With the exception of some exclusive content — primarily niche channels — the main difference between the two players is how they integrate Google TV into the player’s interface. When you first access Sony’s home page, the main part of the screen is blank, with a bar of icons across the bottom. But once you’re watching something, the toolbar appears as an overlay on top of the program. There are icons for the current time, messages, a link to all the apps, Live TV, a Google Play area called TV & Movies, plus shortcuts to Netflix, YouTube, the Google Play app market, the Chrome browser, Sony Entertainment, and Search.
When you call up the apps page, they appear in a grid that takes up about two-thirds of the screen, arranged in alphabetical order. Among the selections are Amazon, AOL HD, Flixster, HBO Go, a help guide, Pandora, and Socialife. Sony Entertainment includes the company’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited streaming services, as well as some niche content (GolfLink, Dailymotion,etc), plus a few more interesting apps, including NPR and Slacker Internet radio. There are also repetitive listings of apps available directly from the All Apps page.
Vizio’s implementation is a bit different, with the apps displayed as an overlay on the left side of the screen, with live TV playing in the remaining three-quarters of the screen real estate. Like the Sony, the Co-Star supports Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and YouTube, plus Pandora and Slacker Internet radio, as well as IHeartRadio. It also has a few proprietary apps, including M-Go — an entertainment app that wasn’t active when I tried it — and the OnLive streaming game service. I was a bit surprised that the Vudu on-demand service wasn’t include, as Vizio was an early supporter of it on their Internet-connected TVs.
HBO Go is also supported, although the “app” — more on this below — is somewhat hidden in a sub-menu within in an area called “Made for TV Spotlight.” There’s an area for “featured” apps, such as CNN, Crackle, and the NY Times, among others, but apparently HBO Go isn’t one of them — I found it in the genre listings (games, lifestyle, news, etc) under TV and movies, along with Adult Swim, TBS, and TNT. When I tried to launch it, it took forever while I got a message “waiting for cache.” I was also surprised to find a Slingplayer app labeled Slingplayer for Logitech Revue (which has been discontinued). I clicked on the link and the Slingplayer software loaded, saying I could log in if I had either a Solo or Pro HD model, which I don’t. There was also a Widget Board where presumably I could add widgets, but there was only one available — an analog clock.
With the Google TV platform, there are five key content areas: Live TV, Search, TV & Movies, Chrome, YouTube, and Google Play. I spent most of my time in the TVs & Movies area or doing searches, where Google TV really puts its best foot forward, integrated live TV with online services and apps. For instance, when I searched for “Breaking Bad,” I got a choice of live TV, web searches from Google.com, and a Wikipedia entry from Chrome. (I also got a listing for The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training, but still.) Searching for the show in TV & Movies brought up all the episodes by seasons. When I clicked on one episode, it showed that it was available for $1.99 from both Amazon and YouTube; I also got a free one-month trial offer from Netflix, where presumably it was also available. Unfortunately, search didn’t include programs stored on my DirecTV DVR. But apparently this feature is available for Dish Network subscribers, as the company optimized its hardware for Google TV.
In the TV & Movies area, there are three clickable icons in the upper left corner: On TV, Shows, and Movies. On TV gives you a comprehensive list of both TVs shows and movies that are currently playing on TV. At the top is an area for favorite channels; below that are separate areas for movies and TV shows, organized by genre. Highlighting a choice brings up a synopsis of the show, plus a chance to rate it so the recommendation engine can make suggestions about other shows you’ll like. In the movies area you can view box-art graphics of new releases, or movies sorted by genre. When you click on a movie, you get pricing info, whether it’s available as a rental or purchase, plus the ability to rate it or add it to your queue. You also get additional movie recommendations in the same genre.
If you click on the Shows icon, there’s a listing for shows that are trending this week, plus program lists organized by genre. If you click on a show you get a choice of episodes by season or year. You can also get additional program details, plus the ability to rate it so the recommendation engine can make suggestions, or add it to your favorites.
In the Movies area you can view box-art graphics of new releases, or movies sorted by genre. When you click on a movie, you get pricing info, whether it’s available as a rental or purchase, plus the ability to rate it or add it to your queue. You also get additional movie recommendations in the same genre. At the top of the Movies page you’ll see your movie queue. In the new releases area I clicked on Snow White and the Huntsman, and could rent it for $17.99, rate it, or add it to my queue. I found that it was available from both Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.
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