Users interested in turning their TV set into a Web-surfing computer can satisfy that need by using Google TV via Logitech’s Revue companion box and controller.
Google TV is the search engine’s TV-Web content and application cocktail. It’s powered by Android 2.1 on machines running an Intel Atom chip, with Web apps, such as YouTube, accessible through the Chrome Web browser.
eWeek spent the weekend of Oct. 22 through Oct. 25 with the modest-sized Revue box and controller, which, at $299 from Logitech.com and in Best Buys stores is, for our money, the way to procure the service. Sony Internet TVs and the $399 Blu-ray player are too expensive for our taste to run Google TV when you can get Revue.
eWeek tested Revue with Google TV on a 46-inch Toshiba LCD TV, a Sony digital A/V receiver and a Motorola Set-top box fed by AT&T’s U-Verse service.
Configuring the box takes some time-there are 12 steps-especially if users want to use the Logitech keyboard to turn the TV, set-top box and A/V on and off, as well as change channels.
You’ll want to make sure to have handy your home WiFi network name, zip code, and the make and models of all devices you want to connect to Revue.
Once configured, we experimented with the lightweight but full QWERTY keyboard, which was quite comfortable. A quick-search button sits between the function button and control button, bringing a search bar down atop TV content in a rather unobtrusive manner.
We conducted several searches and quickly realized how attuned to entertainment content the special Google TV Search app is. Searches on TV shows returned both TV channel and Websites results.
For example, a search on CBS returned results for The Bold and the Beautiful, along with an option to go to CBS.com-though, of course, Website content is blocked from the system due to ongoing negotiations between Google and broadcasters.
A directional pad sits at the top right of the gadget, offering down or up arrows and easily marked back and home buttons.
How to Navigate Google TV
The home button is ground zero for Google TV. Users access all of their applications and TV content from there, including the Google Chrome 5.0 browser, YouTube Leanback and anything else Web- or TV-related.
Under the arrow keys lives the star/record key, which is essential for being able to bookmark Websites and TV channels, or record TV programs.
To the right of the this key is the dual-view button, which lets users browse their Google TV content while watching current TV programs in a small screen at the bottom right.
Under the dual-view button are the rewind, fast forward and stop/pause controls to manage recorded television. Because we had synced Revue with our U-Verse service, we were able to access our recorded U-verse movies and programs.
This is the sort of seamless integration Google officials have been touting since May, and, while it’s very good, it’s not perfect. I can’t control DVDs in my A/V player, or switch from TV to DVD to AM/FM radio on the controller. That would be nice functionality for the future.
The TV channel arrangement itself on Google TV is nice. You must access your “favorite menus” from your existing service, but you can also see TV channels grouped according to genres for movies, news, sports, comedy, drama and more.
We mentioned above that Google TV is essentially a way to turn your TV into a computer. This is true, especially if you’re the type that consumes a lot of Web apps, such as Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and anything else online.
People may be wowed by watching a football game, then tweeting about it without leaving the channel-this thanks to dual-view-but other perks caught our attention. Without a PlayStation or Xbox nearby, we took to streaming Netflix content on our PCs, which was hooked into the TV via an HDMI cable.
The Netflix app via Google TV dashed that practice. The app, though minimalistic, serves its purpose, delivering content from our Instant queue, thus allowing us to browse, play and remove items. But it remains a fairly dumb media server.
You can’t order new content for streaming or order DVDs to the house the way you can from Netflix.com from your PC. And when you go to Netflix.com, it tells you the OS-remember, it’s Android 2.1-does not support Netflix.com.
Google TV Great for Google Power Users
Hopefully Netflix and Google can resolve this in the future. Don’t use Netflix? Amazon.com Video on Demand is another pre-loaded app on the Revue.
For Google app users, Google TV is a dream because you can access Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Reader and other programs from the big screen instead of a laptop.
For example, Google has created an app called Queue, which lets users subscribe to podcasts, Web video and other Web content. We subscribed to the NYTimes.com Website and found a fresh section in our Google Reader RSS app for Google Queue, allowing us to read the Times content there.
We could go on and on explaining all of the of the programming ins and outs. Some Websites don’t render well at all on this big form factor, so Google has created a special “Spotlight” tab that touts Websites who created dedicated Google TV apps. These include HBO Go, USA Today, The New York Times and YouTube.
As has been widely reported, YouTube Leanback provides a fresh viewing experience for user-generated videos and movie trailers. Users can click on a YouTube video and watch it play.
Instead of flitting to the next video, Leanback will roll through videos, allowing users to relax and view rather than play with buttons every time a video is done. Users can pause, rewind or fast-forward through videos at any time.
Users can also type on the keyboard at any time to change the content choices. Fair warning: the pop-up ads on Leanback can be annoying, but it’s no more annoying than YouTube ads on the desktop.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself this: Are you one of the millions of Americans who surf the Web from their laptop, netbook or Apple iPad from the couch while watching TV?
If so, Google TV powered by Revue is definitely one way to go. Think of Revue, then, as a way to turn your TV into a full-fledged netbook or tablet for Web consumption. Isn’t that worth $300?
Quirks, missing features and Website gaps aside, we think so.