Electronic Design
Google TV Makes Internet Integration A Snap

Google TV Makes Internet Integration A Snap

I’ve been debating with myself about the best way to integrate the Internet with my HDTV. I started with a Sony PS3 and quickly found out that the device was more or less a conduit to Sony’s online store, where you could purchase games, movies, and TV shows. The Internet experience was slow and exasperating.

I got a taste of the Roku box at my stepson’s home. This device connected him to the Internet, but only to two sites: Netflix and Pandora. I checked out the Roku Web site and found out that the box will certainly let you connect to more sites than these two, but it seems to be a limited amount.

Plenty of people connect their PCs to their HDTVs via a VGA or HDMI port, but the experience is far from optimal. I tried this myself recently with an Acer Aspire Revo 3610. I figured that I would dedicate this miniscule computer to my HDTV, connecting to it via the Revo’s HDMI port.

Acer did everything right with the hardware. The company packages a wireless keyboard and mouse with the PC, which enables you to use it at a distance. The unit itself includes an Intel Atom processor, an Nvidia ION graphics processor, and wireless 802.11b/g/draft-n connectivity.

As you might expect, Acer packages Microsoft Windows 7 with the system. I knew this might pose a problem when I purchased this PC, but thought I would give it a try anyway. I intended to use one of the made-for-TV browsers like Kylo (kylo.tv) from Hillcrest Labs. Kylo was developed specifically for people who want to interact with the Internet from a couch in the living room rather than at a desk.

But Kylo running under Windows 7 on the Aspire Revo is slow and rather basic. It displays Internet sites in a matrix on the screen. Or, you can type a specific site into the browser. Clicking on one of the boxes brings you to sites that are mostly designed for the desktop experience. The fact that it’s tough to view the text on these sites and thus navigate around from a distance is not the fault of the Kylo browser, but is bothersome nevertheless.

I haven’t had a chance to play with the new Apple TV, which debuted recently. But from what I can gather from the Apple Web site, Apple’s main thought with this device is to encourage users to purchase or rent movies or TV shows from either iTunes or Netflix, though other sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and mobilme seem easy to get to.

GOOGLE DEVELOPS A BETTER WAY

This brings us to Google TV. It was announced several months ago, and the first products to employ it are now being announced as well. The big difference with Google TV from a hardware standpoint is that the devices that use it can integrate both TV and the Internet through a single HDMI port. Contrast this to a set-top box and Aspire Revo, for instance, which take up two HDMI ports on an HDTV.

The other big difference is the software, which combines TV, the entire Web, and apps—as well as a way to search across them all. If you haven’t done so already, you can take a quick tour at www.google.com/tv. Of course, users will run into the same problems as mentioned before when viewing standard Internet sites from a distance.

Since both the Internet and broadcast TV are available on the same HDMI port, Google TV gives users the opportunity to browse the Web (or open an app) and watch TV on the same screen. In other words, you can check baseball stats on the Internet while watching a game or do something social like check a Twitter feed while watching election night returns on TV. It’s just like picture-in-picture mode, but with the Web and TV.

The three recently announced Google TV products are Sony’s Internet TV and Blu-ray player and the Logitech Revue. The dual-view option of Google TV separates the Sony Internet TV from most other TVs that offer access to the Internet. The Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player connects to existing HDTVs. Both devices come with an elaborate remote control that includes a keyboard.

The Logitech Revue has nearly the same form factor as the Aspire Revo and comes standard with a wireless keyboard that includes a touch pad.

These three products are just the tip of the iceberg. I expect to see a bunch more at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January. I also expect lots of accessories. Logitech is already showing two on its Web site, the TV Cam and Mini Controller.

Anyone can develop content for Google TV’s open platform. Starting early next year, developers will be able to create and sell Android apps for Google TV. Google is also encouraging designers to develop made-for-TV Web sites by enhancing their existing sites for an optimal viewing experience. This should eventually solve the problem of viewing the Internet from your couch.

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