An Introduction to Google TV


WhistleOut
01 January 2012

Google TV is Google's first major foray into the burgeoning IPTV market. With this effort Google has taken a different approach to Internet television in that it is an aggregation of available online content combined with a slick interface service for existing streaming services rather than a monthly subscription for content from Google.

Google TV is Video over the Internet, but is not an IPTV package service with bundled channels like cnn.com streaming to you over the internet under the name of Google TV instead of from FOXTEL or Austar. It differs from IPTV and PayTV in that Google has instead done its best to blend the best the internet video sites have to offer with the best of regular TV. Google TV subscribers have access to their favourite TV channels and shows but also all the wonders of the world-wide-web in an easy-to-use, couch-browsing format.

The Thinking Behind Google TV

Since the birth of the internet, computers and mobile phones have changed hugely in their connectivity, capabilities, interface and form, but also in their significance as part of our daily lives. Compare the humble television to this kind of explosive change and you have to wonder why our TVs haven't been equally affected. At their 2010 I/O conference Google expressed concerns that the world's most universally loved device, which while still great, has barely changed since its inception. TV sets have become bigger, slimmer and sexier. They now display pictures with astoundingly better resolution than available in the 1950s, but they haven't undergone a dynamic shift in function like other technologies have and do on a regular basis. It is in the accessibility to the internet and the way that the TV should work across multiple distribution channels that Google wants to be a part of.

According to Google, the US spends around $70 billion each year on TV advertising. Now compare the measly population of America to the 4 billion other TV viewers around the world and you'll start to get an idea of the television industry's scope and size and why Google is trying to innovate in TV. The TV market has the world's largest and most prolific consumer-base, something so ingrained in our culture that it has become part of our lives. If you don't agree, just look at the blue shimmers of light in people's living room on your way home tonight. Pervasive.


What is Google TV?

Google TV is a cross-platform entertainment medium. So, what does that jargon mean?

It means that you can now have the comfort and reliability of TV combined with the 'unbridled' freedom offered by the internet. We use unbridled in quotation marks as the bridles have just come out, with Hulu saying that it will block Google TV.

Google TV does not rely on third-party apps, nor does it only offer a select amount of internet support. Instead subscribers will have it all; a full internet browsing experience and their regular TV, all on one screen complete with the massive pool of media entertainment offered by the web.

Google TV isn't just another form of IPTV and here's how it differs. IPTV generally provides a PayTV-style service over the internet with some extra web applications and limited internet access but no real web browser like our computers making it hard to find and explore new video content on the web that might live outside the IPTV channels offered. Google TV instead combines the entire internet with the TV that you already have. PayTV, DVD players, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, TiVo, volume mixers, and even subscriptions such as Zune, Hulu or Netflix can all be integrated in to Google TV, essentially creating one mass database for all your set top boxes (STBs) and other plug-ins.

All of this is on top of internet accessibility similar to that of a computer. Just about every form of video you watch in your house is combined in to one easy interface with one controller. One remote, one user interface, limitless choices. This new style of video experience comes at a one-off price with no long-term fees. Pricing varies depending on which TV manufacturer you go for, but at a single price with no required contract you won't be adding to your monthly budget.

Google TV currently comes in three forms: A Logitech set top box (STB), a SONY Blu-ray player with Google TV support and a line of SONY TV's with integrated Google TV.

What's So Cool About Google TV?

Google TV runs on Android, which means access to apps, customisable Home Screens, internet browsing and all the other fun things Android does. Google TV will even soon be open-sourced to developers, so subscribers can expect a wealth of diversity when it comes to entertainment options as well as what's likely to be more than a few exciting and original modifications to your TV.

Google themselves have stated "The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don't even know what the coolest thing about it will be." Just like back at the birth of the laptop, smartphone and, more recently, the tablet, Google is creating a product so versatile that its future is unpredictable, even by its creators.

Google TV not only provides an integrated TV/internet experience but offers them simultaneously. Viewers can surf the web while watching TV on the same screen or switch from one to the other seamlessly, depending on their preference.

Instead of competing with internet devices and traditional TV's on a level playing field, Google TV is focused on combining the two, thereby broadening the viewer's experience like never before.

Another great function inspired by the web is Google TV's search engine. Instead of trawling through endless PayTV channels, or suffering the long waits of national TV, Google TV owners can simply search for what they want and find it.

For instance, if you had a real hankering for a specific movie you could just type the title in to the search bar and let your TV do the rest.

In short. search sifts through all your channels, internet subscriptions (such as Netflix or Zune), recorded programs and the regular web browser to find you what you want, when you want it.

Why Did Google Go to the Effort?

Why has Google done all this? It's simple. People are being overburdened today with choice and diversity. It isn't uncommon to walk in to a friend's house and balk when they ask you to turn on the TV because their five remotes don't look anything like the ones you have at home. Most people have more than one form of media entertainment and you'll rarely find two people with the same setup.

The internet has also become an immeasurable source of entertainment material, much of which comes in video and music format. Where better to enjoy the web's videos and music than on the biggest screen and best speakers in your house?

Google TV brings all of this content together, relieving the hassle of separately managing all the great options we have today for entertainment. It is designed to expand the viewing experience by making every possible option in your house available to you at the press of a button. It's easy for you to use, it's easy for your friends to use.

Now that video sites like YouTube are beginning to go HD there's really no reason to confine your viewing to a small display like a computer or phone. Why not throw it up on your wall-sized TV complete with that awesome sound system that cost you more than your computer and phone combined? Have a Zune subscription? Or iTunes? Or any other of a hundred internet video subscriptions? The same goes for them. The only real reason we haven't been watching these on our TVs is that it's been too difficult to set up. Not anymore. The time of families huddling around laptops to watch a monkey play piano is over. Google is has brought the monkey to your TV, so just sit back and enjoy the show.

Controlling Your Google TV

Depending on which option you go for there are different remotes for Google TV and more are sure to come as other manufacturers jump on board. If you're a proud owner of an Android device or iPhone (Windows Phone 7 handsets have not yet been mentioned by Google) then you'll never again suffer the indignity of the 'missing remote'. Why? Because your phone is one! With one easy, free app your smartphone becomes the remote control for your TV. Lost your remote? Just call it! This is a great feature that Google hasn't really focused on in its marketing campaign but should prove hugely popular with customers.

The phone app doesn't just give you control of your TV, either. TV, DVD, Xbox, Sound System, web browser and even systems like TiVo are all funneled through Google TV. Thus your phone, as a Google TV remote, is capable of controlling it all. Never has there been a simpler universal remote than this.

SONY's remote design was apparently based on the PlayStation controller, and it shows. The two-handed, 120 key monster is imposing, but should make browsing the internet a little more streamlined than reaching for a keyboard every time you jump online. The ergonomic design makes for comfortable holding but doesn't function well one-handed, something that holds it back during regular TV viewing.

Logitech has opted for a more simplistic approach. The Logitech STB 'Revue' comes with a lightweight, compact keyboard complete with touchpad and the normal play/stop/rewind functions. The keyboard need only be utilised when searching for programs or browsing the web. There is also a miniature version similar to SONY's controller for an extra price of around $130 US.

Browsing the Internet on a TV? Sounds Complicated…

The internet browsing experience on Google TV differs depending on how you've chosen to go about it, but the 3 controller options all handle this task capably. Both SONY and Logitech have fronted some quick solutions to the lounge room's obvious lack of keyboard; Logitech in the form of a lightweight, compact keyboard that can be placed on the lap. There is also a miniature version that's available as a separate purchase. SONY's two-handed remote with a QWERTY keypad sits in the hands much like an Xbox or PlayStation controller. These solutions work well, but the best option is available to Android and iPhone owners. Any Android handset or iPhone acts as a comprehensive remote for Google TV. Various options are available as you scroll along your phone's display, including your familiar software QWERTY keyboard. Surfing the net on your TV is literally just like surfing on your phone. The experience still isn't as smooth as it would be on a computer, but Google's working on that.

Google TV Website Support

This is where Google's call out for Google TV support comes in. Unsurprisingly, YouTube has led the charge with YouTube Leanback. YouTube Leanback is a pleasantly elegant solution to browsing the internet with a TV remote. The only controls needed are the up, down, left, right and enter buttons, which end up being more than enough to browse most of what YouTube has to offer. The service is best used with linked with a YouTube account, as it utilises your favourites list, recent viewings, subscriptions and its eerily accurate recommended list as its main ports of call on start-up.

Browsing YouTube has never been lazier. YouTube Leanback offers a variety of channels; comedy, sports, music, gaming, entertainment and many more. There's even the option to create your own channels, customising your own lounge room viewing experience. YouTube Leanback isn't exclusive to Google TV, it's available right now to anyone with internet access, which you obviously have.

There are other early-bird websites, such as HBO GO (not available outside the US), CNN, TeamCoco and the Children's Network who are already working on, or have released, their own TV-friendly websites. Google even lists a few more, but while the quality of volunteers is impressive, the numbers aren't. There's a short supply of YouTube Leanback-style websites right now. However, the number is sure to grow as the popularity of Google TV spreads and even forces other IPTV and video service providers to expand their content and include full internet access.

Google TV Compared to IPTV Options

Traditionally IPTV has mimicked PayTV, in that it offers a similar service but over the internet instead of over a dedicated cable connection. There are 3 general types of IPTV:

Video On Demand (VOD)

VOD is comparable to on-demand or DVD rental. Customers pay to stream specific movies or TV shows. This is usually a cost-per-film service, where the customer pays a small fee to 'borrow' a movie for 24 or 48 hours. There are VOD services that instead opt for a subscription policy, whereby the customer has access to unlimited films and TV shows for a monthly price. However, this kind of VOD service is not yet readily available in Australia, although iTunes works quite nicely for this. Video on demand services like ABC's iView and Yahoo 7! catch up TV are also available at no charge.

Live Stream IPTV

Live Stream is just normal TV streamed to your TV through the internet. Some IPTV services offer a recording function, some don't. But the channels are usually identical to those found on national TV or Pay TV.

Delayed Broadcast

Delayed Broadcast (aka time shifted TV) is the same as Live Stream but after-the-fact. This is normally implemented in conjunction with live-stream, giving customers more options to pick a time when viewing their programs. Delayed broadcast programs give the user the option to pause, rewind, etc and are eventually removed after a specified period of time to make way for newer broadcasts.

What Google TV does instead is include all forms of entertainment media you currently have and run them through one interface. No monthly fees, no extra channels. Google TV neatens up the myriad of mediums most households have acquired over the years and lets them all work together, rather than keeping them as individual, closed-off systems.

Should I Get Google TV?

Google TV is a great idea for anyone who wants to either find a way to combine all of their media, or just get internet access on their TV.

If you're more after a cable TV style experience you'll need to get that first before grabbing Google TV. Yet, if you're simply tired of your TV's limited content, or trawling through menu after menu in multiple devices then it's probably worth giving some thought to Google TV. It could make your life easier in ways you don't even expect.

Sony are offering a Google TV enabled TV and blu-ray player with Google TV support. Logitech are offering a Google TV Set top Box. There will be more on the way in the next 12 months so you can take your time on deciding on Google TV.

UPDATE: Google have released their first major update for Google TV. The update addresses a few of the issues raised in reviews and adds some new great content.

Dual View allows Google TV viewers to watch TV and browse the web simultaneously, much like on an old split vision TV. This addition from Google is a great example of taking an old idea and applying it to modern concepts and technologies. Google TV has taken one more step to being a fully integrated TV/internet service.

An upgrade to the Netflix app now allows users to watch any movie or show that is in the Netflix database.

The remote control app for Android phones has been upgraded. You can now control your TV via the Google Voice app. Vocal control for TVs was championed by the Xbox Kinect and now Google TV has climbed aboard with their popular voice app. They've also upgraded the app to allow for an easy experience of flinging whatever is on your phone's screen directly to your TV.

A movie results page has been added to make it easier when using the search function for locating movie titles.

That's it for now but stay tuned, Google is famous for bringing out great updates for its customers on a regular basis.



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