3 Innovations That Make Google TV A Winner
Contibuting Author: Tom Abell
This has all been attempted before.
Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to create a seamless PC interface on our TVs. I can still remember a Gateway PC years ago that had an Integrated PC and LCD Television and am sure there have been a multitude of variations that tech savvy people have put together at home. I personally have had a HTPC (Home Theater PC) for many years now and as technology has moved forward, my system and therefore my experience, has gotten better. But this Google TV thing might be something special, and just might be the answer we’ve been looking forward to when it comes to acceptance by the general population.
Google TV, in tandem with the Logitech Revue and Sony’s Internet TV Blu-Ray Player & Internet TV, seems to have paid attention to both the attempts at producing a viable “Internet TV” in the past as well as the functionality a HTPC brings, and have produced something that finally has lasting potential!
After having the Logitech Revue in my possession for about 5 days now and despite reading some of the “official” reviews really tearing the Revue apart, I have to be honest and admit: I still like Google TV!
It’s both interesting and sad at the same time to read some of the reviews (and comments within them) and discover that people tend to immediately hone in on the negative aspects (bugs, missing apps) of a newly released technology instead of really accepting it for what it is. This couldn’t be more true than in the case of Google TV’s recent release in conjunction with Logitech and Sony, because when you look at the amount of innovation that is shared between Google TV and Logitech for instance, you just can’t turn a blind eye to it and reject it entirely because it’s got some minor flaws!
With that being said, this review will focus on some of the more positive aspects of the Logitech Revue and the changes it can bring to your Television viewing experience and let you decide if this is truly a revolutionary product.
But first, a brief overview of what exactly Google TV is all about…
Just in case you haven not been keeping tabs on the latest and greatest in technology, Google TV is a platform that is inserted between your Television sources (i.e. Cable, Satellite) and your actual TV or AV receiver depending on your setup. What this allows, at its most basic level, is the ability for Google TV (via the Logitech or Sony hardware) to overlay your TV screen with an Android based OS that will give you access to:
- Multiple sources of streaming content via the internet to include the standard Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and many, many more.
- Stream content from your local media sources
- The ability to pull up the Chrome browser to surf the web
- The ability to search not only the web, but also your own media collection, even your own DVR (only Dish Network support this for now), for whatever media content your search phrase dictates.
- The Android Market starting sometime early 2011. This is where the power and promise of Android comes into play as more and more applications are designed for the Google TV.
It is easy to see that right out of the box, Google TV has a lot of promise. Actually, hold that…Google TV has more than just “a lot of promise”. Google TV really does have the ability to revolutionize the way we view (and find) content in our homes.
Let’s see what features stand out as innovative…
The User Interface
Based on an the Android Operating System, the UI will remind you a bit of an Android based cell phone, but honestly more like Android 1.0 at this point. While this is sure to change quickly (I installed a Google TV update while writing this article), what you still are left with is a functional and customizable menu system. You even have the ability to add your own personalized menus, similar as you would on any Android OS phone.
The point is that you now have an interface on your TV that gives you a seamless and simple to use WebTV experience. This step from TV as we know it to an integrated WebTV will have a profound impact on the entire home entertainment industry if it takes off as Google hopes it will.
As a bonus for your not-so-tech-savvy family members accessing your cable provider or satellite company feed, you’ll be using the same interface you always have used. There is no worry about them needing to learn an entirely new interface beyond getting to the right icon, as Google TV has left the existing menu systems on your current provider alone.
While the UI may seem a bit sparse right now because of the limited number of apps that shipped on the Revue, the picture will only continue to get better as updates are applied and especially when the Android Market opens up for Google TV. Within that final step lies the key to Google TVs success, as a vast resource of existing developers are out there already creating a wide range of applications for Android Smartphones.
In short, Google TVs UI will radically change your viewing experience, if you let it.
The main goal behind Google TV is to integrate the Internet, with its rapidly growing abundance of streaming content, with your HDTV. I feel it does this very well already. It’s very easy to install and even with a receiver in the mix, I only needed to swap a couple of HDMI cables around to integrate the Revue with my Denon AV Receiver.
If you are a Dish Network subscriber you’re in luck because Google TV features a tight integration with Dish Network that allows for recording from the search bar as well as being able to search the recordings sitting on the Dish DVR. We can only hope that this kind of functionality reaches other DVRs from Comcast and Tivo!
If you decide to go with the Logitech Revue, System Integration becomes an actual reality due to Logitech including the Harmony control system built right into the Revue. For those not familiar, Harmony remotes are the top of the line consumer level universal remotes before taking the step to professional control systems like Crestron and Control4. Harmony is a great addition and within 5 minutes or so you’ll have the Revue, your TV, and your surround sound receiver all controlled via the remote. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that an app is created to make use of the Harmony system’s ability to control more devices such as home lighting.
The Harmony integration also includes a cell phone app for Android and iPhone that gives you the ability to control all of your devices with your smart phone. Hopefully this app will eventually come with its own skins as right now it’s pretty bland. All in good time I’m sure.
Google TV combined with the Logitech Revue is a major step in the right direction for introducing Home System Integration to the masses.
Google Search / Google Chrome
When you think “Google” what is the first thing that comes to mind? You got it: Search. And Google TV does not disappoint. As I mentioned previously, Google TV gives you the ability to search for content on the internet, your Dish DVR, and promises to have the capability to search your local content soon.
To search, simply use the search button (a magnifying glass) and enter the topic you’re searching for, the name of a show, or even a category of video and you’ll be presented with all of the options available depending on the type of system you’ve got connected.
Searching the internet will pull up a Google Chrome window just like on an Android phone. The Chrome browser functions nearly the same though the “dumbed down” interface (i.e. the missing address bar) may frustrate some of the more advanced users.
Beyond using the browser for search, you can use it for anything else you’d normally use the browser for such as Gmail, banking, etc.
The reason I stand by Google TV is due in large part to the innovation it brings, not because the solutions provided thus far have been perfect by any means. There are lots of annoyances with the system that need to be worked out still and I definitely feel that they should have gone with some more beefy hardware to power this system. But one can’t ignore that beyond those annoyances, every one of which I feel can be fixed; you finally have a system that nearly rivals having an actual Home Theater PC (HTPC). I believe this product has a greater mass appeal than an actual HTPC because of the complexity involved when dealing with an HTPC vs. the simplicity of the Revue. While a well built HTPC still has the greatest functionality of any system out there, especially when combined with Windows Home Server, that functionality comes at the price of a pretty complex machine that takes a good amount of work to get going and keep running well. The Logitech Revue removes that complexity and the expensive equipment making home theater integration that much sweeter for the average consumer.
The bottom line is that Google TV has managed to take the complexity out of the equation and given us something built for mass appeal. For those of us in the Industry, this can only be good news! Public Interest = Money Spent = More Innovation = Blow-Your-Mind Home Theater Integration!
What the Future has in Store…
The truth is that I agree with much of what some of the other blogs have said about Google TV not being ready for prime time, there is no doubt about that. It is not difficult to come across annoying issues with the system and things you feel should be different, (for example: the current specifications of 1.2GHz Atom CPU aren’t cutting it with video performance).
I also fully believe that Google will not only listen to what people want, as they did with the Android OS on phones, but that this platform is one that Google will follow through with to see its success. As public awareness rises with Google TV and more people start to not only use it, but start to develop for it as well, this new Google TV platform could very well become one of the most important new innovations to come to the Television in some time. When you compare the popularity of Smartphones these days, imagine how powerful this new arena could be when we’re talking about the center of Entertainment for a large portion of households across the world…
Google TV can revolutionize our entertainment experience if we choose to embrace the innovation it brings to the table and are patient with the hiccups and shortcomings that always accompany new technology. It makes no sense to me why anyone would want to smother this kind of advance in a technology that so many of us enjoy on a daily basis…
Any advancement in Home Technology is a good thing!