Sony and Google TV have finally fulfilled a 30-year-old search for a successful convergence of the TV and the PC. And while the Sony Internet TV powered by Google (the official mouthful of a name) runs on Android, the OS looks and acts nothing like Android does on a smartphone, and bears only a passing resemblance to current connected TV interfaces. It could completely change the way you watch TV — in a good way.
But these first Google TV-powered HDTVs are clearly v1.0 and, almost as clearly, and are dominated by Google's PC/cellphone-centric world and interface view. We may have a glass mostly full opinion of this first run at Google TV, but it seems clear this is the path of the future and could replace Yahoo! as the dominant connected TV platform.
WHEN AND HOW MUCH
There are four Sony Internet TV models — 24-inch ($599), 32-inch ($799), 40-inch ($999) and 46-inch ($1,399). All are edge-lit LED LCD except the 24-incher, which is old-fashioned CFFL.
There's also a Sony Internet-enabled Blu-ray player that brings Google TV to both unconnected and suddenly old-fashioned connected HDTVs.
You can place pre-orders right now at the Sony site. Actual products will go on sale at Sony Style showrooms this weekend and at Best Buy starting Oct. 24.
Sony says it will be the only HDTV vendor with Google HDTV this year, which means we're likely to see additional Google TV-powered HDTVs from other HDTV makers next year.
All the Sony Internet TV models run on Intel's ATOM processor and include built-in WiFi, USB jacks, have white backs and are a lot thicker than standard HDTVs.
Sony Internet TVs — and all Google TVs — will run special Google TV Android apps, not Android cellphone apps. Sony's sets are preloaded with more than a dozen apps including CNBC, Napster, NBA, Netflix, Pandora, Twitter, YouTube, and Sony's own VOD demand service, Qriocity (pronounced "curiosity"). A special Google TV Android Marketplace will be created sometime early next year once developers get some time with the Google TV SDK.
Using a DLNA connection, you can also access all the content on your PC.
5 GOOGLE TV THINGS WE LIKE
1. All Content United: No longer is what's on TV and what's on the internet living in separate homes. While there are still walled content gardens, all of these gardens are united on the Home Screen, and all can be searched at one time. Once you start typing characters, Google TV starts looking for matches everywhere: in the cable/satellite program guide, the Web, your DVR, apps (not sure if it'll search Netflix or other VOD services, however), all clearly listed and easily scrollable and selectable. If a future program is listed, you can set a DVR recording with a couple of clicks and without shifting to the program guide grid. Once you grok Google TV's logic and learn what all the icons indicate, it's actually fun to search for exactly what you want to surf or watch.
2. Surf and Watch Simultaneously: Called Dual View, Google lets you simultaneous Web surf while still watching TV. For instance, if you're watching Mad Men, you can search for details on any obscure 60's reference while continuing to watch Don Draper bed another secretary. If you're watching a football game, you can check your fantasy league stats. You also can Tweet while you're watching. The whole idea is to mimic and reduce watching TV with a laptop on your lap to a single screen.
3. Eight-Foot Surfing: Web surfing, either from within the search function or using the Google Chrome app, is a pleasure. It looks, well, just like the Web on your desktop, except most of the text is large and easily readable from eight feet away.
4. Unified Devices: In order to do system-wide content searches, the system has to know what's connected to it. During set-up, the system will locate and identify all the connected HDMI gear, especially the cable/satellite box to incorporate the on-screen guide into interface and the DVR. If you opt for the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player, however, the connection is more of a daisy chain. Instead of attaching each of your HDMI components directly to your dumb HDTV or an receiver, you connect your cable or satellite box instead to the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player, which is then connected to the HDTV or receiver.
5. All Play and No Work: Not a single mention was made of productivity applications for the TV — no email, word processing, spreadsheets, or anything. Sure, someone may come up with these productivity apps, but I'm glad neither Sony nor Google even thought this work activities were even worth discussing.
5 GOOGLE TV THINGS WE DON'T LIKE
1. Bad Remote Control: It's a button-filled nightmare. It's awkward, if not impossible, to control basic volume/channel functions with one hand — the volume and channel up/down toggles are too far apart except for piano players, pro basketball players and other huge-handed types. There's no 3 x 4 numerical keypad array to casual thumb as you channel jump. To go to a specific channel, you have to use the QWERTY numeric row. Yuck. Designers should have taken a lesson from cellphones and Vizio — a remote control with a slide-out QWERTY and standard one-handed remote array on top would work much better. Fortunately, perhaps, an Android smartphone remote control app will be available sometime this fall.
2. Dual View Too Small: This is a TV — the interface shouldn't monopolize the screen. In Dual View, the TV picture is relegated to a tiny barely watchable PIP in the bottom right corner. When folks watch and surf simultaneously with two separate devices they don't sacrifice picture size.
3. Dual View Isn't the Default View: Also in a seemingly Google/interface-centric decision, Dual View isn't automatic — you have to push the remote control Dual View key before you go to the Google TV Home screen. Once on and beyond the Home screen, you cannot activate Dual View. If you forget to activate it, you have to leave the interface, return to the plain TV view, then press Dual View, then go back to the interface.
4. TVs Are Too Small: In the HDTV world, 50-inch is the new 42 — but the largest Sony Internet TV is just a 46-incher. I'm sure Sony has it's reasons for not offering larger sizes, but these relatively tiny TVs are sure to stifle excitement.
5. TVs Are Too Big: As you can see by some of the side views, these are really thick HDTVs, which may dissuade buyers for whom home décor is more important than eliminating the need to keep a laptop in your lap while you watch TV. And what's with the white backs?
While not necessarily a bad thing, it's a bit surprising that — since both Google and Sony have vast PC experience — there's no built-in Web cam. But software improvements and hardware variety are sure to come as Google TV is more widely adopted next year by other HDTV makers.