Sony SMP-N100 review

3.5 out of 5
£129

For

Well built and appointed media player, strong IPTV selection including BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Lovefilm

Against

Limited file support when it comes to network streaming, only really of use if you intend to feed it media files directly via front-mounted USB

The SMP-N100 is Sony’s first dedicated IPTV and network media player. Once the exclusive province of relatively esoteric PC brands, this sector of the market is now being groomed by the big TV makers, which means a whole new tranche of telly-watchers are about to be seduced by the instant gratification offered by streaming TV. This can only be a good thing. 

The SMP-N100 follows Sony’s Monolithic Design aesthetic; all sharp edges and sensor lights. The front panel offers a USB input bottom right, for quick connection of USB drives, while the back has Ethernet, HDMI, digital audio optical output, Component video and phono AV outs. It’s a surprisingly comprehensive set of connections, allowing easy integration with AV receivers as well as a TVs.

The unit’s small dimensions (just 185 x 193 x 40mm) owe much to the fact that the 12v power supply has been ousted to a separate brick.

The supplied handset is much like you’d get with any of Sony’s current BD players, and set-up is simplicity itself, particularly if you have access to a wired network point. There’s a little more work required if you want to utilise the integrated Wi-Fi. Once online, the media player will automatically detect your network and any attached storage or media servers. It will also auto update its Bravia Internet Video (BIV) content.

If you own or have used any Sony AV product recently, the interface of the N100 will need no introduction. It uses the same XrossMediaBar UI.  Indeed, what we have here is nothing less than the entire IPTV functionality of Sony’s current Blu-ray players and Bravia TVs hived off into a standalone unit.

The SMP-N100’s key attraction is access to Sony’s Bravia Internet Video portal, which offers a wide choice of streaming entertainment, including catch-up services from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, Sky News, Lovefilm, YouTube and Daily Motion. All can be found under the XMB’s Video and Music columns.

Second string content comprises Eurosport, BlipTV, Howcast, Ustudio, Golflink, Livestrong, Singing Fool, podcasts, Videocast, Tagesschau, Deutsche Welle, Sony Entertainment Television and Ford Models.

These aren’t channels in the linear TV sense, more bite-sized diversions and televisual oddities. The Sony Entertainment Television channel is largely a repository for ancient TV series and is updated less often than my blog, while Ford Models transpires not to be about automobiles, but is a health and beauty strand aimed at a female audience. 

Overall we’d rate picture performance of the N100 as very good. YouTube material plays back with far less mosquito noise and blocking than you might expect, and the LoveFilm movie trailer service streams in with rich hues and scads of detail. Of course, dig around and you will find some pretty ropey SD material– but this isn’t a reflection on the N100 itself.

The BIV also has dedicated music services in the form of the Pay-Per-View Berlin Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall and the National Public Radio hub. Sony also offers access to Qriocity Music Unlimited, a new cloud-based music subscription service. When you have a Music Unlimited account, you can listen via any Qriocity enabled device (which at the moment includes Sony TVs, Blu-ray players and the PS3).

Qriocity sibling video outlet has a significant amount of Hollywood studio support, which means a wide range of VOD movie content is available to watch; SD movies are priced at £3.49 with high-def versions pegged at £4.49.

This is all well and good. Unfortunately, foibles in the Sony platform which can be forgiven when considered as part of a larger package, become much more glaring when forced to perform solo.  

The fact is the SMP-N100 just doesn’t offer the same level of file support as its rivals. Indeed, the N100’s streaming compatibility is surprisingly limited. A motley collection of test files (with various suffixes covering MKV wrapped content, AVIs, DivX and so on) located on a networked NAS was largely ignored. The N100 could locate the folder but the only file support was for AVI, AVCHD/ M2TS.

When it comes to network audio streaming, compatibility is similarly limited to MP3s. The SMP-N100 only really comes into its own when reading from the front-mounted USB port. Here, our test file folder was given a much warmer reception. The player could read and unspool AVIs, complete with SRT subtitle support, MOVs and MKVs.

Similarly, music support broadens to include AAC, WMA and WAV.

Verdict

As a straight (non IPTV) media streaming device the SMP-N100 falls short. An inability to play popular formats over a network make the N100 a runner-up in a streaming race currently dominated by devices like the WD TV Live

However, for those that do not own (nor plan on buying) a Sony TV, Sony Blu-ray player or PS3, this smart-looking media player could prove highly attractive. Its AV performance is solid, the interface easy to navigate and there’s some great content on tap. The SMP-N100 may also be ideal if you’re a Sony fan looking to extend the reach of the brand’s IPTV walled-garden to a bedroom or den.