Goodbye, BRAVIA Internet Video. Hello, Sony Entertainment Network. In years past, the Web platform in Sony's line of TVs and Blu-ray players carried the name BRAVIA Internet Video, while the phrase "Sony Entertainment Network" specifically described the trio of Sony-branded Web services: Video Unlimited, Music Unlimited, and PlayStation Network. This year, Sony has folded all of its Web-based applications and services under the Sony Entertainment Network banner (or SEN, for short). This review of the Web platform is based on time spent with the KDL-55HX750 LCD TV.
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• Compare SEN against Panasonic's VIERA Connect and the Samsung Smart Hub.
In previous TV models, Sony opted not to group Web services into their own interface, as competitors like Samsung (Smart Hub), Panasonic (Viera Connect), and LG (Smart TV) do. Instead, the company simply integrated these applications into its crossbar-style Home menu. For 2012 TVs, Sony has created a dedicated SEN interface. The remote control includes a new SEN button that launches this dedicated interface, in which the primary video source continues to play in a small window on the left side of the screen while the remainder of the screen is divided into four categories: Apps, Video, Music, and Favorites. Apps is where you'll find premium Web services like Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and Skype. Other highlights include Yahoo! Widgets, NHL, Crackle, AOL HD, Wired, Flixster, Slacker Radio, and NPR. Notably absent are Vudu and CinemaNow, as well as Spotify and other sports channels like MLB.TV, NBA, and MLS. Sony's 3D Experience app is available to stream 3D demo content. You can check out the complete lineup of apps here.
The Video and Music categories show you the content that's available through Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services. To use these services, you need to create a Sony Entertainment Network account (or you can use an existing PlayStation Network account). The video service is similar to other pay-per-use VOD apps in which you can rent or purchase titles in HD or SD quality. Video Unlimited offers some 3D titles for streaming; for instance, the 3D version of The Lorax was available for rent for $7.50, compared with $5.99 for HD and $3.99 for SD. The Music Unlimited Service is a subscription service ($4.99 to $9.99 per month, depending on plan) provides unlimited access to all of the music offered in Sony's catalog, plus the ability to store your personal music collection in the cloud to access on mobile devices. You can get all the details about Music Unlimited here.
Finally, the Favorites area allows you to tag your favorite apps for quick access. Beyond the ability to set apart your favorites, SEN doesn't offer much in the way of customization. You can't rearrange the apps, delete unwanted services, or access an apps store to browse and buy new stuff. Basically, you get what Sony chooses to give you. You may notice a conspicuous lack of games in the TV/Blu-ray SEN platform, lest the service interfere with the sale of PlayStation consoles.
I like the new SEN interface: It's clean and very simple to navigate. However, Sony has made the odd decision to also keep the Web services in the TV's Home menu, accessible through sub-menus called Applications, Sony Entertainment Network, and Internet Content. So, what's the point of developing a new interface? It's redundant at best, confusing at worst. Sony should either commit to the new SEN interface or stick with the format they've been using all along.
Regarding other network services, DLNA/USB media playback is also available. The TV supports the following formats: JPEG, MPO, MP3, PCM, WMA, AVCHD, AVC, MPEG4, MPEG2, MPEG1, and WMV. USB playback worked fine as long I used a properly formatted MS-DOS thumb drive. DLNA streaming was successful from my MacBook Pro's Plex software, but the Sony TV didn't play quite as nicely with a Samsung tablet. Video streaming worked fine, but photo and music streaming were unreliable. Although I could often see the desired files within the Sony interface, I would get an error message when I actually tried to play them.
I experimented with the Media Remote control app in both its iOS and Android forms, which are essentially the same. Both provide several different screen layouts from which to choose: The Full Remote option mimics all the buttons on the TV remote, the Simple Remote combines a few key buttons with a directional slider, and the Cursor arrow is designed for Website navigation. The virtual keyboard is helpful and intuitive to use when it's available, but several apps do not support the keyboard function, including Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix. As with the Panasonic remote app I previously reviewed, this one allows you to launch Web pages within the app itself and then flick them to the TV; you can also bring a Web page from the TV to the app. Sony's "flick function" does not have the ability to send media content, the way the Panasonic does. For the most part, communication between the TV and the Media Remote app was reliable, and commands were quickly executed. The only exception was the Cursor, which was sluggish and often unresponsive during Web navigation.
Speaking of the Web, Sony's browser leaves something to be desired. Beyond the fact that navigation is slow and awkward, the browser does not support Flash, and page loading is noticeably slower than the browser in the recent Samsung ES8000 I reviewed (which employs a dual-core processor). Also, when I tried to cue up the L.A. Times website (and several others), I got a message saying that the page was too large to be displayed. It took some exploring for me to figure out how to enter a URL, since there is no URL bar at the top of the page. You must hit the remote's Options button and scroll down to the "Enter URL" command. The Options toolbar is also where you'll find a Zoom tool to make Web pages larger (some manufacturers allow you to zoom in/out using the color buttons on the remote, a much quicker solution).
To utilize all of the features described above, you have to connect your Sony TV to a broadband network. The top-shelf TVs and Blu-ray players offer both wired LAN and built-in WiFi. Some TVs (including the HX750 I used) also support WiFi Direct, so you have the option to link compatible mobile devices directly to the TV without going through a router.Read about the high points and low points of the Sony Entertainment Platform on Page 2.