Google TV Holds Promise but Must Lay Web TV Ghosts to Rest

Analysts taking a gimlet-eyed view of Google TV call the service promising, but are curbing their enthusiasm because the high-tech graveyard is loaded with failed Web TV services from Microsoft's WebTV in 1996 to Intel's Viiv entertainment platform. Google TV marries Web surfing and channel surfing on an Android 2.1-based platform with a Chrome browser on Web-connected televisions and Blu-ray players from Sony and set-top boxes from Logitech. Gartner analyst Van Baker and Envisioneering Group's Richard Doherty discuss the service in detail.

Industry analysts are calling Google TV promising, but are guarded in their enthusiasm because the Internet-television graveyard is loaded with services from Microsoft's WebTV in 1996 to Intel's Viiv entertainment platform a decade later.

Announced May 20 at Google I/O, Google TV marries Web surfing and channel surfing, much like existing services such as Apple TV, TiVo, Boxee, Roku and Vudu.

The Google Android 2.1-based platform will place a Chrome browser on Web-connected televisions and Blu-ray players, initially from Sony and set-top boxes from Logitech.

TV buffs will call up a drag-down search box to flit from channel to channel, even searching for information about a program, including comments from Twitter or while they watch in the lower right-and corner of their screen-the ultimate multitasking0020feature.

Unlike Apple's iPhone and iPad, Google TV supports Adobe Flash 10.1, so users will also search for and use Internet applications from video Websites such as NetFlix, YouTube and Amazon video-on-demand to Google Picasa, Yahoo Flickr, Pandora and gaming Websites without fear of being locked out of any Websites.

TV viewers will navigate among channels and applications with a special remote control from Logitech, or from their Android 2.1 or higher phones. Intel Atom chips power the Sony and Logitech hardware. Google's Android team will also upgrade its SDK to allow developers to write apps for the service, albeit after the service launches.

The service has been optimized for the Dish Network satellite TV service, but should work with all providers when Best Buy begins selling the components this fall. Engadget has the ultimate Google TV primer here.

Gartner analyst Van Baker, who was initially skeptical about Google TV in comments made to eWEEK in March, said the service looks promising but that a lot depends on execution.

Baker likes the open and ease of integration of Google TV, as TV service providers can embed the Google TV code in their set-top boxes; TV makers can inject the code directly into the boxes they build; and consumers can buy Google TV-enabled set-top boxes.

"There's no way anyone can prevent this from being deployed because even if service providers like Comcast or DirectTV don't like the idea, there's nothing they can do about it because the software takes the HDMI out feed from the set-top box and Androids it into this bigger environment and presents that to the consumer," Baker said.

But Baker also cautioned that Google TV may be confusing at first to consumers because it marries personal content from Websites that users log into with television service content and makes it a searchable database.

"If I go do a search for 'Lost,' I'm going to get everything related to that. If what I want to do is watch programming, I'm going to have to wade through some stuff to find out which ones are programs and which ones are YouTube videos and which ones just mention those."