The Sony SMP-N100 USB media player is Sony's answer to digital video streamers such as the Western Digital WD TV Live. When connected to a USB storage device, the Sony SMP-N100 will play pretty much any video file you care to throw at it. It can also play sound files and display photos.
In addition, it allows you to connect wirelessly (802.11b/g/n) to the internet, granting access to your PC's hard drive and BRAVIA Internet Video — a portal to popular websites such as YouTube and Style.com. Boasting Full HD support via HDMI, the Sony SMP-N100 USB media player is a worthy accompaniment for the modern home theatre. Pretty much the only thing it doesn't do is record free-to-air television — a regrettable but forgivable oversight.
The Sony SMP-N100 USB media player has an impressively small footprint, measuring just 185x185mm. This makes it a good choice if your home entertainment system is already packed to the gills with video game consoles and the like. The player's single USB port is front-mounted for easy access, with all other connections (HDMI, composite and component video, Ethernet and optical audio) located on the rear.
In terms of aesthetics, the Sony SMP-N100 is about as basic as you can get — even Sony's trademark ultra-glossy finish is absent (instead, plain black plastic is used). Thankfully, its compact size means you can tuck it away from view when the Queen comes to visit, or whatever. No playback buttons are provided on the player, so you'll need to keep an eagle eye on your remote.
The included remote control is up to Sony's typical high standard, which is a blessed relief. All too often, media players are hamstrung by small, fiddly remotes that are incredibly frustrating to use. (Look at the WD TV's tiny, rubber-buttoned monstrosity for proof.) By contrast, the Sony SMP-N100 sports a full-sized remote control with large, responsive buttons. We didn't experience any lag when making menu selections either — another bane of media player remotes.
The Sony SMP-N100's user interface adopts the same XrossMedia bar as the PlayStation 3 video games console. Personally, we find this a lot more intuitive than the usual maze of submenus — it means every option is right there on the screen, with no need to sift through separate menu pages. On the downside, we couldn't get the player to preview video files before playing them. This is especially annoying if your media library lacks obvious files names.
To test the Sony SMP-N100's playback performance, we hooked it up to a 50in Sharp LC52LE820X LED TV and watched a variety of video files using a Kingston Data Traveller 5000 USB thumb drive. The SMP-N100 recognised all the videos we attempted to play, including high-def MKV files.
Picture quality was very impressive across all media formats: even our fuzzy DivX files of The Larry Sanders Show looked surprisingly sharp and watchable. This is apparently due to player's inbuilt Content Noise Reduction technology, which improves the quality of compressed video images. We usually take these claims with a grain of salt, but it can't be denied that our standard-definition files looked crisper than usual.
The Sony SMP-N100 USB media player is also capable of decoding the latest HD audio formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS 2.0+.
Connecting to the Internet is a breeze: we simply searched for the available networks and then made the relevant connection (an Ethernet port is also provided for traditional wired folk). In addition to websites like YouTube, the Sony SMP-N100 also provides access to Catch-Up TV; a service that lets you watch free-to-air TV shows on demand after they've already been broadcast. Catch-Up TV currently supports ABC (iView) and Channel 7 (Plus7), with more networks tipped to follow.
The Sony SMP-N100 is also DLNA compliant. This means you can access your PC's media files over a home network. Naturally, the USB port can also be used to connect digital cameras and camcorders, including high-def AVCHD models.
All in all, we were suitably impressed by the Sony SMP-N100. In fact, our only real reservation is the current RRP: like most Sony products, it's a teensy bit overpriced. By contrast, the Western Digital WD TV Live costs just £59.
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See also: Second-generation Apple TV review