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Why Sony’s $150 Google TV Set-Top-on-a-Stick Can’t Compete with Chromecast

CE maker is launching the Bravia Smart Stick, which is four times as pricey as Google’s own HDMI adapter

Sony Electronics this week will debut the Bravia Smart Stick, a $150 plug-in adapter for its current-generation HD televisions based on the Google TV software for running interactive TV apps.

But the product may already have been leapfrogged by Google’s own Chromecast device, which debuted earlier this summer — for less than one-fourth the price.

In 2010, Sony was one of the first consumer-electronics partners to sign on to release products based on Google TV, an Android software “stack” that represented the Internet giant’s original strategy for bringing advanced search, YouTube content and apps to living-room TVs.

But initial sales of Sony’s Google-enabled TVs and set-tops were poor, hindered in large part by the cost of the components needed to run the operating system and other software: Sony’s set-tops were $200, whereas other Internet boxes such as the Roku set-top were already $100 or less. Sony went back to the drawing board, trying to reduce the cost of the Google TV products, while other CE partners like Logitech pulled out altogether.

SEE ALSO: Google Chromecast’s Real Genius: It’s Cheap and Dumb

Meanwhile, Google crafted a stripped-down Internet video device — the Chromecast — which costs just $35 and plugs into any HDMI-enabled TV. Chromecast, which debuted in July and immediately sold out online, offers access to YouTube, Netflix and Google Play content, with more content partners since expressing interest in supporting the device.

After the Chromecast launch, Google claimed it was continuing to maintain the original Google TV strategy with partners, positioning the software as a full-fledged version of its Internet TV.

But based on the new Bravia Smart Stick, the features the Sony set-top-on-a-stick brings to the table may not make it competitive with Chromecast in the long run.

For now, the Bravia Smart Stick offers more content apps, including access to Amazon Video, Walmart’s Vudu, Redbox Instant by Verizon, AOL On, and two Sony-owned Internet services: Crackle and Video Unlimited on the Sony  Entertainment Network, which offers TV shows and movies for rental or purchase. That’s in addition to YouTube and Netflix.

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.

Sony has another Internet set-top iron in the fire: Last week, the CE giant announced the PlayStation Vita TV, a 14,994 yen ($150 U.S.) box set to debut in Japan in November. The small set-top will connect to several Japanese streaming services, including Hulu’s subscription service in Japan, and be able to play 1,300 game titles. But currently, the company has no plans to roll out this box in the U.S. (or Europe).

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.

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