Monday, January 30, 2012

The Sony SMP-N200 (or SMP-N100) is the only streaming player you need; eschew the Roku!

After much searching, buying, and evaluating, I'm convinced that the Sony SMP-N200 (or maybe the older SMP-N100 if you can find it) is probably the best streaming device you can buy. Well, it's at least the best value streaming device you can buy (under US$80). It does everything that a Roku device does plus a little more and is substantially cheaper when you compare apples to apples. The only thing you really lose is the ability to watch trailers in the Amazon Instant/Video-on-Demand application. However, trailers are available in basically every other movie app plus a Flixster application with plenty of trailers.

For US$66.99 on Amazon (and US$69.99 on Best Buy) at the time of this post, you get:
  • HDMI output for full 1080p video and 5.1 channel audio
  • Optical audio output (if your receiver doesn't do HDMI audio)
  • Analog audio output (via RCA connectors)
  • Composite video output
  • Component video output
  • Wired ethernet support
  • Wireless 802.11b/g/n support built-in
  • USB port (videos, pictures, music)
  • DLNA client (and maybe server for that USB?)
  • HDMI wake-up (i.e., device turns on and off automatically based on HDMI signal; moreover, this behavior is configurable if you don't like it)
  • Very thin and simple remote control powered by a watch battery
    People say this remote is an improvement over the one that came with the old SMP-N100 model, but I disagree. For one, the "Home" button is too close to the down arrow. More importantly, the old remote control was quasi-universal in that you could program it to your TV and it would control your TV's volume, power, and video input. So I basically only need one remote with the SMP-N100 to do everything.
  • Android phone and tablet remote control apps
  • iOS remote control app
  • ...probably more that I overlooked because I personally didn't care
With all of that hardware support, the device is great for a wide variety of home theater systems (e.g., with old TV's or old receivers). You can contrast this with the more expensive Roku that has an HDMI output and a composite output. Those people with older receivers and/or older TV's are not going to enjoy all of the advanced features of modern streaming content on a Roku. This is not as much the case with the Sony players.

And the applications that come on board the Sony SMP-N200 include:
For some reason, Amazon Instant/Video-on-Demand was not advertised anywhere on the box or on the Sony website like it used to be. However, the application still exists on the device. Despite it being the same application that is used to access Sony's own "Video Unlimited" service that supports movie trailers, the Amazon app has no trailer support. That's frustrating and makes me think that Sony has been given financial incentive to de-emphasize Amazon over its other providers. One of those providers includes Vudu, which is provided by the full-featured Vudu application you get on every other streaming device (minus the "Vudu apps" support you might see on a Blu-ray player). Regardless, if you're OK with getting your trailers elsewhere, this is a fine selection of applications. UPDATE: As of a recent software update on my Sony SMP-N100 (and so also likely on the Sony SMP-N200), trailers are available now in the Amazon VoD app. So it is much nicer now to browse for movies within the single app.

And if that's piqued your interest, you should also take a look at the previous model, the Sony SMP-N100. It is nearly identical to the SMP-N100 except that it lacks support for a few providers, of which the only one you should care about is Vudu. It still has Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant/Video-on-Demand (no trailers though), DLNA (which means PlayOn too), Crackle, YouTube (but no movie rental support), Pandora, and much more. However, it sells for at least US$20 less (so US$49.99 on Amazon (same price at Best Buy) at the time of this post) because the new version exists.

So if you're looking for a nice streaming player for a good value, I think most people will point you at the Roku. However, the Sony players (both the SMP-N200 and SMP-N100) are cheaper and do more. The interface is not as clean and cozy as Roku though. Moreover, it might be annoying to you that you cannot play Amazon video trailers. However, trailers are available through lots of other services, and there's a lot of value to having them all on one device (as opposed to having, say, Vudu on your Blu-ray player and Amazon VOD on your Roku).

23 comments:

Roku 2 said...

Sounds like an awesome device! I may just have to upgrade from my Roku! hahahahah

Windows Auditing said...

Hi Dude,

Sony's SMP-N200 streaming-media box packs a lot of functionality, but it's hampered by a subpar user interface. It has all the trappings of a killer streaming-media box. Thanks a lot.....

Anonymous said...

Playon doesnt work on the SMPN200 and will only has limited support on the SMPN100

Ted said...

Anonymous -- PlayOn works fine for me on the SMP-N100 I have (although I rarely use PlayOn). Moreover, it worked fine on the SMP-N200 I tried. What's the basis for your observation?

Anonymous said...

Re Wireless setup: If your WAP restricts connections to only those configured in the WAP, you're out of luck. The SMPN200 system info only shows the hardware address of the wired device, but NOT the wireless device.

Ted said...

Anonymous (Re Wireless setup) -- I'm not sure that's really so much of a problem. For one thing, MAC address filtering is notoriously unsafe. That is, it gets in your way, but it doesn't get in the way of anyone who actually wants onto your network. It's a mild deterrent, at best, which is why it isn't recommended. WPA/WPA2 is much better even without MAC filtering. (IIRC, the Sony supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which means no credentials even need to be entered into the box manually... so long as you're not doing MAC filtering too)

If you can disable your MAC filtering temporarily and let the Sony connect, you can record the MAC address received at the router. Even if you can't afford to do that, you should be able to look into your WAP's log file (nearly all WAP's have log access that you can turn on, but it may be in advanced settings) and you should see logs of the wireless MAC requesting an IP (i.e., you'll see a lot of ARP traffic).

However, if the Sony doesn't tell you its MAC address in the settings (I don't have mine in front of me to see how it looks or to verify the next statement), it may be because it uses the same MAC address for both interfaces. Recently, I have been upset to find several devices with two interfaces with a cloned MAC of one interface on the other interface. The intent here is that you can set the device up over the wired interface, get connected to the Internet, enter in all of the credentials needed to connect wirelessly, and then re-start with the wireless connection up. At that point, the router (or WAP) sees no difference. I'd rather them have distinct addresses so I can have both interfaces connected at least temporarily during setup... but they don't feel that way.

Anyway, you may have a little extra work to do, but I really don't think you're totally out of luck.

Jim Plumb said...

I picked up one of these at a Sony Outlet store for $33! Great deal.

Anonymous said...

Would this be able to stream Redbulltv.com and Freecaster?

That is the type of player I want.

Anonymous said...

No support for open formats like Matroska. Be aware if you have a lot of different video formats on your DLNA server.

Anonymous said...

The SMP-N200 is now $49 at Target. Got mine there the other day.

Anonymous said...

My wireless bluetooth keyboard actually works with the SMP-N200. No more difficult chores of typing in text throught the onscreen keyboard. I plugged in the USB dongle and it works.

The only problem I have is the sound output is very "hot", almost overdriven. anybody else notice this?

Ted said...

Thanks for the tip about the keyboard. I'll have to try a USB keyboard on the N100 to see if it works too.

Keep in mind that you can also download the Sony "Media Remote" app for both Android and iOS (and maybe even Blackberry) which gives you keyboard options.

I haven't noticed any problems with the sound on my N100 (nor on the N200 I played with a while back). In fact, sometimes I think the sound is too quiet...

Anonymous said...

Tried one this week, took it back, it is so buggy I thought about spraying it with a can of raid. Worked sometimes, then it didn't. Took it back to Fred Meyer, got my money back, bought a Roku 2 which is working flawlessly for me. I should have checked the comments on the Sony website before I purchased it since I am not the only one that is reporting inconsistent and poor results with this POS. I also just noticed that they quit making this thing so at least others will not have to go through the hassle on trying this thing and having to return it to the store. You may find one for $40 bucks but i recommend you spend a little extra and get something that actually works.

Ted said...

The SMP-N100 still works very well for my wife and me. The Sony interface is certainly not as polished as Roku, but the value is terrific. Plus, it has better support for more formats than the Roku. Moreover, the diversity of hardware outputs makes it nice for a wide audience of people using different television and receiver technologies with plans in the future to transition.

In truth, I purchased a Roku for my parents because I figured they'd want to be able to watch movie previews within the Amazon app, which is something the N200 doesn't allow. However, my wife and I watch previews on a tablet, and so that's not much of an issue for us.

All of that being said, we've never noticed the N100 being particularly "buggy." Perhaps there's some operator error...

Anonymous said...

─░am thinking of buying a 200 but would like to download apps from google play and does it have a standard browser thanks in advance

Ted said...

@Anonymous - The SMP models do not have a generic web browser. There are some different "app" options that can be installed to give access to specific Internet content, but it is a very small app ecosystem.

Basically, I'd only recommend the SMP if you're interested in stock services like Hulu Plus, Amazon Video-on-Demand, Pandora, Slacker, and several subscription-based services. If you want something that is very modular and lets you customize the service options, it's probably not the best for you. It's definitely meant to be a Roku competitor.

Anonymous said...

Whilst the box supports proxying, it doesn't support authenticated proxy, this is a major drawback for those of us who want to use it as a true network device to access TV services without borders

William Thomas said...

Will not play mp4s (ripped DVDs in iTunes library) from my dlna server, will play the movie if I put it on a USB drive

Anonymous said...

wrong you just must not know how to use it

Anonymous said...

this is absolutely not true!! I'm just watching an MKV right now use, sirviio as your server and stream from your PC. don't believe me try for yourself

Andy said...

Sony SMP-N100 Streaming Player with Wi-Fi is also DLNA compliant, so you can stream your photos, music and movies stored on your PC and laptop directly to your TV. Included in the full set of this product is a remote control for your distant control availability. Moreover, you can turn your iPhone, iPod touch or any Android phones into a multifunctional remote control by a fast and easy access to our web page downloading free “Media remote” application. Sony SMP-N100 is currently available on Amazon.com at the extremely shocking price of $174.99 for a brand-new one.

dsrdakota said...

I wouldn't be so sure about having the SMP-N200 as your best buddy. My player shuts off or the video driver fails and quits on mine with the power indicator not even lit. It may seem fried but its not. The unit itself constantly heats up.

Ted Pavlic said...

@drsdakota -- That's too bad. I haven't had any of that sort of problem on my N100, and so maybe it's something specific to the N200. Or maybe you have a bad unit. Is it still under warranty? Have you tried getting a replacement?

I actually haven't been using my N100 very much lately. I installed a Mythbuntu HTPC [Zotac MAG+HDHomeRun] and added a Chromecast. Given the breadth of apps available for the Chromecast (and the helpful app Allcast) and the generality of the HTPC, I find myself very rarely using the N100. My Hulu Plus use has shifted entirely to the Chromecast, but I still use the N100 for Amazon Prime. I haven't had any trouble with it overheating or anything -- and it's in a very tight spot next to the HTPC with some remotes piled on top of it.