Given the strength of Sony’s net-friendly TVs and Blu-ray players, it’s no surprise that the company’s new SMP-N100 media streamer is a thoroughly equipped, well-developed little device.
Dubbed the Netbox, the Sony offers more of a plug ’n’ play experience than more open-source rivals such as the Boxee Box. Instead, it provides a range of consistently high-quality content, much like the similarly approachable Apple TV, and it’s this simplicity that cements its appeal.
Granted, some may not like the N100’s relative lack of flexibility(it’s particularly fussy about streaming media you already own over your network, for example) but the upside is that it’s a breeze to install and use. There’s onboard Wi-Fi, a Sony TV-style remote control and the XrossMediaBar (XMB) on-screen menu system that’ll be familiar to anyone with a PS3.
So long as you have an online-friendly account, you can be streaming movies from LoveFilm in minutes. For access to newer releases in higher-quality HD, the N100 can also stream from Sony’s own Qriocity movie service. As with any streamer, you’ll need decent broadband speed and Wi-Fi signal (or preferably a wired connection) if you want your HD files to play smoothly and stably.
Streaming TV is rather more frustrating. While the N100 can stream from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, ITV Player and 40D are unavailable. Given that the same company’s PS3 can pull off the latter trick, it’s a curious omission. Conversely, PS3 owners might wonder why Demand 5 isn’t available on their consoles but is offered here.
Review continues after the break…
Sweeter than Apple
Still, there are compensations, especially when compared against Apple’s TV. The Sony has its own digital-to-analogue converter (DAC), so includes both digital and analogue audio outputs: that makes it more useful if you want to plug into your stereo, particularly if you want it to stream music. It also provides a USB input and can be directly connected to a suitable hard drive, so you can, should you wish, use it like a local server – and again, that’s something Apple TV can’t rival.
In that sense, then, the Sony’s case is strong – but only if your streaming requirements are comparatively straightforward. Throw it a file-format curve ball, and the N100 is far less comfortable.