As expected, last night Sony took the wraps off the industry's first Google TVs, which promise to further blur the lines between traditional TV programming and Internet-based content by adding a few elements missing from other TV-based online services: namely, the ability to browse the entire Web and to search for content on the TV, across the Internet, or on a Dish DVR.
Sony, which is calling its Google TV-powered sets Sony Internet TVs, also unveiled a new Google TV-powered Blu-ray player, priced at $400, that brings the Sony Internet TV service to TVs that lack that capability. We were told by a Sony exec that the Blu-ray player will be able to be upgraded to 3D capability via a future firmware update.
At a press event last night, Sony said it was the only TV manufacturer that will offer a Google TV-powered set this holiday season. We had a chance to play around with one of the new Sony Internet TVs, but before we get to our first impressions here are some product details.
Initially, there are four models, ranging in price from $600 for a 24-inch TV to $1,400 for a 46-inch set. All are 1080p LCD sets with built-in Wi-Fi, and all except the smallest set have edge LED backlights. The TVs (and Blu-ray player) can be pre-ordered from the SonyStyle.com and BestBuy.com websites immediately, and Sony says they'll be in the SonyStyle stores this weekend, and in Best Buy stores starting on October 24th.
Here's the complete Sony Internet TV and Blu-ray lineup, with prices:
- 46-inch NSX-46GT1, $1,400
- 40-inch NSX-40GT1, $1,000
- 32-inch NSX-32GT1, $800
- 24-inch NSX-24GT1, $600
- NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player, $400
Like the Logitech Revue we wrote about, the Sony Internet TVs all use the Android-based Google TV platform and run an optimized version of Google's Chrome browser. The TVs also include an Intel Atom processor and 8GB of storage. Both the TVs and Blu-ray player come with a new, large remote control that features RF connections to the TV (IR is also included for controlling other IR-based gear, such as A/V receivers or cable or satellite boxes), a full QWERTY keyboard, and a built-in optical mouse. Sony said an app will be released later this fall that lets Android phones act as the TV remote.
As I played around with the TV at the event, one thing that struck me was the relative lack of preloaded apps, especially given the thriving Android market. Apparently, the TV platform won't be open to the Android apps market until early next year. The TVs do come with Qriocity (Sony's streaming video service), Netflix, Pandora, Napster, YouTube and Twitter apps, plus a few others, such as NBA Game Time and CNBC.
Using the button-laden remote is a bit complicated at first, and moving the cursor via the optical mouse rather than the touch interface I'm more used to on my Android phone took a while to get used to. But having a full QWERTY keyboard made typing searches a snap, and when I searched for a program the results were displayed onscreen in a well-organized fashion. The search showed all the upcoming TV listings, the streaming versions available on the Web (and some Wikipedia links), plus recordings stored on a Dish DVR.
As with PC-based browsers, you can bookmark favorite sites for easy recall. And a Dual View feature acts like picture-in-picture, letting you watch live TV while simultaneously going out to view or access Internet content.
Right now, you can only search for and directly access recordings on a Dish DVR from the Google TV interface, as it's the only DVR that supports bi-directional communication with the TV. But you can locate stored recordings on other DVRs by pushing the DVR button on the remote. It's possible that more integrated support for other cable and satellite settop boxes could be added in the future.
While we expected Google TV to be included in Sony's top-of-the-line TVs, such as its flagship XBR series, Sony says its target demographic is younger, media-savvy viewers who are used to multitasking while watching TV. It wasn't clear when Google TV will make its way into other Sony TV series, or which other manufacturers will be integrating Google TV into their sets. But based on our short hands-on demos, Google TV does integrate Web access and search functionality within the TV-viewing experience in a fairly seamless fashion. We're looking forward to trying out one of these sets in our TV labs, so stay tuned for a more detailed evaluation.
—James K. Willcox