Google TV & Logitech Revue Demo

I have seen the future of television, and it is Google TV. On Wednesday, I attended a demo of the much-ballyhooed service as well as a new suite of products from Logitech that brings it to consumers in a simple yet sophisticated way, and I was highly impressed.

Google TV is a system that integrates broadcast television (satellite, cable, and over-the-air), online audio/video content, the web, and media files on local networked computers under one umbrella, and any source can be bookmarked as depicted in this screen shot from the demo. Many online content providers are already signed up, including Netflix, YouTube, Napster, Pandora, and CNBC, and others—such as Hulu—are in negotiations with Google. Also, many websites, such as The New York Times, have developed versions optimized for Google TV, though you can easily access their primary sites as well. Another important content partner is Dish Network, whose set-top boxes can communicate with other Google TV devices via Ethernet.

Even more importantly, the system leverages Google's advanced search algorithms to quickly find whatever content you want from any and all available sources. In this screen shot from the demo, searching for "unbreakable" found the movie recorded on a connected Dish DVR and playing live on Dish Cinema as well as the movie's entry on IMDb and a trailer on YouTube. (It can't find recorded content on a DirecTV, cable, or over-the-air DVR because they are not yet Google TV-enabled. However, it can find live-broadcast content from any provider by looking at that provider's electronic program guide.)

Searching for my Home Theater Geeks podcast immediately found it on YouTube and other sources.

Google TV is initially available in products from two companies—Sony and Logitech. Sony is incorporating the service into some of its TVs, while Logitech has developed a standalone suite of products that can be used with any TV or home theater. The heart of the Logitech system is the Revue set-top box. Simply connect the HDMI output from a source device, A/V receiver, or pre/pro to the Revue's HDMI input and its HDMI out to the HDMI in of the display. Also, connect the Ethernet port to your router so the box can access the Internet and other devices on the home network.

The Revue is basically a computer dedicated to Google TV. Using an Intel Atom processor, it runs the Android operating system and Chrome web browser (with Flash), which are open-source and expandable. Logitech has also implemented its Harmony Link technology, which empowers all the Harmony universal remotes, including my favorite universal remote of all time, the Harmony One. Up to six controllers can be used with the box at once, which receives signals via IR, RF, and WiFi and provides a strong IR blaster that floods the room with IR commands for other devices. If the components are hidden in a cabinet, you can use "chicklet" blasters on cables connected to the Revue's two IR outputs. (The box communicates with Dish Network receivers via Ethernet, not IR, and it will do the same with other Google TV-enabled devices as they become available.)

Included with the Revue is a wireless keyboard controller that communicates with the box via 2.4MHz RF (radio frequency). In addition to a full-size QWERTY keyboard, which lets you easily type URLs, search terms, Tweets, IMs, etc., it also provides a trackpad and basic set of universal-remote buttons. The price for the Revue and keyboard is a very reasonable $300.

An optional mini controller ($130) offers much the same functionality as the full-sized keyboard in a smaller, backlit device for those who don't mind typing with their thumbs. The Revue can also be controlled from any Harmony remote (IR or RF) as well as an iPhone or Android phone via WiFi running a control app that's included with the Revue. Interestingly, these apps even let you search for things by voice—say "the price is right," and the search function finds it.

Another option is Logitech's TV Cam ($150), a webcam optimized for use with a TV. It connects to the Revue via USB and features a wide-angle lens, 5x zoom, pan and tilt, low-light sensitivity, and two microphones that can easily pick up voices from 10 feet away. Using Logitech's free Vid software, you can make TV-to-TV and TV-to-computer video calls to other Vid users. (So far, you can't use Skype or other VoIP services, though that could be developed by third parties).

The camera's native resolution is 720p, but you will see that resolution only if you and the person you're calling have sufficient online bandwidth to support it—a minimum of 1Mbps up and down is required for HD. The Vid software analyzes the bandwidth at both ends of the call and automatically optimizes the resolution as needed.

One of the coolest features here is the ability to call another Google TV user while you're watching something, which enables what could be called "social TV." My mother is going to love this—she enjoys watching shows like Survivor and American Idol, and she has a friend who enjoys the same programs. They often phone each other after each episode, but with Google TV and Logitech TV Cams, they could discuss it while watching as if they were in the same room.

The only drawback is that the TV Cam image occupies most of the screen while the show is in a relatively small inset window. At this point, these images can't be swapped, but Logitech is working on adding that feature, which is important for this particular application. Similarly, you can open the Chrome browser to look for something on the web while watching TV, but the show is relegated to a small inset window that can't yet be swapped with the browser; Logitech is working on that as well.

The demo was held in a penthouse apartment on the 35th floor of the swank WaterMarke Tower in downtown Los Angeles. Even with views like these from the corner balcony, I was drawn to the TV. The seamless, easy-to-use integration of television and the web embodied by Google TV and Logitech Revue is something I've been wanting for a long time, and there it was staring me in the face. This is finally the "convergence" we've been promised for so many years, and I can't wait to try it out in my own system!

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COMMENTS
macmon's picture

Is google tv limited to US? or will this be available globally? With the restrictions on video streaming outside the US, this will be a bummer for those living in non US territories

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I don't know, but I'll try to find out...
uavtheo's picture

Scott,

Thanks for posting this with your observations. It's really interesting to see all the approaches to this. It appears as though Google is developing an aggregation platform where anything can be a content feeder. It makes sense given Google's core is search and their major content repository is YouTube.

Now my question: what are you seeing with regards to IPTV? Is there any movement for independent organizations to develop IPTV channels that can then be carried or broadcast to devices at this point? Personally, I haven't been impressed with any implementations thus far. I obviously haven't seen Google's yet.

Thanks.
Theo

Jarod's picture

This is very cool. Its a streamers dream come true. But to me the download and streaming market is getting too flooded. How many different places do I need to be able to stream and watch Rambo from? It is very cool to have all of your content on one screen and have it at a touch of a button. Im just satisfied with my DirectTV and my Bluray player. I know, im old fashion.

rmhovis's picture

Scott,

Does my new AppleTV have enough hardware under the "hood" to compete with the Google TV? (Assuming Steve decides to expand the AppleTV's abilities.)
I would love to be able to stream the web from my MacBook to the AppleTV.
Did I buy too soon, should I have waited for Google TV?
The price was right but I am developing "set top box" envy!

Thanks,

Mark

Scott Wilkinson's picture
You've got it exactly right...Google TV is a clever aggregation of content from disparate sources, not an IPTV channel itself. Google TV is the best way I've seen so far to find what you want to watch no matter where it comes from.

I believe there is a movement to develop IPTV channels; Leo Laporte's TWiT is a perfect example. They produce over 20 video podcasts per week, including Home Theater Geeks, which you can watch live at live.twit.tv just like a TV show. Then, you can download each episode and view it on virtually any device. Basically, Leo has created an IPTV station. Most other online sources, such as broadcast network websites, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc., are on-demand, and you can view the content on just about any device. In any event, there are a lot of online content providers at this point, and many more will soon follow.

For me, the biggest drawback of all IPTV so far is the HD picture quality, which is nowhere near cable, satellite, or over-the-air, not to mention Blu-ray.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
You may be old-fashioned, but DirecTV and Blu-ray provide much better HD picture quality than any streaming content I've seen.
Scott Wilkinson's picture
I don't know how much horsepower is under the hood of AppleTV. I do know that the Logitech Revue is pretty powerful, running Android and a full-blown version of the Chrome browser. I'm not sure, but I don't think AppleTV has a browser, and if that's true, it can't integrate TV and the Web like Google TV does. Also, I doubt that Apple would provide access to content that is outside its ecosystem, which would make it more limited than Google TV.
jasonS132's picture

Hi my name is Jason, I am a dish network employee, just an FYI add on to the article. The Logitech Revue purchased through DISH Network it is $179.00 but it does a $4.00 per month integration fee that allows two way communication between the Revue and the DISH DVR, and that is without a contract as well. With the integration GoogleTV will also search your DISH DVR, Video on Demand, and DISH online.

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esampson's picture

I am so so so excited for this! I can't wait to try it out! I am an avid Google fan I refuse to use any browsers but Chrome and I just think Google is heads and tails above everyone else! I think I may never leave my house again after I get it, it sounds so awesome!

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amaso's picture

The gadget that are mentioned in the blog seems impressive. It appears as though Google is developing an aggregation platform for its use. But in the end I am really looking for a chance to give a try and it would be really a great experience indeed.
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jason01's picture

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