Conclusion: It's not ready.
Having gotten rid of my Verizon FiOS television service some time ago, I've been eager to try out the new TV solutions from Apple and Google. I reviewed the new Apple TV about a month ago, and really liked it. Last night, I spent the evening with the Logitech Revue with Google TV, and all I can say is that it's really not ready yet.
Here's a summary of my experience so far:
- The first thing I had to do was go through a 12-step setup process which probably took about 15 minutes. I didn't have any trouble with it, but I'm guessing the proverbial mom might have called her son or daughter to come over and help.
- The good thing about the setup process was that it gave me time to read the manual on the keyboard. I actually had to look at the included documentation in order to understand all its functionality. To be fair, the keyboard does make Google TV potentially very powerful, and if you're going to do things like surf the web, it's actually a great accessory to have. I got used to it very quickly, and as soon as I accepted it as a powerful universal remote rather than an additional clumsy remote, I actually liked it.
- Once my Google TV was all set up, the first thing I did was go to Hulu only to find that it doesn't work with Google TV. Thinking I was more clever than Hulu, I changed my user agent to spoof a Chrome browser on Mac. That got me further into the site, but when I tried to play to a video, I was presented with yet another error message which essentially said: "Hulu is for computers, not for TVs. Nice try, though." (The Flash Hulu player seems to be using some property from the Flash Capabilities class to determine that the client is a Google TV -- huge bummer.) So after 15 minutes of setup and a remote control learning curve, the very first thing I was hoping to do was a complete wash. This isn't Google's or Logitech's fault, of course -- this is just Hulu (and the television networks) continuing to protect their traditional television advertising revenue.
- I then decided to do ultimate test: I wanted to see how easy it was to go from a search for a television show to actually watching that show, so I brought up the search box and typed in "The Office". I got results from NBC's site (which claimed I could watch full episodes), and for Amazon Video On Demand. The NBC site refused to work with Google TV just like Hulu, and Amazon wanted to charge me $2.99 for one 20-minute episode. Conclusion: test failed. (I did get to watch some very funny previews, though.)
- Realizing that I wasn't going to be watching much TV with my Google TV, I decided to surf the web instead. I decided with a keyboard, mouse, and a 52" monitor, the Google TV might be a great way to kick back on my couch and read some news and check out some blogs. Unfortunately, the hardware is so inadequate that surfing the web is actually much better on my phone. Pages load slowly, and any page with Flash content not only has rendering issues, but scrolling is painfully laggy.
- The last hope for my Google TV was BBC news. BBC is probably the only thing I miss after having canceled my Verizon FiOS service, so I figured if I could catch some video clips on BBC's site, my Google TV would still add some value. The problem was that navigating the site was way too painful (primarily because Flash content made it so slow), and every time I watched a video clip, I had to sit through an advertisement before the actual news began. I don't mind some ads (I don't expect content to be free -- just reasonable), but to watch 15 short video clips (which is about what it would take to get a good sense of the day's news), I would have to sit through 15 ads over the course of about 20 to 30 minutes, most of which would be the very same ad. (I watched about four video clips, and got the same ad three out of four times). Again, not Google's fault, but a clear indication of technologies and business models not being aligned yet.
That's about when it occurred to me that the Google TV was creating what was probably the worst TV watching experience I'd ever had. So I turned it off and picked up my laptop.
To be fair, I should point out two very important things:
- I don't have a TV service, and part of the magic of Google TV is probably integrating it with a paid TV service. That said, even if I still had FiOS, the only thing Google TV could do for me is put a better interface on top of it. That's not necessarily a small thing (both Comcast's and Verizon's DVRs are atrocious examples user experience), but it's still probably not compelling enough to add another box to my living room setup. And to be frank, I'm looking for an alternative to traditional TV service -- not another piece of hardware to augment it.
- It's not Google's fault that Hulu and NBC don't allow access from Google TV. Of course, as a consumer, I don't really care whose fault it is -- I only care about the fact that my new (and not inexpensive) device isn't very useful.
In summary, the Logitech Revue with Google TV feels like an early prototype to me. The hardware is way too slow and the partnerships and business models aren't in place to make it even remotely useful yet (for me, anyway). Until one or both of these things change, I recommend the following:
- The Apple TV. It actually has less functionality, but it's cheaper, smaller, faster, and as of right now, I would say it's generally more useful.
- A Mac Mini and a bluetooth keyboard (or the equivalent in the Windows world). I may end up going this route yet.
- A laptop or even a phone. You probably don't want to cuddle up with your friends on your couch and watch something on a small screen, but with a significant other or by yourself, it's fine.
- Do something else with your time other than watch TV. Permit me to recommend some good science fiction.
Update: Richard's comment has inspired me to make a quick update. First, just because Google TV isn't working out for me, it is working well for others. If you're thinking of getting one, analyze your particular TV watching needs and habits, and you might find that it works great for you. Second, I actually have very high hopes for Google TV in the future. I believe in what Google is trying to do -- I just don't think the hardware, software, and the partnerships are there yet. As the various pieces fall into place, I will continue to experiment with Google TV, and I will work it into my TV-watching routine as its features and functionality permit.