One of our favourite features of Sony's TVs and Blu-ray players is their network playback capability. They're also equipped with Sony's Bravia Internet Video service, which allows you to catch up with TV shows, download movies and use the company's music-streaming service.
But not everyone has a Sony TV or Blu-ray player. It's a good job, then, that Sony's released the SMP-N100, a networked media streamer that provides access to the company's media-playback and online services, as well as a host of other features. It'll set you back around £120.
Little box of tricks
The SMP-N100 is pretty petite. It's basically a square, with little on the front besides a USB socket and a few status lights. On the back, there's an HDMI socket, proprietary power connector and Ethernet jack. There are also composite, component and optical digital audio outputs.
Putting a USB socket on the front of the machine was, in some ways, a great idea. It means you can plug in a USB memory stick and start playing video instantly. It other ways, the port's position isn't so great. The problem is that it's not as neat if you want to leave a hard drive plugged in over the long term for easy access to your video library. It's hardly a massive problem, but couldn't Sony have plonked another USB port on the back?
There's also no built-in hard drive, which puts this device at a slight disadvantage when compared with the spiffing laptop as it would be to store it on your streamer's hard drive. In fact it could even be easier.. But still, with network functionality, you could argue that it's just as easy to store your video on a network-attached storage device or
NTFS support FTW
Generally speaking, one of the biggest problems with media playback is that, if you use Fat32 as your hard-drive file system, then you're limited to playing files that have a maximum size of 4GB. The SMP-N100, however, can also play files stored on an NTFS volume, which gives you far fewer hurdles with big, high-definition files. We're very pleased to see this -- NTFS support is too rare on media players.
Wired or wireless
The SMP-N100 also supports Wi-Fi. A wireless connection won't prove the best way to watch bulky HD video files, but it's a great way to quickly get online and catch-up with iPlayer, or check out the latest cat videos on YouTube.
For speed demons or people without a wireless network, there's a wired Ethernet connection. If you haven't got your house wired with Ethernet cable, then you might like to consider a, which allows you to move HD video and audio around using the mains cables in your house. Such an adaptor will cost you around £80. Do be aware, though, that powerline adaptors work best on fairly new cables, so, if you have a Victorian house, prepare for reduced speeds.
Epic online content
Making iPlayer, Demand 5 and a host of other online video services available, the SMP-N100 is one of the best-specified media players around. We've yet to see much more than YouTube support from most other players, although some do offer Internet TV services such as Revision3. The point is that the SMP-N100 is the first media player to provide premium content over the Internet.