Player courts the net

Martin Pipe likes Sony’s first standalone networkable multimedia player

There must be plenty of readers who have spent the best part of a grand on a cutting-edge full HD TV, only to discover that its replacement model is ‘network-enabled’. Increasingly popular, this feature enables you to stream video from various websites, install widgets and play video content, music or photos stored on devices connected to your home network.

The SMP-N100 is a networkable media player with the same XrossMediaBar user interface used in the brand’s network-laden Bravias.

You connect the modestly-priced N100 to your home network (either by Wi-Fi or Ethernet) at one end and to your ‘obsolete’ TV at the other. HDMI is the preferred connection here, but component and composite are provided as alternatives. Digital audio, meanwhile, is available via HDMI and a standard optical port.

Turn on the compact and glossy black box for the first time, and a wizard guides you through the basic installation. Wireless/wired network configuration is, as with other more advanced aspects of player setup, accessed via the XMB. The non-backlit remote also has Sony’s signature, but its layout could be improved.

Copy cat

Also familiar to some will be the choice of content. It’s pretty much a carbon-copy of what Sony’s current Smart TVs are offering. And it’s here that the N100 scores over the myriad of rival networked media players. None have the brand’s tried-and-tested GUI, or the variety of content (too much to list here) that it allows you to select. The N100 even supports iPlayer in HD, Demand Five (great for Neighbours fans) and the LOVEFiLM VOD service.

Alas, there’s currently no support for online photo albums such as Flickr or internet radio stations.

All of the content is organised into categories: music, video and photos. In addition to the online providers, you’ll find any available servers on your network; uPnP and DLNA are supported. The variety of video codecs offered is fair, but only DivX/XviD and MPEG1/2 can be accessed via a network. The rest (see specifications, right) can only be played by shoving the relevant content onto a USB storage device and plugging that into the front-panel port provided.

The device handles the ubiquitous MP3 and uncompressed WAV, but WMA and AAC have to be fed in via USB and FLAC isn’t supported at all. Photo-wise, the N100 can only handle JPEGs, which are replayed in HD and look superb on a decent screen. I was very impressed with how well iPlayer fared, too, especially in HD. No playback glitches suggests that a sensible amount of buffer memory is built into the player. Some XviD encodes did, however, suffer from the odd ‘freeze’ or lip-sync error that proved too large for the player’s onboard correction to deal with. Overall, though, the N100 exceeds my expectations with ease.


HCC VERDICT

Sony SMP-N100
Price:
£120 Approx

Highs: Excellent picture and sound quality; good spread of online content
Lows: Lacks internet radio; some file types have to be ported in via USB port
Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

Upscaling: yes up to 1080p
HDMI: yes 1 output
Component: yes 1 output (plus composite)
Networking support: 100Mbps Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wi-fi
Codec/format support: DivX/HD; XviD; MPEG1/2; MPEG4 AVC; .MP4; WMV9; AVCHD; MKV/x.264; JPEG; MP3; AAC; LPCM/WAV; WMA9
Digital audio: Yes, optical output for LPCM/DD/DTS. DTS-HD/Dolby TruHD also possible via HDMI. 2-channel downmix supported. Dimensions: 185(w) x 40(h) x 193(d)mm
Weight: 0.7kg
Features: Bravia Internet Video; USB port; analogue photo stereo audio output; PhotoTV HD (hi-def JPEGs); slideshow mode with background music from USB; Xross Media Bar; DLNA support; comprehensive noise reduction and picture-quality modes; ‘cinema conversion’ (deinterlacing) mode; audio DRC support; AV sync adjustment (up to 120ms) HDMI Deep Color and component/RGB support; parental controls, favourites, controllable via Android or iPhone app; firmware update via internet; handset offers basic multi-brand TV control; Bravia Sync (HDMI CEC)