Home > Media, Tech > GoogleTV: My First Take at a Review of the Revue

GoogleTV: My First Take at a Review of the Revue

One of my earliest posts on this blog asked if “Google can Prosper Where Apple Failed?” in bringing the web to TV.  At the time, I laid out my case for why GoogleTV would be a success, long before the full specs of the product were known.  In advance, I will admit that I was/am biased in that I want to see a successfully launched product that seamlessly integrates the web into the TV watching experience.  So far according to the buzz Google has failed to deliver (pardon the bad pun for you Google followers out there).  I wanted to see for myself.

It’s now been two months since I purchased the Logitech Revue with GoogleTV following the big price cut and I have had ample time to mess around with the product and to develop some of my opinions on its utility.  Plus, today I finally received the long-awaited update to Honeycomb, therefor I have a better feel for the fuller suite of services.

Before I go farther, I want to make one point very clear.  I am fully aware that GoogleTV is largely a Beta product and will be refined over time.  I am familiar with, and a big proponent of the customer development method which Google implements.  For those who don’t like it, or don’t know what I’m talking about, I recommend reading an interview I conducted with Steve Blank a little while back.  In short, customer development calls for getting your “minimally viable product” in the hands of early adopters and constructively using their feedback in order to enhance and build out a more robust final product.

I have approached GoogleTV (hereinafter called GTV) with a very open mind, knowing that it’s Google’s attempt to “use” (or take advantage of, depending on your perspective) early adopters in an effort to build a better 2.0 product.  Some of my opinion below will be shaped by the “incompleteness” of the product, but by and large, GTV is a fairly robust and quality platform–the best I’ve seen so far for web-to-TV.  Thus my main goal in this review is to treat it as a fairly finished product and to explore some of the ways that it can and cannot create value for the living room entertainment experience.

The scoop:

The user interface of GTV itself is much improved with the Honeycomb update, as the menus are simpler, clearer and easier to navigate, and the Android Market is a welcome addition.  So far, I have installed one app that I already know I will use on a regular basis, and that is Google Music, but overall, the quantity of available offerings remains relatively limited.

I’m not concerned with the lack of apps for GTV just yet, as one of the uses I have been most excited about is a really easy way to play my mp3 and streaming music through my sound system in digital quality–and Google Music accomplishes that goal. The AppleTV is unfortunately so annoying in how you can only manage content through iTunes, plus its’ really tedious to selectively sync some songs and not others to the point where I just had to stop using it. With Google Music, I now have everything easily accessible and organized without even using any of my own harddrive storage capacity.  That being said, where’s my Spotify app?  I’m still waiting!

The Netflix app is far superior to the one on the Play Station 3 in terms of the UI, and also doesn’t suffer from the streaming problem that is common on the PS3 where the lip movements of a speaker don’t match up with the words they are speaking (this is a problem w/ DVDs on the PS3 as well). Some people would say this is too nitpicky to buy yet one more device for the living room, but watching a lot of content where the lips and words don’t match gets really damn annoying after a while.

I stumbled on a pleasantly surprising use while I was taking an online course on high-level financial modeling, and needed to have Excel open on a computer, with the video opened as well.  One can conceivably do this well using either 2 monitors or a 2nd computer, and I did that for a while, but the learning experience is hands down better watching the video content on TV, while performing the interactive component on a separate computer.  The GTV is the easiest way to do this, and it allowed for much clearer and direct focus, and my pickup time in learning what I wanted to learn was far quicker.   Following this initial success, I started seeking out far more web-based educational video content.

Since getting the GTV I also learned how awesome Vimeo is. All HD content on cable is broadcast at a maximum of 1080i, however on Vimeo there is a whole bunch of 1080p content that you can stream. It is amazingly high quality and I didn’t even know that I’d be able to perceive the difference–I can. There are all sorts of nature videos and other cool documentaries (just watched this one in Di Fara’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn yesterday).  HBOGO is another useful app, as it affords the opportunity to watch all of HBOs content without having to wait for something to appear in the OnDemand list.

As for the Chrome browser, there have been several times with people over that internet on the TV provided for convenient entertainment.  Such uses range from opening visually intensive websites to plastering fantasy football scoreboards on the big screen to salt a loser’s wound.  Most HTML 5 websites look cool and can be comfortably browsed from the couch.

One of the things that is most impressive with GTV so far is how Emily–the better half–claims it makes managing our home entertainment setup much easier.  I’m not kidding, this is the single first time I have heard that from her ever!  Each addition I have made over time to the living room has added an increasing level of complexity to where and how we consume different content, and now in the GTV, much of that process is centralized and simplicity has taken a step forward.  While people have complained about the user interface, and I do recognize some inadequacies, the OS is incredibly easy to navigate around, and the Logitech keyboard is just like using any other keyboard.  Web-on-TV inherently requires a more complex remote control interface than a numbered-channel system, but Logitech and Google combined to deliver a fairly straightforward package.  Compared to a computer, it’s barely more difficult, while compared to something like the PS3, AppleTV or even the original WebTV, it’s a major step forward

Content is king, and the future of GTV:

GoogleTV thus far is a solid platform for exploiting web content, but it is not the only platform.  Further, the content that is most valuable with the GTV is not content exclusive to Google.  At the end of the day, content is king, and while the device is great, and you can do all sorts of cool things with it, the main problem is that there just isn’t enough content for most people to buy the GTV over any other platform, yet.

With the GTV app market in its infancy though, it’s safe to assume there will be more unique content for the web-to-TV platform, but it remains to be seen whether the platform will ever reach a critical mass/tipping point.  Google’s acquisition of Motorola is a natural segue to sneak GTV into the set-top-box industry.  Where Google can make major inroads is in furthering its relationship with TV-makers like Samsung and Sony, who will drive adoption, solving the crucial chicken-or-egg question of whether content will come once a critical mass of users has been reached, or whether a critical mass of users will drive the creation of content.

As an early-adopter, I have some clear ideas for uses I would like to see further developed.  Education is one of the areas that seems to make the most sense intuitively.  It is a seamless and interactive way through which someone eager to learn can liberate the content from a platform that is less conducive to visual learning (the computer) to one that is built specifically for that purpose (the TV).

Where I see this going eventually is as a major enabler of the cord-cutting movement, and clearly the traditional media corporations agree, as evidenced by the old network TV stations blocking any web-based content from the device.  Were they not threatened, why would they do such a thing?

Somewhere down the road, TV will have a web-like interface much like the Honeycomb update to GoogleTV.  Top-watched “channels” will appear as apps with a logo on a clean taskbar.  Plus, content available to play by streaming, from storage, or live will all be easily searchable.  Eventually there will be a way to watch everything we want to watch, without having to over-subscribe by paying for hundreds of channels we never have watched, nor will we watch in the future.

Where it stands:

All in all, the GTV is both fun and a value-add to the living room entertainment system.  Google remains far from answering my question as to whether they can succeed where Apple failed (nor has Apple “failed” if the rumors are true that they will attempt to launch an actual TV), but even still, I am pleased with my GTV experience thus far. Many reviews critique the lack of unique content, and while I recognize this impediment, the device must be viewed for what it is–a first stab at creating a constructive platform to incorporate the web experience into the television.  There are several other decent competing platforms out there, but Google has already built not only the best of the bunch, but also the most scalable.

Disclosure: Long GOOG and VZ

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