Google has finally announced its long-rumored TV efforts at Google I/O. Senior product manager Rishi Chandra said during the Thursday keynote that “video should be consumed on the biggest, best, and brightest screen in your house, and that’s the TV,” and that it hoped to combine the Web and TV-viewing experience in ways that others have yet to do.
Up front, Google TV will come either in the form of a set-top box or will be built into certain TVs (launch partners include Intel, Sony, and Logitech). The OS is based on Android and the built-in browser is a version of Google Chrome with the Flash 10.1 plugin. Google plans to open the source code for Google TV and add its own set of APIs so that it can be further extended by developers. The hardware will all be Atom-based, and it should start appearing on store shelves in the fall of 2010.
The experience will be search-driven, which is unsurprising given that, well… it’s Google we’re talking about. Users can enter search terms and get results from the Web and what’s currently being broadcast on TV, as well as videos from YouTube and other sites. There will be a “home screen” where you can add bookmarks to your favorite channels, shows, websites, music, photo albums, and so on. From the looks of it, the home screen will have a very Boxee-like interface, with a list of your applications, watch list, and more on the left.
That’s right: as expected, third-party developers will be able to write Android-based apps to run on the Google TV, again similar to the Boxee interface. Some companies (like Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand) have already created native apps to run from the Google TV home screen.
Rishi said Google decided to go ahead with the Google TV because the TV world is currently separate and isolated from the rest of the world. The TV world is a simplified and analog recreation of what’s happening in more interactive mediums, like the Web. As such, users are forced to choose between accessing the Web (via mobile devices, tablets, or their computers) or TV, which is a loss for users.
Google wants to combine the two into a “single seamless experience” by allowing users to turn their TV into an interactive experience with the Web. And, at least according to the demo at Google I/O (which encountered some technical difficulties due to an overloaded WiFi network), it looks like Google TV will offer users plenty of options when it comes to consuming content. A search for a popular show like House will return results for the show on Hulu, Fox’s website, individual show downloads on Amazon, or the regular TV schedule—if you want to record it on your DVR, you can do so right from the Google TV interface.
Naturally, Google TV will also come with a giant, TV-optimized YouTube interface called “YouTube Leanback.” Designed to be used from a couch, it won’t just be limited to the Google TV (though that’s the obvious reason for its existence); the beta interface will be rolled out on the YouTube website within weeks so that non-Google TV users can use it from their HTPC boxes or wherever.
As usual, Google is not making any of the hardware itself. In typical Google form, the company has instead implemented a remote control protocol that will allow third-party developers to build their own software for controlling Google TV from other devices. During the demo, Google showed an Android phone app that utilized the OS’s built-in voice search to activate a feature on the Google TV box—say what you want to look for and the TV will automatically display it. Clearly, this opens up many opportunities for controlling devices to fit every user’s preferences, and you can even have multiple devices associated with Google TV at once if you so choose.
Clearly, the company is throwing a lot of weight behind Google TV, and so far, it looks very promising for the geek crowd. This is basically a way to combine all of the extensive benefits of an HTPC into a set-top box without most of the downsides—interfaces made for computer use instead of couch use, and limited control interfaces, to name a few. And, of course, because of the openness of the OS, there’s potential for Google TV to be turned into a healthy game distribution platform as well.
The real measure of success will come if and when the mainstream crowd catches on to Google TV—there are so many options available that it may be overwhelming for the average TV viewer. Still, we’re excited about the possibilities and are looking forward to giving Google TV a test run when it becomes available.
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