Situated directly between your receiver and TV, Logitech's tiny box allows complete passthrough of HDMI audio and video from your source, allowing simultaneous web surfing and video playback, and will optionally connect to an HD webcam for Logitech Vid
720p video chat. While it's hard to say how it compares till we see the competition, Logitech's solution sports Intel's 1.2GHz CE4100 processor, 4GB of memory and 802.11n WiFi, and outputs Dolby 5.1 surround sound over both HDMI and optical S/PDIF outputs. Though the device only accepts HDMI input for video, it doesn't require source content to have HDCP protection, so you could theoretically use an adapter to connect older video sources as long as your display itself is HDCP-compliant.
Logitech wouldn't say the first word about pricing, though they confirmed that the unit and combo keyboard/touchpad/remote would be optionally bundled at launch; when asked about the companion box's value, they hinted that it includes all the functionality of the $400 Logitech Harmony 900
media remote -- hopefully, it won't arrive too far north of that figure.
The potential pitfalls for Google TV are many, and while some of them will be familiar from mobile Android devices, the far more mature TV market will prove even more difficult to crack than the young, often upgrading mobile scene. When we heard the words "IR blasters" mentioned on stage at Google I/O our hearts sank. While they will work for one way compatibility with existing set-top boxes and other hardware, they can be unreliable and have no capacity to send information back to the control device. That means a Google TV that doesn't know when your DVR is full, what's on it, if it actually scheduled a recording of Ghost Whisperer
like you asked or have direct access to its listings and VOD. Currently cable, IPTV and satellite providers hold all the content cards and convincing them the Google TV is here to help, not harm their business is a task that most would say ranks somewhere between impossible and unlikely.
Another potential issue (which we alluded to above) is that the browser is given its own user agent; as Google's Vic Gundotra told us in a post-keynote briefing, if content providers wish to block Google TV from viewing its videos, it has the technological capability to do so. Of course the big name is Hulu, but any other content provider could also be on the list. Will content providers be willing to design apps that work (well) on the Google TV? Like many other questions, until the hardware is out there it's impossible to tell.
But one of the most disturbing problems we see coming is a holdover from Android phones -- upgrades. Just think about how long it's taken many phones that are still on contract to subscribers to get the latest software patch, and then take a moment to wonder if Sony will have any interest in updating your 2010 Sony Internet TV to Google TV 3.0 Parfait in 2012 instead of just selling you a new flat screen instead.
What the future may hold for Google TV could be as wide and fruitful as the success of its web search on a device everyone uses everyday already, or as barren as the fields tilled by Google Viewer and Orkut. But where its biggest challenges exist -- access to content currently held by TV broadcasters and the studios -- could also be its biggest opportunity. Finding better ways to work with the TV programming people already expect to use by partnering with the cable and satellite providers will be a major story over the life of Google TV. Experiments with interactivity through widgets
apps as well as the FCC's increasing impatience with the state of tru2way
show there's a chance at bridging these gaps, but it may be a crack that opens slowly or not at all. It's succeeded in turning mobile carriers into Android fans, can it do the same with Comcast, Time Warner and DirecTV?
Another lesson learned from the mobile space is that even can't, or at least shouldn't, go it alone. The Nexus One sales experiment
has faded, and it's clear that the work done, mostly by HTC, to improve the interaction with Android and the devices it runs on have served to promote the platform. If we compare what we saw this week to the G1 on T-Mobile, imagine a few years down the road when they find the home theater equivalent of HTC and Sense, and deliver an EVO 4G-level device with power that truly excites users and software that compels them to line up to get it. Other alternatives to the current approach will mean expanding the number of hardware partners beyond Sony -- Samsung is wavering
, but we'll need more -- and devices beyond just displays and standalone boxes. Right now the lowly A/V receiver seems like a perfect target for increasing functionality and connectivity with all equipment -- if the price and the features are right.
Google is first to admit the TV / internet convergence isn't a new concept -- in an incredibly amusing slip of the tongue during yesterday's post-keynote briefing, Gundotra himself called it WebTV, one of the earliest attempts that ultimately fizzled. What we saw this week was a lot of potential, and when we say that, we also mean we're left with numerous unanswered questions. More importantly, in a world where most of the targeted audience already has plenty of streamers and set-top boxes (not to mention smartphones and laptops that can let us couch surf without giving up any "big screen' real estate), we're not seeing a lot of justification. That said, Google is a strong and trusted brand, and that can go a long way in consumer mindshare -- just look at Apple TV
. With the Fall release window really not that far off, the gang in Mountain View are gonna need to make a much more compelling case, unless of course, it's also just a hobby
Richard Lawler, Ross Miller, and Sean Hollister contributed to this piece