Sony's digital convergence devices have often disappointed for some reason or other: The price is too high, or they leave out support for a popular file format to satisfy the DRM concern of Sony's entertainment division, or they try to foist a proprietary technology on consumers. But the SMP-N100 Network Media Player, or "Netbox," is a streaming unit that may be getting most things right.
For starters, the Netbox isn't one of those "connected" devices that only comes with an Ethernet port and expects you to have an Ethernet jack in your living room (or being willing to tear up some walls to put one in) -- it includes built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, so if you already have a home network, you're in good shape to reach both the Internet and the files on your computers. Sony wisely baked its Bravia Internet platform into the SMP-N100, so you can stream video from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon on Demand and music from Pandora and Slacker. It doesn't give you access to Hulu, but Hulu Plus will reach the Bravia Internet realm later this year.
In terms of formats supported for your personal video collection (which it can access through its DNLA client capability), those include DivX and MKV, neither of which you'd expect to see from Apple's TV product -- and are pretty surprising on a Sony device. It also comes with the requisite USB port, so you can attach compatible storage to it and play the files from the drive. It does lack an eSATA connection, though so does the WD TV Live Plus. Like the WD, and the Roku HD, the Netbox supports 1080p full HD playback.
Unlike many of Sony's products, the SMP-N100 is priced competitively: $129, though an official release date has not been announced. With some retail discounting, it could cost around $100 -- a similar price to the Roku HD sans 802.11n, or less than the Popbox or WD TV Live Plus. If the rumors of a new Apple TV device at $99 are true, the Netbox will need to be priced accordingly. Its one major drawback may be the lack of interactive features that will be included in Sony products running Google TV, but if you don't want to Web surf on your TV, could this be your dream streamer?