Google TV Comes Out, the World Tunes In
Although Thursday's demo hit some technical snags (Google blamed those on Bluetooth connectivity issues affecting its wireless keyboards), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- backed by major consumer electronics and technology firms -- could be better positioned to succeed where Microsoft's Web TV and Apple TV have struggled.
Google plans to launch Google TV this fall, offering the platform on broadband-connected TVs from Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), HD-DVRs from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), and set-tops form Logitech Ltd. that are designed to connect to existing cable and satellite set-tops.
Google unveiled it at its I/O developers conference in San Francisco, running a demo of how the product integrates TV and the Web, allowing viewers to use a wireless keyboard or remote control to type the name of a network or show they're looking for. Viewers can also use mobile phones powered by Google's Android software and its voice recognition capability to search for content.
Google executives boasted that Google TV, which relies on its Chrome Web browser and Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE)'s Flash Player 10.1 software, opens up the entire Web to TV viewers, noting that previous Internet TV products have offered limited content. Google TV will compete with several companies looking to market similar hybrid products, including TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and over-the-top firms such as Boxee and Roku Inc. (See TiVo Building tru2way Version of New Interface, Ronen: Boxee Isn't a Cable Killer, and Roku 'Store' Opens With 10 Channels ). [Ed note: Boxee's already calling Google TV "more complementary than competitive."]
"I'll admit we're not the first ones to make an attempt at this," said Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra, adding that other approaches "all try to dumb down the Web for TV."
While products like Web TV or newer Apple TV require viewers to change the input selection on their TVs, Gundotra maintained that Google TV integrates the Web and TV on a single screen. Google's slogan for the new product: "TV Meets the Web. Web Meets TV."
Dish to serve up Google TV
Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen joined Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Sony CEO Howard Stringer, and other CEOs in San Francisco to announce that the satellite TV giant will integrate Google TV's platform into its HD DVRs this fall. It’s not clear how much of an effect Dish's legal battle with TiVo had on its decision to team up with Google on software that will allow its subscribers to navigate live TV, Web video, and programming stored on a DVR. (See TiVo Shares Dive on Court Decision.)
Sony will also integrate Google TV software into new HDTVs that it will ship this fall. But Google may be able to reach a wider audience through an agreement with Logitech, which will manufacture "Buddy Box" set-tops that cable and satellite subscriber can use to access the Google TV platform and watch Web content on their TVs.
"If you're one of 60 million HD households in the US, you are a target for this product. Basically all you need is an HDMI [High Definition Multimedia Interface] output," Logitech CEO Gerald Quindlen said at the event, which Google broadcast worldwide via YouTube Inc. .
The wireless keyboard relies on a Bluetooth connection to communicate with the Logitech set-top. The keyboards failed at several points during the Google TV demo on Thursday, with Google executives blaming the glitches on an auditorium packed with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone users. It twice asked attendees with Bluetooth phones to turn the devices off.
"You usually don't have 4,000 people in your living room. So hopefully it won't happen again," Google TV project leader Rishi Chandra said at the end of the presentation.
Like Microsoft's Web TV, Google TV's set-top relies on an infrared blaster to change the channels on a cable or satellite set-top.
Google also recruited Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) to supply its Atom processor for new Sony TVs and the Logitech set-tops that will run the platform. The companies didn't say how much they'll charge for the "Buddy Box" receivers from Logitech or what premium will be applied to Google TV-enabled Sony TVs.
Ergen, whose Dish Network faces stiff competition from DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), cable operators, and telcos, said he expects Google TV will help the company win subscribers. "We think it's going to grow our business, and we think it opens up opportunities."
Dish and Google are hardly strangers heading into this deal. They've previously collaborated on TV advertising.
— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable