It has been a long year for Google TV. The first (and only, so far) round of hardware started shipping in October 2010 and at the time, promised the Android Marketplace with its wealth of third party apps early in the next year. That clearly didn't happen, and it quickly became most notable for what it was being blocked from doing, like streaming video from TV providers like Hulu and various network TV websites. After various false starts and delays, Sony Google TV and Logitech Revue hardware will finally receive updates to Android 3.1 Honeycomb (congratulations Google, now where's Ice Cream Sandwich?) starting this weekend with Sony up first and Logitech "shortly thereafter." The biggest additions are the aforementioned apps, a new interface, and a refocused system for content discovery that starts with the new TV & Movies app pictured above. Check out the gallery for more pictures of the new Google TV, while more details and videos follow after the break.
Gallery: Google TV Honeycomb, Android Market screenshots | 11 Photos
Talking to VP of Product Management and Head of Google TV Mario Quieroz and Lead Product Manager Rishi Chandra it's evident that much has changed since we witnessed our first demo last May. At the time, they showed off its ability to search across different video sources by including episodes available for free streaming on network TV websites and playing them back, but that was quickly snuffed out. While that puts a serious kibosh on the plans of those who'd like a Google TV to become their optimal cord cutting device, much of the focus this time around is about showing how it plays well and expands upon the traditional pay-TV experience most viewers are still tied to. As you can see in the new TV & Movies app, there's an emphasis on including content that's available both airing live and for streaming from services like YouTube, Amazon and Netflix. It can sort content in a variety of ways, but the plan is to make this a preferred option by including a whole new level of personalization in the TV experience.
While simplifying the user experience and "getting out of the viewer's way" was their first mandate after observing the initial reaction to Google TV, the second is finding a better way to answer that eternal question: What is there to watch? Other than just aggregating sources in search, what Google TV is able to do now is create an entire channel of content from all of those sources based on a query. We'll still need to see some way to tie in access to VOD and DVRed recordings from providers other than Dish Network to make this truly appealing, but it's a start. Expanding upon the traditional sources of TV with online video is a theme, and one that Mario describes as the way cable TV expanded on network TV a few decades ago. While the major television networks didn't go away, we added hundreds of cable channels. This time around, Google sees the ability to wrap content people are interested in viewing from the millions of internet video source out there, most notable on YouTube. YouTube and Google Music have both received new dedicated apps in the update, with a clear focus on bringing both the stuff you're used to, and introducing new internet options alongside them.
Other than finding new things to watch on TV in a few new ways, the addition of Market apps is the biggest difference between Google TV and all the other connected TV platforms out there. So far, there aren't yet APIs to tell third party apps what you're watching and allow them to interact with it, but they're described as "heading down that path." Some of the 50-or so apps that will work on Google TV at launch include ones we've seen from TBS, TNT and other providers, as well as TV friendly versions of common apps like Flixster and IMDB. For music there's still Pandora and Napster, joined by Plex, Qello and more right out of the gate. Sports fans can try out Thuuz and Are You Watching This?! XL to get alerts and immediately tune to whatever game is deemed the most interesting, while there's also an AOL HD app that brings some of our videos to the TV as well. One of Google TV's strength has always been its ability to handle a wide range of internet content, and that's not changing this time around. The Chrome browser and search is a little more simplified, along with a My Photos app that checks another box on the "family friendly" features list by pulling in pics from your online albums.
As important as new hardware will be to determining the quality of Google TV's second chance, the situation there is still unchanged. While current partners Sony and Logitech remain on board as Samsung and Vizio wait in the wings, definitive word on ARM processors, new control interfaces, or additional manufacturers will have to wait until 2012. For now, the biggest question is if Google really can provide a new kind of content discovery experience that thrills viewers and reels in wary content partners; and more importantly, can they do it before efforts from familiar mobile competition like Microsoft and Apple take over the living room game? One thing is clear, as Mario and Rishi refer to the future as a marathon and not a sprint, whether or not Google is the most successful in changing our TV experience, we're sure they won't stop trying.
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SONY® INTERNET TV GETS GOOGLE TV™ UPDATE AND ANDROID MARKET™
New Interface and Android Market Bring the TV and Internet Convergence to the Next Level
SAN DIEGO, October 28, 2011 – Sony Electronics today announced a software update to the Google TV™ platform, which powers the unique entertainment experience found on Sony Internet TV powered by Google TV and the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc™ player. This latest version not only powers existing Google TV features, but also adds the Android Market for apps, which at launch includes hundreds of apps, including many designed and optimized for television. This update will roll out to all connected Sony Internet TV devices by early next week.
Sony released the world's first TV based on the Google TV platform in the U.S. last October - today's update brings a simpler and clean interface, improved performance, better search functionality and the Android Market to all currently installed Sony Internet TV and Sony Internet TV Blu-ray owners. Additionally, future consumers of Sony Internet TVs and Blu-ray Disc players will receive the update during the initial start-up installation. Other new benefits include better integration with Android™ and iOS devices, like smartphones and tablets.
"Connected experiences are a pillar of Sony's value to TV consumers and Sony Internet Television powered by Google TV certainly brings 'smart' connectivity to the highest level," said Steve Haber, EVP, Sony Electronics. "We very much look forward to the possibilities the Android Market will create for customers to personalize their experience. Users will enjoy the new features that this update brings to their interactive engagement with home entertainment programming, either through Sony Internet TVs or Bu-ray Disc players."
With the Android Market integration, new fun and useful apps will be added regularly, allowing television viewers unique and customizable entertainment experiences. At launch, original Sony applications will include TrackID®, which searches and identifies music heard on television broadcasts, packaged media or streaming video. Additionally, Sony Select will deliver a curated collection, highlighting featured applications to consumers in an easy-to-browse manner.
The Sony Internet TV powered by Google TV brings more entertainment choices to TV every day with unprecedented viewing options from cable/satellite or internet based services. Whether it's favorite network shows, movies, YouTube™ and other online clips, or the latest cool new app – whatever you want to watch, whenever you want to watch, it's all on your Sony Internet TV powered by Google TV.