Design and Connections
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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