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Google TV review, part 2: connecting to cable

By Rob Pegoraro

The first half of my Google TV review, posted on Friday, covered the easy parts of Google's software package: its ability to display Internet content. Testing the not-so-easy parts -- how it connects to TV-tuning hardware such as cable boxes to replace their interfaces -- ate up most of a beautiful Sunday afternoon and more of Monday than I'd expected.

After all that, I have to wonder if Google realized how much trouble it was getting into when it launched this project. Google TV (tested, in this case, on a loaned Logitech Revue box), has a difficult job to do and does it poorly.

google_tv_keyboard.jpg

I tested the Revue against four configurations in four residences: a Verizon Fios-issued Motorola high-definition digital video recorder, a TiVo HD and a Cisco high-def DVR hooked up to separate Comcast subscriptions, and a Toshiba DVD recorder connected to an over-the-air antenna.

Every time, the $299.99 Revue's Google TV software took more work to set up than advertised. It didn't detect any of these devices automatically, instead requiring a slower manual-setup routine (in some cases, prolonged by a failure to see a wireless network that I could only fix with a reboot). It didn't list the right TV providers (memo to Google: Cox and RCN don't offer service in Arlington). Once I'd picked the right service at each location, its list of channels often failed to match what was available there; it provided no way to filter out such irrelevant offerings as standard-definition versions of HD channels on Comcast or the Baltimore area stations listed on the Toshiba.

(1:05 p.m. Logitech's tech-support site has a short list of cable and satellite tuners and receivers that it's tested with the Revue. The models I tried don't appear among the 36 on that list; does yours? As for the providers listed, Google says that data comes from aggregators such as Tribune Media Services, which in turn get their data from cable and satellite operators.)

The only pleasant surprise: Although Logitech bundles an "IR blaster" cable that you can park in front of a cable box or DVR to send commands to its remote-control sensors, in most cases its built-in IR transmitter handled the job.

Post-setup, Google TV lived up to its advance billing only when I was content to watch live TV. You can browse through what's on, either channel by channel or through categories ("Sports," "Food and leisure," "Reality and game shows" and so on), but the whole point of Google TV is to search first. That's where its simple onscreen interface, combined with the Revue's keyboard-equipped remote, succeed brilliantly. Even with an overstuffed 200- or 300-channel package.

Better yet, a Google TV search brings up both TV and Web video -- showing, for example, that you can watch "Bend It Like Beckham" Thursday on IFC or in a few seconds through Amazon's video-on-demand service (although the latter rents only standard-definition fare on Google TV for now).

But Google TV's searches did not list content available on Verizon and Comcast's own video-on-demand services or recordings saved on each DVR. To use them--and many other pay-TV features--required switching back to the same standard-issue DVR interface you'd presumably buy Google TV to escape.

google_tv_comcast.jpg

Just selecting "Info" from Google TV's onscreen menu brought up Verizon and Comcast's uglier, standard interface instead of the clean presentation of program data provided on Google TV's home and search screens.

In the Fios test, I could pause a program or start recording it without leaving the Google TV interface. Connected to the TiVo, the Revue needed an extra tap of the remote to start a recording. With the Comcast DVR, I had to pick up the Comcast remote to record anything.

Channel changes on the Fios box and the TiVo took about seven seconds, as if I were waiting for somebody to walk up to the set and click through an old-fashioned TV dial.

Worse yet, Google TV couldn't schedule a future recording on any of these systems. Each time, it offered the same lame suggestion: Press the Guide button to switch to your DVR's interface, then find the program you want.

In a word: fail.

Dish Network's extra support for Google TV allows users of Google's system to schedule recordings (and search through on-demand offerings and the contents of their Dish DVRs), but other buyers can only hope a future software upgrade adds that essential feature. Then Google can turn its attention to such oversights as the software's apparent inability to present YouTube consistently in Google's new, simplified LeanBack interface or the bizarre lack of a search function (of all the things for Google to forget!) in Google TV's online help.

This isn't all Google's fault--the lack of consistent, supported standards across the cable and satellite-TV industries has defeated many lesser products--but it is Google's problem. Don't make it yours, too.

(Have you tried Google TV on another cable or satellite system? Please post your own review in the comments--or point me to a helpful writeup elsewhere.)

By Rob Pegoraro  | October 26, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets, TV, Video  
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Comments

I wonder why nobody compared GoogleTV with WII internet channel (available for several years, I believe: you can browse using Opera. You can watch YouTube. Not evething is playable as there is noFlash inside. You watch everything on your TV, though the highest resolution is 480p.
Joseph

Posted by: josephab | October 26, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Rob, very good info on the GoogleTV set up. It seems significantly harder and time-consuming than I thought.
After reading your series, I still would rather stick with the tv on pc software I currently use from Seetvpc.com I set this up in, easily, less than 2 minutes and was watching TV on my laptop.

Posted by: monicapellar | October 26, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I had mine up and running in a few minutes, minus the update. Not sure why you were having so many problems. Works perfect as a multi device remote. I typed in the model name of each device and it found them if it wasn't already installed. Try the forums at androidcentral.com, someone posted a video in regards to setup.

Posted by: Pcrumpler | October 26, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I would hardly call it a "fail", just do a little research first. This is not something you would want your grandma to setup. Have to say, this is the first horrible review of the revue I've seem so far.

Posted by: Pcrumpler | October 26, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Pretty tough review....My wife and I have had great luck with our Google TV using our FIOS cable.

We both sat through the demo video during setup and the keyboard controls are very simple. All of this of course assumes you already know how to use your cable remote.

As far as controller integration I was extremely pleased with the responsiveness of the box when changing channels. Only milliseconds different from our FIOS remote. We didn't even need the IR Blaster. Depending on where you put the box you might need it and you also might need to adjust the IR settings in the settings menu if you have some old cable box. (Cox/Comcast/TimeWarner, etc..)

For the surfing the internet this box has far exceeded my expectations. It is the full internet with a full version Flash. My wife and I can now quickly jump on to check email/facebook/other sites without having to always have a burning hot computer on our laps.

Apps - this is where GoogleTV will take over. Right now we only use Pandora, but as Rob said the streaming video (Amazon/Netflix) is great. As content providers and websites release their apps the GoogleTV experience will be exactly what you want when staring at your 47" TV. Finally we will have an entertainment hub that works with our cable TV.

As far as providing some magical integration into the cable companies I knew what I was buying and nothing else on the market gets as close as GoogleTV does. I do believe that since FIOS is quick with their software updates that they will be working on integrating everything Rob talked about, DVR search/recording and On-Demand listings.

GoogleTV has redefined the smart tv concept just like the iPhone did for smartphones but please keep in mind we are only 1 week in. Stay tuned for more amazing stuff when the apps start rolling out in January, and when the content providers get their acts together.

Posted by: techguy1 | October 27, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

There seem to be mixed reviews on this one. I currently use a PC to TV hookup, and use a free browser I came across a few months ago (What's On - http://gildetv.com). I also bought the Navigator remote and have no trouble accessing what I like online. I think this is much easier than what I've been reading and think I'll stick with what I know works.

Posted by: Behynd10 | October 27, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Ok so as soon as I heard about Google TV I did a day or two worth of research and went out to buy the Sony Blue Ray. I was a little dissapointed at the fact you can not wantch HuLu NBC ABC or CBS on line but I am getting over it.There is really nothing else on the market like this and it will (I hope) keep getting better.There are some minor issues to figure out as far as video codecs and the whole 3 major networks but all in all WOW this is neat. It all comes together right here. Wish I could stream my own content on my external HD but I guess thats why I purchased XBOX.Google TV has got it going on.

Posted by: dennisbeecroft | October 28, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

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