We know the feeling of set-top box fatigue as much as anyone, so naturally we were interested in Sony's Internet TV Blu-ray player -- just like the Sony Internet TV, it lets you add Google TV to your system without adding any more boxes. At the same time, we're always wary of combo devices -- they're often a jack of all trades and master of none. And so we set out playing with Sony's second riff on Google TV with the hope that it could serve both duties without sacrificing any features or functionality that we'd expect if we bought two devices. Obviously if you're in the market for both a Blu-ray player and a Google TV device and price is the most important factor it's an easy decision, but you'll have to click through to find out the true cost of having one fewer box under your TV.%Gallery-106306%
This review is primarily of the Sony Internet TV NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player hardware -- make sure you read our full Google TV review to get a feel for the platform itself!
The first thing you'll notice about the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc Player is that it's white. We don't know about you, but we're not colorblind when it comes to our home theater gear, and we pretty much only want black, silver, or other dark colors in our equipment rack. We're also not a fan of the player's non-standard width, but we do actually like the fact that it's slot loading. Once we get beyond the color and size, we got caught up on the large power brick, which is inconvenient -- Sony's other Blu-ray players have integrated power supplies, and that's the way we like it. At least it isn't a wall-wart type, we suppose.
There are a total of four USB ports (one on the front) which comes in handy for external drives and maybe even accessories down the road -- althoug not surprisingly, the Logitech USB camera for the Revue doesn't work with the Sony. The Sony also lacks the built-in IR emitters of the Revue -- there's a wired two-headed IR blaster, but after using the Revue's built-in emitters we much prefer them to stringing IR blaster cables. This all brings us straight to our biggest complaint: there's also no IR receiver. This is a definite deal breaker for some -- you can't use a universal remote or home automation controller to control the player while watching Blu-ray discs. This wouldn't be a big deal if the included QWERTY remote had better Blu-ray player control buttons, but as it stands right now, it isn't exactly enjoyable to navigate your favorite movie.
As we said in our Sony Internet TV review, we generally like Sony's QWERTY remote, but it's far from perfect. Aside from the fact that it looks like a P-Touch label maker, using the optical mouse will drive you nuts. Add in the fact that our thumbs get confused which circle is for navigation and which is for Home, Back, etc, and it can be pretty frustrating -- these multiple competing interfaces are a problem with Google TV in general. Of course you'll be able to use your phone to navigate the device if you really don't like it, but Sony's apps aren't available yet. The remote does have just about every function under the sun, though, and it does have an IR emitter so you can control your TV's power and volume. There's also an odd AMP button on the remote, which toggles control of either your TV's volume or your AVR's. It has a little LED light on it so you know which is which, but we never understood people who used their TV's speakers if they have an receiver, but the remote doesn't do macros so we sort of get it. The good news is that as a text input device, it's really good, and hey - that's its main purpose in life.
The Internet TV Blu-ray player has most of the features we've come to expect from a modern Blu-ray player, like the ability to bitstream all the latest lossless codecs, resume non-BD-J titles, and, of course, playing back discs, including interactive BD-J content. But if you were hoping for a tightly integrated Google TV and Blu-ray playback experience, we're sorry to smash your dreams: there's almost no integration whatsoever. At the least this is simply annoying, but at the most it can be extremely frustrating: you can't eject a disc while watching TV, for example -- you have to first go to the Disc Player application, and then hit eject. You also can't use Dual View while you're watching a Blu-ray disc, and switching to anything else is basically like stopping the disc, which isn't good considering most Blu-ray Discs won't resume after stop thanks to a deficiency in the design of the Blu-ray interactive platform. Luckily when you hit the Home button on the remote you are warned, but sadly hitting the Top Menu button without holding down the FN key at the same time will take you straight to your cable box's guide without a warning. This is just one of many examples of why the QWERTY remote doesn't make a good Blu-ray remote -- a problem that's exacerbated by the lack of an IR receiver, since you can't use a universal remote. HDMI-CEC is supported though, so you should be able to use your TV's remote to control playback.
All that said, Blu-ray playback quality was flawless, and loading and unloading discs was almost as quick as the BDP-S570, which is saying something as the 570 was the fastest player we've ever tested. The player had no problem outputting all the latest lossless codecs and it happily sent our HDTV a 1080p24 signal without issue.
For the most part the Internet TV Blu-ray player's software is the same as the other Google TV devices, but there are a few differences. For starters, setup took about half as long as the Revue, for reasons we can't really explain. The Sony version of Google TV includes Sony's Qriocity video store, and you have the choice of enabling a quick start mode which pits saving power against being impatient. We did find it a bit odd that the Disc Player application wasn't on the Bookmarks page out of the box, and we couldn't figure out how to add it either. And now we come to our biggest problem with Sony's Internet TV devices: the HDMI passthrough won't pass 5.1 content from our DVR. Nope, instead glorious discrete surround sound is down-mixed to stereo. And if you're thinking you'll just turn the box off to watch your shows with surround sound, think again -- the player doesn't pass any video or audio when it's off.
The built in DLNA client wasn't anything to write home about, and was just as mediocre as most of the other slow DLNA clients we've played with. Overall it works, which makes it a useful feature when you don't care about anything except having a way to consume your pictures and music. The one problem we did have was playing a song and then trying to hit the TV button, only to find the music was playing over the TV's audio. It took us a second to figure out to go back in and stop it first, but it wasn't the end of the world or anything.
We're sad to say that the lack of IR sensor to use a universal remote and the inability to pass 5.1 surround sound from our DVR makes this box all but useless to us. Of course we recognize that not everyone has a programmable remote and a surround sound system, but we suspect those people could care less about Blu-ray playback as well. While Sony might improve some of this with firmware updates, at $400 we'd recommend you instead buy a $300 Logitech Revue and stand-alone Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player if you're looking to add Google TV to your setup. Sure it'll run you almost $100 more than the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc Player, but we think it's worth the extra Benjamin -- and input switching -- to enjoy real surround sound and use a modern programmable remote.