Google TV assessment
Google’s taking an enormous leap with Google TV — in contrast to its rivals, who’ve all targeted on delivering curated video content material with cheap streaming units, Google’s new platform brings Android, Chrome, and Flash on to your TV in quite a lot of hardware configurations from Sony and Logitech. However whether or not you are including Google TV to your present rig with a Logitech Revue or ranging from scratch with a Sony Web TV, the essential expertise of utilizing every product is identical — it is the online in your TV, in all its chaotic and delightful glory. Is that this the way forward for tv? Can Google do what no firm has ever managed to do prior to now and put a bit PC in your TV? Learn on to seek out out!
- Wonderful search interface
- 1080p Flash playback
- Strong shopping
- Sluggish efficiency
- Search outcomes are extraordinarily incomplete
- Cannot transfer DualView window
The Google TV platform
Though all the Google TV launch units have their variations, at their core they’re all operating Android on an Intel CE4100 media processor, which is actually a 1.2GHz Atom core that is been beefed up with some additional graphics hardware able to capturing and decoding 1080p video. Google tells us the Intel chip presents one of the best worth / efficiency ratio proper now, however that nothing’s written in stone for the longer term — identical to trendy smartphones kicked off livid innovation within the cellular chipset market, Google expects the media-chip market to quickly turn out to be extra aggressive sooner or later in response to related TV units. However for proper now it is Atom, which is an enormous win for Intel on this area — and actually, Intel claims to have written half of Google TV’s code.
Clearly, the Android construct used for Google TV is not the identical as what’s used on telephones — in reality, in contrast to the telephone model of Android, the Google TV stack continues to be proprietary inside Google and hasn’t been open-sourced but. We’re advised the plan is to open-supply issues by summer time 2011, and that Google TV will comply with the identical mannequin as Android and the Google apps on telephones, with some Google-particular TV apps remaining closed-supply and never a part of the overall distribution. We might guess Google TV Market can be restricted to Google-blessed units, however it hasn’t launched but, so we do not know for positive.
Talking of Market and the very fact it hasn’t launched… nicely, it hasn’t launched. Google says it is nonetheless placing the suitable APIs collectively and cleansing up the platform necessities in order that app builders may have a neater time of issues, however do not anticipate to see any apps on Google TV till early subsequent yr on the soonest. We’re truthfully extraordinarily curious and excited to see what app builders can do as soon as they will write Android apps for a fairly fast processor and TV display sizes, however that is all simply potential proper now — at launch, Google TV units ship with handful of bundled apps like Netflix, NBA GameTime, and (thrillingly) CNBC Actual Time, however that is it. We’ll revisit Google TV as soon as there are extra apps, however for now this a part of the platform and the expertise is a query mark.
And eventually — and most significantly — there’s Chrome and Flash. Google’s utilizing a brand new Android- and TV-particular port of its desktop browser on Google TV, and sure, associates, it runs Flash 10.1 beta. The truth is, from a broad perspective it is greater than straightforward to see Google TV as one giant guess on Flash content material supply, a minimum of within the brief time period — virtually the whole lot you are navigating to in Chrome is a Flash video. For instance, Google’s personal YouTube — one of many first websites to offer HTML5 video playback — masses up its Flash participant on Google TV, as a result of that is the solely approach Google can serve advertisements in the course of the content material. Significantly — that is what Google advised us. YouTube LeanBack, the TV-optimized model of YouTube, can also be Flash-based mostly, presumably for a similar cause. Clearly issues will change as soon as there are apps and probably extra strong HTML5 video options, however proper now Google TV is a particularly Flash-intensive product.
These are all the person items, however let’s again up and take a look at the entire image for a second: you have got an Intel processor, Android — which is Linux beneath — and a browser with Flash that is managed with a keyboard and mouse. Yep, Google TV is a Trojan Horse with a house theater PC inside — and whereas HTPC’s have usually been fairly area of interest, we have all the time type of beloved them. However we do not assume Google’s going for area of interest right here — and if Google TV goes to be a mass-market success, it has to ship a a lot smoother expertise than your common HTPC.Setup and set up
Though establishing every Google TV gadget is barely totally different, the essential course of is identical — you are walked by means of a number of steps to configure the system in your TV, display measurement, community, and TV supply. Though it isn’t troublesome, it isn’t easy — establishing the Logitech Revue concerned connecting 5 wires and stepping by means of 12-15 menus that took about half-hour to finish, together with a pleasant 4-step overscan adjustment.
What’s extra, there are particular omissions that make some setups a lot more durable to tug off than others — there isn’t any static IP help, for instance, so extra superior networking or port mapping setups won’t work appropriately. The Sony Web TV is the one Google TV launch product with element inputs, so likelihood is you will should cope with HDMI, and relying in your cable supplier and variety of HDMI hops you may run into some HDCP points — we had issues establishing the Revue throughout our Engadget Present demo as a result of Time Warner’s cable field had an HDCP freakout and stored shutting off. Google says it is aware of concerning the issues and is working with cable suppliers, nevertheless it’s one thing to concentrate on. Nonetheless, most of our installations have been in any other case hassle-free.
Until you are shopping for a Sony Web TV and are content material to stay with no DVR, there isn’t any precise “TV” in a Google TV gadget — you will want a separate QAM tuner, cable or satellite tv for pc field to truly watch tv. Google’s been very cautious to demo Google TV units with Dish Community so far (even going thus far to supply reviewers a Dish set up with assessment models), and there is good purpose for it: the Dish VIP 622, 722, and 722K DVRs will talk together with your Google TV system by way of the community, permitting you to seek for, see, and schedule recordings instantly from the GTV interface. Setup is comparatively fast and straightforward, so long as you keep in mind to activate your DVR for integration first by way of the telephone or a go to to Dish’s website, and as soon as it is working the management is prompt, with not one of the lag related to IR blaster management. In reality, we could not get the DVR UI to lag whereas controlling it with the Revue’s keyboard regardless of how briskly we pushed the buttons, which is actually spectacular. Sadly, Dish’s greatest DVR, the VIP 922 with built-in Slingbox, is not supported, and there is nonetheless little or no interface integration — you continue to have to make use of the Dish field’s program information, DVR interface and different controls, so you continue to should cope with two UIs. Oh, and Dish expenses a $four month-to-month “integration charge” to make all of it work. Yuck.
If you do not have Dish Community, your expertise might be far much less built-in — typing “Trendy Household” into the Google TV search field will convey up future program listings and net outcomes for the present, however will not present you that you’ve an area recording sitting proper there in your DVR. You additionally will not be capable of schedule recordings — choosing a future episode of a present brings up a field instructing you to… program your DVR! It is a particularly disjointed expertise, to say the least. It isn’t all dangerous although: looking for programming you understand is at present on (like “soccer”) will tune your cable field utilizing an IR blaster, and regardless of our very public reservations about this technique, we discovered it usually labored with out concern when set to regulate a TiVo HD and a Time Warner Scientific Atlanta Explorer, though we skilled some minor occasional glitches.
All in all, every thing works fairly nicely as soon as you’ve got received it arrange, nevertheless it’s not a novice-pleasant process — do not anticipate to drop this off together with your mother and father on Christmas morning and stroll away. We might a lot favor Google or considered one of its companions construct a much more full system with an built-in DVR — Dish Community, we’re taking a look at you.Interface, search, and controls
Google TV gives a wealth of interplay choices, all of which serve totally different functions and work in several methods. The primary and most elementary is the house display’s acquainted two-pane grid interface, which lives as a clear layer over no matter TV or app content material you have been beforehand watching or utilizing. Relying on which tab you are in, you possibly can choose from bookmarks, apps, or at present-enjoying exhibits, that are organized into folders like Sport, Films, and Comedy. The tabs might be reorganized, and this a part of the interface works nicely typically. We relatively like utilizing folders to see what’s on TV — they function type of everlasting filters for content material, they usually’re actually handy. We simply want there was a extra conventional program information — positive, you need to use your cable field’s information, however that is not optimum, and no TV platform could be full providing commonplace TV listings.
The second — and arguably most necessary — means to make use of Google TV is the search bar, which drops down everytime you press the search key in your distant. That is the guts of the Google TV interface in a really possible way — it is how you discover video content material, net content material, and even the way you enter URLs into Chrome — and fairly frankly, we adore it. There’s one thing deeply fantastic about having a search drop down in your TV everytime you need it, and it makes even easy issues like altering channels a lot smoother and higher that we will not consider each cable field does not already work this manner — you simply sort in CNN or MTV or NBC or no matter and also you’re off and operating. Need to watch the Packer recreation however do not know if it is on CBS or Fox? Simply sort “Packers” and also you’re there. Sure, we bemoaned the shortage of an built-in information, however should you’re the sort who is aware of what you need to watch, you will by no means miss it when you attempt search on Google TV.
In fact, you are able to do excess of simply change channels with search — you can even discover content material throughout numerous sources and providers. Typing into the search field brings up Google Immediate-fashion outcomes that embrace present and upcoming packages, some prompt web sites, and different outcomes, in addition to choices to do a daily Google net search and Google’s new video-particular search. (And, clearly, no matter’s in your DVR when you have Dish.) Selecting video-particular search launches Chrome and drops you right into a particular TV-formatted website that shows exhibits, episodes, and net video content material that matches your search string. Relying on what you choose, you will be provided quite a few choices on methods to view it — Fringe, for instance, might be streamed from fox.com or rented / bought from Amazon, and Google TV provides you each choices, in addition to letting you understand if it is at present on TV and when it is scheduled sooner or later. It is fairly good, even when TiVo’s pulling an analogous trick on the Premiere, however what units Google TV aside is sheer velocity — search is not prompt, however it’s quick, and in comparison with the Premiere it is an insane rocket journey.
Sadly, velocity does not matter if you cannot discover what you need, and Google TV’s search outcomes undoubtedly depart one thing to be desired. Google says it is nonetheless refining video search, and it exhibits: a seek for “X-Males” introduced up the unique collection, Evolution, and simply three film outcomes: X-Males three, X-Males The Final Stand, and a 1985 German movie referred to as “Males” through which Munich promoting government Heiner Lauterbach secretly rooms together with his spouse’s Ulrike Kreiner’s bohemian lover Uwe Ochsenknecht, and hilarity presumably ensues. Sadly, two of these films are literally the identical, and whereas we’ve not truly seen “Males,” we will assume Heiner, Ulrike, and Uwe do not have adamantium skeletons or the power to regulate the climate. Given the huge potential of search on this software, we’re prepared to offer Google a while to work out the kinks and get it proper, however at this very second issues are fairly hit and miss.
The search bar additionally shows some quirky UI conduct — urgent the search key all the time drops it down over no matter you are doing… besides when it does not. This results in some wacky and intense moments of translucent interface mishmash: you might be taking a look at your DVR’s information, deliver up the Google TV homescreen, after which drop the search bar, leading to three layers of textual content from two wildly totally different interfaces on display directly. That might be superb if hitting the search key all the time purchased up the search bar, however it does not — in some apps, like Twitter, it brings up a service-particular search. That makes a specific amount of sense, however we expect it is perhaps easier — and higher — if the search key have been completely mapped to deliver up basic Google TV search, because it’s an important a part of all the product.
The third main Google TV interface is Chrome itself, which provides tabbed shopping that spans the system — holding down the house button brings up the tab panel and exhibits you each open app window, together with the house display and TV. It is extra like webOS playing cards than normal Chrome tabs, truly. (We’re additionally undoubtedly amused that “new Incognito tab” is a primary-degree menu choice in Chrome — marvel what that is for!) We’ll get to Chrome in-depth in a second, however we needed to say the browser right here as a result of it properly showcases the varied strategies of truly interacting with these three interfaces: the arrow keys, the keyboard and mouse, in addition to the varied smartphone apps.
Google’s mandated that each one Google TV units embrace a QWERTY keyboard and a few type of mouse management along with a regular arrow key format, and there are a selection of first- and third-get together iPhone and Android apps that may management GTV units. This is the factor, although — not one of the enter strategies actually have something to do with one another, and you may’t seamlessly change from one to a different with out triggering some sudden penalties. It is one thing we observed instantly whereas demoing the Sony Google TV controller, and we have had comparable issues with the Revue’s keyboard: you will be mousing round with the trackpad after which hit the D-pad’s choose button, which does not double as a mouse button, however somewhat selects no matter you final left the D-pad choice halo round. Oops. Or vice-versa, notably on the Sony controller. It is jarring and bizarre, particularly because you’re virtually invited to make use of each controls always — notably on TV-optimized web sites like Google’s video search, which responds to the arrow keys however invitations instinctive use of the mouse. We will not dive too deeply into the smartphone apps, since we have solely used Logitech’s Android app and Google’s aren’t out but, however from what we have seen the identical issues persist — you’ve got acquired a number of interface paradigms which are aggressive somewhat than complementary. There is a easy answer — the mouse arrow and D-pad choice simply should comply with one another — however for proper now we discovered ourselves principally utilizing the D-pad and solely utilizing the mouse whereas searching common web sites.
Lastly, one among Google’s TV’s most-promoted options is DualView, which is a brand new riff on previous-faculty image-in-image. Hitting the DualView button whereas watching TV shrinks the TV picture down and overlays it over the underside proper of the interface, so you’ll be able to sustain with TV whereas searching the online or utilizing app. Hitting the button once more closes the window, and mousing again over it shows an in depth field and a maximize button that expands the TV window again to full display. It is a helpful and essential function, however extraordinarily sluggish to invoke, and it is also lacking a key function: you’ll be able to’t transfer the window. Meaning you are out of luck if the field is obscuring the content material or controls you need to see — anybody who watched The Engadget Present noticed us wrestle to hit the Twitter app’s Ship button whereas it was hidden behind DualView throughout our demo. What’s extra, you possibly can’t simply dismiss DualView to hit controls after which deliver it again, since it could solely be invoked whereas watching TV. We might additionally like to have the ability to run Flash video in a DualView body whereas searching different tabs, nevertheless it’s not at present potential.Chrome and Flash
Till Market launches, what you are basically shopping for with a Google TV system is the power to run Chrome and Flash in your TV. What’s extra, a shocking variety of Google TV options truly occur in Chrome, which serves as virtually the default approach to expose performance: there is no Amazon Video On Demand app, for instance — hitting the button on the house display simply masses Amazon.com. Similar with YouTube — you simply load the primary web page in Chrome. That is a whole lot of duty for a browser, and when it really works nicely, it really works rather well — we might say it is the most effective shopping expertise we have ever had on a TV.
However general it isn’t fairly what you’d anticipate. First off, it isn’t only a straight port of Chrome — though it is labeled as Chrome 7, Google informed us it is truly customized model based mostly on Chrome 5, and a few necessary options, like full HTML5 help, are unfinished. Given the rushed ship schedule for Google TV, it is sensible that sure browser options have been prioritized over others, nevertheless it’s undoubtedly slightly disingenuous for Google to say it is merely utilizing “Chrome.” Google did inform us it is engaged on a Chrome 7-based mostly browser and it needs so as to add extensions help, however we weren’t given a timeline for any of that.
Efficiency-clever, the browser is serviceable, though it is undoubtedly fairly laggy — do not anticipate any clean scrolling right here. The browser is certainly quicker and extra usable on TV-optimized websites, however we anticipate to see vital basic efficiency enhancements because the software program will get up to date — there is no cause Google cannot match smartphone ranges of responsiveness with the netbook-class internals of the Google TV. We might additionally wish to see some higher zoom controls — it is fairly exhausting to learn most websites at the usual zoom degree, however you’ll be able to solely step in at fastened increments and there isn’t any horizontal scrolling. Slightly pinch-to-zoom would go a great distance. For now, nevertheless, you are greatest off sticking together with your laptop computer for any main shopping wants — Google TV’s browser is greatest whenever you’re merely navigating to a web page with video content material and hitting play.
Efficiency and compatibility points apart, having a browser in your TV is certainly a helpful and fascinating function, particularly coupled with the drop-down search overlay and twin view options, which allow Google TV to stay “on prime” of your common TV setup and get out of the best way if you’re not utilizing it. Actually, we ultimately stopped considering of Google TV as a main interface for our TV and went again to utilizing our TiVo within the traditional means, however we nonetheless beloved with the ability to shortly and simply bounce over to net content material or use search when essential. Till there’s extra widespread DVR compatibility or (dare we dream) an built-in Google TV DVR, we might undoubtedly advocate utilizing Google TV as an internet-enabled layer over your present TV setup, not the central management room. Used this manner, it is extremely handy, and it exhibits the deep promise of the Google TV idea — it does not matter if content material is on the internet or on TV, it is simply… there. (Nicely, kind of. However we’ll get to that.)
In fact, virtually none of this net video would play and not using a strong Flash implementation, and that is one place the place Google TV shines. We’re completely happy to say we had zero issues enjoying 1080p Flash video on quite a lot of websites, and we discovered the controls to be responsive and the standard to be eminently watchable. Flash video playback is arguably probably the most polished facet of Google TV — our solely grievance is that tiny participant controls are likely to get misplaced and exhausting to hit with the mouse on bigger TV screens, an issue that may be solved by mapping the keyboard play / pause buttons to regulate video playback.
Sadly, Flash video playback is the one optimized a part of Flash, so far as we will inform — different Flash content material, like advertisements and video games, ran extremely slowly, and slowed down the browser in flip. Simply watch this video of Canabalt, a Flash recreation that runs acceptably on common netbooks:
There is a ton of promise for Flash gaming on Google TV, however Adobe and Google desperately want to complete optimizing the remainder of Flash to make it occur — efficiency like this simply will not reduce it.
Oh, and simply as a observe: Flash is the one plugin that is presently supported. There is no Silverlight or QuickTime, clearly, and we doubt Microsoft or Apple will port these over anytime quickly. It isn’t essentially a killer drawback, since Flash is so dominant, nevertheless it bears mentioning — NBC streamed the Olympics utilizing Silverlight, for instance. There’s additionally no help for issues like NFL.com’s HD video plugin, which makes watching these movies on a TV a reasonably low-high quality affair. We’re hoping that’ll change if and when Google offers extension help to Chrome on the TV, however that might be an extended methods off.Networks, Netflix, and different apps
Google TV definitely has the options and instruments to blur the road between TV and net content material, however sadly something that includes the networks simply is not that straightforward. On the time of writing, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Hulu have all blocked Google TV from accessing their exhibits on the internet, with Fox reportedly contemplating a block as properly. For higher or worse, the very first thing individuals consider once they see a browser on TV is streaming exhibits from Hulu and the networks free of charge, and having them blocked turns all the worth proposition of Google TV the wrong way up. We have been advised negotiations with the networks to treatment the state of affairs are underway, however we do not know once they may bear outcomes.
Google additionally tells us it is working with Hulu on bringing Hulu Plus to Google TV as an app, however that is one other $10 a month on prime of the cable or satellite tv for pc subscription it’s essential to get probably the most of out Google TV. Clearly Google TV is not the one product with these issues — Boxee has infamously run afoul of the networks up to now — however Google TV units aren’t low cost, and if all you actually need is to stream exhibits off of ABC.com or no matter, you is perhaps much better off with a low-finish Home windows nettop, which will not ever be blocked. (And sure, we have modified the browser’s consumer-agent string with various and inconsistent success, however Google cannot anticipate its informal customers to fiddle with that.)
In fact, you could not have a related TV product with out together with Netflix, and Google TV is not any exception — Netflix is among the few apps presently obtainable, and it is bundled on all of the units. It definitely works, and HD content material seems superb, however the app itself makes use of what you may name the primary-era Netflix interface — it solely exhibits what’s in your immediate queue, with no search or discovery options. Actually, it is the very same interface Roku rolled out in 2008 — and virtually each different Netflix expertise available on the market has far surpassed it. Sure, you possibly can simply change to Chrome and go replace your On the spot Queue that means, nevertheless it’s a poor substitute for a aggressive Netflix expertise.
You get a number of different apps in the usual Google TV set up: CNBC Actual-Time performs CNBC content material alongside a inventory ticker, Gallery exhibits footage out of your Picasa account, Napster, Pandora, and Twitter supply respectable if considerably primary entry to their respective providers, and NBA Recreation Time exhibits off an inventory of upcoming video games, scores, in addition to with the ability to tune you into video games and play (closely compressed) video highlights. Whereas all the apps are properly-achieved and practical, none of them are notably illustrative of the platform’s promise — and to be trustworthy, all of them have fairly sluggish UIs. Once more, it is early, nevertheless it’s onerous to think about why you’d need to use a pokey TV app whenever you possible have a lot quicker smartphone and laptop computer apps sitting inside arm’s attain.
One factor we’re notably interested in is how deeply future Google TV apps will have the ability to use the TV feed — between our HDCP points and the community content material blocks, we will not say we’re optimistic that future apps will have the ability to entry TV content material immediately. What can we imply? Nicely, we might like to see a Slingbox app that streams exhibits to your telephone, however that might contain buffering, transcoding, and retransmitting tv content material from an HDMI enter, and that seems like a no-no — hardware Slingboxes definitely cannot do this. We might additionally like to see an app that detects commercials and pops up Twitter or Fb throughout these occasions, however we have got a sense broadcasters won’t be too into that. Google informed us they needed to provide devs as a lot entry as potential, however they have been aware of HDCP and copyright points, so we’ll see what the ultimate Google TV SDK seems like. Like we stated, it is by no means simply that straightforward when the networks are concerned.Wrap-up
It is all the time exhausting to evaluation model 1.zero of a platform — it is tempting to offer idea and potential almost as a lot weight as execution. And we’ll make no bones about it: seen in that mild, Google TV is a hit. Options just like the search bar and built-in browser are so basically good on a conceptual degree that they appear destined to eternally change our notion of TV consumer expertise, no matter how nicely Google TV itself fares out there, and that is no small accomplishment. Different options, like apps and smartphone management, appear equally formidable and worthy of reward due to promise alone.
The issue, in fact, is that it is actually execution that counts, and little else. By that rather more exacting commonplace, Google TV looks like an incomplete jumble of excellent concepts solely half-realized, an unoptimized field of risk that suffers beneath the load of its personal ambition and seemingly rushed vacation deadline. Had Google merely targeted on a couple of key options — lightning-quick shopping and excellent search outcomes, for instance — we might have readily excused the lacking items with the idea that they’d quickly arrive in an equally polished method. Certainly, probably the most disappointing factor about Google TV is the quick realization that it could possibly be a lot extra if solely Google given itself some extra time. An built-in DVR, an actual program information, a movable PIP window that opens shortly — all this stuff should occur for Google TV to achieve success. We’re already listening to stories that Google’s in talks with cable operators to construct built-in Google TV set-prime packing containers, so maybe probably the most troublesome hurdle will quickly be handed, however till Google TV’s sluggish efficiency and common lack of polish are addressed, it’s going to stay simply as area of interest because the HTPCs from which it sprang.
Ben Drawbaugh and Tim Stevens contributed to this evaluate.
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