Monday, November 22, 2010

Google TV - couch surfing

I was fortunate to get an early prototype of GoogleTV over the summer (the Sony stand-alone box). I was particularly happy to see it worked with my existing setup - I have a TiVo HD running through an Onxkyo receiver which is connected to my Samsung TV. I routed the TiVo HDMI connection through the GoogleTV box, and with a couple minutes setup, it just worked. (The GoogleTV controls the TiVo via an IR-blaster.)

Early reviews focused on the remote, with TechCrunch proclaiming it "an absolute user experience nightmare" for consumers. My experience suggests otherwise - my 8 and 10 year-old sons both use the GoogleTV regularly without any issues.

But I want to talk about the moment that GoogleTV changed how we use computers at our house. As a family, we periodically loan money to entrepreneurs through Kiva, the microlending site. I'd received an e-mail that one of our loans had been fully repaid, and I wanted to have the kids help my wife and I decide where to loan that money.

In the past, this would have involved all of us crowding around my laptop. Inevitably, one (or more) of the five of us couldn't see the screen, resulting in whines about who's getting special viewing. This time, we decided to fire up Chrome on the TV, using the "10,000 button nightmare" (TechCrunch's words!) remote control that comes with the Sony GoogleTV unit.

The version of Chrome that ships with GoogleTV is a fully-functional browser. It plays Flash, it lays pages out exactly as they appear on your desktop. And it does it on your TV - in my case, a 52" HDTV. The result? All five of us sat on the couch, easily able to browse through dozens of potential recipients of our next Kiva loan.

It was a phenomenal experience, one that's played out several times since then. Searching for YouTube videos is a pleasure (compared to TiVo, where I must use the up-up-down-down-left-down-left-down remote to select letters as I type out my query), as is navigating to various websites to show on the big screen. When my parents visited over the summer, I showed them the family tree research I'd done, able to easily navigate through the various branches of the family tree. One night after dinner, the boys and I looked at LOLcats for almost an hour.

I realize there's been quite a bit of discussion about whether or not you actually want a web browser in your family room. Based on our experience over the last several months, I can tell you that it's been a big win for us. Partly it's a byproduct of having a good remote; partly it's a result of having a fully-featured browser. The end result is a nice addition to the family room, one that'd be hard to give up now that it's there.

(I suppose I should add, for anyone who just happens to stumble across this article from a web search: I work at Google, and the GoogleTV unit I've been using is an internal version for testing. I did not pay for it, and expect I'll need to return it before too long - at which point I'll buy one.)
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  1. I have 2 Google TVs. The Revue and a Sony TV. I like the remote. I think Google TV has enormous potential, assuming Google can get deals in place to provide some network content.

    One thing I hope they do soon is update the Netflix app to allow browsing, etc.

    I do the web more than I thought I would, and it works great. Being Chrome obsessed, I wish Google TV had tabs, extensions and sync.

    I think Google TV is the future. We just have to drag the networks to it, the way we drug the music industry.

  2. Kent - GoogleTV does have tabs (click the menu button on the right d-pad on the Sony remote, you'll see both 'new tab' and 'new incognito tab').

  3. How well does the TiVo control work via IR blaster? Do you find you still need to pick up the TiVo remote to do things, or is the Google TV able to sort everything out?

  4. Pete - the only button on the TiVo remote I used with any regularity was 'clear' - haven't found its equivalent on the GTV remote. Other than that, works great.

  5. Google has been working hard to bring the web experience to your HDTV, but it hasn’t been an easy road thus far. Viacom has just been added to the growing list of networks that are blocking access to Google TV. So far the only networks that allow streaming content to be viewable on Google TV are TBS and Time Warner.

    With popular networks like Comedy Central, MTV, Disney and CBS already out of the picture, your choices for streaming content from your Google TV are not looking good at all. Google TV is just in it’s infancy, so this is a sad situation.

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  6. Google TV is a failure.

    I bought one the day it came out and tried to make it work up until day 29 of the 30 day return period, then I returned it.

    All that Google TV brought to the table was a web browser and a DLNA client. Sure it can "search" for content on my TV based on an internet database (which I am sure there are websites that offer the same), but it was not enough to replace using the Comcast menu.

    The queue was not worth anything. It was easier to log into my Google Reader account and check items there.

    The biggest flaw, though, was the web browser. It is NOT a full Chrome browser. You cannot easily navigate tabs for one, but mostly you cannot install extensions (AdBlocker), so all the good ad heavy websites are pretty much unusable.

    I am not a fan of Hulu for their shenanigans either, but why couldn't Google TV have presented itself to their client detection system as just another HTPC?

    One thing that I REALLY the Harmony app for my Android phone. It was fun to send Youtube videos to the television while my wife tried to watch Vampire Diaries!

    I think that there is still hope once the Marketplace opens up, and perhaps I will get the device again at that time. Although, the Logitech Revue had 1GB of space to install them?!

    Also, Google the experience as an application and do not leave it tied to hardware please!

    For now, if you think you might like a Google TV; go buy a HTPC instead for the same price like the Dell Zino.