This is more of a review so it’s going to be a bit longer than my normal blogs.
I’ve spent some time with the Google TV box and have formed some definite opinions.
Below you see a picture of the back panel and the included remote control. The USB inputs are for accessory devices such as their HD Camera
Logitech is offering a box that looks pretty nondescript and comes with a wireless keyboard with some limited remote functions. I installed it into my system which for these purposes includes a TIVO HD DVR, Classe SSP-800 surround processor, B&W 800 series speaker package, a stack of Rotel amps, a 2:39 Stewart screen, and a Runco Q-750 LED front projector. Hook up is very simple; the idea is you have to pass the signal from the cable/sat/tivo box through the Logitech box using HDMI cables. That’s the only way to hook it up, so component video is out.
Once I got it all connected, I went through the set up menu, the first step of which was very strange. An image comes up and you expand the top/bottom/left/right until it fills your screen. You then tell it who you are and where you live and can either opt in or out of the box tracking what you do. Next, you tell the box the model of your cable/sat/tivo, the model of your TV if you wish, and the model of your surround sound piece. You then tell it your service provider for cable/sat/tivo and go through some channel confirmations to make sure it knows how your channel line up is set up. The next step is to enter in your Google Gmail account or create a new one. This is a stop, do not pass go issue. You must do this to move through the set up. Once you get past this, it of course goes out and looks for new software, then reboots itself.
The whole idea here is letting the Google TV box do the searching for content, and if that content happens to be on your cable/sat/tivo box, the Google TV box issues an IR command to tune your box to that channel and switches to the video pass through for your cable/sat/tivo box.
The front and sides of the Logitech box have IR blasters to saturate the room with IR to control your components. There is one IR blaster supplied you can use if the box itself is not hitting your gear.
The remote is a full sized wireless keyboard with up/down/left/right enter functions, along with volume, mute for your system. It also has a guide and DVR button that take you directly to the guide or DVR for your cable/sat/tivo box. There is a home button, a search button, and a history button for quick navigation. There is also a little mouse pad to control the on screen mouse.
Ok- so how does it work?
The home menu is more of a folder view where you see all of your possible choices by category, such as TV shows, applications, most viewed, etc.
I felt the searching for what might be on TV to be pretty cool. You navigate through folders of categories to quickly find what you want. For instance, you can choose the drama folder to see what fits that category is on right now. It does not let you scroll faster by typing the first letter of where you want to go like iTunes does.
The full search is also very slick. I searched for Carolina Hurricanes and it comes up with a selection of choices, again in folder fashion. There was broadcast TV, internet videos, You Tube videos, etc. Once you select a category you see all the choices. If you select something from your cable/sat/tivo box, you jump to that channel.
The internet searches are just as you may suspect, you use a browser (Google Chrome of course) where you just type in as you would on a computer. The results are displayed like they would appear on your computer; you then navigate with the mouse to click on one to see the results.
If you have a Twitter account you have options to set things up to Tweet based upon what you are watching.
There is the full gamut of apps, which are not that much different than what you might get on any current internet enabled TV, Blu-ray player, video game, or internet appliance. Lots of choices to purchase content as with everything these days.
A picture in picture option is also pretty cool where you can park the TV feed in a little window while you go search for something on Google.
The most bang for the buck is probably the camera accessory. I’m not sure how secure the connection is but for a total of $450 bucks at each end (the box is $300, cam is $150), you’ve got full HD video conferencing, which is a huge bargain. You connect to people by just clicking on their account you have preset up. The Logitech box makes the interface to your video display and using it just a snap.
Ok- so that’s the good stuff, now for the bad.
I need to drag a second TIVO box into my theater to compare, but I am about 99% sure the picture of your cable/sat/tivo box is degraded by the video pass through.
The box has a Netflix app, but it’s so far behind what you can get now out of most devices, it’s a joke. If you have not seen the new Netflix app for PS3 or Apple TV, you should: it's worlds ahead of this one. Netflix. of course, is only stereo on the Google TV device (unlike the PS3 which is 5.1).
I tried the Pandora app, as Pandora is one of my favorite music services. For some reason when I logged in, it did not show all of my stations. Also unlike every other Pandora device I have played with, when you skip to the next song, the Google box acts like it is going out again to the internet and starting the whole station over as you have a long delay while its going out. Every other device I have tried is an instant skip to the next track. They also had a chance to do something really cool like hyperlink the artist or song, but they chose not to. The sound from Pandora on the Google box seemed very thin, like it was very low resolution digital. I’ve not been able to find a spec on how they pull it in, but I plan to connect a Sonos box to this system and do a direct comparison
I guess having the ability to watch You Tube on your TV is cool, but if you watch a typical You Tube video on a 46” tall screen, it looks pretty bad.
Another design feature that’s pretty strange occurs when you are watching your cable/sat/tivo box and go back to the home menu. The picture disappears, but you continue to hear the sound of the station you were on until you select something else-a bit annoying. As a matter of fact, this audio hangover happens on just about any source.
Now, the big question, what is it that most of us other than You Tube use the internet to watch? (OK, get your minds out of the gutter! 🙂 ) It’s the TV shows we missed, or old TV episodes. And where do we go to view them if we want to see them in high quality? That would be Hulu or the network websites, right? Well guess what? Hulu and all the networks are blocking content playback on the Google TV device! You can get to the site, but if you try to play anything, you get a pop up saying something like “this device is not supported for playback.”
I also had some navigation issues as I dived in deeper. There is an icon for Google Chrome, which you would think would just take you to the home page for Google. Well, if you have been on any application that goes out to the internet, that’s where you land when you press the Chrome button. What this means is you have to press a little feature button, scroll over, select close tab, press the home button, navigate to the applications, choose Chrome, and THEN you land on the Google home page for searching. A bit of a pain
All in all, I was underwhelmed with the idea of Google TV. For me, when I sit down in front of my TV, I really don’t have the urge to go do Facebook, Twitter, or look up the latest restaurant or car review. If I do have this urge, I just pick up my iPad and do it, and its way faster on the iPad. In this world of ease of access, control from anywhere, and DVR’s, I rarely watch anything live anyway. I can set up all of my recordings from my great TIVO interface or on line, so I guess for me, the search only comes into play if I am trying to find the channel a live sporting event might be on. In this regard, the Google box wins hands down, the search is much faster. I’ll let you all know shortly about the picture quality issue. If it degrades my picture in any way, I’ll spend 20 seconds longer searching for content.
It could be the Google TV box will suffer the same way media centers have. They do everything, but while they are great at a few things, they are marginal at most others. It is far easier to use than a media center pc, but I think we are entering a world where we will actually just continue to use our televisions for watching content. That content may be delivered completely over the web in the future, but I don’t see many people using their television as a web app or web search device. With the advent of the iPad, we have seen a dramatic shift in the price of a great handheld interface. The iPad, even in its first iteration is far easier to use than looking up at a big screen while you type on a remote keyboard. I see a future where our social media outlets and all searching is done on a handheld device and when we sit in front of our televisions its about content and seeing it in the best possible resolution.
As with anything, I’m sure it will get better over time and there certainly are a lot of things about this product that could be improved with a software update, but for right now, unless you value the ease of use and high quality picture you can get for video conferencing at such a bargin, the Logitech Google TV box does not get my recommendation.