Intel, Logitech, Sony, and Google merge TV and the Internet like never before
If you think Hulu was a TV innovation, then prepare yourself for Google TV. Created by Google in partnership with hardware makers, Google TV aims to meld the hundreds of channels available on pay television with the virtually unlimited content—video and otherwise—available on the Internet. But what exactly is Google TV? How will it work? How much will it cost? Will it run on the hardware you already own?
Google TV isn’t expected to hit the market until sometime in October, but we’ve squeezed our sources at Google, Intel, and Logitech for answers to seven pressing questions.
In concrete terms, what the heck is Google TV?
According to Google, Google TV is an open platform designed to bring the power of the Internet to the TV-viewing experience. Think of an electronic program guide on steroids. It’s a menu interface that exposes not only what’s being broadcast on TV, but also what’s available on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, or even on your DVR or the media server on your personal network.
Google TV will run on Google’s Android operating system and utilize Google’s Chrome web browser. It will use picture-in-picture technology to display your search results on top of live TV, so you never need to switch between experiences.
Google TV will also deliver content that’s relevant to whatever you happen to be watching—stats if you’re watching a sporting event, IMDb if you’re watching a movie, and so on. And it’s all in a picture-in-picture environment, so you don’t have to switch from one experience to the other. Potentially, it’s the perfect alternative to watching TV with a notebook or tablet balanced on your lap.
Google is providing the underlying operating system (Android) and web browser (Chrome). Logitech will offer a set-top box called the Revue—more on this later. Sony is working on incorporating Google TV into its new HDTVs and Blu-ray players. Intel is providing the silicon (the Atom CE4100 system-on-chip) for the Logitech and Sony products.
How Does Google TV Relate to Intel's Smart TV?
Intel had been thinking of ways to blend TV and the web for several years, all before Google approached them looking for hardware to run Google TV.
“Smart TV isn’t a product,” says Intel Consumer Experience Architect Brian David Johnson. “It’s more of a type of TV experience. When we started working on the concept four or five years ago, we figured the number-one thing people would want in the future is movies on demand. But our focus groups revealed that what people really wanted on their TVs was Internet access. It was more about personalization. Your Internet is very different from my Internet, but it can give you as a consumer whatever you’re looking for. People saw the Internet as a way they could get whatever they wanted on demand.”
Johnson’s new book, Screen Future, explores how computers, TVs, phones, and even cars are being connected and reshaped into personalized entertainment platforms. One chapter discusses an interactive TV concept called “poker night” that Intel conceived three years ago. “The TV becomes the poker table,” says Johnson, “and the consumers’ handheld devices become their private screen [so they can see the hands they’ve been dealt]. And each TV has a webcam attached to it, so the players can see each other. This is a very natural experience and people got the concept instantly.”
Illustration by Brian David Johnson
"Poker night" is just one portion of Intel's 3-year-old "Smart TV" concept. The TV serves as a card table and webcams let the players see and interact with each other.
But no idea happens in isolation, says Johnson. “Google had an understanding early on that they wanted a way to tie TV into Internet search. They’re Google, and search is what they do. We had the platform and we would have discussions about the user interface. Google TV is very much a Google product, but Intel saw early on that there were a lot of synergies.”
What are the Hardware Requirements?
Dish Network subscribers will be able to run Google TV on that company’s existing set-top boxes. Everyone else will need a Google TV device or a TV with integrated Google TV. Google TV will not run on a Mac or PC—not even with one of those fancy new CableCARD tuners. Besides the fact that Google TV runs on the Android OS, the software requires hardware with an HDMI input so that it can overlay its graphical user interface on top of the TV signal.
“All Google TV devices include an HDMI input that allows us to blend traditional television content with that of the Internet,” says Google TV Product Manager Larry Yang. “Dish Network customers will have the full integration experience and will be able to access all of their DVR and video-on-demand content directly from the Google TV interface. Users without Dish will still have a seamless experience bringing the web and TV together in one easy-to-use, searchable experience.” According to Yang, this will also apply to consumers using over-the-air HDTV tuners.
So Google TV will really work with over-the-air broadcasts?
Google says it will, but Kevin Simon, director of product marketing for Logitech’s Digital Home Group, told us Logitech’s Revue device will not work with OTA tuners because they lack an electronic program guide. “You can use the browser and the applications,” says Simon, “but without an EPG, you won’t know what’s being broadcast.” What’s more, the vast majority of TVs don’t have HDMI outputs, so there’s no way to route a live TV signal through a Google TV set-top box.
How much will Google TV cost?
You’ll need to buy the hardware, of course, but it won’t cost anything extra to use Google TV. It’s easy to see the other players’ business models, but what does Google get out of Google TV?
“Google TV will be a free, open-source platform,” says Yang. “This is an opportunity for Google and many third-party developers to distribute existing content and services through a new category of devices. For example, users will now be able to easily access Google search, Google Maps, and YouTube.”
Yang says Google TV won’t be a platform for selling additional advertising—at least for now. “At this time, there are no advertising products directly integrated into Google TV,” says Yang. “Traditional advertising over broadcast TV, as well as online display ads, can be viewed as normal through Google TV, and will continue to function as before.”
Logitech and Sony have been exceedingly tight-lipped when it comes to discussing pricing for their Google TV products. Sony wouldn’t discuss the subject at all, but Logitech’s Simon did say there are no subscription fees tied to the Revue.
What can we expect from the Logitech Revue hardware?
Logitech demoed the Revue when Google TV was announced, but has been reticent to show the product to the press since then. Logitech’s Kevin Simon did, however, reveal a few key details during our conversation.
The box is based on Intel’s Atom CE4100 SoC, of course, but it will also incorporate Logitech’s Harmony Link engine and Unify receiver technology. Harmony Link will enable the Revue’s universal remote to control all the other devices in your entertainment center, and Unify enables the pairing of the remote and other controllers without the need to plug them into a USB port. The remote itself will have a touchpad and a full QWERTY keyboard.
Logitech’s Revue is based on Intel’s Atom CE4100 system-on-chip. It features an HDMI input and overlays Google TV’s user interface over live TV.
“Harmony Link enables the integration between the web and broadcast,” says Simon. “Imagine you’re searching for a TV show, such as Friday Night Lights. You’ll see a number of results pop up—some from the web and some from TV. If you select something that’s on TV right now, the channel on your set-top box will change to that channel.” Simon told us Logitech also plans to offer Android and iPhone apps that enable you to use those phones to control the Revue and the rest of the hardware in your entertainment center using your Wi-Fi network and infrared emitters (the Revue will have both a hard-wired Ethernet NIC and an integrated IEEE 802.11n adapter).
Logitech is also putting its Vid video chat software inside the Revue. Plug in a webcam and you’ll be able to make video calls to another Revue box or to any PC with a webcam. Throw in a smartphone or tablet with the right app, and Intel’s “poker night” concept becomes real.