01.Sony SMP-N100 Network Media Player
As more and more homes sign up for fast broadband, and network connectivity becomes standard fare on the latest TVs, Internet TV and online video has the potential to become an integral part of the home entertainment mix. However, for the millions of people who have not yet purchased an internet-capable TV, or still own an analog TV, watching online videos on the lounge room TV can be a complex affair. The Sony SMP-N100 is a small black device that simplifies this process by finding video, audio or photo files on a wireless (Wi-Fi) or wired network; playing it on almost any TV with a minimum of fuss.
The various video and audio output connections are shown at the back of the device with clear instructions on how to attach the device to your TV. HDMI should be the first choice if you have a flat panel TV. If you have an old TV you can use the component (red, green and blue cable) or composite video connection and stereo audio. Simply follow the onscreen setup to transform your old box into a network TV. The only TV that won’t work with the SMP-N100 is one with an antenna (coaxial) connection as the only input.
Aside from playing video, audio and image files stored on your network, you also have access to over 20 internet TV channels under Sony’s BRAVIA Internet banner. Stations include ABC’s iView (where a selection of ABC shows can be streamed to your TV anytime), SBS and Yahoo 7 (showing content from 7, 7mate and 7 Two) as well as some of the most popular web TV stations such as BlipTV and YouTube. This device is not a set top box (STB) so you won’t get free to air digital TV with this unit.
The SMP-N100 will identify compatible media stored in any location on your home network and deliver it to your TV screen. For example, if you downloaded your favourite TV show to your laptop in the study, the SMP-N100 will see the video file on the network and play it on your TV in the lounge room. If that sounds like too much effort, you can copy the file to a USB external drive or stick and plug the device directly into the USB port on the SMP-N100, using it as a standard media player.
The remote is simple to use and can also perform basic TV operations for several models and makes of TV. It also delivers extra functionality and control if you are using the SMP-N100 with other Sony BRAVIA products. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can install the (free) iTunes application allowing you to control your media player without having to be in the same room as the media player.
Popular video file formats are supported (DivX/HD, AVCHD, WMV9, MPEG-2/4) however, if the video is not one of these formats, or if the video has copyright protection (DRM), you won’t be able to play the content. Similar restrictions apply to photos – if it’s not a JPEG image, you won’t see the photo. Audio support includes MP3, AAC and WMA but it won’t recognise songs stored in an iTunes folder.
There are other devices that play video over a network or external drive and they may support dozens of different file formats, but few perform the task with such simple elegance. The limitations in video and audio file support in some ways actually make the SMP-N100 more suitable for the lounge room, operating more like a consumer electronic device and less like a geeky piece of confusing high tech equipment. If Sony can get the price down to around $150 it will be worth an extra star.