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Sony SMP-N100 review

Network HD media player with BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm

Sony SMP-N100

Our rating: 4/5

Best point:
Includes BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm; slick user interface; suport for MKV files

Worst point:
Bulky, TV-style remote control; slow.

Price: £119 inc. VAT

Media streamers are all about the video you can actually watch with them. And that's why we love Sony’s first network media player has stolen a march on rivals by not only offering wide format compatibility, but access to streaming web TV from BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm.

Until recently, the most important thing about a streamer was that it supported every file type in your digital media collection - but as we creep towards universal codec support, even on mainstream devices such as this, that's becoming less relevant. Most streamers support the likes of MKV, AVI and WMV from USB thumb drives, from a networked PC or Mac, or from a NAS drive - but few offer genuinely engaging web video services.

Offering both BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm puts this Sony leaps ahead of the competition.
The latter service requires a subscription (streaming costs £5.99 a month for two hours/£14.99 unlimited), but access is essentially free if you’re already a member.

The SMP-N100 isn’t the only product out there that offers these two services, but it's a Sony exclusive on the latter (though some Samsung TVs offer it, that brand doesn't do a dedicated streamer like this); our only concern is that, given the price, a £150 Blu-ray player from the Sony might be a better bet.

User interface
For such a small and sleek gadget, the SMP-N100 is impressively well endowed. Around the back is a HDMI output alongside composite and component video, while audio is taken into a TV or sound system by either digital optical audio or stereo phonos.

WiFi connection may be convenient, but Ethernet LAN is always more reliable when it comes to streaming video around a house, so it's good that the SMP-N100 provides both options.
There’s also a USB port from which we managed to play AVI, MKV, WMV, MPEG4 and AVC HD files.

The streamer's interface will be familiar to anyone who's used a PlayStation3; the Xross Media Bar has since been phased out on a lot of Sony AV gear, but it remains here. Logically laid out as a series of icons with dropdown options hidden underneath, it's extremely easy to use.

Internet video
Once on a network – a simple process – Sony’s rather clumsily named ‘Sony Bravia Internet Video powered by Qriocity’ brings a plethora of web video services to your TV that's more comprehensive than most streamers manage. Unsurprisingly, there's some dross in the form of Ford Models and blip.tv, but generally it's must-have stuff.

In addition to BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm (the latter of which requires each individual SMP-N100 to be registered separately online, in order to be tied to an account), you get Eurosport (rolling news videos), YouTube, Sky News, Facebook, Demand 5 and Qriocity (for Sony-owned music and films).

Apps are being added all the time, and some come and go (an excellent FIFA archive app was present through 2010 to tie in with the World Cup, but has since disappeared), but each is cleverly customised to the Sony style, which gives the whole experience a uniform feel. Cover art or thumbnail images are used instead of text in a grid-style approach that’s attractive, logical and easy to use. Picture quality is awesome – there’s some good upscaling on show here – but the SMP-N100 can be slow to respond to its remote.

Verdict
A good-looking user interface and reasonable digital video file support meets BBC iPlayer, Lovefim and Sky News - though this internet TV box can be slow to react. And considering it’s so close in price to a standalone 3D Blu-ray player from Sony that offers identical networking and web video on demand, we’re not sure that SMP-N100 is as good value as it first appears, but it's slicker than most rivals.

Company: Sony

Website: http://www.sony.co.uk/

Contact: Sony on 08705 111999

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