The Gizmo: Oogling Google TV
Taming the Beast: Are you spending as much time viewing video content on your computer as you do on your TV? Do you find the tangled Webworld overwhelming - missing one-time-only streaming concerts, sporting events and conferences, then kicking yourself afterwards?
If so, you're primed and ready for Google TV, appearing soon on a set near you. It's a platform (and companion hardware) that merges all the traditional TV programming coming into the home via cable, satellite and broadcast with the gazillion (and growing) choices on the broadband-delivered Internet, for search and delivery on your big screen HDTV.
Just enter a keyword like, say "Lost," and you might be surprised what pops up - links to recent episodes at ABC.com, past seasons available at Netflix, chat boards to discuss the finale, Internet parodies, and lots, lots more.
Who's On Board: While utilizing (what else?) the all-powerful Google search engine and the company's speedy Chrome operating system, Google, Inc. is not going it alone in this new-age video venture.
Intel is producing the Atom microprocessor-based CE4100 system on a chip, code-named "Sodaville," that will be packed into assorted electronics products to deliver the high-def quality streaming video and audio, optimized with the latest Flash Player 10.1 coding.
First out of the gate this fall will be a "companion box" from Logitech, Inc. that you can add to an existing home-electronics rack. Also promised before year's end are a Sony HDTV and Blu-ray player, both with Google TV on-board. And DISH Network will be the first pay-TV provider to make existing HDTV receivers/DVRs "Google TV-friendly."
Not Your Father's Internet TV Gear: Most current Internet-ready TVs (from Sony, Panasonic, Vizio, etc) and add-on boxes (Roku, Vudu, Boxee, Apple TV) are what's known as "walled garden" devices. Access is available to just a few (or few dozen) Internet sites that have made deals with the equipment maker to be in its sheltered domain - most prominently Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Pandora, Facebook, Picassa and YouTube (owned by Google.) None of these devices can do a unified search for everything available on a subject, actor or title of interest.
The latest "Premiere" edition TiVo boxes do search, and neatly integrate cable card tuners and a hard disc recorder. But TiVo's access to the Internet is still of the "walled garden" variety. And users pay a monthly fee to keep the spiffy on-screen guide service running. By contrast, the search functionality of Google TV will be free.
So What's In It For Google?: To rule the world of one million channel Internet TV? Well, at least to profit dearly from it. Advertising will pop up in a portion of the screen whenever you summon up the search bar then view the goodies Google finds. The company also makes moolah for placement at the top of a search list. And I'm figuring that anything YouTube-connected will win prominent display, helping promote not only the stupid-pet-trick sites but also the full-length sporting events, pay movies, music videos and series episodes that YouTube/Google aspires to provide, in competition with the Netflix and Hulus of the world.
And did I mention, Google will profile user searches, then send customized advertising your way, if you don't opt-out of such friendly snooping? Some will like being super-served; others will find it creepy.
How Easy Will Set-Up and Operation Be?: Pretty simple with a Logitech box, said Ashish Arora, vice-president and general manager of the Digital Home Group. Logitech is building command software from its vaunted Harmony line of smart remote controls into the Google TV box and companion remote, so a one-button command could trigger the cable box, TV and home theater sound system. Your smartphone also will be usable as a remote, even in the dark. "You'll just shake it to wake it, then move a finger up and down on the screen to change the volume, or move left and right to fast forward/rewind," said Arora.
A small infrared signal blaster wired to the Logitech unit will issue commands to most audio/video components. But DISH satellite tuners/DVRs will communicate directly through the connected HDMI cable. And the Google TV system will be able to "read" the contents of this DVR and add appropriate entries to any searched list.
Content tracking with other cable- and satellite-TV recorders will not be possible at the get-go. However, Eric Kim, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Home Group, shared at a recent investors briefing that "we are engaged with a number of other major TV operators outside of DISH that are very, very aggressively building their next-generation set-top box based on our platform." He also predicted that "many additional CE products - TVs, set-top boxes, media players" - would hit the retail shelves "in spring of 2011."
Will This Kick Up My Internet Service Bill?: It could. If you start streaming high-definition movies every day through Google TV, your Internet provider may declare that you've exceeded the monthly data allowance and raise the rate or cut you off. But Logitech's Arora doesn't believe that's how it'll play out for most. His pitch (and probably the one Google's been feeding to Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV et al) is that "our goal is to create value and enhance the TV experience, to leverage and use all the resources available to the user. So when you go searching for a movie, ready to buy it at an on-demand site, you may not know that your Comcast service is offering it free for the next two months, or that it's hiding on channel 192. With Google TV, now you will."