Thursday was a big day for Google as it unveiled an aggressive new platform called Google TV in partnership with Sony, Intel, and Logitech that is meant to merge the Web with your living room television.
Google TV will help you access Web videos and other online content, TV programming, recorded shows on your DVR, and more, right from the comfort of your couch. Google TV will feature universal search capabilities making it faster and easier to access the content you want to find whether it’s online or scheduled on regular TV. The search giant is also planning to integrate third-party applications into Google TV to bring more Web functionality to the platform.
Google TV sounds like an interesting concept, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the new Web-meets-TV platform. Here are five questions that are top of my mind.
How Revolutionary is Google TV?
While Google TV’s demo, despite the technical difficulties, was very interesting, is this really a significant leap ahead for your television experience? There are already numerous televisions, set-top boxes, and home theater systems that offer access to Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Pandora, Web content through Yahoo TV Widgets and a host of other services.
Isn’t Google TV just one more platform adding to this list in an already growing market? The big differences with Google TV might be the platform’s universal search capabilities and the capability to merge Web content, like sports scores, with what you’re watching on TV. That could be helpful if you want to track what’s going on around the NFL while you’re watching the Jets crush the Patriots.
But is the capability to merge Web content into a television feed a big seller? It might be a popular feature for sports fans, but if you’ve ever seen G4’s ST:TNG 2.0 — where interactive content runs along the bottom and side of your screen during episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation — then you know merging Web functionality with broadcast TV can go horribly, horribly wrong.
What Will Apple Do?
Apple has famously called its Apple TV set-top box a “hobby,” but will Google’s battle plan for the living room change all that? Apple TV has always been missing a few key pieces, including the capability to stream anything directly off the Web and DVR functionality. Google TV appears to have both of these features, and Google is also building a third-party application ecosystem for the Android-based Google TV. If ever there was a time for Cupertino to start developing Apple TV more aggressively, this is it.
However, one serious impediment that Apple would have to overcome is the fact that Apple TV is a set-top box. Google TV, on the other hand, is a platform that can be built into televisions, DVRs, standalone set-top boxes, and pretty much anything else. That will make it much easier for Google to distribute and popularize its platform since it reduces the upfront costs of using the service.
What Will Microsoft Do?
Microsoft offers the Windows Media Center as part of the Windows operating system that turns your PC into a media hub for your living room. WMC includes DVR capabilities, some Web streaming capabilities including Netflix, and access to downloaded content available on your home network. The biggest missing piece for Microsoft is full Web-browsing capabilities.
Microsoft also has to make it easier for people to use Windows Media Center, because the platform has been around for about seven years, and clearly hasn’t caught on as an easy way to bring your PC and television together.
Will we see a renewed effort from Microsoft to popularize Windows Media Center in the face of the Google TV launch?
What About Hulu?
Google TV uses the Chrome browser to access the Web, and will come with support for Flash 10.1 baked right into the browser. Presumably, sites like Hulu should work on Google TV devices; however, NewTeeVee grabbed this interesting quote from Vic Gundotra, Google’s vice president for engineering: “Sites can make the decision not to enable content” for Google TV.
Hulu’s content partners such as ABC, Fox and NBC have already shown through fights with services like Boxee that they don’t like it when other services manipulate their content on Hulu. So will Hulu block Google TV?
Maybe not. When I did a Google search for “Hulu apps,” the second search listing mentioned a Hulu App for Android as well as something about PlayStation 3. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) There have also been rumors of a Hulu for iPhone app, so maybe Hulu will be branching out beyond the traditional computer in the near future. Maybe we’ll even see a Hulu app for Google TV later this year.
What About My Hard Drive?
Maybe it was just me, but I missed the part where Google explained how Google TV can interact with your computer’s hard drive and pull in content from there. This is always the problem with all-in-one solutions that try and merge your computer and your TV: they’re always missing a key piece.
Apple TV can pull in content from your hard drive and the iTunes Store, but not much from the Web. Microsoft can access your hard drive and act as a DVR, but doesn’t do a great job with Web content either. Google TV can pull in the Web and Web-based services, but it appears it can’t talk to your hard drive.
Maybe that’s not a big deal for Google TV, but it would be nice to have one service that could bring your downloaded content, the Web, and broadcast television into one spot. As far as I can tell, Google TV fell just short of that ultimate goal.
Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).