Hands On With Sony's Bravia Internet Video Link (Plus Gallery)

Yahoo_IVL.jpg Sony's $300 Bravia Internet Video Link hits stores this July. It's one of the most elegant systems yet available that delivers Internet video to the TV.

Your first question: What Internet video might that be? Yes, yes, it's a very good question. Before we get into that, though, let's see how it works.

The module connects to the TV via HDMI (video and CEC) and USB (metadata, images and additional commands). It is compatible with most new Bravias, ones that have the PlayStation-style Cross Media Bar (XMB) menu system. On new Bravias, there is a spot for the included mounting bracket, but you can also use the included table stand.

It is not wireless, and at $300, you're asking: Why the hell not? The timely answer is that Sony thought 802.11g was too slow, and since 802.11n wasn't fully ratified, they didn't want to sell something that would be obsolete or off-spec. (Insert crochety firmware-upgrade comment here.)

Sony recommends either a direct Ethernet connection or a high-def powerline bridge—something like Netgear's HDX101—which can cost $150 to $200 a pair. This is a hidden-cost issue Sony says it will try to make clear when people are buying the product.

Once it's connected to the TV, it's a great user-interface experience. You just grab the TV's remote and click MENU. Inch over to the movie icon in the XMB menu, and new video channels simply appear. Each video page follows a Sony-designed template: a large Brady Bunch-style grid of videos to choose from, all laid out on a PS3-inspired black-and-blue background. Move the cursor over a square, and you get info about the clip.

Now, about that content question you asked before...

Obviously Sony Pictures and Sony BMG are kicking in content, though the free service doesn't exactly have Hollywood studios lined up with blockbuster flicks. Sony Electronics has mainly partnered with Internet video distributors. Grouper and AOL are in there, though the principal launch partner will be Yahoo. So, yeah, clips mostly. Yahoo currently offers videos of up to 10 minutes in length. I do give it props for a continuous play feature that strings together one clip after another. Still, where is the first season of Lost, or The Big Lebowski?

The other question you are asking is how bad Web video is on a 1080p set. For the most part, the canned standard-def or Web-optimized content I saw looked decent. There were no true user-generated clips, though, so I can't judge the true output just yet. Some services, such as Grouper, are showcasing 3Mbps HD video files in the demo. Still, there's no telling if/when/how this would materialize when the product is in homes.

The other connected feature is the Yahoo-designed My Page, a source of traffic, weather and news headlines personalized to your zip code. Yahoo is the biggest content partner in the mix, and while it is a powerhouse, you might be wondering about that other "Y" company that knows a thing or two about Internet video.

Other elements currently missing that could potentially be part of the system: • Personalized content based on your log-in ID • Clip search • Sharing/viral feature • PC connectivity and local-file streaming

I hate to beat it up before it has time to prove itself. Like I said, the system is a good one, but without content you'd want to come back to again and again, its a $300 weather and news page (which Wii owners of course don't need anyway).

I have wrapped my brain around this many times over, and the fact is, sweet engineering or not, this makes way more sense as a $50 box with a content subscription of guaranteed quality. $300 is a lot to pay for a crapshoot. That's half a PS3. If it's not going to be a crapshoot, we need brand-name entertainment right there on the table. Please Sony, for your sake and ours, get crackin'!

Press Release [Sony Electronics]

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