Sony today unveiled the Bravia Internet Video Link, a small accessory designed to deliver online video to compatible Bravia flat-screen HDTVs. The device is scheduled to be released in mid-2007; pricing has not yet been set. It will only work with compatible Bravia LCD TVs that are scheduled to be released later in 2007.
The Bravia Internet Video Link is a small device about the size of a VHS tape that's designed to snap onto the back of the TV. In addition to the Ethernet port (which interfaces to your home network), the Video Link box includes USB and HDMI outputs to the TV (USB for control functionality, HDMI for outputting the video). The box also sports HDMI and USB pass-through inputs--thus letting you use one of your TV's precious HDMI inputs without monopolizing it. And while the networking connection is strictly wired (Sony says a Wi-Fi-enabled version may follow), the Video Link doesn't require a PC, just a broadband Internet connection.
Once the Bravia Internet Video Link is connected and online, you can browse the available content via the onscreen display. Sony has opted to use the PS3-style XMB (Cross Media Bar) interface, so navigation is a snap. And the coffee table won't be getting any more crowded: the Video Link uses the TV's existing remote control.
The initial content partners are AOL, Yahoo, and Sony-owned Grouper; further partners could easily be added at any point. The system is designed to stream HD video, and Sony stressed that content will have a high-definition focus. Moreover, the content will be free (at least for the foreseeable future). Beyond video, text-based pages can be created using RSS feeds, allowing for custom "channels" of news, sports, and weather information.
The Bravia Internet Video Link will have intense competition from the increasingly long list of streaming media products designed to deliver Web-based media to the TV, including the Netgear Digital Entertainer HD, the Sling Media SlingCatcher, and the Apple iTV, just to name a few. While the appeal to owners of compatible Bravia models is obvious (if the price is right), the limited compatibility and the proprietary nature of the box and the walled garden nature of the video services are all potentially problematic--you can't, for example, watch a YouTube video unless Sony ends up partnering with them. And while the fact that you don't need a PC for the Video Link to operate is certainly a plus, Sony made no mention of being able to stream music and movies from your PC--tough luck if you've got 50GB of music you want to hear in your living room. And finally, we're a little curious as to why Sony didn't just roll exactly this sort of service out on the PlayStation 3 instead. PS3 owners can always just access online videos through the console's built-in Web browser, but an online showcase of HD video content would certainly be another feather in the PlayStation's multimedia cap.