Sony Bravia Internet Video
15th Jun 2010 | 11:00
Sony's new IPTV platform is a bit hit and miss
Sony Bravia Internet Video: Overview
Sony and FIFA are best buddies. Not only is the Japanese company filming 25 games at the current tournament in 3D in preparation for a 3D Blu-ray disc, but the World Cup and Champions League sponsor has chummed-up with FIFA and is offering World Cup goals galore on its latest 'smart' Bravia LCD TVs.
The interface is a winner; scroll across to 'video' on the XMB – which floats nicely over the live channel you're watching – and icons for each widget are presented as a list.
The front-end of each and every widget is almost identical, presented in a grid of thumbnail images that makes good use of the screen real estate – and crucially makes it easy to navigate. Each icon either leads straight to the content, or to a further grid of thumbnails beneath.
Content isn't too bad, either. With on-demand programmes from Five, streamed movies from LoveFilm and a special FIFA widget stacked with World Cup goodies, it's a highly attractive proposition for some, though many of the other widgets are lazily US-centric (the whole service is delivered via Sony USA).
The quality is also good; the TV streams from websites dynamically, delivering a lower-resolution picture if the speed of the network slows down, and upping it when it's fast. That helps cut out pauses and on-screen buffering messages, though that's also helped by the TV's seven second video buffer.
Sony Bravia Internet Video: FIFA World Cup
The platform's headline-grabber is this stunning collection of clips and archive footage that's structured into three distinct groups; Classic Moments, World Cup Stories and World Cup Reviews.
A 52-minute Top 20 FIFA World Cup Moments documentary is joined by a further 100 short clips that last around a minute.
They're arranged in A-Z format, with titles such as 'B is for Beckham', 'P is for Pele' and more generic shorts including 'R is for Referees' (a fairly pointless montage of refs sending off players, pointing to the penalty spot and getting pushed around by Maradona et al) and the dreaded 'P is for Penalty Shootout' (England feature a little too much in that one).
There's no commentary on any of these montages – instead just one sample of dance music plays repetitively as the clips play on a roll. They're a far cry from the BBC's wistful, tear-inducing efforts that traditionally follow England's exit.
World Cup Stories
The main content here are six excellent 30-minute documentaries entitled African Odyssey, Golden Boot Legends, Holland's Quest, Penalty Shoot-Out, World Cup Shocks and Young Shooting Stars, which rather than a youth version of Vic and Bob's game show is a celebration of the World Cup debuts of Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo and Owen.
There are also 15 six-minute shorts on specific players. Pele, Eusebio, Fritz Walter, Garrincha, Muller, Cruyff, Charlton, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Kempes, Platini, Milla, Rossi, Puskas and Zoff are all lauded in these engaging short films that benefit from good statistic-filled commentary.
But where's 1986's Golden Boot boy Gary Lineker? And Ronaldo, the all-time World Cup leading scorer? Our hunch is that these films were made a decade or so ago.
World Cup Reviews
This is perhaps the best section, with FIFA's archive of 10-minute Mini FIFA World Cups (currently being broadcast on the ESPN Classic channel) for every tournament stretching back to 1966.
Better still is the archive of FIFA's official World Cup Film Collection; you'll find 14 minutes of footage from the inaugural 1930 World Cup and the official films for every World Cup since 1958 – around 15 hours of films – though strangely the 1934, 1938, 1950, 1954 and 2006 tournaments are not covered.
They're hit and miss, but do include two classic films, 1982's G'Ole and 1986's Hero. Narrated by Sean Connery and Michael Caine respectively, both feature dated though atmospheric Rick Wakeman scores and unusual touchline camera footage, and close-ups instead of TV camera angles.
These two 35mm (though presented in here as 4:3 video transfers) films in particular convey the drama and emotions of the tournaments superbly well, though they do concentrate on the biggest matches and moments; completists would undoubtedly prefer an archive of every goal from every tournament.
Picture quality on some of these clips can only be described as fair, though it's often very good. The material is downloaded and streamed quickly, but mostly in the 4:3 shape – no surprise since World Cups until 1998 were filmed in 4:3. And although the 1998 event was shot in widescreen, it's presented here in its native resolution and doesn't fill the entire screen.
Sony Bravia Internet Video: On-demand video
In the absence of access to the BBC iPlayer or ITV Player, Sony delivers Demand Five. The front-end is divided into genres such as Documentary, Entertainment, Soap, New and Last Chance, though almost every programme also has a thumbnail icon of its own, too.
Home & Away and Neighbours feature heavily, as does the Gadget Show, in an ever-changing roster of 'light' fare. Sport content extends to just the Ultimate Fighting Championship, whatever that is.
The good news is that Sony is planning to bring BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD to the platform within months.
After the temporary domination of football is over, it's services such as LoveFilm that will determine the success of online video portals such as this.
It's a good interface that's divided into the same grid as every other widget, with easy-to-use chapters such as Highest Rated, Pick of the Week, British Classics and every other genre you can think of, but there's no search function, and nor is it free; unlimited access to 65,000 movies costs £9.99 per month, though if you visit the website you can sign-up to a free two-week trial – but only if you're not already a postal subscriber to LoveFilm.
Excellently this service loads quickly and includes access to trailers (also through a separate dedicated trailers widget on Sony's home screen), with movies loaded in around 30 seconds and streamed in decent DVD quality.
There's no chapter-skipping feature, but it's possible to scan through the movie very quickly using a visual progress bar. This is a standard definition service; there are some trailers for Blu-ray titles, but the picture quality is no better.
As with the LoveFilm's member's website, titles can be added to your postal list – essentially this is for titles (including all Blu-ray discs) not available on this streaming service.
Video sharing sites
Eurosport's rolling archive is divided into sports, but the inclusion of basketball and handball over cricket and rugby brings an immediate yellow card for cultural ignorance. Even the football footage is grouped into Football, World Cup 2010 and, err, Bundesliga, and is mostly interviews with managers.
Nor does it update regularly, while volume levels fluctuate wildly between clips. It's not a patch on Panasonic's version, and reveals that Sony's glossy interface is great for thumbing through archives, but not good at all for news services.
YouTube and Dailymotion are a welcome addition to Sony's platform and both are presented in the same easy-to-see manner. Featured, Most Popular, Most Discussed, Most Responded, Most Viewed, Top Favourites and Top Rated videos on YouTube are viewable, and are accompanied by a useful search function. YouTube is the only widget here that steers clear of the grid style used elsewhere by Sony in favour of its own native design.
Meanwhile Dailymotion's 40,000+ clips are unhelpfully divided into Other and HD, the latter of which are streamed in excellent quality. There's no way to find any particular video, making this widget another miss-fire.
A plethora of podcasts and videos from Videocast.com are also available, but short of some material from NASA and MTV it's mostly from US-based news networks and websites, and is of little interest for the living room.
Sony Bravia Internet Video: Other content
Sony's platform badly underperforms when it comes to social networking. There's no Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or eBay – but crucially all are promised shortly.
Blip.tv's quirky videos – some in HD – are mildly diverting, though the rest of the widgets are instantly forgettable; FordModels involves models showing us their photographs, Howcast.com gives tips on everything (How To Maximize Your Internship and Pick Up a Girl at the Beach are typical), ON Networks offers HD videos of US tourist sites, GolfLink.com gives online lessons, Livestrong.com does fitness videos, Singing Fool plays new music videos from hip-hop to New Country, and Tagesschau and Deutsche Welle both offer German news.
All very foreign, but there are some nifty audio widgets, the highlight of which is a National Public Radio (NPR) widget. This US radio station represents the very best of US media content and streams both serious, light-hearted and educational broadcasts and podcasts across politics, economics, technology, history, business and world affairs.
That includes its own How We Got Here (world affairs with historical background and context) and The World In Words (in one episode America quite rightly wonders why Brits insist that the rest of the world uses its own cliché-ridden terminology for 'the beautiful game') alongside the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say podcast. There are thousands of hours listening here, and it's mostly top-notch journalism.
Sony Bravia Internet Video: Verdict
Anyone who bought a top-spec Bravia last year ought to be gutted. Those sets were saddled with Sony's first attempt at an internet video platform, and the feature-less Applicast was a flop.
From the ashes of Applicast, Sony has somehow produced a silky, stylish and content-packed version that is near to being the industry's only 'must-have' web video platform.
The interface is excellent, everything loads in a reasonably short time, and picture quality – even some HD content – streams stably even when using a 2MB broadband connection. The FIFA World Cup, YouTube and NPR widgets are quite superb in both presentation and content.
The lack of social media and on-demand services such as iPlayer is a worry, though the former, at least, should be present on the platform before too long. A lot of the 'other' widgets are so US-centric as to be meaningless to most Brits, while the Eurosport service is incoherent and light on engaging content. And Demand Five over BBC iPlayer?
If you're not into football or willing to pay for films, there's little of interest on Sony's Bravia Internet Video platform for now. If you're into both, it's a must-have. With a largely brilliant base, we expect it to very soon develop into a genuinely engaging service relevant to almost anyone – it's just a few widgets away from greatness.
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