270 of 312 people found the following review helpful
There are better players out there.....,
This review is from: Sony SMP-N200 Streaming Media Player with Wi-Fi (Electronics)I picked up the Sony SMP-N200 looking to find a good solution for playing local media while also having a good amount of choices for internet streaming as well. I own 3 Roku units right now, and by far they are the best internet streamers out there, but they have a very limited range of codec support so aren't ideal at all for local playback. I also have a WD TV Live Plus, which is terrific for local playback file support, but it's interface is terrible. Other quirks it has left me shopping around for other alternatives.
In that search I had purchased and returned the Logitech Revue because it was rather cumbersome to use and lacked local playback flexibility. I did really like the Chrome browser so when I saw the introduction of the new Sony also had an internet browser I was sold.
When it arrived it was very easy to set up and get online. I noticed the box is larger than other boxes I had, and the remote was so lite it was almost weightless. I did worry right of the bat that either I would accidentally break it, as it felt more like a toy than a real remote control. Apparently the augmented version of the Xbar UI from the PS3 used in the smp-n100 is unchanged in this new model. It wastes alot of screen real estate and is small enough that unless you're right up on the TV or are using it on a large screen it's difficult to read. This is a criticism that Cnet also gave it in their own review. The Netflix app, which is customized by Sony suffers from the same. Very small cover art and text that is tiring to continuously squint at. The Hulu Plus app works well, but the Amazon Instant Video app has no rhyme or reason to how things are sorted in the Prime Streaming selections that it too was more pain that it was worth to find what you were looking for. The global streaming search function is a great idea, but in my use it only showed matches to queries from its lesser-known streaming channels and none of the main ones.
The unit does include a very nice Vudu app, but for my tastes there really isn't anything coming out now days that I want to spend their high prices to see. Sony Unlimited Movies and Music is also on the box but I didn't bother to try because honestly I didn't want to give Sony my credit card info lol.
Besides the big providers mentioned, the majority of the other streaming channels were basically worthless throwaways that no one would spend any time watching. One "channel" (I can't remember the name) of tech reviews had seven videos of reviews in total of products that were all dated from 2008. Certainly gave me a glimpse at the expected update frequency.. Also, the Bravia Internet selection is not included on this unit, so if that's what you're expecting you will be disappointed.
The local playback was a mixed bag. The box could do DLNA (which I did not try) because I have my media on a small usb hard drive. As a caution to anyone looking for DLNA functionality, the manual does state that there are file types it can not support over DLNA that it will otherwise support over usb such as WMV9 and AVCHD, and it can only play standard definition over DLNA for some other file types as well. You may want to look up the manual on Sony's website to make sure it can handle your particular application.
With USB the first thing I noticed is that because the Sony has no way to mount or unmount the drive, you must plug or unplug any usb attachment while the unit is off. This is highlighted in the user manual as a must in order to avoid corruption of the usb device and/or files on it. Meaning that you can not even change thumbdrives/hard drives unless you power the whole unit off. Curiously, a few times the unit did not recognize at all the same flash drive that had worked previously in it. I was also dismayed to see that the Sony did not support all the .jpg image thumbnails of coverart for the video or audio files, so then every movie was just a default icon.
Furthermore, I found that it would not play many .avi files I had (that would play on the WD) because apparently Sony does not support the divx codec. I did not realize what type of video was in the AVI container files at the time, just that I had files that I wanted to play. It was only upon investigation of the codecs of the files that wouldn't play did I find out the issue. In all fairness, that codec is not listed in the manual as being supported so that one is really my fault for not realizing before I bought. The issue is, one shouldn't have to think about whether the codec in their AVI is compatible or not. If the box says it plays AVIs then many users assume it will play all files that end in ".avi".
As an aside It also does not play DVD ISO files, the primary way that I archived my dvds. I knew that going in, but just in case that is a requirement for the reader I wanted to mention it. I had begun ripping all my DVDs to H.264 MP4 files also so I could watch them on my Roku, and possibly on my iPhone, but I found that to be an arduous and lengthy process. I've also come to the realization that I'm probably never going to sit and watch a 2 hour movie on my phone, and if I do I'll just go to Netflix.
The Opera browser, the biggest reason I went for it over another capable box, is terrible. Navigation with the remote is awkward and cumbersome, and the biggest kicker is that it is not flash capable!?. I was under the assumption that the whole reason for having a browser on your TV is so you could point it at web page video and view it, but apparently that is not the case. I did chat with a Sony support rep and they stated there was not going to be support for a flash plugin.
Even for the core functionality it has, it gets a lot of the small things wrong. All those small things add up to a sizable frustration using the device for the average user. The problem with the Sony is it doesn't do anything particularly well. If you are looking for internet streaming only, local playback only, or both, frankly other boxes can do it much better. The only real thing it has over competing boxes is 3D capability, so if you have a 3D TV or are interested in getting one this is the only option for 3D streaming. Be forewarned though that there really isn't much if anything in 3D available to stream right now.
All in all, if you are looking for a streaming box that lacks any real user-friendliness that includes customized apps like Hulu Plus, Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu, somewhat (but not complete) wide local file support, and a (worthless) browser, well the Sony is the way to go I guess. CNET says of it, "The subpar user interface holds it back as a streamer and it's just OK at handling your own digital media, especially compared with boxes like the WD TV Live or Boxee Box" and I completely agree. Unless you are on a strict budget, I would say skip it and go for another box. In the end you will probably be happier.
Truth be told though, I sent mine back after four days of use and opted for the new WD Live streaming player. It plays just about anything you throw at it with probably the best UI on the market right now, also has built in wireless, and a great selection of streaming services. I couldn't be happier with the WD over the Sony.
Some commenters have expressed their displeasure that I mention that I returned the unit and purchased a competing product, with which I am very happy. They have also felt that I am too harsh and expect too much of the unit for my "unorthodox" uses as well. I will just say that for anyone reading this review, please keep any and all user experiences from product reviews in mind when deciding what is right for you. The best way to make an informed decision on what's right for you is to have all the information you can. No review or experience is "right" or "wrong", take from them what you can and draw your own conclusions. Have a happy new year.
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Showing 1-10 of 44 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 6, 2011 3:06:18 AM PST
Mark Twain says:
Thank you very much for your review.
Posted on Dec 8, 2011 7:35:13 AM PST
M Moore says:
It does support divx - I use this for DNLA streaming.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 8, 2011 8:55:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 8, 2011 9:03:41 AM PST
Thank you for your comment. The Sony would not play any of my .avi files with the divx codec over usb connection. The WD successfully played those very same files. If this is a function added with an update since since my review I don't know but that functionality is still not referred to in the smp-n200's manual. If it supports divx over dlna only, or just "not" in an avi container then it still very much deserves the rating I gave it.
Posted on Dec 11, 2011 6:01:00 PM PST
M. Gariepy says:
If your looking for something to play your local media why not a boxee?
Posted on Dec 31, 2011 7:44:32 AM PST
Gerald G. Grafstrom says:
Nice review. Factual, but not opinionated (there is a difference despite what some might think.)
Posted on Dec 31, 2011 2:33:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 27, 2012 4:47:52 PM PDT
Jean Luc says:
I think this review is an honest review, but it is outdated on at least one major point, inaccurate on another, and just like all reviews opinionated on some points:
1. It is true the browser experience is horrible. I don't think anyone should have a realistic expectation that this unit with a simple DVD style remote could possible do a great job with web browsing as though you are sitting in front of a PC. This is also not some major selling point for this unit as the browser is not even mentioned on the product pages on Amazon or even the Sony site.
2. Divx. At the time of Robert's original review Divx was not supported by this unit. A firmware upgrade was subsequently released and the unit now does support Divx. It even appears on the divxpro10 web site and there are other articles dated November or later documenting that divx is supported. This would account for why Robert had issues with his test, but the commenter named M Moore stated it works. I don't normally use Divx, and this codec has had many flavors over the years, but as a test I downloaded two .AVI movies (Time Changer and Grandmas Boy) from a site called divxcrawler and both of these played perfectly for me from an attached USB drive and when streamed from my Windows 7 computer.
3. Robert admits he didn't test using DLNA, but warns that certain file types and hi-definition files aren't supported over DLNA. In fairness, the wording in the manual for the product does seem to indicate this is a limitation for some types of videos; however, it simply isn't true. I have personally tested Bluray quality files (1080p and hi bit rates) using MPEG2, WMV9 and MPEG-4/H.264/AVC codecs. File types I tested with included: mpg, m2ts, mp4, wmv, ts, wtv. If this were an actual limitation of the product I would have given it a single star rating.
4. Support for ISO DVDs. Until reading this review I would never have thought of attempting this. While it is interesting and kinda cool that the WD TV Live supports reading the ISO files, this is also what I would call a fringe approach to storing and watching DVD's. Regardless of my categorization of the ISO file approach, this unit will read and play entire uncompressed DVDs/Blurays copied to a hard drive (such as can be done with products like DVDFab) - just not when copied to a single ISO image file.
5. Other comments like it gets a lot of the small things wrong and it lacks any real user-friendliness are of course opinionated statements - that is fair. I have seen multiple reviews that call the interface "lack luster", but for me (and others) it is completely usable and for any perceived lack of user-friendliness, makes up for it with a better picture quality and more reliable network streaming of true hi-def and hi-bit rate movies. Of course that's my experience with the product, but also one shared by other reviewers as well.
I actually bought a WD TV Live based on Robert's initial review, but within a couple of hours knew I wasn't going to be happy with it. Not that it was horrible, but I didn't think the picture quality was up to par, and it choked on .wtv files - the files created by Windows 7 for recorded TV. Other reviews have also verified the WD TV Live as being incompatible with .wtv files. Of course that may be remedied by a firmware upgrade at some point.
Not claiming that the Sony is perfect- it is not and none of the streamers are - but it is much better than any of the extremely negative reviews claim.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2011 4:07:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 31, 2011 8:19:09 PM PST
Thank you for your feedback. Considering it's a rather lengthy rebuttal to my own personal impressions of the player, let me address a few points for the benefit of anyone else that reads this...
1. <<Why would anyone expect that this unit with a simple remote could possible do a better job with web browsing?>>
I never expected it to be "better", I expected it to function like a web browser and play Flash. When a company uses its product's web browser on a box designed to bring internet video to your TV as a selling point, I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination to expect it to be able to handle actually browsing the full web. And since you ask, the only thing that elevated the Logitech Revue to a 3 in my review was the fact that the Chrome browser did indeed support Flash..
2. Your thoughts on Divx aside, there are many, many videos out there with Divx encoding and without support for them you couldn't play them. I did concede in my review that it was my fault for assuming this player would handle such a common format. It actually is much less "fringe" than the .wtv files you opine stutter on the WD Live. Since there are probably many more people with Divx encoded files than those with tuner cards in their Windows 7 machines recording OTA television I think criticism from you on that point is a bit hypocritical at best.
<<While it is interesting and kinda cool that the WD TV Live supports reading the ISO files, this is also what I would call a fringe approach to storing DVD's. What most people do is either rip them to disc, or even better re-encode them to H.264 to save space with almost imperceptible loss of quality.>>
An ISO is a straight disc-copy intended to preserve everything from the original disc. That way you can re-burn to a blank disc, or just be able to enjoy the contents of the disc as created, including menus, special features, etc. Since it doesn't require re-encoding the video from it's native mpeg2 format, it's actually quicker as well. If you go to WD's forums, or Boxee's forums you will see there are whole communities of users that use DVD and even BD ISO files as a means of backup and enjoy the fact the WD can handle them. Just because you don't doesn't mean it's "fringe".
<<So honestly no disrespect, but to rate the unit 2 stars over the above criteria seems very opinionated to me and probably not in line with mainstream user needs.>>
While you say that I'm no "shill" for WD, you sure seem to be one for Sony.. I rated it two stars on the above criteria *and* it's user interface, the selection of it's streaming services, its usability, and whether or not it works well. For me it had too many issues and caveats to be worth keeping. If it fits your needs, that's wonderful. I wanted people to see my own experiences and get some insight on what using the box was like. That's what reviews are for.... Every part of my review is factual, but if you don't agree with how I use technology then unfortunately I can't do anything about it.
Someone like yourself who records television on their computer and wants to stream it from a home server setup to the TV, or rips DVDs as .ts, VOB, or m2ts files is *not* a mainstream user. No criticism for that, but don't presume to be able to speak for the average user and admonish others that don't give glowing reviews to the Sony.
The mainstream user is someone who buys a product and wants it to work well for what it advertises to do. They buy a STB that advertises local file support because they want to plug in a thumbdrive of videos they have and watch them on TV. They don't have favorite file types, or even know the difference between a container and a codec is. They just know they have a video and want to play it. They want it to be easy to operate, be intuitive, and "just work".
I purchased my unit when it was first released for $99 direct from Sony. Only two and a half month later it has dropped forty dollars in price. There's a reason for it.
Regardless, have a safe and happy new year everyone.
Posted on Jan 1, 2012 1:06:55 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 4, 2012 10:54:56 PM PST]
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2012 3:25:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 1, 2012 8:21:10 AM PST
Gerald G. Grafstrom says:
I know neither party, but since my comment seems to have sparked this now somewhat personal debate, I feel qualified to weigh in. I see no evidence of actual "shilling" in either review. Robert is commenting on how the Sony fails to meet his needs or expectations. This is what a review is supposed to be about. Jean takes issue with Robert's expectations and preference for a alternate product, and justifies it by a none too subtle attack on Robert's criteria, while not disputing most if not all of his claims. After reading the reviews (not just these two) on both products, I've decided to pass on both. I'm going to stay out of the argument over what is or is not "mainstream." That is such a vague and often divisive term. It reminds me of the old debate on what is or is not "normal." Normal is a town in Illinois and beyond that few people can agree on it's meaning.