My most selfish desires for Christmas this year came true. I’ve been yearning for a set-top box for months now, but I was never able to justify the expense. As I was researching the cornucopia of options, someone was listening…
The model I had settled on initially was the Sony SM-N100. (I was swayed for a while on Logitech’s GoogleTV offering… but the reviews are mixed.) A quick summary would be to say it has everything that the top-of-the-line Roku has, PLUS DLNA streaming, for a little less coin.
For those who don’t know, DLNA allows you to stream media from one device to another, easily, over your home network. In other words, I could stream my home videos, pictures, or music playlists from my PC directly to my TV without any cables! Oh, yeah, geek nirvana!
Ok, so I opened it up, and it comes with remote (including batteries, which now controls my TV as well), power supply, and RCA component cable. It didn’t come with an HDMI cable, which will eventually be my connection of choice. I was also pleased to find an optical audio out port, which I can use to feed my sound system.
Initially, I placed it in front of my TV under my central speakers, then got to work. I connected it to my wifi without much issue (once I remembered my password). Though it seemed sluggish (more on that later). I started a software update, but it failed on step 3 of 5.
The next step is to ‘register’ the device with Sony. Through their website, you can manage your premium services (like Netflix) which is a lot easier than trying to input credentials with the remote. The unit displays a simple code which you type into the website. Netflix was similar, type in the code, and click activate.
I immediately went to Netflix to try it out. It was painfully slow. Poking around, I noticed everything was painfully slow. Hmm… the “network diagnostics” said it was connected, and the wifi signal strength was 87-100%, so it couldn’t be the network…
For those who don’t know me, I’m somewhat skilled in networking. It’s my specialty, what I do for a living, and for some reason, keeps me entertained. First, I found the IP of my set-top (from the setup area) then pinged it with my laptop. I was losing a lot of packets. Basically, it was having to repeat itself a lot, making it seem slow, or broken. Since I was using Wi-Fi, I first tried repositioning the unit a few times, with little improvement. Little enough to try out Netflix, though.
I found sifting thru tons of movies less convenient on the TV, than a PC, but finally selected a flick for the kids to watch. It didn’t work, saying I couldn’t view that protected content. “Oh yes,” I thought, “I better update it!” Successfully updating the software was easy, but it had to try 3 agonizing times, as it’s connection was not working well. At this point, I was starting to wonder if the thing had enough power to do what I wanted…
After a good nights sleep, I decided to play with my Wi-Fi. Though my signal strength was high, and my netbook by its side had no problems, I decided to change channels on my router. WOW, problem solved! Though the Wi-Fi is working splendidly now, if you have the option of placing it near your router, or running a Cat5 Ethernet cable, I would recommend that. That said, mine is now working on the other side of my tin-can mobile home.
The agonizing wait-times are over, and it’s working like a champ! DLNA was easier than I had anticipated. I quick Google search showed me how to share my media from my Windows 7 PC. The Sony discovered it, and the kids and I had loads of fun watching home videos and pictures. I was pleased that it supported my new DivX 1080 video from my camera, with only a few seconds to buffer. However, it doesn’t play AVI files. It searches the folders I shared, which contain WAY too much stuff. I’ll have to sort them into ‘playlists’ for more concise viewing.
I haven’t tried out the USB storage option yet, and there’s WAY to many options to have explored them all yet (BlipTV, Youtube, Pandora). Typing in a search term with the remote is painful, like texting without a QWERTY keyboard, but using the arrows to browse was easy. I’ll probably arrange my content into playlists or load my Netflix queue prior to plopping on the couch.
For those wanting to build a home-theater PC, this won’t quite compare, as it’s limited to the apps and file formats it supports (which are extensive). That said, I am EXTREMELY pleased and would highly recommend it as a set-top box!