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