The scoop: Sony Network Media Player (SMP-N100), by Sony, about $80.
What it is: A streaming multimedia player that connects to your TV, the SMP-N100 can stream Internet multimedia services via a wired (Ethernet) or wireless (802.11n) connection. Connection options include HDMI, component, optical audio and composite cabling. Sony only includes composite cables, but I was able to connect to my HDTV with my own HDMI cable. A USB port on the front of the box lets you attach an additional hard drive in order to play multimedia content stored on it.
Why it's cool: From a content perspective, Sony has included a boatload of offerings for users to choose from. On the video side, there are at least 30 different services offered, including major players such as Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus, Sony's own Qriocity movie service and Netflix (all which require additional accounts and fees); as well as YouTube, Blip.TV and Crackle. On the music side, the box offers connections to Slacker, Pandora, National Public Radio, Sony's Music Unlimited Service and more.
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For most users, these services would be enough, but the player offers even more options, including the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall, Lollapalooza Radio, Golflink.com videos, Dr. Oz tips for Healthy Living and even a Yoga for Everyone channel. With such a wide variety of choices (I'm assuming that most users will subscribe to Netflix and maybe Hulu Plus or Amazon's offerings), this box could conceivably replace a user's cable TV service -- there certainly wouldn't be a "nothing's on" argument with such content choices.
Anyone familiar with the user interface of the PlayStation 3 will feel right at home, as the Network Media Player uses the same method of a horizontal bar for categories (music, video, photos, settings, etc.) and vertical options for the specific service offerings. The included remote control is also almost exactly like the Bluetooth remote for the PS3, and worked just fine on making menu choices.
If you don't yet own a streaming media player for your living room, the vast variety of content service offerings and support for your own music, photos, etc. make this a worthy choice compared with products from Roku, Apple and D-Link (their Boxee unit).
Some caveats: I was unable to test the Qriocity movie and music offerings, as the tests occurred during the recent Sony PlayStation Network outage (Qriocity was also affected). Owners may be wary of accessing that service, although it seems to offer movie choices that other services may not offer. A couple of other minor quibbles: The player can access music stored on a DLNA server, but won't play iTunes protected content, unlike other players I've tried. Connecting to some of the services (including Slacker, Netflix and even Sony's own registration system) had some hiccups during testing.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five).
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