Google TV: A Boon for Connected HDTVs?28 May, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey
It was Sony Electronics that first delivered an Internet-connected HDTV to retail, including a handful of built-in applications for some Bravia sets in 2007.
Samsung, Vizio, Panasonic and others would quickly follow, adding more and more content options to Internet-connected HDTVs. But the marriage of a complete Internet experience on the giant screen in the living room wasn’t a reality until earlier this month, when Google unveiled its Google TV initiative.
Google’s Android mobile operating system and an integrated Chrome Web browser will be built into Sony HDTVs and Blu-ray Disc players, first sold at Best Buy this fall, finally marrying the complete Internet experience with the main screen in the American home. Dish Network also will include Google TV on subscribers’ DVRs.
A new HDTV isn’t necessary either: Logitech will offer a companion box at retail, which will deliver Google TV to the 60 million HDTVs already in American homes today. Pricing for the set-top has not been announced.
“The Logitech companion box will leverage our Harmony remote technology to give you seamless control over how you interact with your content,” said Ashish Arora, VP and GM of Logitech’s Digital Home Group. “In addition, the Logitech companion box will include a controller that’s specifically designed to optimize the Google TV experience – combining a compact keyboard, remote control and touchpad.”
But until the Sony products are released — and until other hardware companies take a chance on Google TV — questions remain: Will Google TV be able to avoid the viruses found all over the Internet? What type of built-in memory will be involved? Will products with Google TV be able to surf fast and freely? And, perhaps most importantly, will consumers latch on to the concept?
“We could do a full Web browser on HDTVs today, but who really wants that experience?” said Linda Quach, spokeswoman for Rovi Corp. “Right now you can bring specific applications in, give people the content they want, but does it make sense to squeeze everything into an HDTV?”
Philip Leigh, founder of market research firm Inside Digital Media, is convinced they do.
“Whether Google TV per se is successful is immaterial,” he said after the announcement. “Others will be compelled to respond. The public will never be satisfied with limited Internet access at the TV. Nearly
everyone will want to be able to search all corners of the Internet in pursuit of their passions.”
Leigh shared a personal story showing the importance of Google’s announcement, relaying how he recently tried to find the 1992 film One False Move online for his HDTV. He went to Sony’s Crackle website and found an ad-supported version of the film but had to connect his laptop to his HDTV in order to view it.
Google TV would, in theory, allow him to visit Crackle on the HDTV itself, without the need for a specific application or widget. And Google’s announcement may force other companies to follow suit.
The Google TV announcement could have the potential to force all HDTV manufacturers to install Internet capabilities in their products. ABI Research estimates that only 19% of HDTVs shipped this year will be Internet-connected, but 46% will have Internet capability by 2013.
“New features will include media guides, Web browsing, and more tightly integrated social and information-based datasets,” said ABI analyst Michael Inouye.
“TV makers no longer want to build ‘dumb screens.’ Rather than simply selling boxes, TV makers themselves could try to secure part of the revenue generated by ads their devices present.”
Eric Grab, architect for DivX, said fully integrated browsers, such as Google Chrome, will be a mainstay consumers expect in their connected HDTVs.
“The user interface has to be there,” he said recently. “But also we have to be sure there’s enough infrastructure to distribute entertainment content. I think it’s a matter of penetration and getting the right mainstream devices out there to get the market going.”
Later this year DivX’s Internet TV platform DivX TV will launch for connected HDTVs and Blu-ray players, starting with LG products. It will feature more that 70 Internet channels, including The Associated Press, CNET, Rhapsody, Twitter and CinemaNow.
“DivX TV revolutionizes the television experience by giving consumers quick and easy access to a virtually limitless universe of online content, and it’s as simple to operate as changing channels with a remote control,” said Kevin Hell, CEO of DivX, when the company announced the initiative earlier this year.
Other companies have been offering Internet-connected HDTV options piecemeal.
Yahoo Connected TV, which has more than 7,000 TV widget developers, has partnerships with five of the top 10 HDTV manufacturers, including Sony, Samsung, LG and Vizio. More than 3 million TVs with Yahoo widgets have shipped so far, with more than 50 Internet-enabled applications, including movies, TV shows, games, shopping and social networking. The company is aiming for 150 more applications by the end of 2010.
“Consumers love television, and Yahoo is enhancing the TV viewing experience by adding high-quality, personally relevant Internet content across devices from the world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturers,” said Ronald Jacoby, chief architect for Yahoo Connected TV. “There is no doubt in my mind that the next phase of the Internet revolution will be televised.”
Besides offering applications such as Netflix, HDTV manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and Panasonic have all added the ability for owners to make Skype video calls on their TVs.
A recent forecast from research firm GigaOM Pro reported that by 2015 consumers will have downloaded nearly 1 billion TV applications, and by that year six in 10 HDTVs shipped worldwide will have a network connection. Seventy percent of those connected HDTVs will have an embedded application platform.
But now that Google TV has upped the ante, these piecemeal Internet offerings may soon be irrelevant, marker researcher Leigh said.
“No matter how beautiful the Internet walled gardens attempted earlier by TV and consumer electronics makers, consumers will eventually regard them as a walled prison, just as did Napoleon III at the castle of Ham,” he said.