This afternoon, Google and Logitech gave press a hands-on look at the upcoming Google TV settop box and finally filled in some of the remaining info gaps that we have been wondering about for months. We got a chance to handle both the standard keyboard and mini keyboard controllers and test out a few of the apps including the anticipated Netflix app. But, perhaps more importantly, we finally found out how much it will cost. Unfortunately, the $299 price tag may be a point of contention if Google is really trying to get this platform in as many homes as possible.
Having used it for a few minutes, it's clear that the interface has a lot of potential. According to Google reps, the Android store will be active starting "sometime in 2011" at which point they're expecting a flood of apps to start taking advantage of the technology. They also said that Hulu will be blocked from the device at launch, but they are in talks to bring the two together. Predictably, that's about as specific as the Hulu talk got.
When we delved into specific apps, the interface was snappy and navigation was intuitive. We were eager to fire up the Netflix app, only to be a little disappointed by the fact that it only offers access to your online queue. There's no search functionality, but there's also no browsing capability for new releases or suggested titles, which other boxes like Xbox 360 have been offering for some time. They did mention that those features are in the works, but they won't be ready at launch.
Because there is an official partnership in place with Dish Network, we were able to demo the integration with their DVRs. This function really shines when you're searching—which is how Google mostly intends for you to navigate anyway—showing not only results for programs you've already recorded, but also upcoming programming and live broadcasts. They made it clear that Revue will work with boxes from other cable providers (Time Warner, for example) but the functionality will not be as robust or consistent at least until the exclusivity deal with Dish has run its course. Google TV also gives you access to files hosted on your home network, supporting all the major file types, including MP3, JPEG, AAC and even MKV, which is very good news.
There will be three ways to control the Revue at launch, including the standard keyboard controller (included or $100 on its own), mini keyboard controller (which is very similar to the Logitech Dinovo Mini and will cost $129 as an add-on) and an iPhone/iPad application that will be available free from the app store. Both of the keyboards felt very well put together and were easy to get the hang of. We didn't actually get hands-on with the iPhone app, but they did show off a voice search function. By yelling "The Price Is Right into his phone, the presenter was able to hunt down all content related to the gameshow without having to type.
An unexpected addition at today's event was that of video calling. Using a special, $149 webcam designed specifically for TV, you can make 720p video calls.
Ultimately, Google TV seems like a solid foundation with lots of potential. The $300 price tag is definitely steep for the functionality it will offer at launch, but Google seems very confident that developers will come through and add tons of cool apps as soon as they can. It also has a lot of potential from a hardware point of view. It has HDMI 1.3 (sorry, no 3D) with support for 1080p and 60 fps output. Two built-in USB ports allow for storage expansion, which will be a blessing for those with slow-ish WiFi and lots of HD video to watch. Audio is handled by a digital audio out and there's an ethernet port in case the 802.11a/b/g/n can't handle the data load.
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