Sony SMP-N100 Review
Streaming Media Player, $100
Does this scenario sound familiar? You would like to watch Netflix on your HDTV, but the TV cannot connect to the Internet.
Rather than purchasing a brand spanking new TV, my initial suggestion would be to buy a Blu-ray player that offers Internet capability.
If that option doesn't appeal to you, then companies like Sony are providing another alternative, a device like the SMP-N100 that strips out the Blu-ray mechanism but retains all the Internet streaming facilities.
One of the advantages of a dedicated media player like the SMP-N100 is that it is easier to navigate than a Blu-ray player. In fact the SMP could stand for "simple." For the most part, it's simple to install and use and for me, easy to review.
But don't let me give you the impression that the SMP-N100 is a stripped to the bones player. To the contrary, Sony has packed it with over 30 Internet streaming content providers, including the heavy hitters like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora.
Add to that, this media player can connect to your home network and playback music, photos and videos that are stored on your PC. And Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) is built-in.
All in all, the SMP-N100 Streaming Player is an ideal combination, easy to use but feature rich.
Out of the Box
This media player is an unassuming little metal box, matte black with air holes on the top and glossy black on the face and sides.
On the front is a USB port for uploading music, videos and photos from USB enabled devices.
On the back, Sony supplies a host of connections including an HDMI out, a set of Component Video (Y/Pb/Pr) Outputs, (with matching Analog Audio two channel Output), one Composite Video Output, one Optical Audio Digital Output and an Ethernet Port.
If you decide to tap into your home network and the Internet wirelessly, a Wi-Fi adapter is built-in.
I know that wireless is more convenient, though I still suggest that for more reliable speed you consider running a wire from your router to the SMP-N100.
And as always, when streaming video from the Internet, if you are serious about obtaining good picture quality, you will need fairly fast and robust bandwidth from your Internet provider, ideally around 10Mbps.
I know some sites suggest as low as 2.5Mbps, but if anyone else in your house is accessing the network, the video playback will deteriorate. At least try to have around 5Mbps.
You definitely will want all the bandwidth you can afford, because Sony has assembled an impressive lineup of video content providers, (thirty at last count).
Some of them like Netflix will monitor your bandwidth speed and adjust its stream speed accordingly. The higher your bandwidth, the bigger the stream, the better the Picture Quality (PQ).
Along with the usual suspects like Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus and YouTube, you can stream video from sites like Crackle, Dr. Oz and Yoga for Everyone by Tara Stiles.
Sony has even packaged their own channels like Michael Jackson, Inside Sony Pictures, and the Digital Cinema Concert Series (currently featuring clips from Third Eye Blind, Creed and Chickenfoot).
Sony has also implemented its own video on demand service titled Qriocity, which features many popular movies and TV shows. It is a rental model similar to Amazon's.
I have explored Qriocity in earlier reviews of Sony TVs. But when I was reviewing the SMP-N100, every time I tried to open Qriocity, I received the message, "This service is currently offline."
Therefore, I will repeat what I said in my February review of the Sony NX-810 TV.
For the 3D enthusiasts waiting for more content, Qriocity offers a 3D genre. Along with new theatrical releases like Step Up 3D (3D HD stream for $7.99 rental) and earlier 3D movies like Disney's The Christmas Carol ($4.99), they have added a few classics like the 1954 Vincent Price 3D thriller, The Mad Magician.
And to tickle your funny bone in 3D, Qriocity offers two 3D Three Stooges shorts Pardon My Backfire and Spooks ($4.99 each).
On the audio front, Qriocity has added a subscription music service titled Music Unlimited.
At this time, the other audio content providers are Pandora, Slacker, NPR (National Public Radio), Lollapalooza Radio, Berliner Philharmoniker and Moshcam.
Considering the mish-mash of formats out in the digisphere, this Sony media player handles most of the common ones including DivX.
Of note, the SMP-N100 does have a couple of gaps in their apps. First, there are no social networking apps, for example, no link to Facebook or Twitter.
Second, Sony offers no photography websites, no Flickr or Picasa.
The SMP-N100's interface does include a Photo tab, but it is only connected to your home network or if you have a digital camera or flash drive attached to the USB port.
You can play slideshows, though the choices of Speeds (Fast, Normal, and Slow) and Effects (Off, Fade, Wipe, and Split) are limited.
If you are accessing photos and music from the USB port, you can designate a song to play in the background of the slideshow.
The smallish remote contains all the basic functions and then a few extras. For example, if you have this media player connected to a Sony Theater Mode-compatible AV amplifier (receiver) or TV, the THEATER button "switches to the optimum video mode for watching movies automatically."
If you are too cool for old fashioned remotes, the Sony folks have developed a "BD remote" app for your iPhone, iPod touch or compatible Android phone.
I downloaded it from the Apple App Store and after a bit of voodoo, I was able to get my iPhone to talk to the SMP-N100.
I must admit the remote interface on my smartphone was groovy, but I don't really want to pull out my telephone every time I want to pause my Netflix movie. Though I guess it will be a good backup if I lose the remote in the sofa cushions.
Every time, when I write that setting up this piece of equipment or that one is easy, I have to remind myself that I have gone through this process more than a few times.
So when I say that setting up the SMP-N100 is a breeze, let me qualify that statement.
First, I have my network all ship shape, (knock on wood). So I literally plugged in this media player, attached an Ethernet cable from my router, and by the time the SMP-N100 powered up, it had already found my network, automagically.
Now if this is your first time around the block dealing with networks, you might need a little assistance and hand holding.
Once you have your network established, here's a helpful hint. If you wish to tap into your files on your Windows PC, when you turn on the connected SMP-N100, you should see a little message pop up on your computer's screen that asks you to set the sharing permissions for the device. You need to set those permissions.
The other advantage I have when using this media player is that I have become very familiar with the menu system titled the XrossMedia Bar that Sony employs in their home theater equipment.
I recall my first review of a Sony TV with this interface. It made me a bit disoriented.
If you are not a Sony vet, it might take you a few laps around the track before you become comfortable with the organization.
Just remember that exploring is half the fun of playing with a new toy.
Here are a couple of other hints to start your journey. After you answer the few questions in the Easy Setup, go into the Settings menu, under Network Update, check to see if your software is up to date.
Then before you go any further, register your SMP-N100 on the Sony website. Under the Network heading, click on the Activate Enhanced Features option. You will see a code that you will enter when you register your product.
Once that is out of the way, you will need to set up accounts for services like Netflix. Even if you already have an account, you will need to go to the Netflix site and activate the device.
The code that you use here is different than the one used in the Sony registration. The first time you click on the Netflix icon on the SMP-N100's menu, you will be given a Netflix specific code.
Account setup for other content providers like Amazon Video on Demand and Pandora are different. And each will take a bit of time and gumption before you can use them fully.
But once you have enlisted, you are ready to rock and rolla. With all the possible streaming choices, you will never need to leave the comfort of your couch.
With the wildly varying picture quality of streaming content, it is difficult to extract the SMP-N100 out of the equation and judge its performance separately.
Sometimes, I believe that like a doctor, the first principle for a streaming player is to do no harm. And the SMP-N100 seems to do a good job of not deteriorating the incoming signal. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it actually is.
Next is the question of its ability to improve the original stream. In the Settings menu, you can pick the Output Video Format. If the SMP-N100 is connected to your TV with an HDMI cable, usually you choose Auto and the player will output the resolution that matches the TV, up to 1080p.
Like most devices that can upconvert SD footage to higher-resolution HD, the SMP-N100 does OK, just don't expect it to perform miracles.
For example, the first episode of Season 1 of the Felicia Day web series, The Guild, is shot in SD and streaming it from Netflix through this Sony really didn't improve the PQ.
Now this player does supply one feature that Sony calls IP Content Noise Reduction, which supposedly optimizes picture quality even when watching user-generated content.
You access it by hitting the Options button on the remote when watching a stream. It offers Off, 1, 2, and 3 options, but the manual gives no guidance on how to use it.
I went to YouTube and experimented with the settings on what sounded like a candidate for Noise Reduction called Public Pudding Pranks. I tried all four choices and none of them seemed to improve the video that looked like it had pudding on the camera lens. With a few other YouTube videos, I found the same non-results.
But as I said, if you feed the SMP-N100 a nice clean stream, the PQ looks fine, which is all I expect.
On the SonyStyle website, the original $129.99 price for the SMP-N100 has been slashed through, with a $99.99 next to it, which I have been informed is the new price. I like that last number better and a quick Internet search found it for even less, under $90.
As I said, I would rather buy a Blu-ray player with Internet connectivity, but that usually will put me in the over $125 range. And if you have no need for a Blu-ray/DVD player, than with its numerous streaming content providers, the SMP-N100 under $90 is a reasonable deal.
The Sony SMP-N100 Streaming Player is a feature rich solution for those who want to add Internet streaming capabilities (with over 30 content providers) to their home theater.