Google TV: Kind of clunky but full of potential

When it comes to Google TV, the thing I like most is its potential.That's not to say I dislike it - but if I'm going to drop $300 or more on a computer/set-top box for the living room, well...
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive on

When it comes to Google TV, the thing I like most is its potential.

That's not to say I dislike it - but if I'm going to drop $300 or more on a computer/set-top box for the living room, well... the Logitech Revue that I've been testing in my home just isn't something that I'd drop that sort of money for.


As a concept, I like what Google TV is trying to do by bringing the content found on both TV and the Internet together to the living room big screen. But Google TV still needs to do some soul searching to figure out exactly what it wants to be.

Its biggest problem, which is the same one that Web-enabled mobile phones faced in their earliest years, was that it's trying to bring the Internet - as experienced on the PC browser - to the TV screen. And you just can't do that. Well, at least not without some adaptation. The way it is now just doesn't feel right. In fact, it feels downright clunky - a feeling that's intensified by the bulky keyboard that comes with the unit.

The setup of the unit itself was pretty simple - an HDMI-connected middle-man between the DirecTV DVR and the TV itself. And it had no problem finding and connecting to the WiFi in my home. Having set up one of the early TiVo boxes, I have to say that I was relieved to go through such an easy set-up.

But the experience of using Google TV itself was somewhat mixed. While the keyboard - which is really just an oversized remote control - has buttons to access the channel guide and DVR lineup, the search for TV shows brought back what the unit found on the DirecTV lineup and on the Web but couldn't locate what was recorded on the DVR. Likewise, it wouldn't allow me to automatically record to my DVR the shows that it found in the results.

I'd been warned that the unit integrates better with Dish Network than other systems - and I was even offered a trial of that service as part of my testing, but I declined. I don't want to have to change cable/satellite providers just to make it work. But, without that integration, the clunky keyboard and set-top box didn't really do much to enhance our channel surfing or show watching experiences. Using the DirecTV-issued remote control was still the best route.

So how did we use it in my home?

Well, we streamed some Pandora music - but only the channels that I'd already put on my Pandora account. We also watched some Netflix streams - but only the movies I'd already loaded to my account's Instant queue from the laptop. The Revue's interface didn't allow me to surf for new movies the same way we'd been able to on the Nintendo Wii.

And we also watched some YouTube videos and a few Snapfish slideshows. But neither of those experiences were all that impressive either. Sure, there was a YouTube "app" built into Google TV but when it came time to watch the video itself, the unit launched the standard Web page for a YouTube video, which meant I had to scroll my finger over the trackpad on the clunky remote to click the "Watch Full Screen" icon for a video that had already started.

Too much trouble.

And the experience was the same for the Snapfish slideshow - except that I had the added step of having to navigate the cursor to the sign-in boxes and hammer out my username and password.

What would I have preferred? Well, quite frankly, I want a better user-interface experience. I want a Google-TV app for something like Snapfish or YouTube, just like there are speciality apps made for mobile and now tablet devices. When I click on a link for a YouTube video from my Android phone, the YouTube app launches and that video takes over full-screen for an optimal viewing experience for that screen itself.

I want nothing less for my living room screen. If I had wanted a PC web experience on my living room TV, I would have just connected the video output from my laptop to the TV. At least the content on those browsers wouldn't be blocked by any short-sighted Hollywood executives who don't quite understand how big Google TV has the potential to become.

That brings me to a couple of other thoughts:

Despite my criticisms, I still believe that Google TV has the potential to be a game changer. It has the right idea and I think it's definitely on to something in the sense of blurring the line between content transmitted over traditional broadcast or cable systems and the content that's found on the Internet, whether free or paid.

If ever a platform needed app developers, this TV platform is going to be it. Now, I realize that in the Google TV's version of the chicken-and-the-egg, Google is trying to encourage App developers to build for Google TV - and some are. But I wonder if the PC-like browser experience is doing more harm than good by offering a subpar experience, via the traditional browser, rather than no experience at all.

For now, Google TV should stick to what it has the potential to do best - search for and deliver video to the TV screen. I don't need a browser to launch my Facebook page, though I wouldn't mind some sort of Facebook integration to maybe share a thought about what I'm watching or maybe even see what friends have to say about what I'm about to watch. That's also not to say I don't want to play a slideshow from my Snapfish or Flickr accounts - but do I really have to launch the a PC-style Web page to do it? An app linked to my account would be so much better.

Finally, I like the Logitech Harmony Remote on Android and iPhone for navigating through Google TV's many menus and features. But the one thing I wanted most - the ability to type searches from the remote on my phone - was hit-or-miss, at best, Sometimes, the letters appeared in the search box. Mostly, they didn't. And that forced me to keep reaching for that clunky keyboard.

Clearly, Google is on to something with Google TV. But for now, I think I'll save my money and wait to see what Google TV looks like when version 2 comes around.

I'm excited about its potential.



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