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The Unanswered Questions About Google TV

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Murphy was in the room when Google unveiled its Google TV platform at its I/O developer conference today. The demo was plagued with numerous problems, with remote controls losing sync and questionable content showing up on the TV feeds used to demonstrate Google TVs integration of the Web and the TV. Those snags turned the keynote, which was also used for a much smoother presentation of the new Android 2.2 version, into a three-hour long marathon session, and Best Buy’s (s BBY) CEO  Brian Dunn had a hard time sounding convincing when he said he wanted a Google TV device “right now.”

However, technical hiccups weren’t the only issues that made the Google TV pitch sound less than ready for prime time. Google also made no mention at all of its new WebM initiative that was announced yesterday, which includes open sourcing its VP8 video codec. And in the inverse, Intel (s INTC) is powering all of the Google TV devices announced on stage today, but the chip maker was notably absent from the WebM announcement. Asked about this at a press conference following the unveiling of Google TV, Intel (s INTC) CEO Paul Otellini said that the first version of the company’s Atom chip won’t actually support any hardware acceleration for VP8, but that the company plans to enable this through software updates.

Also puzzling was that Google’s video sharing site YouTube played a minor role in this announcement. Google VP of Product Hunter Walk was invited on stage to demo a beta site offering a lean-back experience for YouTube, but Chandra resorted to, and not Sesame Street’s clips on YouTube, to demo some of the device’s customized search capabilities. YouTube representatives weren’t even invited on stage during the Google TV press briefing, and there were no indications that Google has any plans to ramp up its content offerings on YouTube to make it the content repository of choice for Google TV.

There are also some open questions how Google’s will incorporate advertising into its TV platform. Google CEO Eric Schmidt dodged a question about new advertising formats through Google TV, simply stating that ads on Google TV devices will either be delivered through websites or traditional TV programming. Of course, there’s also a third option, which would be to deliver ads through Android apps optimized for Google TV, which could potentially compete with broadcast ads running on the same screen. Chandra clarified later that there is no immediate plans to roll out such formats when the devices launch this fall.

And finally there are still unanswered questions about whether content from Hulu will actually play back on Google TV devices once these ship in fall. Hulu search results showed up during today’s demo, but the video site wasn’t actually part of the demo itself. Vic Chandra said during the press briefing that Google TV, in combination with Flash 10.1, will enable the capability to play back any Flash content. However, there’s a caveat: “Sites can make the decision not to enable content,” Chandra added. In other words: Hulu could still lock out Google TV users, just like they did with Boxee in early 2009.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ryan Holst.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: TV Apps: Evolution from Novelty to Mainstream (subscription required)

40 Responses to “The Unanswered Questions About Google TV”

  1. les madras

    Looks more like a feature on a set-top box. Cable co’s will simply add a search function to their set-top box. They control the content and the access. Google does not control either. And on TV content is king since good content costs a lot to produce.

    Hard to get excited about GoogleTV.

  2. I’d bet they went to directly, rather than YouTube, to show that it is not limited to YouTube. Many current boxes have limited sources for web video. My blueray player can pull down YouTube video, but nothing else.

  3. It’s possible that Google didn’t have answers to these questions but they will “in the fall”. I thought it was embarrassing that some of the demos didn’t work, but I also think that’s no different from how cable TV works right now.

    Personally, I look forward to watching “those crappy YouTube videos” on my big screen TV – especially the YouTube videos I created! :)

  4. timekeeper

    Wow, what a major FAIL. 3 massive companies, Sony, Intel, and Google, with some of the smartest minds on the planet and they still can’t get a flawless demo going on such a simple system.

    Will Google TV change the TV landscape? I’m not so sure. It looks like there are a lot of Press people drinking the Google Kool Aid and pumping this initiative up. I’m not buying the vibe the press is giving off on Google TV just yet. It has a long way to go before it is ready for prime time.

  5. Angry Zebra

    I have to agree with NeoLurker. I don’t see the appeal of watching the web on my TV. I’ve tried to do the computer on the Samsung, but it is a poor experience. Now Google wants me to view the web on TV?

    The living room is one area I don’t think Google rapid iteration cycle is going to be a benefit.

    As a web developer, it means more work for me as now I have to consider the design constraints unique to people using TVs to view content. Will Google TV mean more site fragmentation (there’s already mobile) for specialty sites?

    • You’re not watching the web on your TV. You’re watching videos that just happen to be on the web on your TV. Along with that you still have your traditional content that you can view as Dish Network (I beleive) will show us later this year).

      I don’t think web design is impacted if sites use proper standards like they already should. I’ve seen Boxee’s browser handle web pages ALMOST in a satisfactory matter by centering the video versus making you scroll to it to go fullscreen. I hope Chrome on Android handles this in a similar manner.

      • Angry Zebra

        But videos that are on the web are not fun. I’ve got a 1080p TV. Why am I watching SD videos on it? At best I’m viewing 720p. I also doubt that I will not be bombarded with ads or other distractions. It isn’t like Netflix, PSN or Apple’s videos where I see the content without distraction.

        As for the web design, Google already has a page of guidelines for designing for TVs. Yes, web standards will be a factor, but you really need to create a new interface due to the unique nature of TVs; poor color reproduction, no mouse, needing larger targets, poor text display, etc.

  6. Neolurker

    I guess I’m slow or something. I want to be able to watch great quality HD programming (TV shows and movies) on my terms. I want to be able to view photos and listen to my music collection. I want to play back my DVD collection. I am moderately interested in knowing about other content that might be interesting to me. I want to skip through ads. I want a high Wife Acceptance Factor. I’m willing to pay for this.
    I don’t want: crappy YouTube videos on a big screen, advertising spewing from every corner of the screen, a bunch of apps that require me to concentrate or mirroring a web browser on a TV.
    There are plenty of devices that give me some of the solution today but nothing that gives me all of it. Boxee is a horrible hack. Tivo is some way there. AppleTV is shackled to their walled garden. Windows Media Center is plain unreliable.

    • I agree with you but..
      After trying most, Windows Media Center 7. Its solid now..
      And by far has the best WAF (Wife acceptance factor) Mainly because of the one Remote, easy to use and easy to purchase spares. We have 3 around the TV room, so never loose it..

      As long as GoogleTV works well with traditional Tech. (Thats why they do this crappy Cable TV pass through as Cable TV will not let them do direct. Look at the disaster the mandated Satellite capabilities on PC. How un-co-operative the Cable TV has been even who mandated to do it.)
      As long as it works as a good digital DVR, it will be a huge hit.. in countries like mine where Free To Air is good quality content.

      Nothing will beat over the Air broadcast for mass distribution of hi-quality content, especially for real time.. Sports etc. The GoogleTV needs to have that integrated in if it wants to be mass accepted.

    • I feel the same way. Google TV has potential, but they have to be very careful how they setup searchability and access to content. It could easily turn into garbage if they don’t get the user interface/experience correct, because, like you said, the last thing I need is sifting through 35 copies of low def garbage, or videos pretending to be TV shows so they show up on searches, only to be a webcam of some 16 year olds take on the last episode of Lost.

      The right solution is somewhere in between it all. Apple TV is slick but the price point on TV episodes is off, and the ‘walled garden’ as you describe it is a pain in the ass since half the time what I want to watch isn’t available to me.

  7. We can’t expect this new platform to be hickup free (Let us remember Apple TV) but this is a great step forward. Give developers and content creators a year, along with further hardware advances, and we’ll have an amazing 2011 Fall lineup. The possibilities are amazing. Dual device conception here we come!

    What is Apple going to do about this? I question that a bit on my blog today

    • raycote

      Google and it’s gaggle of pathetic, fail prone, hangers on will rush in where even S Jobs fear to tread for very good reasons.

      Adding a second set top-box in serial to your cable box just to super-impose some web search and web content onto your TV screen is just a silly dead end. It is just unnecessary extra cost and too time consuming for most TV watchers.

      Apple is heading to where the puck is going to be not where the puck once was!

      The future, once the internet bandwidth issues is resolved, is for all content producers to sell directly to content consumers, no cable monopoly middlemen necessary, just a quality digital delivery system like iTunes or similar service over the web along with all other web content, no complications like two serial set-top boxes needed.

      Google and partners are in over their head, they are lost, they really lack integrative vision on how to deliver customer centered hardware solutions.

      • Where has Google been pathetic and failure prone? Search? Gmail? Maps? Checkout? Voice? Chrome? Android? Etc x9?

        Buzz is about the only thing remotely able to be considered a failure. Let’s face it.. that’s mainly because Twitter is so popular that it’s servers can barely stay running for a whole day. Now that Google has opened it’s API for Buzz, it’ll get a lot more popularity. However, it’ll be a long time before it’s as popular as Twitter by the general public. Google products almost always start off as niche products with a low fan base. Buzz is just another example. Look at Android…

  8. Google is amazing, no doubt about it. I am writing this blog on a Google blog; my email is on Google, as well as my calendar; 2 weeks ago I bought the newest Droid phone. If Google isn’t the prophetic Big Brother, He’ll do until the real BB shows up.

    My Droid is amazing; the things it can do are astounding. I can touch “Car Home” on the screen; touch “Navigation”; touch the microphone and say, “McDonald’s” and the town I’m in and it will instantly lead me there by the hand. It will, with the appropriate applications, wake me up, keep my appointments close at hand, and beep when it’s time to close. It will play Three Stooges phrases when my brother who never grew up calls. It plays TV, it plays Music, and it shows me email, and facebook and my favorite weather channel. It can do anything….except be audible.

    Female voices are great, but anyone with a touch more testosterone Marion Jones cannot be heard on this phone. The low pitches always sound as if they are making automated noises rather than a man’s voice.

    Didn’t they test this thing with guys? I know I’m not the only one cause the customer service lady admitted that this is a regularly complained about issue. I know technology must make advances every 15 minutes so we all get to be famous before we die, but could I please use my phone the old fashion way too? Let me speak, and don’t force me to do the Frank Valley & the 4 seasons version of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” every time I am on the droid.

  9. There are definitely more details that are needed on Google TV. However, I’m not sure I understand how this is dodging:

    “Google CEO Eric Schmidt dodged a question about new advertising formats through Google TV, simply stating that ads on Google TV devices will either be delivered through websites or traditional TV programming.”

    It sounds like he answered the question. People can always advertise however they normally would: via Android app, web page, or inline on video. I highly doubt we’d see embedded advertisements on the platform itself.

      • That is strange, but I assume Admob ads (which Google profits from) would work here. Obviously there aren’t any formatted for the big screen yet.

        Hopefully Google requires the ads to remain tasteful and not impede the user experience.

  10. A new revolution has arrived to a sector that is still not captured by the latest in IT and telecom. Lots of attempts have been made but none has made a huge impact. But it seems this time the story is different as couples of companies are getting together with Google to tear it apart. The sector is none other than what is watched 5 hours on average per day by every American and more than 4 billion people watch it across the world, THE TV…………….

  11. I too wonder about these questions, but if the device isn’t great at launch time, Google will figure it out with successive versions — just as they did with Android 2.0 being leaps and bounds better than earlier incarnations.

    As an independent filmmaker, I’m most excited by the searchability Google TV brings to content — suddenly it’s not all about walled gardens (like iTunes). My thoughts are here:

  12. I think Google TV will be seen as a monumental inflection point in the realization of “TV convergence.” Android developers are going to have a field day employing dynamic querying of TV metadata and calling related internet data to deliver highly personalized & contextualized extended viewer engagement opportunities.