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Sony NSZ-GT1 (Google TV) review: Sony NSZ-GT1 (Google TV)

We were also disappointed to see that Google TV's Netflix interface is still the first-generation interface we saw on the original Roku Netflix Player. That means there's no search functionality and you can't 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, Sony PS3, Xbox 360, and Apple TV.

In addition to the apps available at launch, Google TV products will also be able to access the Android Marketplace sometime in 2011. This has the potential to add tons of innovative apps, but until then you're stuck with what Google makes available.

Chrome browser
One of the standout features of Google TV is the built-in Chrome browser. There's support for both HTML5 and Flash 10.2, which means you're technically able to access nearly any video source you can find on the Web.

Sony NSZ-GT1 user interface
The Chrome browser is great, but it loses a lot of its luster with so many content providers blocking Google TV.

The emphasis is on "technically," though. The reality, as mentioned before, is that many content providers, including ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, and Hulu, are currently blocking Google TV devices from streaming video from their sites. (Even the workaround hacks aren't working anymore.) 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 situation 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 will come soon.) It is worth pointing out, however, that some content providers don't seem as vigilant about their content. Comedy Central, TBS and Cartoon Network currently aren't blocking Google TV--though that could change at any moment.

Content issues aside, the experience of surfing the Web on a big screen is simultaneously frustrating and awesome. It's frustrating when the browser feels slow (which happens if Flash is used on the site), when a pop-up window fills the entire screen, or when using the clunky touch pad to move the cursor. It's awesome when Chrome intelligently maximizes videos to full screen (which happens with 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.

Cable/satellite box control

Cable/satellite box control is another feature that differentiates Google TV from other streaming-media boxes. The NSZ-GT1 is technically capable of sending commands to your cable/satellite box using the included IR blasters, enabling Google to search it for content just like it searches the Web.

Again, the emphasis is on "technically." Full cable/satellite box integration is currently only available with the Dish Network ViP 622, 722, and 722k DVRs.

Cable box integration
If you don't have a Dish Network DVR, Google TV can find programs, but it can't tell your DVR to record them.

If you have another device, Google TV's cable/satellite box integration is pretty disappointing. When you search for TV content, Google will find it, but can't set your DVR to record it. All it can do it bring up the guide, and you're forced to find and record the show on your own, as 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 compared with what you expect Google TV 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.

DLNA streaming and podcasts
While the Logitech Revue offers DLNA streaming for music, movies and photos right now, the NSZ-GT1 currently offers DLNA streaming only for JPEG photos. That's unfortunate, as even most midrange Blu-ray players offer more extensive DLNA support. There's a dedicated area for podcasts, although a couple of quick searches for popular shows like "Comedy Death-Ray Radio" and "WTF with Marc Maron" gave us the impression that there wasn't nearly the selection that's offered on iTunes. Fortunately, if you click on a podcast RSS link in Chrome, Google TV can add it to the podcast section, so you're not limited to the podcasts Google has culled.

We ran into significant network performance problems when we tested the Logitech Revue, but our experience with the Sony NSZ-GT1 was considerably better. We had no problems with Wi-Fi during setup or when streaming video from the Internet. A wired connection seemed to improve response times slightly, but it wasn't that noticeable since we had a good experience with Wi-Fi.

We also didn't run into nearly as many crashes or bugs in the software while testing the NSZ-GT1 as with the Revue. To be fair, there has been a Google TV firmware update in the time during which we've tested the two devices, which may explain the NSZ-GT1's seemingly more solid performance.

Google TV image quality
As you'd expect from an all-digital connection, image quality was excellent with the NSZ-GT1 and the signals it passes through from a cable/satellite box. As always, if the incoming signal isn't good, the NSZ-GT1 can't make it look any better, but we didn't see any evidence of the NSZ-GT1 negatively affecting incoming HDMI signals.

For video streamed over the Internet, it's highly variable, just like on your computer. Some stuff looks good, some stuff looks terrible. It's not Google TV's fault, but those thinking about "cutting the cord" and getting their "Daily Show" fix via the NSZ-GT1 should be aware that the video quality is significantly worse than cable TV. On the other hand, streaming video from more specialized sources like Amazon VOD and Netflix can look quite good, with the best of it approaching HD cablelike quality.

While we did run into some occasional Flash video bugs when we tested the Logitech Revue, we didn't see the same problems with the NSZ-GT1. Again, Google TV's recent firmware update specifically mentions fixing Flash video issues, which may explain the difference in our testing.

Built-in Blu-ray player
With the focus on Google TV, it's easy to forget that the NSZ-GT1 also includes a fully functional Blu-ray player. Although $400 is expensive for a standalone Blu-ray player, the NSZ-GT1 does offer excellent image quality and speedy load times. On the other hand, it is missing a few features available on other standalone Blu-ray players, and we ran into some stability issues.

(In the interest of brevity, we've only included an abridged summary of our typical Blu-ray player testing results. If you're interested in the full nitty-gritty Blu-ray details, check out our Blu-ray player comparison chart.)

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.

Sony says the NSZ-GT1 is technically capable of being upgraded for 3D Blu-ray playback, like some of the other Sony Blu-ray players, but wouldn't elaborate on whether such an upgrade was in the works.

We had no major complaints about the NSZ-GT1's image quality. It passed all the important Blu-ray test patterns we threw at it, and actual program material looked good too. That being said, we rarely see significant differences in Blu-ray image quality, so you're not getting a "better" picture by going with the expensive Sony.

In terms of operational speed, the NSZ-GT1 was excellent, ranking in the top three players we've tested this year. Our only qualification is that a good deal of that speed comes from the NSZ-GT1's quick-start mode. Without the quick-start mode, it took the player a full minute to load "Mission: Impossible III" starting from powered off, which is over twice as long as the average player takes. As long as you're okay with the additional power that quick-start mode uses, the NSZ-GT1 is a speedy Blu-ray player.

Our major concerns about the NSZ-GT1's Blu-ray capabilities come on the stability side. During our testing period, we had to restart the player twice because it would get stuck in a state where it refused to read any discs--or even eject the disc in the player. The stability issues, combined with aforementioned Blu-ray navigation difficulties with the controller, made us think the NSZ-GT1 probably isn't the best choice for Blu-ray-heavy households.

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