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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