We test out the first Google TV in the UK. What does the Logitech Revue with Google TV device mean to TV addicts outside of the US? Updated, January 18 2011.
Google TV is something you’ve probably heard of, but don’t know much about. It’s a rather odd combination of device and software platform that aims to bring a Google Android-based search and play service to your television.
See also: What is Google TV?
As with the Android phones, Google won’t be making devices itself. Instead leaving the hardware up to third party providers. Logitech is the first out of the gate with this: the Logitech Review with Google TV. A black box unit combining Google TV software with multiple HDMI sockets, Optical audio, built in 802.11n wireless, and 2 USB 2.0 sockets.
Perhaps the most instantly striking thing about Google TV is the remote control. Unlike Apple’s minimalist effort, it comprises of a full QWERTY keyboard with additional buttons: play, pause, and control for your set-top box.
It’s true that Google TV changes the way you think about television. Mostly it makes you think: “Wow! I never thought television could be so complicated”. But once you get over the initial head scratching it becomes a surprisingly compelling addition to your entertainment system.
Comparisons with Apple TV are, perhaps, inevitable (hey… this is Macworld) but in truth the Google TV and Apple TV offering couldn’t be more different. Even if you dislike its central premise, The Apple TV is pretty simple to understand: you plug it into a television and access iTunes from your Mac; or you either buy or rent movies and television shows from the iTunes Store.
Google TV, on the other hand, is a much more complex proposition. The idea is that you plug your current set-top box into the Google TV (in the US this would typically be a cable box; in the UK we imagine either Sky TV, Virgin or – most likely – a Freeview receiver); your current television service then routes through the Google TV and comes out via a second HDMI cable that runs to your TV.
Television plays as per normal, but press the Google TV home button and an interface overlays the television display; introducing access to search, applications, and a number of integrated services.
We’re testing a unit designed for the US here, so most of these services didn’t work: including Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Video on Demand. But it also includes YouTube, which obviously works and a few features that aren’t region restricted, like CNN news.
None of the services really matter though, because what’s really important here, the real killer feature, is the way it brings IPTV (Internet protocol television) to your TV thanks to a built-in Chrome web browser armed with Flash.
Not just BBC iPlayer, but 4oD and ITV Catch Up and all of the IPTV services you can access on your computer: Seesaw, TVCatchup.com, Sky Anytime+, YouView, Five.Tv. Even ones we’d never heard of before like STV and uPlayer. Suddenly it all becomes a lot more interesting when it’s on the big screen.
Apple and Adobe have their differences over Flash, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it powers most of the online TV in the world. The Chrome browser in Google TV also supports HTML 5 video, so Flash haters can be satisfied that it’s future-proof. Although arguments over Flash failings due to battery life fall away when it’s on a desktop device. And no, it didn’t crash.
Theoretically Google TV goes somewhat further than IPTV; you also enter the make and manufacturer of both your television and set top box, and Google TV acts as a controller for both. You should be able to use it to set and access DVR recordings on the set top box (you can even use the search function on recordings from the DVR); you can control the volume and on/off of your television and change channels through the Google TV remote. None of this worked in the UK, however, being designed purely to work with existing US-based cable set-top boxes.
We should note that the Google TV remote includes support as a Logitech Harmony Remote, which means the Google TV can control over 5000 devices, from televisions to stereo systems.
The reaction to the Google TV in the US from the television industry has been overwhelmingly negative. ABC, CBS and NBC, and Fox plus others have blocked device – instead they are preferring to go down the Apple TV route of renting shows for 99c. The popular US video site Hulu (somewhat like our own Seesaw) has also blocked Google TV, but is said to be negotiating a separate contract
As Michael Learnmonth writes in AdAge: “They are blocking Google TV because it is putting a web TV show, with web TV show economics, on a TV, which would be incredibly disruptive to their business… letting you watch "Glee" on your TV, but via the web and Google TV, means substituting high broadcast revenue for lower digital revenue.
NEXT: the BBC effect >>