Google TV had tons of hype in the run-up to its mid-October launch. Now that we've had a few weeks to live with the first wave of released products, we have a better idea of what Google needs to fix and which products (if any) are worth considering.
What Google needs to fix
A lot of our early reviews of Google TV products may seem negative, but that's doesn't mean we aren't impressed with the platform's potential. Google has laid the groundwork for a lot of great functionality, but until it addresses its long list of outstanding issues, it's appeal will be limited to early adopters.
Work out a deal with major TV networks or work around them
The main reason mainstream users want a product like Google TV is so they can watch free streaming content from sources like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and Hulu. And all of those destinations are currently blocking Google TV from streaming video. It's not an easy issue, especially since it appears that major TV networks don't want you streaming free content to your TV. If Google can't work out a deal with the content providers, it may have to find a way to work around them, otherwise much of the appeal of the Google TV platform will be lost.
Fix search and TV guide information We generally take Google's searching prowess for granted, which is why we were so surprised by the lackluster search results on Google TV. Google currently doesn't search Netflix's streaming titles, which is arguably the most important collection of online video available. We also found Google TV guide information to be frequently inaccurate, even on mainstream shows like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." For Google TV to live up to its promise, its search and TV info need to be near perfect.
More supported cable/satellite boxes
To really take advantage of Google TV, you need full cable/satellite box integration. That allows Google TV to schedule recordings and season passes directly from its interface, without even accessing your cable/satellite box's user interface. That kind of impressive functionality is currently available on a limited number of Dish Network DVRs, but it needs much wider adoption for Google TV to take off.
More and better apps
Compared with other streaming-video boxes, Google TV's initial rollout of apps is unimpressive. Worse, the included Netflix interface is several generations behind competition, like the Apple TV, Roku XDS, Xbox 360, and PS3. Google needs more apps in general, and the existing ones need to be as good as they are on other devices.
Get the Android Marketplace up and running
Google has already announced that the Android Marketplace will be coming to Google TV in 2011, and the earlier the better. The ability for third-party developers will help the paltry app selection and possibly open up Google TV devices to services that nobody's thought of yet.
The first screen we saw when we completed the setup on the Logitech Revue was an error message. We just saw too many crashes and bugs with the Google TV software during our testing period, and mainstream users won't tolerate that in a living room setting. Further testing with the Sony NSZ-GT1 seemed to indicate that the first firmware update has improved of our initial problems, which is a step in the right direction/
What products are available?
Even with all the problems we listed, Google TV products still have a lot to offer for early adopters who can put up with the quirks. Right now, there are essentially three products available with Google TV built-in.
Advantages: Least expensive Google TV option; wireless keyboard is the best Google TV controller yet; built-in IR emitters obviate the need for IR blasters; built-in Harmony functionality for controlling a TV and AV receiver; iPhone and Android controller apps are already available.
Disadvantages: Had network performance issues during our testing period; adds another box in your home theater cabinet.
Outlook: Despite its issues, the Logitech Revue is the best choice for early adopters looking to check out Google TV, thanks to its excellent wireless keyboard.
Advantages: Google TV integrated into an LCD, with no extra box required; works with over-the-air HDTV signals.
Disadvantages: Expensive upfront cost; Sony's controller can be frustrating to use; requires physical IR blaster to control other products; TV's image quality is only so-so.
Outlook: If you're an early adopter looking to buy a new LCD and aren't picky about image quality, Sony's NSX-GT1 is the most capable Internet-connected TV ever made.
Advantages: Google TV integrated into a Blu-ray player; speedy Blu-ray load times.
Disadvantages: Sony's controller can be frustrating to use; requires physical IR blaster to control other products.
Outlook: Sony's NSZ-GT1 combines Blu-ray and Google TV in a single box for a relatively low upfront cost, although we think most early adopters will prefer the Revue.
Related resourcesGoogle TV FAQ
Free 'Conan' on Google TV: It works, with quirks