Externally, the Revue isn't much to look at: it's a flat black box with a glossy black top that almost impossible to keep fingerprint-free once you've touched it for the first time. There are IR emitters at the corners that allow the Revue's Harmony software to control additional A/V equipment like a TV or receiver, and around back you'll find power, optical audio out, Ethernet, two USB ports, HDMI in and out, a Bluetooth pairing button and two optional IR blaster ports in case your setup prevents the built-in emitters from reaching your other gear. (There's a wired blaster in the box, if you need it.) The power brick itself is relatively unobtrusive, but we always prefer our home theater gear to have integrated power supplies -- it's not the end of the world, but the external brick adds bit of clutter to an already wire-intensive product. We also wish one of the USB ports was front-mounted for easy access -- getting back there to plug in a flash drive isn't exactly fun.
Inside, you'll find the same 1.2GHz Intel CE4100
Atom-based media chip that powers every launch Google TV device, 1GB of RAM, and 5GB of storage, although there's no user-facing purpose for that space yet. Connectivity is handled via Ethernet or 802.11n WiFi, but there's no 5GHz support, which is disappointing, since Intel chipsets generally handle it just fine.That's really it as far as the main hardware goes, but honestly, you'll spend very little time interacting with the Revue itself -- once you set it up, it's basically invisible apart from its small green LEDs.
On the other hand, you'll spend almost all your time with the Revue's full-size wireless keyboard in hand. We'll hand it to Logitech, the keyboard is remarkably thin and light while still feeling solid, and we didn't cause it any serious harm after a couple drops to our wood floor. To the right of the keyboard you'll find a smallish trackpad as well as a D-pad, Android keys and basic transport controls; these constitute the primary navigation controls and wok quite well -- the trackpad even does two-finger scrolling. There aren't any arrow keys, of course, since there's a D-pad, but there are up / down arrow keys on the right edge which double as page up and down if you hold down the Fn button. Along the top of the keyboard you'll find some basic universal remote buttons -- volume, mute, guide, and DVR -- which allow you to control the basics of your home theater, and map differently depending on your setup. In our case, the DVR button acted as the TiVo button, which was useful.
Unfortunately, the keyboard isn't backlit, which makes using it in a dark home theater room somewhat difficult. You can always buy the $129 Mini Controller (a variant of the DiNovo Mini) or use Logitech's smartphone app, of course, but for $300 out of the gate we'd have like to see some LEDs under the packed-in keyboard, especially since many of the keys have two functions depending on context. You've also got to consider whether you want a full-size wireless keyboard permanently living on your coffee table -- we're fine with it, but we've got a feeling Logitech will do brisk sales of that Mini Controller, which has the added bonus of being usable with two hands while standing up or lying down, not just while seated.
Setup and Harmony
Although the process is largely the same, we found setting up the Revue took about 30 minutes, compared to 10-15 for Sony's Google TV devices. The difference is largely made up of restarting time; you'll hit about four different restart points during the guided setup. As we said in our general Google TV review, getting things put together isn't difficult, but depending on your arrangement, you'll end up connecting between three and six wires: power and HDMI in / out, and then Ethernet, USB for the camera and an IR blaster cable if you need them. We've now suffered through HDMI / HDCP issues with three different Revue boxes and Time Warner Cable, so be warned there. You'll also have to step through Logitech's four-part screen size adjustment, which struck us as unnecessarily wonky.
Of course, the biggest advantage the Revue has over its Sony platform-mates is its integrated Harmony remote technology, which makes setting up the keyboard to control your TV, DVR, and receiver a snap. Just like a regular Harmony, all you have to do is type in your gear's model numbers during setup and everything is automatically programmed. It worked great with everything we tried it with, including a number of cable boxes, TVs, and receivers, and we had no complaints about the various button mappings.
Unfortunately, the Harmony integration doesn't go beyond hitting the database for programming info in any way. Remotes like the Harmony One are incredibly popular because they provide macros for different activities like "Watch TV" and "Watch Blu-ray," but the Revue lacks any sort of activity support. Logitech told us that the best experience would come with both a traditional Harmony remote and the Revue -- a stance underlined by the "Start Google TV" activity that's can be added to your existing Harmony setup from the Revue. We doubt many people are going to grab the Revue thinking the keyboard can serve as their everyday remote, but even still, it's a bit disingenuous for Logitech to say it has "Harmony" when it's lacking the key component of the Harmony system.
Performance and video quality
It's somewhat hard to judge the relative performance of the launch Google TV devices, since they all share the same hardware and the software is still clearly so early and unoptimized, but the Revue in particular has been dogged by complaints of stuttery video playback since it launched. Logitech's since issued a software update
to solve the problem, and it appears to have done the trick -- we haven't noticed any issues since. We've also noticed that Revue tends to slow down every now and again for no apparent reason, but we're chalking that up to the early software on these device.
The Revue does have one particularly annoying issue, though -- depending on how well you line up that initial screen size calibration, the Google TV overlay might be wildly off-center. What's more, the screen size adjustment doesn't seem to line up exactly with where the overlay appears, so there's some trial and error to get it exactly right. It's not a huge deal, but it's annoying, and it's just another reason for Logitech to sort out a better way to tweak the image size.
Video calling and Vid HD
Making simple video calls to friends and family from the couch is infinitely preferable to trying to get everyone huddled around the PC, but in terms of value and quality, the Revue isn't quite a sure-fire winner compared to a PC with a good webcam. For starters, you'll need the optional $149 TV Cam, which sits on top of your display and looks like a comically oversized version of Logitech's own recently-released C910
, which is selling for well
under its $99 MSRP. Both appear to have identical lens elements, but the C910 goes all the way up to 1080p compared to the TV Cam's 720p and, in our testing, delivered superior pictures.
Sure, having more than twice the pixels will do that, but more important was the camera's ability to handle low-light situations, and the C910 was a clear winner in that regard. It did a much better at balancing exposure settings to ensure that the people making the call were properly lit, even if it meant over-exposing the background. If you're wondering what happens when you plug the cheaper but better performing C910 into the Revue, we're sorry to report that it simply doesn't work. The TV Cam will work with a PC, but we weren't able to get an HD signal from it.
Why does the TV Cam cost so much but perform worse? Logitech tell us there's hardware encoding onboard to take the load off of the Revue's netbooky specs. Also, there's an LED on the front that lights up to let you know you've missed a call, though it's a tiny pale blue thing and it hardly stands out -- something harsh and red would have been far preferable.
In terms of the software, Logitech Vid HD is incredibly easy to use and calling people who use the PC client is generally as simple as entering their e-mail address. Calls take a few seconds to negotiate and, assuming the connection is solid and you don't tax the bitrate by moving around too much, image quality is quite good. However, we couldn't help but notice the lag, which basically makes it impossible to have regular conversations. It's not a major deal-breaker but it's something that's rather less troublesome in competing apps like Skype. We're being a little optimistic here, but since Logitech's cams are some of the few authorized to work with Skype HD, hopefully we'll be seeing that app's icon make an appearance on the Revue sooner than later.
We'd also like to touch on cost here, since an end-to-end Revue videoconferencing setup ain't cheap: at $299 per box and $149 for the camera, you're looking at $900 just to call Gran from the living room. You can definitely pick up a couple cheap nettops and C910s for less than that, while still using Logitech's Vid HD software, as well as other services like Skype. Yes, it's more complicated, but it's something to think about -- especially since NBC, ABC, CBS, Hulu, and Fancast can't be blocked from a nettop browser.
DLNA, media playback, and smartphone apps
There's a pretty basic DLNA client built into the Revue -- we tried it with Windows 7, Twonky on our iMac, a MyTouch 4G and a Droid X with no major issues. We'd have like it to work faster and more smoothly -- clicking through the interface isn't exactly pleasant or efficient -- but hey, it works. We also had decent success playing back MKV, DivX, and MOV files, although as with all streamers we had the occasional file that just wouldn't play. (Check the complete codec list here
.) You can also plug in a USB drive up to 895GB and play content locally using the same interface. Overall it works, but we wouldn't pick up a Revue just for this capability -- it's more of a "nice to have" feature.
Same with the Harmony smartphone app for iOS and Android -- it's nice to have, but it's so limited it's not a particularly killer feature. For starters, we couldn't get the Android app to recognize the physical keyboard on our Droid -- it only worked with the virtual keys. It's also a pretty page-intensive, with lots of swiping to get to the buttons you want, and some of the layouts bury commonly-needed buttons like the ABCD keys for some DVRs. We also had repeated issues with disconnects on both platforms, and we also suffered a complete loss of settings while turning Bluetooth on and off on Android that required another complete trip through setup. And, as expected with the limited Harmony support of the Revue in general, you also can't set up any other Harmony activities or control any other devices -- the only option is Watch Google TV.
Overall, the Revue is the box you want if you're interested in putting Google TV in your living room. It's not perfect, but it's solid, although we'd like to see the cost go down: at $300 with a complicated and lengthy setup, the Revue is very much an enthusiast's device, and we think most enthusiasts interested in the features of Google TV are better served with a cheap PC connected to their HDTVs at the moment. Drop things down a price bracket and it's a whole different story, however -- the Revue looks like no-brainer for Dish Network customers at $179, even with the $4 monthly "integration fee."
We're also curious to see what the long-term future holds for devices like the Revue -- the only real way for Google TV to succeed is for the platform to be integrated into set-tops and DVRs, and in that context the Revue is really just a bridge between two incompatible worlds. If Dish or Verizon offered us a single-box Google TV DVR tomorrow, we'd throw the Revue out in a heartbeat, and that means Logitech has to build out ancillary features like video calling, DLNA support, and Harmony integration enough to make them tempting enough to resist the inevitable direction of the platform itself.
Tim Stevens and Ben Drawbaugh contributed to this review.