Google TV has a new look, new hardware and is heading to the UK. Set to launch on 16 July on British soil, the Sony Internet Player with Google TV brings with it a newly updated version of the service as well as more powerful hardware.
We first caught a glimpse of the new Sony unit at CES this year but didn’t manage to play with it properly. Pocket-lint has now spent some time with the new piece of Sony kit and is fairly impressed. There has been a lot of work done to address the issues previously encountered with Google TV, namely that it was incredibly slow. Better remote hardware and a more logical UI also make for a better GTV experience. So what do you get with the new £200 box?
On the outside the Sony Internet Player has a pair of USB ports, two HDMI ports, optical out, ethernet, Wi-Fi connectivity and an infra-red blaster. The two HDMI ports are particularly important because they mean you can plug any TV source into the internet TV box. The HDMI out can then be connected to your TV and voila, Google TV on top of your Sky service, for example.
The included remote can also control things such as your Sky box and TiVo, which stops you having to switch remotes all the time.
In fact the included remote can do a tonne of other stuff as well. Most importantly it is laid out in a decent enough way to control Google TV. This means there is a nice built-in trackpad to control the on-screen cursor, a full Qwerty keyboard on the back - which even illuminates in the dark - and all the other conventional TV controls. Sony has even built a gyroscope into the remote so it knows which way up it's facing. This stops you making any accidental key presses on the underside when using the keyboard.
What about the actual Google TV experience? Having been disappointed by what was on offer previously with GTV, it’s nice to see a genuine effort by Google to make the service better. First up it is a lot less menu heavy. Navigating between apps and using the core apps themselves is hugely streamlined. Most require just a few presses of the d-pad in order for you to get something out of them. Take Chrome, one click to open the app and then you can search straight away. The dual-core chip in the Internet Player even allows you to do picture-in-picture, so you can watch live TV while browsing the web.
The increased power also improved the video experience itself. The YouTube app is now much faster and has access to things like live YouTube content. Browsing playlists and users' videos is lightning fast and can all be done while content is streamed in the background. All in all a much better experience. The Google Play store is also gradually filling up with quality Google TV oriented apps, making it slightly more persuasive for app fans.
Being a Sony product, the Sony Entertainment Network is naturally built-in in app form. Unfortunately this was not yet live with the product we were shown so we didn’t get time to play with it. We did manage to get BBC iPlayer running using the Chrome browser, which does open up some windows to on-demand content. Google Play Movies purchased elsewhere were also viewable using the Google TV.
Google told us that the BBC is planning on having some sort of iPlayer app ready in preparation for the product’s launch. This means that it is entirely possible that other content providers will follow suit. Right now, however, it looks like anything on demand other than the Google provided is going to need to be done through the browser.
On top of the Internet Player with Google TV or NSZGS7 as it is rather confusingly named, Sony has a 3D Blu-ray player with Google TV planned for October this year. This will feature all the same functionality as the NSZGS7 but throw in 3D Blu-ray playback. It should sell for around £300 when released.
There was no word from Sony on plans to release television sets with built in Google TV in the UK. Currently the US has one and a Sony spokesperson did say, “We’re not saying we won’t bring one out”, so it’s very likely. From our play with the box, having Google TV integrated into a set is the only way we can see it being worth the extra cash.
Right now the £200 box offers some exciting features, but feels more like a gimmick than a fully fledged Google experience. The idea of sending a Tweet from your TV is cool, as is watching YouTube so seamlessly, but then we can do that on our Xbox. If however browsing the web on your telly screen is what you are after, then maybe give Sony’s new box a go.
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