NO, IT‘S NOT April fools, Google really did announce Google TV at Google I/O today and although it might sound utterly daft to incorporate Google search into a TV, the demos shown were quite impressive, when they worked. It’s early days as yet, but it seems like Google has managed to drum up enough support from a wide range of key players to make it a success, a huge success at that.
So what’s it all about? Well, according to Google it’s a new way for consumers to interact with their TV which is meant to revolutionise the way we watch television. Google has managed to combine the way that we use the web with the way we watch TV, well, in a fashion. Many of us are watching content on our computer these days and Google has come up its idea of how we should get this content onto our television sets. Google TV is based on Google’s Android platform and its Chrome web browser. It also connects to your current set top box, be it cable or satellite and of course to your TV. It does require a broadband connection to work.
The trick is that Google has come up with what looks like an interesting way of finding what you want to watch, as Google TV uses Google search rather than a complicated program guide and that’s also the way that Google enables web content to be easily integrated. A lot of details weren’t unveiled and we’re still some months away as the first hardware devices won’t launch until this fall. Nonetheless, Google TV has huge potential simply because Google has managed to get one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics companies onboard from day one, namely Sony. On top of that, we’ll also see a “companion box” from Logitech and the actual playback hardware comes from none other than Intel.
Add to this Dish network, and you have a pretty solid user base to start with. The first devices will be available through Best Buy, although for those of us that don’t live in the US, none of this is very encouraging. It seems like, at least initially, Google TV will be yet another US exclusive, but it sounds like Google is working on launching Google TV in other parts of the world as well. There are of course some major problems to overcome in specific regions, especially as a lot of the web content is locked to one or another country.
Google also spoke a lot about the fact that Google TV is an open platform and it will be available as an open source license in the summer of 2011. Early 2011 will also see a specific Android Market for Google TV apps, alongside an SDK and TV web APIs. Interestingly Google TV will support Adobe Flash, despite the fact that Google seems to be moving to its own WebM codec for video. The idea in this case is for interactive websites as Google intends for the “full web” to work on Google TV, just as it does on your PC.
The thing here is of course that the Google TV hardware is based on Intel’s x86 architecture and specifically the Atom CE4100 (PDF link) processor is at the core of the first devices. It was also mentioned in the presentation that a GPU might be added; although no details were given as to the potential partners were in this case. The CE4100 processor incorporates PowerVR graphics and supports 1080p video output over HDMI 1.3a with deep color support. It’s capable of playing back dual H.264, VC1, WM9 and MPEG-2 video streams, although it’s limited to a single MPEG-4 video stream.
Sony’s Sir Howard Stringer made a rather amusing comment about Google, as he said that Google is “a partner with whom we have no fear” which was apparently something unusual for Sony and implying that Google isn’t a direct competitor with Sony. Sony will offer TVs with Google TV built in, which will be branded as the Sony Internet TV. Sony will also offer a Google TV set top box device with a built in Blu-ray player. Logitech’s solution appears to be much simpler, as its companion box will simply interface with your current TV, DVR and cable or satellite receiver. Logitech has also added support for its Harmony remote control technology and is working on an Android app that will allow Android handsets to interact with the companion box.
We don’t have any details on what Dish network will do, but we’d guess a new set top box based on the same hardware platform incorporating Google TV. As for other partners, well, we’re just going to have to wait and see, but as this will be an open source platform, anyone could in reality create both hardware and software that supports Google TV.
Some other cool features that were demoed include the option to push video from your Android phone onto Google TV. There will also be a wide range of input devices, including keyboards, “pointing devices” and of course remote controls. All Google TV solutions will come with both Ethernet and Wi-Fi as standard and HDMI is the interface of choice. YouTube will also add a new feature called Lean Back which will launch ahead of Google TV that will allow you to personalise your own video feed from YouTube based on the content you watch, or content that is suggested to you by friends etc. Sounds like Pandora for the TV.
So is this the future of TV? Well, it looks like a good start anyhow. We’re sure there are plenty of conspiracy theorists out there that are screaming about Google taking over our televisions right now, but if Google TV is executed right it might very well prove to be a huge step forward in terms of interactive content on our TV. And of course, if you don’t want it, you don’t have to get it. The only question Google and its partners didn’t answer was what the cost of the hardware will be, but we would bet good money on a $300+ starting price, even for the most basic companion boxes.S|A
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