It seems like everyone wants to get into your living room this year. Most companies are invading with media streamers, but Google wants to sneak an actual computer in there. It's an Android for your TV.
The major companies' media streamers are basically trying to imitate what they think you would do if you had a computer plugged into your TV: stream video, view photos, rent/watch TV and movies, and listen to music. Google is going a step further and bringing the rest of the computer experience - a browser and apps - into the package. Whether you're using Logitech's set-top box or Sony's Googled-out set, it's a glimpse into a near future where there will be very little difference between what you can do on a desktop and what you can do on that set-top box sitting in front of your TV.
Whether you're on Sony's Internet TV or Logitech's Revue box, the basic Google TV interface is the same. If you spend most of your time in your TiVo or satellite box, you'll barely even know that there's another layer there. But when you do pull up the interface, you'll have a vertical bar of places to go, such as apps, spotlighted web pages and other various web content. Of course, you'll also have immediate access to a browser. It's fairly straightforward because of the fact that you're just using a browser to do everything, even if Google tries to hide that browser from you most of the time.
Considering that all of the hardware that's now available is on par with a netbook or nettop from 2008, the performance isn't too bad - video playback isn't stuttery, and the machines respond to your commands with little lag. It's not going to be as fast as your up-to-date laptop or desktop, but it only slows down when you're trying to multitask. But hell, it's on your TV. Or IN your TV!
Oh, and you can do TV video chats using Logitech's box.
It gives your TV a brain boost with an internet connection that includes Netflix, Amazon VOD and YouTube. And it's only going to get smarter as the GTV marketplace fills up with delicious app goodies like VLC for local playback and even more fun stuff: Games! Skype!
Available from the word go on both a set-top box or a standalone TV, Google and its partners are covering a lot of bases. Want a powerful add-on for your living room super stack? Pick up the Logitech Revue. Want something more self-contained and minimal for a bedroom TV? Sony's Internet TVs, available in various sizes, give you easy access to Netflix content and satisfies that "I need to check this online real quickly" urge. While every device has its own remote (the nerd in me loves the chunky keyboard that comes with the Revue), you can use your Android phone to control the TV pretty effectively.
Because this thing is a computer, you have to use a separate remote. With apps arriving in 2011, Google TV feels like a maid service that won't clean your bathroom. Having a browser is great for pulling Google-search fact checks on House, but you can't pull up Hulu, ABC, CBS and NBC to watch full episodes of their shows because Google TV is actively being blocked. When the big networks inevitably make their own apps, though, this problem will be gone.
Also, because this thing is a computer, the cycle of upgrading your TV is that much quicker. Before, your old TV only got obsolete if it couldn't do 1080p or 3D. Now it's obsolete if it can't run the next version of Google TV/Android. That's one thing to consider when you're buying a TV or a Google TV set-top box .
The overall Google TV experience is solid, but it's hard to justify the purchase of a $US300 product now when you can get a $US100 or $US150 product from Apple or Roku that is pretty similar. But because we're future-looking here, we're optimistic about Google TV's chances of surpassing the other boxes when apps come to the platform. Would we buy it? Yes, but not until next year, unless you're looking for a replacement TV for your bedroom right now.