suffered a bit in bright areas due to the lighter black levels.
Aside from the Sony EX700, the GT1 was the worst in our lineup in terms of tingeing dark areas blue. The near-black along Neville's face and hand at the 44:17 mark provided one glaring example, and similar ones appeared in other shadows and black scenes.
Video processing: During the helicopter flyover from Chapter 7, our standard test for 1080p/24 processing, the NSX-GT1 performed well, delivering the same cadence as our reference--not too smooth and without the stuttering characteristic of 2:3 pulldown, as seen on the Panasonic S2.
As expected from a 60Hz TV, the GT1 showed only 300-400 lines in our motion resolution test, but as usual we couldn't see a difference compared with the higher-scoring sets in regular program material.
A ramp test pattern revealed breakup as opposed to a smooth progression from black to white, a possible indication of bit depth issues, and again not something we typically see on modern HDTVs. We kept an eye out for false contouring or other related artifacts during the film but didn't see any glaring examples.
Uniformity: The GT1 was the worst of the lot at maintaining an even image across the screen. The movie's letterbox bars showed this issue clearly; they were brighter along the bottom edge and in the upper corners than elsewhere. We also noticed vertical brightness variations that looked like amorphous bands. These issues were even more noticeable on the Sony than they would be otherwise, since Google TV's screens often show flat fields (such as around the white space on Web pages, the gray of loading screens) that clearly reveal uniformity problems.
From off-angle, the GT1 behaved like the other edge-lit LCDs, losing black level and color fidelity relatively rapidly as we move to either side.
Bright lighting: Under the lights the GT1's glossy screen reflected bright objects more noticeably than the matte LCDs or the S2 plasma and about the same as the glossy C6500. It preserved black levels relatively well, however, surpassing the plasmas and roughly equaling the other LCDs in that area.
We did not test the NSX-GT1 with standard-def or external PC sources.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6776/6885||Average|
|After color temp||6438/6458||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||477||Average|
|After grayscale variation||140||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.602/0.323||Poor|
|Color of green||0.307/0.603||Good|
|Color of blue||0.161/0.059||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||(Did not test)||n/a|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Sony NSX-GT1 series, but we did test the 46-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Sony NSX-46GT1.