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What Is Google TV?

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Google TV
Google Inc.

Google TV in a Nutshell:

Google TV is an Android-based operating system for smart TVs, or TVs that connect to the Internet as well as to standard set-top devices like DVD and Blu-ray players or DVRs.

Smart:

Current TV sets are "dumb." They only allow you to watch TV shows broadcast over the air or through connected devices, and you either must watch the show as it airs or use some device to watch the show for you and then replay it later. If a storm hits and your power goes out, you'll have to wait for a rerun. In addition, your dumb TV set does not know which shows you'd prefer to see and which shows you want to skip.

The idea behind smart TVs is that not only do they allow you to connect to the Internet, but they allow the TV to add services and suggestions (and yes, ads) tailored to your preferences.

Chrome:

One of the things that makes Google TV stand out is that it offers a full version of the Chrome Web browser and all the Web-based services you can use with it. That means you can check your email using Gmail or another Web-based email service. Chrome on Google TV can also play Flash videos, which means it can handle most streaming videos. (Hulu is intentionally trying to block Google TV access, though some users have found workarounds.)


Apps:

Just as Android phones can play apps, Google TV will have the capability to download and play apps from a Google TV market. This is scheduled to happen in early 2011, so stay tuned.

Queues:

This wouldn't be a very good TV device if it didn't let you watch shows later or check for new available shows. Google TV allows you to save favorite channels, podcasts, feeds, and Web pages in a queue. You can also add shows from your DVR if you have one.

Availability:

The initial Google TV offerings come from Sony and Logitech. Those Google TV devices are in stores now. In 2011, more companies are expected to begin making Google TV devices, but some of that will depend on how well the initial offerings do in the market.

Remotes:

The remotes for Google TV have a full keyboard. The Logitech Revue remote is full keyboard sized, while Sony's offerings have a smaller, PlayStation sized remote. This is because you're not limited to just clicking a single button. You can browse and click anywhere on the screen and enter text.

Accessories:

Logitech is offering an HD webcam accessory or a smaller remote. Sony is offering Google TV built into TVs or as a set-top box with a built-in Blu-ray player. As more companies offer Google TV devices, the number of configurations will likely increase.

More on Google TV:

Google TV can be seen as a transitional device. In the future, chances are great that none of us will get our content from TVs. Many consumers are already searching for ways to get rid of pricey cable subscriptions, and media companies are examining their strategies for putting content online. Do they charge per episode? Do they stream everything and put ads on it? Do they charge a subscription and saddle viewers with extra shows as "bonus" content?

Meanwhile, there are several strategies emerging for how to deal with connecting your TV to the Internet. Some users simply take a computer and hook it up to their TV as a home theater PC or HTPC. Some use dedicated devices that allow you to view a few types of content, such as the AppleTV or Ryoku devices. These one-or-two-trick ponies are much cheaper (most are around $99) but aren't as customizable.

Google's approach is to create a platform and allow developers to do what they will with it. That may be the right approach, since content providers and developers don't have to go to as much effort to get their content to your TV, but it may be the wrong approach as media companies try their hardest to hold onto whatever profit margins they can and squeak out exclusive deals with compaines like Microsoft to bring content to their devices.

That brings up another point about Google TV - game systems. If you have a game console, chances are that you can already stream Netflix and Amazon movies, so you may not need an additional device. The Google TV system may end up being more appealing to new users without game consoles, but the user interface isn't less intimidating. Google TV apps may cure both problems, both by adding game appeal and by adding simplified user interface options.

The Bottom Line - Do You Need One?

If you want to stream Netflix movies and watch streaming TV shows from your favorite networks, this is a good choice. If you were looking at buying a Blu-ray player, the Sony system is a really good choice, since it combines Blu-ray and Google TV and has a fully firmware upgradeable Blu-ray player which will support 3D content in the next update. That's something missing from a lot of cheap set-top Blu-ray players. However, there is a small learning curve. If you can us an Android phone, you can probably figure this out, though the two interfaces aren't completely the same. If you still haven't programmed your VCR to stop flashing midnight, you may want to hold off until next year. .

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