Sony NSZ-GS7 Mutimedia Internet Player with Google TV Review

A little appless but certainly hot hapless, Sony's Google box wants to smarten up your TV

by hodg100
Home AV Review

Recommended
Sony NSZ-GS7 Mutimedia Internet Player with Google TV Review
SRP: £199.00

Introduction

The first Google TV boxes from both Sony, themselves, and another from Logitech didn’t exactly go down a storm. Indeed, Logitech has pulled out of the market altogether amid recriminations of the Google TV operating system being too buggy to work with and Sony’s first entrant didn’t see the light of day in the UK at all. In essence the Sony NSZ-GS7 is a means of upgrading your non-Smart TV without actually replacing it. There are, of course, other ways of smartening up your TV with a number Smart Blu-ray players, PVR’s and HD tuners currently on the market but you may not require the base functionalities of any of them and still wish to get in on the act. At a suggested retail price just shy of £200, Sony’s Google TV box might seem a little pricey but the included specialised remote control should make control of the connected features that bit more rewarding than your typical handset and, unlike the obvious competition in the shape of the Apple TV, does include a fully featured Web Browser and the ability to sit between other HDMI connected devices and the display. It’s certainly a nifty looking package, let’s see if its capabilities can live up to the price tag

Design and Connections

The Sony NSZ-GS7 is a very compact, lightweight device and would fit comfortably in to the palm of most hands but that’s not to say it doesn’t bear the stamp of Sony’s usual quality engineering. In fact, it’s actually quite reminiscent of the newly announced 3rd generation PS3 console, in looks, with its ridged surface and gentle curves, only smaller of course. The casing is traditional Sony piano black and has little in the way of adornments other than the Sony logo on the top and a white LED on the front to indicate that it is powered up.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

Despite its diminutive proportions, the Sony NSZ-GS7 Google TV has a healthy set of connections, featuring an HDMI output, a S/PDIF optical audio out, two USB ports and a connection for the included IR Blaster. There’s also a LAN port but for those unable to run a wired connection and built in Wi-Fi supporting 802.11/b/g/n (Single Band). Crucially there’s also an HDMI input meaning the Google TV box can sit in between any HDMI device and overlay its smart functionalities and, via HDMI CEC compatibility, it’s possible to use the NSZ-GS7’s remote control to operate some functions of the connected device. Naturally you don’t have to use the box in this way and it will function identically standalone but we’d anticipate most folks will hook something up.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

Arguably the killer feature of the package comes in the shape of the included Bluetooth remote control which will undoubtedly have contributed heavily to the production costs and, as a result, the ticket price at retail. The controller might divide opinions, however, and some might find it a touch on the cumbersome and complex side although we took to it quite quickly. We’ve seen a number of new control innovations from the TV manufacturers this last 12 months but we think this one just takes the crown for the way it eases operations for internet duties. Most people will likely be familiar with the scroll-pads equipped in the average laptop and the NSZ-GS7 features its own, on one side of the controller, as well as full QWERTY keyboard to the other which makes using the Web Browser a total breeze. Perhaps the scroll pad doesn’t possess the same finesse as those found on a notebook but after some acclimatisation we were able to use it to navigate pages with ease once we’d sped up the rather pedestrian default scroll speed in the Settings Menu. As well as its ‘scrollability’ the controller also features some swipe and pinch functionality but the sensitivity here is more of a problem, particularly when attempting to pinch.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

The control features a 3-Axis motion sensor for gaming and it also knows which way up it’s being held to prevent unwanted accidental presses from the reverse. The scroll pad side also features buttons for ‘Home’, Picture in Picture and Options as well as a handy Back button. Underneath the scroll pad are some basic playback transport controls (Rew/FFwd/Play/Pause) and coloured buttons for use with interactive TV services. To the side are Volume and Channel up and down keys and a mute button. The QWERTY keyboard side can be illuminated by a backlight, useful for night time browsing, and a Function Key extends its use to cover various playback functions and connected device operations.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

If the controller isn’t to your tastes, there is the inevitable (Media Remote) App available for Android and iOS to take up the slack which provides its own QWERTY keyboard and full remote control functionality as well as the ability to throw pages from its own browser to the Chrome browser of the NSZ-GS7. For a device that in many ways emulates a well featured smartphone or tablet, that’s convergence gone mad; not to mention one of the major selling points of the Sony Google TV box is the controller itself.

Menus and Setup

Initial setup of the NSZ-GS7 takes a little longer than most devices but it shouldn’t take the 20 minutes Sony quote at the start of the process. Once you’ve paired up the controller, made language and location choices and undergone a quick tutorial on the remote you are asked to maximise screen size by dragging a box to fit to the extremes of your display. Once overscan is set correctly you may then set up a wired or Wi-Fi network connection and sign in to your Google account where you will also have the option of synching data and creating a back up to the Cloud. You may then opt to set up the IR Blaster to control your connected Set Top Box, TV and AV Receiver and you’re then ready to explore the feature-set.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

Anybody familiar with any number of Android based devices should feel instantly at home in the menu systems of the NSZ-GS7. A press of the Home key will bring up icons for system notifications; the All Apps Menu; Live TV; YouTube; the Google Play store; the Chrome Browser; the Sony Entertainment Network plus Search and Help. We’ll take a look at the Apps and Browser later in the review but the Search feature is nicely all-encompassing and will look for matches in the Browser, the 4Gb internal memory and connected USB storage devices, although it would have been nice to see some YouTube integration.

To access the various box settings, one must access the All Apps menu and head to the relevant icon from which a number of sub-menus appear. We won’t bore you with a ‘menuathon’ but as you would expect such items as Network, Power Saving, Accounts & Synchronisation and Applications can be configured and managed from there.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

From an Audio Visual perspective, there are a number of important items in the Picture & sound menu. The user can choose whether to pass a 3D signal; set the screen ratio of 4:3 SD video and select HD output resolution from choices of 1080p, 1080i or 720p. We found absolutely no issues with the deinterlacing performance of the box but we’d certainly advise opting for one of the 1080 line choices if your TV is of a native 1920 x 1080 resolution as it makes the browser much clearer. There’s a choice between YCbCr and RGB colour spaces - with the former the safest choice when connected to a TV – and there’s a couple of Noise Reduction options in there too with one aimed specifically at low bitrate internet video. We’d advise you to leave these alone and if you must watch trashy quality content through it, use your displays’ built in controls to make life simpler. Importantly, as a Blu-ray player can be connected, there is also the choice to pass a 1080p24 signal which is best left on Auto.

In the Sound section one can manage the system sound effects as well as output and pass-through options. Audio can be sent as PCM over HDMI and there’s also the option to pass bitstream for Dolby Digital signals. Users can elect to ‘switch on’ the Optical audio output and there’s also a Dynamic Range Control (DRC) option available which is best left off but, more usefully, there’s the ability to set an Audio delay for those laggy displays.

Software

As we mentioned in the introduction, Logitech were famously critical of the Google TV operating system during their dalliance with it and, although we didn’t experience the earlier iterations ourselves, we can kind of see where they were coming from with latest 3.2 version but it was certainly not the horror story we might have expected. The primary issues we encountered were of the lock-up variety, mostly when accessing web pages but occasionally from within the system menus too. We noticed the box was sometimes very slow to shut down and also loss of the HDMI video passthrough when using the menus for some of the online services but there doesn’t appear to be anything of a deal-breaking nature present but a few refinements and tweaks are needed.

As we said earlier, anyone familiar with the Android operating system for tablets and smartphones will instantly feel at home with Google TV but for the uninitiated there’s a bit of a learning curve ahead. Hiding the Settings Menu in with the all the apps probably isn’t the most user friendly approach, for a start; the reasonably extensive setup process does cover a lot of the important bases but there will inevitably be things that need to be altered later on and some that may not have been apparent at the time. The menu itself, is reasonably well structured but there are probably too many sub-menus and we can imagine that some will find them off-putting, although the 1.2 GHz processing does mean selections are responsively met.

Apps

It has to be said that on our first visit in to the All Apps interface we were left somewhat underwhelmed. Video on Demand is the big hit of the Smart TV revolution and the Sony Google TV is seriously lacking in dedicated applications here, with only Netflix to really crow about. The glaring omission is obviously the lack of BBC iPlayer support as it’s almost omnipresent in the Smart TV world. One could argue that it’s a relatively simple process to access the various VoD services from the Chrome Browser and that would be true; further, one might even contend that the Web based platforms of the services are mostly superior to the typical app for a Smart TV and, again, that would be correct but that’s possibly missing the point. The very existence of VoD apps is to simplify the process and increase accessibility and it makes the NSZ-GS7 just that bit less usable than it really should have been.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
We’d assume that negotiations and developments are underway to bring more to Sony Google TV but they’re famously not a company to comment on ‘rumours and speculation’. A bit of a carrot to dangle wouldn’t harm though! We’d also take a guess that the NSZ-GS7 will be granted access to Sony’s upcoming app store of its own, Sony Mobile, but again, they were unable to comment. By our calculations there are something like 60 apps available for download through Google Play, some of which are pre-loaded in any case, and another 18 or so in the ‘Sony Select’ area, which is a very low number compared to even some of the Smart TV platforms, never mind Google Play for mobile devices which contains well over 600,000 – trust us we’ve counted them. Clearly Sony needs to encourage developers to customise their apps for the Google TV platform but until they start shifting units in sizeable quantities, they might just struggle to do so; chicken and egg and all that. When you consider one could purchase a 7 inch – or thereabouts – Android tablet for less than the asking price of the Google TV those demands appear even more challenging.

Subscribers to either of Sony Entertainment Network services - Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited are unsurprisingly well catered for and a quick zip around each of their dedicated apps would confirm due care and attention has been paid to make them very usable. We’ll confess we’ve never subscribed to the Video Unlimited service and our trial with Music Unlimited confirmed our suspicions that there’s not enough label support to warrant the monthly fee but that’s a value judgement only the end user can make. All we’ll say is that they have an enormous fight on their hands in both arenas. We weren’t sure at first why the Daily Motion app (and a couple of others) were secreted below the Sony Entertainment header but there appears to be a restrictive 24 icon limit to the All Apps page, which is made quite baffling by the mass of screen real estate, to the left hand side, that goes almost totally unused.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

As well as the All Apps icon, the Home Screen items include the Google Play Store, Live TV – which takes you back to unfettered viewing of the HDMI source, a Help icon and access to the aforementioned Sony Entertainment apps. There’s also access to the Chrome Browser and dedicated YouTube app and it’s also possible to add a widget from the All Apps roster but the implementation is a bit scruffy with non-uniform sizing of icons. The YouTube app, itself, is commendably excellent with an interface that we actually prefer to the Web based version with which it integrates very well by linking with your YouTube account.

Media Playback

We were fairly aghast by the fact there was no streaming media player pre-installed on the NSZ-GS7; the one that is there will only interface with USB connected devices. For a device that is intended to centre home entertainments, the exclusion of streaming out of the box does seem somewhat myopic. There are options at hand, however, and there are a few uPnP apps available for download including Plex and aVia. There are two Plex options, with the dedicated Google TV version up at the not particularly eye-watering fee of 62p although the not-so-dedicated version is free but either will mean you’ll require a Plex Media Server running on their computer; which could be a bridge too far for some, despite its undeniable excellence. aVia, on the other hand, is a much more plug ‘n’ play affair and we found it played nice with a number of media servers installed on our Windows 7 PC, happily transcoding any video format we threw at it where native support was lacking.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

From USB, file support is also pretty generous and the listed compatibility with AVI, AVC HD, MKV, MOV, MPEG, WMV and WMV HD video files seemed to hold true. MP3, AAC, FLAC & WAV music files are the options for your music whilst the Sony Google TV can show snaps in JPEG, BMP, GIF and PNG formats. The USB Media player interface is also very pleasing and the thumbnail presentation rivals that of the best players. Once we’d tooled up with a downloaded streaming app, the NSZ-GS7 becomes a nifty little media player but the lack of Network Attached Storage (NAS) support could be a hindrance.

Web Browser

If the lack of dedicated VoD apps is disappointing then the inclusion of a well featured version of the Google Chrome Browser is the potential saviour. We definitely prefer the Web interface of our most used VoD services – Netflix and BBC iPlayer – so it’s a trade-off we don’t mind making but that might not be the opinion of everybody. Users that already have Chrome on their PC, or elsewhere, will undoubtedly get more out of the browsing experience as it will sync Bookmarks and History which makes the transition that much easier. It also integrates with Twitter, allowing you to share pages and a nice (Ctrl+F) find feature. We encountered no issues with any video content, from a number of sources and, all round, it’s certainly the best of the Smart TV browsers in our experience. Naturally the controller, if you can gain the proficiency to use it well, helps too. One thing that promised much but didn’t really deliver was the ability to use a Picture in Picture functionality with the browser and connected HDMI device. As the inlaid video is treated as 60Hz, it meant our connected PVR’s 50Hz output was made very choppy indeed so not really an option unless watching something remarkably static.

Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7
Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Sits between HDMI devices and TV
  • Controller makes web use very palatable
  • Very vesatile
  • Well engineered
  • Lots of potential
  • Google Chrome
  • Good media file support

The Bad

  • Chronic lack of dedicated apps
  • User interface might put some off
  • Some lock ups
  • Price seems a little high

Sony NSZ-GS7 Mutimedia Internet Player with Google TV Review

The Sony NSZ-GS7 is a typical example of Sony engineering – well constructed, designed with understatement and generally well thought out. There’s also a healthy set of connections for a device so compact and the ability to ‘sit between’ another HDMI device and the TV sets it apart from the likes of the Apple TV. The included controller, designed specifically to ease the pain of browsing the Web on a TV, is almost rugged in construction and although its sensitivities and button configuration might take some acclimatising to, it’s worth the effort to gain proficiency to get the most out of Sony Google TV. As well as a touchpad and Qwerty keyboard, the controller also features 3 way motion sensing, for games, although there’s precious few currently available to utilise the capability. For those that really can’t get on with it, there’s always the Sony Media Remote App available for Android and iOS to take up the slack.
Users unfamiliar with the Android Operating Systems might not find the environment the most comfortable of places but once they’ve twigged almost all of the settings are squirreled away in the All Apps Menu, things should hopefully fall in to place. We encountered some hang-ups and problems closing down, on occasion, but the Sony NSZ-GS7 certainly doesn’t seem plagued by the plethora of bugs reported in previous iterations of the OS. It’s not perfect, by any stretch, but we encountered nothing we’d term a deal-breaking issue.

The undoubted major shortcoming of the package lays in the lack of app support. Some of those preloaded are very good indeed – looking at you YouTube – but there’s the inescapable feeling of emptiness when first viewing the pre-installed apps and those available for Google TV via Google Play. For the first time in living memory, we can’t report on the presence of a BBC iPlayer app in a Smart TV system and only a dedicated Netflix widget saves the NSZ-GS7 from total obscurity on the VoD apps front. We realise that it’s a challenge for Sony to encourage developers to tailor apps for the Google TV OS but it’s something that needs to be done for it ever to reach anything like mass market appeal.

The total absence of a pre-loaded Media Player for streaming duties came as nothing short of an astonishing surprise too. Fortunately help is at hand through Google Play in the shape of Plex and aVia, that are downloadable for free and work very well, but we do feel that it shouldn’t need the proactivity of the user to enable what is a fairly rudimentary function of the Smart TV concept. At least the USB Media Player cuts the mustard and its pleasant user interface and wide file support ticks most of the boxes.
Besides the specially tailored controller, the undoubted ‘killer app’ for the Sony Google TV comes in the shape of a very well featured Chrome Browser. Those prepared to put in the effort to enter a few characters will find the superiority of Web based Video on Demand (VoD) services suitable recompense for the absence of dedicated apps. VoD is the unrivalled, most popular feature of Smart TV and it really could be argued that the Chrome browser is able to deliver it better than any other system. Existing users of the Chrome Browser with Google accounts will find it particularly fluid as it’s possible to sync Bookmarks and History with their PC – or other Chrome enabled devices’ browser. Those able to master the controller will benefit even further. One of the promising features of the browser – the ability to have the connected HDMI devices’ picture inlaid in to the browser – turned out a damp squib for us TV watchers restricted to 50Hz (all of Europe and elsewhere) as the video picture in picture is relayed at 60Hz in what can be best described as a chopfest or, perhaps, a jerkathon.

The Sony Google TV, NSZ-GS7 is a difficult one to assess. On the one hand it offers arguably the most complete Smart TV system out there; on the other the lack of immediate accessibility and paucity of dedicated apps could well hamper mass adoption. The NS7-GS7 also faces stiff competition, notably from an ever-increasing number of Android tablets hitting the market for comparable sums of money, and we think its biggest struggle might be in conveying its identity and scope of function whilst also having to justify the price-tag. If you're prepared to take a little time to get to know the Sony Google TV – and its controller – it’s an excellent Smart TV upgrade option. If you can’t be bothered with all that, get a tablet.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Performance

.
.
8

Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
.
6

Set up, Menus, Remote

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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