When I was in college, I took a media tech class where we watched a video that talked about the next step for TV: total integration with the Internet. The simulated screens and videos they created showed a seamless experience where you could be watching the Food Network and simultaneously look up the recipe the host is using, or watching a movie and going to IMDB to get the name of that actress who looks familiar. It looked pretty cool, but I thought it was pretty far off; boy was I wrong. When Google TV was announced last year, I knew that everything we talked about in that media tech class was just around the corner. Google TV has revolutionized the way we can watch TV.
So what is Google TV? Google TV is software that comes built into the TV, or on a separate box that you connect to your TV, that allows you to search channels, apps, and the web, all from your TV. That means you do a search for “30 Rock,” and the local listing, official website, IMDB page, and Amazon and YouTube videos will all come up.
Further, Google TV has integrated several apps to improve your viewing experience. I’ll talk about them in a bit. First I want to mention Google TV’s availability.
Availablity and Setup
There are currently three Google TV enabled devices; the first is an actual TV: the Sony Internet TV. This requires no extra attachements or boxes. It’s an HDTV with Google TV installed on it.
The other two devices are add-ons: the Logitech Revue (I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials with Kevin Bacon); and the one that I have: the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player. These are boxes that you connect to your TV. While each of these should generally be the same, this review/how-to is based on the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player.
I should mention that these Google TV devices only work with HDTVs because each requires an HDMI cable to connect them.
Setup took a few steps but was pretty easy. After connecting your TV/DVR box to the Google TV device, you connect it to your network (wired or Wifi), then choose your cable provider — this is so Google can grab the TV listings and proper channels. You’ll then go through some tests to configure the device and the remote, and to make sure that Google’s channel listings are correct.
Some of the apps currently available on Sony’s Google TV device are:
- Live TV & Blu-ray player (obviously)
- Google Chrome
- Amazon Video On Demand
- Media Player
- Google Queue
As far as I can tell, not all of the apps are searchable (I would love to see Netflix search integrated!), but it’s nice to be able to control all of these apps from one place. Plus, since Google TV is based on Android, it’s very easy to navigate! While I don’t think I need to explain what all of the apps do, I did watch to talk about one of them…
Google Queue is a way for you to add podcasts, TV series, websites, and RSS feeds to a single, easily-accessed screen. It works a lot like Google Reader in the sense that you subscribe to a TV show, a website, or a podcast, and it will update automatically with the latest content, telling you which you’ve viewed and which you haven’t (actually, it integrates with Google Reader). Plus, if you have certain cable providers, your DVR list is automatically added to Google Queue.
A question I frequently get asked is if Google TV has built in DVR. It does not, but integrates in some way with your DVR box.
Other Great Features
On top of apps and Google Queue, Google TV offers a number of other features that are meant to enhance your TV watching experience. One of these is a “picture-in-picture” feature that allows you to watch TV while browsing other apps, including Chrome. As someone who likes to tweet while watching TV, this is a feature I love because now I don’t have to stop watching to do so. Of course, there are other (probably better) uses for it: check your fantasy stats while watching the game, look up the actress from that movie, buy whatever it is you saw in that commercial; the possibilities are endless.
What’s On is another really nice feature of Google TV. It organizes your TV listings by categories so they are easier to search. Looking for a good comedy? Go to the Comedy category. Want to watch a new movie? Check out the movies category. Plus, it tells you how much time is left for each program — very convenient!
Finally, the Media Player in a great way to get content from your [Windows] computer onto your TV. The media player will look for PCs on your network and ask to sync up with them automatically. All your videos, music, and photos are then viewable right on your TV.
Your Phone as a Remote
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a pretty big fan of Google TV. Everything I’ve talked about, I’ve prefaced with how cool or amazing it is; none of the features more than the Google TV Remote app for Android (and now iOS). Using Wifi, you can control your Google TV in every way you can with the actual remote: change the channels, set DVR, browse the web and other apps. Plus, you have the ability to “fling” content from your phone to your Google TV by using Android’s built-in share button.
Even at less than a year old, Google TV is doing some pretty great things. It’s the only thing out there that allows you to experience the web and TV at the same time, and Google’s not even close to done. There are currently a bunch of developers (including Hulu) working on Google TV-specific apps. On top of that, some time this year they are releasing an update that will allow Android apps to run on Google TV, so look out for reviews of those on Android.AppStorm. I’m curious to see how playing Angry Birds will translate!