We recently tested the network media capabilities of Sony's KDL-46Z4100 flat-panel LCD, and frankly there's not much to look at save for a slide show of colorful photography. Unlike other media-rich televisions we've covered in the past, such as the Pioneer's PDP-5020FD and the Samsung LN46A750, the Sony only supports the streaming of JPEG photos, not music or video, over an Ethernet connection.
Why? Perhaps Sony wants you to pony up and purchase its $300 Bravia Internet Video Link. Maybe the company doesn't want to deal with customer service calls from users who have trouble streaming video. Whatever the reason, we'd expect the Ethernet port on the back of the TV to be good for more than just streaming still photos.
When we hooked it to the network at CNET for testing, the KDL-46Z4100 connected to TwonkyMedia and Windows Media Player 11 and displayed the server icons just fine, with a video and music tab showing up in the PS3-styled XMB interface. We could also browse our music collection by album, artist, and genre. But when we tried to play back a standard 192Kbps MP3 file from our computer--knowing full well from the instruction manual that it would impossible to do so--we were shown the expected message: File cannot be displayed.
Our folder of photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope, on the other hand, displayed on the screen without a snag. We were able to browse by album and then scroll through our collection of thumbnails, clicking on one to have it fill up the screen. Response time was quick, noticeably more so than the Pioneer PDP-5020FD. The Tools menu had the standard settings, such as rotate, begin a slide show, (with MP3 music to accompany it if a USB thumbdrive is connected), slide show style, and we appreciated having the unusual choice between emphasizing quality or speed during a slide show. We noted a perceivable difference between the settings when viewing high-resolution JPEG files. On the quality setting, our photos appeared pristine but we're slightly sluggish in loading; on the speed setting, our photos' resolution appeared drastically downgraded but response time was definitely zippier.
Interestingly, you can playback music and photos but not videos via a USB thumbdrive, which worked flawlessly in our tests for playing back MP3s and displaying JPEG images--the only supported file formats.
At end of our tests, we felt underwhelmed--what's the point of having an Ethernet jack on the back of your "DLNA" television if you can't playback all of your media types? Even if you do decide to buy the Bravia Internet Video Link, it will not turn your television into a true DLNA client. Yes, it streams music videos, YouTube content, and select free TV episodes from the Internet, if that's what you desire, but the device is incapable of receiving the large media library that you might have sitting on your computer's hard drive. Of course, you can always purchase a PS3, which is currently one of the best DLNA media receivers on the market and costs about $100 more than the Link itself. You won't be walled into Sony's media ecosystem with that choice. But it's still unfortunate that the company has restricted a higher-end HDTV to only viewing photos and nothing more.