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Google TV review, part 1: setup and online

The keyboard-equipped remote control for Logitech's Revue--one of the first gadgets to ship with Google's Google TV software--should tell you the most important fact about this wireless-enabled media receiver: This thing is a computer inside.

That's both a compliment and a complaint. This $299.99 device can do far more than such simpler, cheaper devices as the Apple TV and Roku boxes I reviewed two weeks ago. But it's also a nuisance to set up and, through zero fault of Google or Logitech, runs into phony compatibility issues on the Web. And it's complicated enough to require two reviews: one to assess its initial setup, another to grade how well it works with cable and satellite boxes.

The first sign of trouble in its setup routine comes after you've plugged in its power and HDMI cables, slid a switch on the keyboard to activate that, and are asked to adjust the picture onscreen so you no longer see a blue margin at its edges. Somehow, the Apple and Roku devices could figure out my HDTV's resolution on their own. Those boxes also don't emit a noticeable whine when they're on.

google_tv_espn3.JPG

After getting the Revue on my wireless network (it was a relief to type a password on a real keyboard), the device then claimed it lost the connection and stopped responding while trying to download a software update. After a reboot, it finished the update and then stopped responding a second time.

After my second reboot, I signed in with my Google Account, was asked to identify a TV service and then was asked to name the make and model numbers of my video hardware--pop quiz, what's your TV's model number?--so as to allow the Revue's remote to control it all.

Cord-cutting viewers take note: At least on the Revue, Google TV doesn't work with over-the-air reception. If you don't have it plugged into a cable or satellite box, it won't show you what's on. I'm testing that feature at neighbors' houses, but that report will have to wait for part two of this review on Monday.

Google TV's own software selection--which next year will open up to apps available through Google's Android Market--is surprisingly minimal. There are apps from CNBC app (the TV nearest my desk at work is locked into CNBC, which ensures there's no channel I'm less interested in watching at home), the NBA, Pandora, Napster, Amazon's video-on-demand service, a Google podcast collector and a painfully basic media-playback tool from Logitech that can show content from a USB flash drive plugged into the Revue or a computer that supports "DLNA" sharing (in my test, that required enable Windows 7's "Share media with devices" option).

There's also a Web browser. Here's where the trouble really starts.

First, although this software, based on Google's Chrome browser, seems to work fine as a browser and includes Adobe's Flash player, the processor inside the Revue can't keep up. At Major League Baseball's mlb.com site, the Gameday animation visibly lagged behind, with jerky, stuttering scrolling.

google_tv_error.JPG

Second, some TV-network sites block Google TV's browser. Hulu shuts it out, saying in a message that it's "working hard to bring our Hulu Plus subscription service to Google TV!" In other words, you'll have to pay $9.99 a month at some point in the future to use a site in a Chrome-based browser that's free in Chrome itself.

ABC and CBS block it as well--even when I only tried to watch short, promotional clips at their sites--but offer even less of an explanation. CBS blandly states that "The video you have requested is not available on this device." ABC compounds its sin by saying "The operating system or Web browser you're using is not currently supported"-- yet even though the Opera browser isn't on ABC's list of supported browsers, it wasn't blocked when I visited it on a Windows 7 netbook.

Other network sites functioned properly. NBC and Fox did not shut out Google TV (though others have had different experiences), nor did the sites of CW or PBS. Even ESPN's ESPN3.com worked, as you can see in the photo above.

(5:54 p.m. Google PR offered this less-than-defiant comment in an e-mailed statement: "Google TV enables access to all the web content you already get today on your phone and PC, but it is ultimately the content owner's choice to restrict their fans from accessing their content on the platform.")

The networks are playing a dangerous game here. No sane programming executive would suggest that a show only be viewable to people watching on particular TVs; if one were to be so idiotic as to discriminate against viewers who bought the "wrong" set, you can bet there would be Congressional hearings and demands for regulation. So why should software be any different?

You can tell me in the comments--where you can also ask any other questions about Google TV. Or say your piece in my Web chat, starting at noon today.

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 22, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, Music, Pictures, Policy and politics, TV, The Web, Video  
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Comments

Googletv's internet capabilities ... will the player download media apps like veetle so you can watch video streamed by that software ?

Posted by: mannerofspeakin | October 22, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Rob,
I'm curious to see your results, this isn't looking good at the outset though. Like you I don't have a cable box, just basic cable from my local provider supplemented by external antennas.
I currently run Win7 as my MediaCenter (it is my DVR), rip my DVD's to it so the kids can't scratch them up, add more tuners as needed, have built-in Neflix support (I don't have to leave the MC app to use Netflix streaming) AND I can use my IR keyboard to surf to places like Hulu to watch content there (the keyboard has an on\off switch and sits between an end table and couch when not in use a MC remote is used 99% of the time).
MC has its issues though:
- Most people probably don't even realize it is there on their computer already.
- A lot of people don't want a 'computer' in their living room though they're already putting their PS3's and Xboxes there.
- It can be a bear to set up and while it has gotten easier manually entering in QAM channels is not high on the average persons list of 'favorite things to do'.

I'd be interested in switching over to a smaller profile device but I just don't see anything coming out that can do half of what my MC already does.

Posted by: lesatwork | October 22, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

This is off-topic but can you tell us anything about the "Important" update that Microsoft is pushing that appears to be 160MB of something called 2011 Live Essentials?

Posted by: slar | October 22, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The networks simply want to be PAID. Google will profit from Google TV with search, and coming, advertising. Yet, it is offering no consideration to the networks for their content. They are on solid ground demanding a cut.

Posted by: query0 | October 22, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

The fact of the matter is that Google, amazingly, has gone about this all wrong.

GOOGLE service, using a GOOGLE certified STB, running GOOGLE'S browser, probably associated with GOOGLE'S mail service for authentication.

It is too proprietary, too closed, and extremely reminiscent of something Microsoft or Apple would do.

And we've all seen how well that worked!

Posted by: Second_Opinion | October 22, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

"Yet, it is offering no consideration to the networks for their content. They are on solid ground demanding a cut"

The networks make money through *advertising*. They already make money.

I have no issue with them doing this legally, its just stupid.

But the dumb part is they'll demand congress force google to give them a cut. Its why I hope they all go out of business. They're want no congressional action.... unless it makes them money.

In any event, why can't you just change the browser agent to say that its Chrome on Windows 7 and then it will work? That's perfectly legit and will get around these silly artificial limitations.

" but can you tell us anything about the "Important" update that Microsoft is pushing that appears to be 160MB of something called 2011 Live Essentials?"

It's basically a cosmetic upgrade to make things look and act more like the latest version of office. I used the program "Windows Live Mail" and its functionality is enhanced when you update to the 2011 version.

Rob, can you mention this great, free program from Microsoft that lets you combine all your email accounts into a single inbox? Its fantastic stuff.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | October 23, 2010 7:28 AM | Report abuse

Yep, you can watch it on Google TV. Here's the instructions how:

http://gadgetwhore.org/2010/10/hulu-on-sonys-internet-tv-powered-by-google-it-works/

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | October 23, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

If I want to watch computer content on my HDTV, I run a cable from the TV's "AV in" to my laptop's "Ext Mon." I know, that's not really HD, but it looks fine to me. Question: What does this gadget that Logitech has been hounding me about via email for a month give me that I don't already have? (I'm not really interested in Netflix, but if I were, I'd get it through Wii.)

Posted by: patrickd314 | October 23, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Rob, you've missed something very important. The Apple TV is also a computer. Internally, it's an iPad with an added HDMI connector. Same processor, same amount of RAM and 8GB of flash memory for app storage.

The Apple TV also has built-in bluetooth, so Apple can add a QWERTY keyboard remote, Safari browser optimized for TV use, and Apps from the app store.

Apple TV was rushed to market with a cut-down feature set just to beat Google. There's much more under the hood at a price that Google simply can't match with their more expensive Intel chipset design.

Posted by: jamesey | October 24, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

There are so many other services out there that are a lot easier to use than this!

Posted by: monicapellar | October 26, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

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