Sony entertainment network apps

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Sony’s 2012 TVs still use a modified version of the classic XMB interface to surface apps. But this year it’s joined by another.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)From phones to cameras to TVs game consoles, if you’ve played with a Sony device over the past 5 years, then you’ll be quite familiar with the company’s Xross Media Bar (XMB), which also forms the backbone of of its 2012 TV interface. This year Sony is also pushing its Entertainment Network even harder, which for some reason meant adding a new, completely different-looking interface on top of the old one and keeping both.ContentSony’s 2012 app selection, as seen on the HX750 series I recently tested, is basically the same as last year (Sony recently added Amazon Instant Video to its PS3 console but the service already existed on Bravia TVs). High-profile apps include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Cinema Now for video, Pandora and Slacker for audio, and Skype (optional camera/speakerphone required), Facebook and Twitter for networking. The Sony remotes also carry a dedicated Netflix button for easy access to the video service.The only major missing video services are Vudu and MLB TV, while subscription music services are conspicuously absent, probably so they don’t compete with Music Unlimited.The big change for 2012 is a more prominent role for the Sony Entertainment Network, which rolls together the Internet video apps above with storefronts for Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. Access to Music Unlimited requires a subscription of $3.99 for basic streaming, or $9.99 for premium access, which enables you to keep a private, cloud-based library of tracks, including your personal collection and playlists (similar to other music lockers like Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music). Subscribers can stream from the cloud to the TV, PCs, or any number of Sony devices, and offline access is provided via Android and Vita apps.Despite the name, Video Unlimited is not a subscription-based all-you-can-eat service like Netflix. Instead it’s a pay-as-you-go service that offers movies at between $3 and $4 for SD and $6 for HD. I don’t see any reason to use it over something like Amazon Instant or Vudu.Sony has introduced a new smart TV platform known as the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which was originally conceived for users to easily access content. Components include the company’s subscription-based Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services, as well as a PlayMemories video/photo sharing service. However, since these services are only available in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, SEN is currently limited to showcasing apps for most countries in Asia.If you’re a music fan, then Moshcam is one of the best apps available on any TV: full, free concerts by bands from Blondie to Gotye to Jay Reatard. It’s hard to find; you need to access it via Apps > Internet Video, but the payoff is worth the digging. Sony also offers a unique Shazam-like app called Gracenote Track ID that can identify music from movies, TV shows or commercials, and a 3D Experience app with a few movie, video game and 3net and miscellaneous clips — most of which seem to promote Sony products or properties.
Sony still offers numerous minor apps–3D Experience, Flixster, DailyMotion, Style.com, eHow, Dr. Oz, Snag Films, The Wiggles & Friends, etc–under its old Bravia Internet Video name. You can search for content across many of those minor video apps, but the search doesn’t include any of the major services except YouTube.A couple of Yahoo widgets for weather, news, and the indispensible Daily Puppy are also onboard, and you can access many, many more via Yahoo’s Connected TV platform. Unlike Samsung, LG, and Panasonic, however there’s no dedicated Sony “app store” that allows downloads of additional content.Finally, Web browsing on a TV with a remote control is a terribly clunky affair, but if you really have to, then the Sony certainly lets you. Samsung’s and LG’s 2012 TV-based browsers are better, for what it’s worth.Besides SEN, Sony has also rolled out an Opera app store. Is SEN any good without the above key services? Here are our overall impressions of the system as tested on a high-end KDL-55HX855 Bravia 3D TV.

Sony Entertainment Network (SEN)
The above is the user interface for SEN. On the left are a live TV window and Twitter feed. The latter can be changed to display the date and time, too. Meanwhile, the center portion is where all the installed apps can be found, while the right pane provides up to eight hotlinks for your favorite apps.

You can reach the SEN menu with the touch of a remote button, though there is no direct access to the app store from this screen. Moreover, some users may be confused by the similarities between SEN and the older Bravia Internet Video menu as both display very similar apps at a glance.

Opera TV Store
There’re currently only 12 apps available for downloading, ranging from mini games to social-network tools such as tvitter. This app enables easier access to a user’s Twitter account and is optimized for large screens. With such a modest app selection, you should not have any problems finding an app. Still, users can browse the available offerings either by category or by performing a search.


YouTube

This is one of the preinstalled video-streaming apps that come with SEN. Interestingly, this isn’t the newer Leanback version that’s optimized for TVs, although it supports HD videos as illustrated above. Most clips we tested exhibited reasonably good picture quality and were streamed quite smoothly, too.

3D Experience
Another key app is 3D Experience, which features 55 3D videos such as game demos and movie trailers from Sony. Most of these clips last just a couple of minutes compared with the full-length K-Pop concert videos offered by the LG smart TVs.

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