Sony's Google TV box coming to Canada in August

Sony is bringing Google TV to Canada this summer and begins taking pre-orders Wednesday for its new set-top device that allows television viewers to stream online video content through their home theatre systems.
Sony's NSZ-GS7 internet player with Google TV consists of a slim set-top box that connects to your television and is controlled by a two-sided remote that includes a touchpad and a keyboard. (Sony)

Sony is bringing Google TV to Canada this summer and will begin taking pre-orders Wednesday for its new set-top device that allows television viewers to stream online video content through their home theatre systems.

The NSZ-GS7 internet player with Google TV will allow users to access content from online streaming services such as Netflix, from websites such as YouTube, and from personal computers or portable storage devices like USB sticks.

The Sony system consists of a slim box and a double-sided remote control with a touch pad and a keyboard. The box connects to your TV with an HDMI cable and to the internet or your home network through its built-in WiFi or via the ethernet and USB ports.

The box, which was unveiled earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, is expected to go on sale around Aug. 13 at a price of  $199.99 and can be pre-ordered online or at Sony retail stores as of Wednesday.

The Sony device will be the first in Canada to feature Google's internet TV software. The company had previously released a Google TV-enabled Blu-ray player in the U.S., but it was not available elsewhere.

Sony plans to also bring a new version of that Google TV Blu-ray player north but not until the end of the year.

Billed as a more easily searchable and versatile alternative to competing streaming media boxes such as Apple TV or Roku LT, Google TV's leg-up over its rivals is meant to be its search function, which mimics the online Google toolbar by allowing users to search for files across all available platforms rather than having to search within each service individually.

The device has both stand-alone streaming applications like Netflix and Google's Chrome browser, which allows users to access some of the same video content they would be able to view in a browser online. It can also access some applications in Goggle's Android Market.

Competing with Roku LT, Apple TV

Apple TV, by comparison, is more limited in the video content it can retrieve, drawing mainly on its iTunes Store and some online services such as Netflix. It can also stream video stored on personal computers, its iCloud service or Apple devices that use its AirPlay technology.

Sony's Google TV box is competing against other streaming players such as the Roku 2 XS, above, or Apple TV. (Roku 2/Associated Press)

At $109 in Canada, it is cheaper than the Google TV box and has been praised for having a more user-friendly interface.

The Roku LT media player, which went on sale in Canada in April, is similarly priced as the Apple device, at $109.99 or $89.99 for the two models available here, and in the U.S. offers more streaming options than Apple or Google — although this advantage is less relevant for Canadian customers who don't have access to sites like Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant and Pandora.

Unlike its competitors, Google doesn't provide its own hardware but partners with third parties such as Sony, LG, Vizio or Samsung, which also have or are planning to launch Google TV-enabled devices.

Software 'buggy,' critics say

Technology writers who have reviewed the system in the U.S., where it goes on sale July 22, have praised Sony's hardware but been less than enthusiastic about Google TV itself.

CNET called the software "buggy and difficult to use" and gave the Sony box a 2.5 out of 5 in its June 24 review.

Although U.S. customers have access to a much broader range of streaming services than Canadians, critics have pointed out that Google TV does not support dedicated apps for some of the most popular of these services, including Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus and MLB.TV or Google's own movie-rental service.

Content from major networks like ABC, NBC and Fox is also unavailable since those networks prevent their browser-based videos from being streamed through the Google service.

The new version of the Sony Google TV-enabled Blu-ray player, the NSZ-GP9, will go on sale in the U.S. in the fall and in Canada before Christmas and will sell for $329.99.