Google TV has landed! Er … sort of. Even though the future of the video-aggregation and search service might look uncertain, Logitech has loosed its flagship Google TV set-top box — the Revue — for living rooms everywhere.
Like most set-top boxes, the Revue isn’t much to look at. It’s relatively small and discrete, and even though it sports a tiny fan it’s whisper quiet. In terms of connectivity it skews high end; component/composite have been cast off in favor of HDMI ports (both in and out) and digital audio out, and trusty 10/100 Ethernet all make cameos on the device’s backside. There’s even 802.11n connectivity. This simple setup makes installation a breeze, and getting our particular daisy chain running (DirecTV DVR>Revue>HDTV) took just under 10 minutes.
Poking around through the menus is mostly smooth thanks to the combination of the Revue’s 1.2-GHz Atom processor and integrated GPU, although we did notice occasional lag during multitasking. The Revue’s lack of any kind of storage felt counter-intuitive to us, but it’s clear that Logitech conceived of the device as more of an intermediary than an end-all be-all hub.
Controls are a mixed bag. Put simply, the smallish wireless keyboard that ships with the Revue leaves a lot to be desired. Though it functions well enough — even letting you assign macros for common remote control commands — it feels cheap and largely forgettable. The integrated multitouch trackpad, remote-ish D-pad and the TV-centric shortcut keys for “DVR” and “Guide” make this feel more like a universal remote, less like a wireless keyboard, but we still couldn’t shake the feeling that we were back in 1998 using grandma’s WebTV.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that. After tinkering with the Revue’s QWERTY, we rushed to the Android app store to download Logitech’s Harmony app. Loading the app effectively turns your Android (and soon iOS) device into a touchscreen universal remote ala Logitech’s Harmony line of boobtube clickers. Not only was this control scheme much more intuitive for moving the cursor around the screen, but using Android’s navigational gestures and voice search made finding content a cinch.
In many ways, the smartphone control scheme is one of the smartest things about the Revue. Though bringing QWERTY into the living room is a necessary evil for a search-minded product, it makes sense to leverage the lithe and efficient navigational vocabulary that smartphone users have built up over the years.
Of course, the biggest draw for the Revue is the Google TV service. In short, Google has engineered an Android-powered interface that overlays your broadcast service and grabs video from the web. Filling the space between is search functionality, and access to streaming services from Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Napster and Pandora. Google wisely rounded out these offerings with video-sharing partnerships with CNN, TBS, TNT and HBO, and paired it all with a dozen or so apps and a fully functional Chrome browser (with working Flash and HTML5).
It sounds like a clusterfrak, but navigation is actually fairly simple. While the credits were rolling on a live broadcast of 30 Rock, we got a hankering for old episodes of The State. All it took was the hitting the Search key and Google’s minimalist query bar popped up at the top of the screen. From there, it was a just a matter of typing in the title and watching Google TV scour our DirecTV guide, all of its embedded streaming services, our connected DLNA devices and even the old fashioned web. What we got back was a little scattershot, but ultimately useful. The search results showed Amazon VOD had it for purchase, YouTube had clips available and the rest were mainly false positives. Netflix had it available to stream, but we had to effectively launch the app and look for it ourselves. Like our experience with the TiVo Premier, it’s a little jarring to hop from one proprietary interface to another, but it’s a small price to pay for the sheer convenience of adequate search.
Should I get this?
In all, the Revue is very much a step in the right direction. Despite being slightly overpriced, it’s a smart marriage of hardware and services that’s poised to usher in the next era of web-infused TV. Even though the future looks bright — especially with the entire Android Marketplace slated to hit Google TV in 2011 — there are still a few rain clouds on the horizon. As it stands, Hulu, ABC, and NBC have blocked their online video feeds from playback on the Revue. Though this is likely to change (Google is currently in negotiations with the content providers), the precariousness of content licensing and the impact it has on products like the Revue can’t be ignored. Is this enough to scuttle the device? Hardly. Our advice is to consider the device’s strengths today, while also exercising cautious optimism about its future.
Photos by Jon Snyder for