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30 Dec Digital Media Adapters Part 3 – Google TV

In my last blog, part 2 of “Digital Media Adapters” (DMAs), I looked at the Apple TV, a well-known digital media adapter.  In this, part 3, I will take a look at the Logitech Revue with Google TV (GTV). The GTV is a very unique DMA, almost a low performance living room PC without the storage capabilities.  It has a fully integrated browser, apps, streaming services, access to PC content, optional video chat and even security capabilities. With limited storage, GTV is reliant on a broadband connection and all of its potential drawbacks.

Video Content

On paper, the GTV has a lot of video options: TV through the STB, Internet video, video apps, and video from a home PC. Preinstalled, GTV offers Amazon VOD, Netflix, NBA TV, YouTube, and Google Picasa.

Quality for the most part was good, especially local 1080p content from a PC.  Like the Apple TV, I did experience hiccups where I am guessing my cable company was choking from too many users and bandwidth became limited.  Amazon VOD stalled a few times on a movie then reset to a very low resolution experience.

With the Logitech Media Player application, I could find video on many PCs via UPNP/DLNA, but I couldn’t get it to do rendering on the PC if a video format wasn’t available on the GTV.  In fact, I couldn’t find the Logitech GTV on thecertified DLNA device list.  Logitech states that “video” is beta and it acted like it.  I couldn’t get a whole lot of formats to run on it.

One of the bright video spots was Flash and HTML5 video.  Outside those sites blocking GTV, like Hulu, flash video ran pretty well.

I didn’t setup the TV functionality because the biggest value comes today with a Dish network DVR.  If used with my Time Warner Cable box, I still need two interfaces to control the DVR.  Engadget has a nice description of that here.

Music Content

The Logitech GTV offered Napster, Pandora, Last.fm, and Logitech Media Player as integrated music services. Given the GTV comes with a browser, you can theoretically go to any web site and stream music.

Playing music from my Windows PC was really easy.  It doesn’t require any specific media player like Apple TV does and none need to be open on the PC either.

Photo Content

The Logitech GTV offered Flickr, Google Picasa (via Gallery), MobileMe, and Logitech Media Player.  Like music, you can theoretically go to any web site and stream pictures.

As a Picasa user, I appreciated the whimsical Gallery presentation, which automatically updated photos as I uploaded them to Picasa from a PC.

Games

The GTV isn’t designed to play them but it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t in the future.  If my Nexus One can play games, there’s no technical reason they shouldn’t play on the big screen.  Of course, there is a lot of work that is required to make it work on a significantly larger screen at a decent, non-blocky resolution.

Web

The GTV comes with a fully integrated browser which gives access to just about any type of content. Having had a PC connected to my TV for years I was skeptical at first at why full web in a group environment makes sense.  The trick is finding, picking, and saving the right websites.  That’s not for a novice.

Search is integrated and I found it really valuable when looking for something the family wanted to see, particularly video.

To make all this search and web surfing easier, the GTV comes with a full sized QWERTY keyboard with an integrated track pad.  A bit odd sitting in the living room, but I guess if you are going full text input and voice C&C isn’t perfected, then a full size keyboard is the best.  Logitech does offer a smaller, optional QWERTY keyboard (seen below) and smartphone software to control the GTV.

Social Media

If you can do web, then obviously you can do Twitter, FaceBook, Buzz, and Bebo.  Strange as it sounds, over Thanksgiving break I sat in a room and “surfed” Facebook with 7 other people.  These text and image filled sites looked good on my 60” HDTV at 1920×1080 resolution.  I think it would be tough though, on a much smaller TV.

Communications

With its web browser, I could chat using apps that are integrated into the browser like G-Chat, but not using apps that need installed like Pidgin. I don’t know too many people who would want to chat on a TV, but then again I didn’t expect to be Facebooking with 7 people over Thanksgiving.

With the optional video camera and a Logitech Vid account, you can do HD video calls with others using the Logitech Vid account and a PC or another GTV.   Honestly, I don’t know anyone who has a Vid account and I only do Skype video calls, so I didn’t try it out.  I don’t think I am outside the norm on this and I hope that Skype can get integrated quickly.  You can see a demo of it here.  Let me know if you really want to see this in action.

Networking

Like the Apple TV, the GTV offers 100 Mbps wired Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Simplicity

The Logitech GTV was a bit more difficult to setup than the Apple TV, but then again, it does more. My unit may be an anomaly but it froze at first boot. I rebooted, the splash screen lit up, but then waited a half hour to download a mandatory software update. Things got easier once I got though initialization and got to enter my Google ID.

The full size keyboard added of course to the functionality but I longed for a simple remote to do simple tasks. I didn’t want to reach for the full sized keyboard to increase volume on YouTube. You can add any Logitech device that uses their unifying receiver technology, although the GTV optimized options are limited at this point.

Remote software is available for iOS and Android platforms. They are very feature rich but not as simple as the Apple TV virtual remote on the iPhone.  But then again, the GTV does a whole lot more.

Home Connectivity

There are many ways to plug the GTV into the rest of your house.

It has 2 USB 2.0 ports for external storage and the optional camera.  Storage was flaky for me in that it had a hard time recognizing devices at times.

The IR blaster allows you to control virtually any piece of CE equipment near the GTV which is helpful in that it eliminates multiple remotes.

While not DLNA certified, I did get basic viewing capability of my PC’s content which I covered previously.

Price

The Logitech Revue with Google TV is priced at $299.99 and includes the unit, a full-sized wireless keyboard with touchpad, an HDMI cable and an IR blaster. The optional video camera for videophone is an additional $149.99. This is triple the price of the Apple TV but then again offers many incremental features, namely full access to the Internet and most of your PCs content without the need to be tied to a single vendor.

Conclusion

The Logitech Revue with Google TV has very advanced capabilities over and above a simple Internet media streaming device. It provides a full Internet browser, apps (with a promise for more) apps, CE command and control, more content options, optional video chat, and access to my PCs content.

As I used the GTV I felt like I was using a Nexus One smartphone at launch. The “N1” was the first Android smartphone.  That sounds strange I am sure given the N1 is a smartphone and the GTV is a DMA. The GTV like the N1 had so much potential but with a ways to go. I’d like to see a simpler setup, a “simple mode”, many more apps, much broader video codec support, and broader set top box support. Like I thought with the N1, I believe the GTV WILL add many of these things.

If you like to explore or tinker I’d recommend checking out a GTV. If you are a consumer whose CE devices still have a clock blinking, I’d hold on a bit until it gets simpler. If you have any questions or comments on the GTV let me know below.

In part 4 I will look at Boxee, one of the most highly discussed DMA’s in a long time.

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