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Google TV: Some Web smarts for the idiot box?

SAN FRANCISCO--Google's engineers are apparently tired of watching TV with a laptop on the coffee table.


The keynote that opened the second day of the Mountain View, Calif., firm's Google I/O conference featured an extensive tour of the next version of Google's Android smartphone software. It also included an excruciating number of technical snafus. But its most important news didn't come until its second half: The launch of a new software and hardware bundle--developed by Google with help from Intel, Adobe, Sony and Logitech--that's supposed to make browsing the Web as easy on the big screen as on the little one when it ships this fall.

Google TV combines two proven ingredients from Google: Android and its Chrome Web browser. It replaces your TV or cable/satellite tuner's program guide with a simpler version that indexes both what's in your 100 or 200 or 300 channels and what's waiting on the Web. It emphasizes search instead of browsing: Instead of clicking through a seemingly infinite program grid, an interface pushed to its breaking point by ever-more-expansive pay-TV packages, you use a remote with some sort of QWERTY keyboard to type your search--or you could use an Android phone and type or speak your query into that.

You can watch a show in one corner of the TV screen, then use the rest to browse one Web page or another. You can also have Google TV schedule a recording on a separate digital video recorder, once you wire the former to control the latter.

Since Google TV runs Chrome and includes Adobe's Flash player, it should handle any online video. But individual sites, such as the occasionally uncooperative Hulu, can still choose to block Google TV. And since it's Android underneath, it can also run many Android apps. It will also let you stream music and video from other computers and the Web through your TV.

Google TV will debut this fall in some HDTVs and Blu-ray players from Sony, plus a Logitech set-top box. Nobody's talking prices yet.

Dish Network will also support it--an important factor, given the high level of pain frequently involved in hooking different video gadgets together and getting one to control another. But by making it easy to supplement "real" TV with what's on the Web, I could also see Google TV appealing to people who have ditched their pay-TV services in favor of a mix of over-the-air broadcasts and online fare.

What I'm most interested to see, however, is what other name-brand companies in this space do next. Considering the clumsy or apathetic efforts by other companies--think of Apple's sadly neglected Apple TV--the market badly needs somebody to shake things up. (Boxee represents one exception to that pattern.) And Google seems positioned to play the same role here it did in Web mail: Remember how limited and crude Hotmail and Yahoo were before Gmail's debut?

After the jump, you can watch a two-minute introductory video Google's posted. And in the comments, please let me know what you think of Google's sales pitch.


By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 20, 2010; 3:06 PM ET
Categories:  TV , Video  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Google I/O, day two: And now, Android?
Next: An expanding Android universe


Hope the GoogleTV has a good tuner... Sadly, the new condo I'm in is ground floor and I can't pick up most broadcasts with rabbit ears. So it's back to cable.

Posted by: wiredog | May 20, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

My Comment: How do I get rid of the Facebook frame that covers the right third of the video? As I have said before, I don't even belong to Facebook. Rob, the WP use of the FB link/frame is going to drive me away, yet i consistently enjoy your material. I don't get it.

Oh, my reaction to Google TV's pitch - I'm luke warm, I guess. I use the Roku box so I do see the potential. Google TV will have to become a killer application, so to speak, before I'll spend any money on it. Perhaps it will be a good thing for me in that it will prod Roku to do even more than they will already do. Tough to predict.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Arlington4 | May 20, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Interesting. After I complained about the FB frame overlaying part of the video window, I decided to try IE on the page instead of my default browser, Firefox. IE renders the page in a completely diffent waay such that the ads and the FB frame loads at the top followed by your article. In short, no overlap of the two. This is really bad - the WP use of FB may drive me to use IE for your pages! :)

Posted by: Arlington4 | May 20, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Sounds too good to be true. Any downsides to this?

Posted by: patinlaurel | May 21, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Sounds interesting. Does it look like a tv would have to be equipped for this feature or would it be a box I could get and just hook it up? It has to be easy for me to consider it's quite intriguing.

Posted by: tbva | May 21, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

I agree that it is time for the industry to be shaken up. For a decade, TIVO has had the best interface but it has hardly changed. Querying interfaces have been a solved problem for much longer than that, yet the interface for the TIVO is still very simplistic. You can set wish lists and season passes, but there are plenty of things it can not do, such as:

- record all games by a specific college ("Virginia Cavaliers" doesn't work and it can't disambiguate "Virginia" from "Virginia Tech", "West Virginia", etc.)

- exceptions. Let's say you want to record anything Jason Alexander is in EXCEPT for Seinfeld. Forget it.

Unlike TIVO and Apple, Google actually understands search pretty well and might be able to pull off these kinds of things and still make an interface that someone less technically inclined than me can tolerate.

I know I am the last person on the block to upgrade to HD, but a good DVR interface could be the killer app to get me to switch.

Posted by: slar | May 21, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

@Arlington4: You're not the only one to notice that glitch. It's fixed now. (Had I been blogging on a slower news day, I probably would have noticed--I wrote the post in Firefox.)

@patinlaurel: Sure--it could not work as advertised, the hardware could cost more than we expect.

@tbva: Both. You could get the new Sony HDTV or buy either Sony's Blu-ray player or Logitech's stand-alone box.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | May 21, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

IMHO Sony should have a PS3 software version. You would then have Blu-ray and gaming in one box. I think an adapter would be required in order to control set top boxes and DVRs. In fact it might have to be IR blaster. Also might need a keyboard. Hmmm this seems too complex.

Posted by: MBinPotomac | May 22, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

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