Saturday, October 23, 2010

Further Adventures in Google TV-land

"Where do these socks go?"
In case you missed the first installment I wrote up my initial impressions and notes on the Sony Google TV set-top box. First Impressions of the Sony Google TV, and finally, Part 3: The Return of the Sony Google TV Box is up.

The Logitech Revue with Google TV

The Logitech Revue Google TV showed up. I swapped out the Sony Google TV box for the Logitech to try it out.

Both the Logitech Revue ($300) and Sony Google TV (with Blu-ray) box (NSZ-GT1 $399) are Google TV set-top boxes. They are essentially "lite" home theater PCs designed to access content on the internet, stream video and run apps on your HDTV.

The Same Only Better
Although the Logitech Revue and Sony Google TV function almost the same, the Logitech has a notch more polish. One thing, the Logitech does not have a Blu-ray player whereas the Sony Google TV box does. (It should be noted that the Blu-ray player in the Sony box is somewhat orthogonal to the operation of the device. When you play a DVD or Blu-ray in the Sony box you can't access the other Google TV functions without quiting the Disc Player.)

The Logitech's setup is pretty much identical to the Sony. The Logitech Setup Guide has more information than Sony's. But the cable configuration is the same. The Logitech has a single IR blaster compared to Sony's dual-blaster cable, but it seems to throw a wide "blast" and has no trouble controlling my components. (The Logitech has a second port to plug in a second IR blaster if you need it.)

An example of superior polish is the way Logitech leverages their huge Harmony universal remote control database to set up your TV, receiver and satellite or cable set-top box. You must find the exact model number of each device, but that's it. 

Another example of polish is that the Logitech only requires you to set up the overscan screen sizing adjustement once. The Sony required me to run this step twice -- once for the factory installed operating system firmware and once after it downloaded an operating system update. (The Logitech does require downloading an operating system update too.)

The Keyboard Advantage
The keyboard remote on the Logitech is by far the biggest difference. It's much much easier to use than Sony's more game-console-like remote. Logitech's is a rather nice full keyboard with an integrated touch pad plus dedicated buttons for things like play, pause, volume, channel, etc. 

Neither remote has a backlight. But the Sony is unusable in poor light (especially with aging eyesight). The Logitech has the advantage of big familiar buttons and keys. It feels similar to a nice laptop keyboard layout where, for example, the placement and touch of the arrow keys quickly becomes second nature. 

In theory you can plug in any HID standard keyboard and/or mouse to either Google TV. (I tried a MS wireless mouse on the Sony, and it worked perfectly.) So it might be possible to find other controller options to satisfy demanding users. Logitech sells a special GoogleTV version of their diNovo mini controller, but it's expensive ($130) and it looks like it relies on more multi-function buttons. 

There are some nice finishing touches to the Logitech keyboard controller. For example, the touchpad facilitates scrolling using a two finger drag, and there is a duplicate "click button" on the upper-left of the keyboard -- again, easy to locate by touch.

I'm pretty satisfied with the Revue's keyboard controller. It seems to provide a much more frictionless interface to the Internet -- a big part of Google TV.

Also iPhone and Android control apps are on the way. Those should provide some useful and handy control options.

The Google TV Experience
Again, the Logitech is pretty much the same as the Sony. The pre-installed shortcuts and apps vary slightly. Some of the Settings Options are different.

Logitech has a Shortcut to Amazon Video On Demand. (The Sony has an app and service called Qriocity for video rental.) The Amazon Shortcut is just a URL to the Amazon website VOD page which, of course, you can easily create on the Sony. 

(Both the Sony and Logitech devices have some Amazon VOD software on the system. My guess is that this has something to do with HD movie DRM. Amazon doesn't yet offer HD movies to Google TV, but the website says it's coming soon.)

Logitech offers a Media Player app with very similar capabilities to the Media Player app on the Sony, but it has a different user interface. The app is supposed to allow you to play media on DLNA and UPnP servers on you local network as well as media on directly connected USB devices. I have had no more success with the Logitech Media Player than I had with the Sony, which is to say none. Again, further investigation is required, but so far this feature is a failure. Mileage may vary.

The Logitech also has an app for their HD video chat optional feature similar to Apple's iPhone Facetime and others. This feature requires a special optional $150 webcam and someone to chat with on the other end with the same setup. It's not much interest to me, but some people may be looking for that feature. I would think this won't be all that interesting until a solution manages to get widespread adoption and multi-platform device support. Many services are working on these things, but it's not really on my radar.

The Great Google TV Lock-out of 2010
No discussion of the Google TV at this point would be complete without pointing out that many of the TV networks have tried actively blocking Google TV devices from streaming free TV episodes via Hulu.com, ABC.com, CBS.com and NBC.com. NBC.com and CBS.com may be allowing Google TV now, but it seems to change from day to day. (Fox.com seems to be fine with Google TV devices streaming their content.) 

Google is apparently in negotiations with the networks. Who knows if they have the chops to swing such a deal, or if they do what they will trade away to networks in exchange? It's even been speculated that Netflix may win the day if they can swing a deal and become the defacto portal for streamed TV over Internet-connect TV devices. Hulu.com says they will be offering their content on a subscription basis similar to what they offer to the iPad. Hulu has been charging $10/mo, but rumor has it they will try $5/mo.

A Little Bit About Using Google TV
Even though neither the Logitech nor Sony Google TV provides "deep integration" with my DirecTV HD-DVR. They both control it as "generic" DVR the same way. Google TV knows what channels you get and provides guide listings with content customized to your setup. 

So you can easily hit the Search button which puts up a Search box no matter where you are. A search results in a customized directory listing of shows your set-top box can get as well as Internet-hosted content and Google web search results. (This Search box is also where you enter URLs.)

If you select a set-top-box TV show listing and the show is on right now the Google TV just displays the Live TV and tunes the set-top-box to the appropriate channel. If the show is in the future you get a dialog that will either just tune to the appropriate channel or take you to your DVR's guide display where you would proceed with programming your DVR to find and record the show in the exact same manner you do without Google TV.

Finding Stuff
I've had good luck using the Google TV Search function to find programming. Specifically, I've looked for the San Francisco Giants' Championship games. This is always a frustrating experience using my DirecTV box. The DirecTV search function is pretty bad. The first game where I tried this last week on the DirecTV guide, in spite of having a special button on the search dialog for "Post-Season Baseball", DirecTV could not find the game (I guess the schedule changes are a challenge). Google TV Search found it instantly. Select the first listing. Bam! The Google TV tuned the DirecTV to the channel. Play ball!

Today, I tried this again. GoogleTV quickly told me when and where the game would be broadcast, but because the show was in the future it offered the Tune In Now or Guide options. Guide showed that DirecTV had no clue that the game would be on. (It was listed as "To be determined" or some such.)

As noted in my previous writeup, some Dish DVRs work in tight integration with Google TV and can be programmed directly by the Google TV to record a show.

Since DirecTV already has an Android app that can program the DVR remotely, it's not hard to imagine a future version of that app running on the Google TV with tighter integration with the Google TV search functions. But like the networks and Hulu, it's not obvious that DirecTV will offer this to Google TV. Or they may, like Dish charge additional fees. Who knows?

What's Not There?
For me, one of the biggest pieces that's not yet been delivered with the current Google TV is the ability to play media stored on devices on my local network. I would like to be able to play music from our MP3 library. I would like to play DRM-free video files I've downloaded and ripped.

The Google TV out-of-box experience for direct or LAN attached media has been a failure. But the device has tremendous potential. I might solve the problem myself. Or software upgrades and eventually apps should address this problem. (Once the SDK and app market for Google TV are available third parties will be able to create all manner of media server and playback options.) 

The Verdict
We primarily control our HDTV with a Logitech Harmony Remote Control. It's the only remote on the coffee table, and everyone in the family can use it. My goal has been to find an Internet-enabled video streaming HTPC-like-thing that everyone in the family can use. 

The Logitech Revue has an option to allow the Revue to be controlled by any Harmony remote. This is essential in that it will allow the Harmony to set the Google TV to automatically display "Live TV" at which point the system will function exactly like it did before. Most importantly I won't get a panicked phone call that the TV is displaying "some weird Google screen". The Sony Google TV just doesn't offer that level of customized control, and since the Sony is controlled by RF signals (not IR) it can't easily be controlled by the Logitech Harmony Remote. 

Even though I didn't previously have a Blu-ray, it's looking like the Logitech Revue is the keeper between these two units. This is primarily due to the Logitech's superior keyboard controller and better device integration with its Harmony remote control technology.

10 comments:

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

The Logitech Harmony Remote for the Revue is available from the Android Market as "DHG Remote". It's not officially released, but it works.

Tommy said...

Thanks for the post on each box. I currently have the Revue (posting this from it), but was debating over exchanging it for the Sony Blu-Ray GTV setup. I have a Harmony 900 for my system, and I already have a blu-ray player (er, well, a PS3), but I was hoping for tight integration between the BD player and the Sony GTV -- knowing that they are separate software packages just in the same hardware helps my decision greatly. Also, the fact that the Sony is RF only is also frustrating. I think I'll be sticking to the Revue.

Also, as to your DLNA issues -- it does take quite a bit of fiddling to get content to show up. I have a Mac Mini serving content locally (typically using XBMC), and had to tweak lots of settings on both the Mini and the Revue to get anything to show up, and now that (some) stuff shows up, it won't play half of it due to limited codec support. I'm hoping the Revue gets root soon, or something else to alleviate smaller problems like this.

My only real issue with the GTV is quite small, but big at the same time. I'm a Dish subscriber. Love the service, just got it 3 months ago. I bought their best box, the VIP922, with integrated Sling functionality. Now, I find that even though I own their highest end box, I get jipped on the GTV functionality (I bought my Revue from Best Buy, not from Dish directly). I'm honestly debating over trying to return the 922 and get a 722k (with a smaller internal HD and crappier older interface, ugh), buy a regular Slingbox to continue to have that functionality, and get GTV integration. I have yet to see any reviews anywhere of how well the "deep integration" with the specific Dish DVRs works, so I'm holding out a bit, but we'll have to see.

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

@Tommy

Yea, I figure the DLNA issues are just fiddling problems. I may try out using other software DLNA servers like you are doing to see if I can get that to work. The most important codecs for me are MP3 and AAC music, then I have iTunes-style H.264 videos.

The VIP922 issue seems like a drag, but I've read that they are working on it.

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

Here's a nice Revue tip:

You can enable tap-to-click on the Revue's touchpad by pressing Ctrl-Shift-Fn-PageUp. Disable with Ctrl-Shift-Fn-PageDown.

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

Following up from my quick, successful test with the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse.

I tried my Gyration Air Mouse and wireless keyboard on the Revue. For the most part it works great.

The web navigation buttons like Home and Back work. The Next Track and Previous Track transport buttons work. But Play/Pause does not. The volume controls work including Mute.

There's a button labeled "search" on the keyboard and it doesn't work, but the Windows key is mapped to the Google TV Search function.

On the Air Mouse the scroll-wheel and gyrocontrol works, and the left-click buttons work as expected. Right-click doesn't seem to do anything.

Anyway this indicates that people will be able to use fairly standard "media" PC keyboards with Google TV.

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

Whoa!

With the Android Harmony Remote app installed you can send URLs from the phone's browser to your Revue Google TV.

Go to the webpage on your Android phone. Choose Menu->More...>Share page and choose the Harmony Remote from the list.

Bam! the webpage opens up on your HDTV.

KT said...

Richard,

If you want a great experience for accessing your shared music, photos, and video, you should try Twonky (www.twonky.com) Load the server on your Mac or PC and enjoy on your Google TV.

Richard@PatternMusic.com said...

Thanks KT.

I'll give that a try.

mike_dish said...

@Tommy - The integration with my 722k is actually amazing - it makes it so much easier to find all my DVR content and match up with new episodes. Should have bought it DISH, though... as an employee of DISH I can say that we are selling it for $179 versus the $299 at the retail store. Any DISH customer that wants this kind of functionality definitely can't go wrong by picking up a Revue.

BIG D. said...

I have had my logitech revue unit since 2/2011 and have been through some torturous upgrades,or more like downgrades,,i love the speed since i am coming from web tv with a 56k modem,don't laugh,lol,but the thing i wish i could do and can't,,is send a picture whole instead of the link the recipient has to click on,i just wish i could cut,copy,and paste a picture like a normal comp. but i understand this is not a 'normal' comp.Still kinda happy with it minus the shockwave crashes.Any advice on the picture sending,thanks.