A Google TV Has Arrived, Let the Testing Begin

Yesterday afternoon, a Google TV (@googletv) arrived at my door.

Google kindly sent these devices to Google IO 2010 attendees in the US. Rich (@rmanalan) got his yesterday too.

Announced at IO in May, Google TV went live on several devices from Logitech and Sony a couple months ago. The unit I got was a Logitech Revue.

The unit itself is very slick, about the size and weight of a book, shiny and black. Setup was a breeze, much like setting up a TiVo. The Revue has a wifi receiver, and HDMI in/outputs for the cable/satellite signal.

Incidentally, it’s a bit funny that they call these devices set-top boxes, a term from the Network Computer days. The form factor of a modern TV, i.e. flat and thin, obviously forbids placing this device on the top. I propose a name change: more stuff for your TV or MSYT.

This would be an homage to “stuff for your stuff” which is how my wife refers to all the gadgets and peripherals that are begat by computers.

Anyway, I was up and running within 20 minutes of opening the box, even after a quick OTA update. Not too shabby.

If you follow me (@jkuramot) on Twitter, you may have seen some initial reactions as I got acquainted with the Revue.

  • The keyboard/remote isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think, and as I mentioned in the past, I’d much rather type on a physical keyboard than navigate through a soft keypad with arrows.
  • The trackpad and navigation took a bit of learning, e.g. the click and OK buttons generated some confusion.
  • Multitouch is jumpy, so much so that I wasn’t sure if it even worked.
  • Watching YouTube or any web video in full screen is pretty epic. The aspect ratio is properly preserved to give the best quality possible, very nice.
  • The fonts are way too small for a ten foot experience, especially white on black.

I tested this out on a TV without a DVR. It won’t work with older TiVos, since they don’t sport an HDMI output. The DVR functions on the Revue seem to be tied to the TV service provider’s DVR, so TiVo might be a no-fly anyway.

Possibly the coolest thing for me was seeing Android in action on something other than a phone. I guess Andy Rubin showed that yesterday with a tablet too, but overall, the OS felt native, i.e. it belonged with the device vs. feeling like a shoehorned system.

One key strategic point for Android is its ability to run well on a multitude of devices. It was good to vet that.

Overall, I’m not sure Google TV provides me with any must-have use cases yet. It could be like the iPad, where I discover value, but I’m not sensing any immediately.

My wife immediately exposed one big problem. She ask what it was, and I didn’t have a good, short answer, even after using it for a couple hours.

Her reaction: that’s nice.

She may change her tune, especially if we decide to renew our Netflix subscription. Still, the recent drop in the pricets of Google TVs foreshadows a tough future.

Arguably the biggest issue is that all of the major networks have blocked Google TV from playing video content on their websites. This is a huge blow to what Google TV aims to do, i.e. bring the interwebs to the TV. Not surprisingly, Apple recently announced $0.99 episode rental for many TV shows on iTunes.

Ironically, Google TV may have pushed TV studios that originally opposed the $0.99 iTunes rentals to reconsider.

If Google can’t negotiate an agreement soon, the future of free episodes is bleak.

This doesn’t mean the Google TV is useless. I expect it to be rooted any day now, which means the user agent can be changed, which in turn will most likely defeat the block employed by network websites. Although, this could trigger a Hughes vs. hackers viscous cycle.

Anyway, thanks Google for the Google TV, but if I’m a developer, I’m waiting on the sidelines to see how it pans out before committing.

Then again, this could be a G1.

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