2013 is the year that the set-top box disappeared behind the screen. Google made quite a splash last month with the release of its Chromecast device
, which was an instant hit thanks to its attractive $35 price. Roku already has an HDMI stick. Now Sony is set to release a HDMI dongle based on the original Google TV platform.
"News of the Sony Bravia Smart Stick was reported Friday by Engadget, based on a blog post on the CE company’s website that was later taken down. A Sony spokesman confirmed the device will be launching this week and said it will cost $149.99." source: variety.com
The new Bravia Smart Stick, as Sony calls it, marries that company's own proprietary apps with Google TV—a platform that runs Android and therefore is capable of running apps from the Google Play store. The result is a highly flexible television platform that provides all the requisite smart features expected of modern televisions. When paired with the truly full-featured remote control that Sony provides—which includes a keyboard, a trackpad, and a microphone— the end result is a realization of the potential of the Google TV platform that seemed to have been left for dead after the release of the Chromecast device.Does Sony's new Smart Stick signal a second chance for Google TV?
Sony documentation indicates that the new device will only work on that company's 2013 and later televisions. There is some debate about how such a device could actually be proprietary, and whether Sony's new dongle would actually work on any television that is plugged into. Unless Sony makes a statement on the topic, the answer to that question will have to wait for the release of the device.
Another potential barrier to widespread adoption is the price: $150, as reported by Variety. That makes Sony's Smart Stick more expensive than an Apple TV or a Roku, and way more expensive than Google's Chromecast. On the other hand, it is on par with the pricing of Samsung's Smart Evolution kit, which the new Smart Stick resembles in some fundamental ways: It is a manufacturer's proprietary solution for adding smart features to a television, while making it possible to upgrade those features on a yearly basis. The only difference is that Samsung's solution is entirely proprietary, whereas Sony incorporates Google TV, for better or worse.
As for capabilities, Sony's dongle stands out from the smart stick competition by including an HDMI input and an infrared blaster. Available apps include the usual list of Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Amazon, and more. Additionally, Sony's own Crackle and Video Unlimited services are available on the new device.
"And unlike the Chromecast, it provides an on-screen guide and a dedicated remote control; the Chromecast relies on companion devices for browsing and control — which is a big reason it carries a lower bill of materials than Google TV-based products. But at more than four times the price, users may opt for Chromecast on the bet that more content partners will be added soon. Another shortcoming of the Bravia Smart Stick: It works only with Sony’s 2013 Bravia television line." source: variety.com
For owners of Sony televisions looking to add smart features, this could be a compelling option. In typical Sony fashion, it is a premium product with a premium price, potentially proprietary—with very little technical information to explain what its exact capabilities are. I'm curious to see where they go this, and let's not forget the PlayStation Vita TV that was just announced for release in Japan. That device is sure to make its way stateside while offering some overlapping capabilities and a very similar price point.
It is not clear yet how much support Google's Chromecast will receive, or what Apple plans to do with its Apple TV product—but I also cannot help wondering if it is already too late for proprietary smart TV solutions such as this. The device itself has not officially launched yet; Sony promises to do so later this week. Any thoughts on the topic are welcome.