Sony Internet TV NSZ-GT1: Blu-ray Player Comes Loaded With Google TV
At a Glance
Even in a world where every Blu-ray player has an Internet connection and several streaming options, the NSZ-GT1 stands out. You can thank Google TV--which is Android for your television--for that. But lackluster image quality, a very high price tag ($400, price as of January 7, 2011) some poor design choices, and an infuriating remote control make this model a questionable choice--especially when matched against less-expensive, higher-image-quality models such as the Samsung BD-C7900 and the LG Electronics BX580.
Virtually all Blu-ray players these days can stream Netflix and at least one pay-per-view service, and most players work with YouTube and Pandora, as well. The NSZ-GT1 comes with all of these capabilities and a few more, including CNBC Real-Time, HBO Go (available only if you get HBO through your cable or satellite provider), the Onion, and Twitter. The not-yet-available Google TV Market promises to let you selectively add many more.
The NSZ-GT1 also comes with the Chrome browser, so you can surf the Web from your couch. This means that you can stream videos that aren't available via the apps--in some cases, anyway. Since there's no Comedy Central app on the player, I visited the Daily Show Website and watched a show segment that looked more than acceptable. But when I visited Hulu, the site recognized Google TV, blocked its videos, and promised a future app that would play Hulu Plus content exclusively.
In the spirit of Google TV, which tries to bring Internet video and traditional television together, Sony designed the NSZ-GT1 to be able to control and stream content from your set-up box or DVR. The idea is that all of your shows--whether they come over the Internet or arrive by more-traditional means--end up in the same cache. But the arrangement isn't seamless. In most cases, you'll need to use the included infrared blaster to make the other device do the player's bidding. And the only video input connection on the NSZ-GT1 is HDMI, a design choice that freezes out basic cable and over-the-air broadcasts.
Managing apps and surfing the Web require a device that has more than a conventional remote--and the NSZ-GT1's remote is the least conventional one I've seen. It's more like a two-handed game controller with a trackball and a built-in keyboard. For text entry, including Netflix and YouTube searches, this is easily the best remote control I've ever used.
Unfortunately, for common Blu-ray tasks such as pausing, popping up a menu, or ejecting a disc, it's easily the worst remote control I've seen. Most of these chores require you to hold down a tiny Fn button with one thumb while pressing another tiny button with the other. There are a lot of these tiny buttons, they're close together, most of them feel exactly like the ones next to them, and they're not backlit.
On the other hand, the remote is programmable, so you can use it to control your HDTV and other devices. I've never seen a remote that is as easy to program as this one. Instead of requiring you to look up codes in the manual and then enter them, you simply select a manufacturer on screen and the remote tries the appropriate codes (though it may require you to use the IR blaster).
Of course, finding codes in the manual would have been difficult, since the NSZ-GT1 doesn't come with one. Instead, Sony provides an interactive Help Guide on the Web.
With its rounded corners, beige sides, and smooth, shiny, black top, the NSZ-GT1 looks almost as strange as its remote. There's no LED display to show you status information. The device has four USB ports--one in front for easy access, and the rest in back. According to Sony, this wealth of connectivity options exists "to anticipate possible usage with future applications [and] provide the capability for possible feature expansion." The player also has a slot rather than tray for inserting a disc.
If you insert a disc into that slot, you'll find that the NSZ-GT1's images are acceptable but unexceptional. In many of our image quality tests, the NSZ-GT1 finished in a dead heat with our reference player, a Sony PlayStation 3. When the two machines' image quality differed, the NSZ-GT1 was usually a little bit worse. The DVD of Phantom of the Opera (chapter 3) was slightly softer than on the PS3, and color saturation on Cars (chapter 1) was significantly duller. Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7) was the worst, with significantly duller colors and softer details. The player handled the scene's swift and sudden movement just fine. I suspect the problems came from reproducing the scene's abundant bright daylight.
On the other hand, the NSZ-GT1 beat the PS3 in two clips from a 1956 film, The Searchers (chapters 4 and 20). Here, it displayed detail better than the PS3 did and offered significantly superior skin tones. The Searchers was shot in a large, fine-grain format called VistaVision, providing a dense and saturated negative. The NSZ-GT1 seemed able to handle this better than it can more-modern forms of photography.
The NSZ-GT1's menus are relatively easy to use--once you get accustomed to the remote. A first-time wizard helps you set up the player and then gives you a quick tour of its features. But the player lacks on-screen explanations. If you can't guess what the Screen format options--"Original" and "Fixed aspect ratio"--mean, you have to go to the online help to find out.
The home screen offers various ways to find what you're looking for. You can click on Bookmarks or Most Visited to find app you frequently open. And everything you do on the NSZ-GT1 involves running an app (just as if it were a computer). For instance, you watch a DVD or Blu-ray through the Disc Player app.
You play your own video, audio, and photo files through the Media Player. This app can play files off of a USB storage device (such as a flash drive) or off of a computer over your home network. The computer must be running DLNA server software, such as Windows Media Player. Format support isn't very extensive, however; the only audio format it supports is .mp3, and its video formats hardly represent a spectacular range. See the formats available here.
I will say this for the NSZ-GT1: It's fast. It started playing the Independence Day Blu-ray disc within 30 seconds of my inserting the disc. Only the Sony BDP-S570, at 26 seconds, was faster. The newer Sony also responded quickly to commands while playing a disc.
The Sony Internet TV NSZ-GT1 holds out the promise of finally merging the computer and the television, so that the only differences are the size of the screen and the type of chair you sit in. But its high price and clumsy execution should give you pause before you rush out and buy one.