This morning, at Google I/O in San Francisco, Google announced a comprehensive push to bring the Internet to TV, an effort dubbed “Google TV.” Working with initial partners Intel, Sony, and Logitech, Google is assembling an open ecosystem to deliver web content and applications directly to the TV. As well, rather than ignore traditional TV content, the effort seeks to integrate the Internet and TV into a single seamless experience.
Intel’s CE4100 Atom-based SoC will serve as the processor engine for the service. The CE4100 is optimized for TV applications with sophisticated video handling and a 3D graphics engine built in. It also inherits the Atom processor’s frugal power consumption capabilities and small footprint. The software stack that will run on the CE4100 is from Google. Android has been ported and optimized for the processor along with Google’s Chrome browser. Since Android is the core operating system, many of the applications that have already been written for smartphones should run with little or no modification. Of course, the Android marketplace will also be available to add other applications to the experience.
The processor and software stack will be built into Sony TVs and Blu-ray players, thus allowing consumers to access Google TV services directly from these devices with no additional set-top box (STB) required. Sony will provide special Android applications to customize the experience out of the box, including the ability to stream movies and shows currently available in the PSN store.
With the switch to digital TV, many consumers have recently purchased new TVs. For these folks, they will be able to buy an STB from Logitech to bring Google TV services to their existing “dumb” TV. This STB is unlike regular units in that it does not take up one of the inputs to the TV. Instead, the device sits between a Pay TV STB or Blu-ray player and the TV. The consumer connects the STB’s HDMI cable to the Logitech box, and the Logitech box to the HDMI port of the TV (see graphic below). Of course, the STB connects to broadband through either Ethernet or wireless. The beauty of this approach is that a viewer does not need to change the TV input in order to enjoy the Google TV experience. Using the remote, they can bring it up right over the top of whatever they may be watching on TV.
Best Buy is standing behind the strategy, as well. The retailer will help differentiate Google TVs from regular connected TVs by running special in-store promotions and features to help drive consumer awareness.
I mentioned earlier that Google TV works to integrate traditional TV into the experience. If you are a DISH customer you will be able to experience this first-hand. Google has come up with a small piece of code that runs in the DISH satellite receiver. If the receiver is connected to the home network, the Logitech STB can talk to the receiver directly and actually control channel change and other functions from the Logitech remote. Further, when doing searches for content, the Logitech STB can both search the web as well as the Pay TV schedules and the receiver’s DVR library. Thus, the Logitech STB integrates multiple content sources and schedules, and presents this information to the end user in an integrated interface.
TV control is through a remote and keyboard. This certainly is a bold move since efforts such as WebTV required keyboards and consumers were very cool to this. But Google demoed control through an Android phone that was paired with set-top box. Using the voice search of the phone, they were able to search and change channel just by speaking to the phone. Also, they were able to find content on the phone and “throw it” to the TV screen. Phone control certainly looks more promising than keyboard control.
This last item has enormous implications for the future of multi-source TV. By talking to the DISH receiver, Google TV knows what channel and show is currently tuned. The whole power of the web can now be applied to the TV experience. For example, if the viewer is watching a show from the DVR that is seven days old, new ads can be inserted over the recorded ads (dynamically updating ads in previously recorded shows). Also, a TV channel can provide an Android app that lets viewers access special bonus material only when the show is broadcast. Google demonstrated a Sesame Street application that lets a viewer create a custom playlist of clips based on their likes and dislikes. The possibilities are endless.
There are some challenges for Google TV to overcome. Although Google has assembled an impressive array of partners, individually they represent only a fraction of their particular markets. For example, it will take some time to recruit other TV manufacturers like Vizio, Samsung and Panasonic. It is also very hard to imagine that Comcast would allow a piece of Google code on their set-top boxes and allow another STB to take control.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for Google will be the content providers. I can’t image Disney and Fox will be pleased that Google TV lets a viewer bring up an app from Time Warner or CBS over the top of their shows. I doubt that Hulu will be providing an app for the Google store anytime soon either.
While Google TV certainly promises much, it has a long way to go before it reaches the mass market. The demos during the announcements were fraught with problems. Consumers will expect faultless execution and what we saw today was far from that standard. But, at least for today, it’s great to know that an open platform is finally being delivered to the mass market. Allowing Internet speed innovation at the TV screen is long overdue.