Google (s GOOG) announced the next big update for Google TV Wednesday, bringing advanced voice control, a new programming guide app and all kinds of smarts derived from Google’s Knowledge Graph to the platform. Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra told me during a briefing in Mountain View Tuesday that this time around, the focus has been all about removing friction and bringing a Google Now-like experience to the TV.
Voice as an extension of the remote
The most important new feature of the update, which has internally been called Google TV 3.0, is voice control: Users can trigger channel changes, start apps and fire up the program guide with simple voice commands. Of course, voice input for TVs isn’t entirely new: Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Xbox already offers users voice control, and Samsung’s own TV platform uses voice as well.
However, Google’s approach is a bit different. The company decided to add the microphone to the remote control to allow users to use both. Chandra said that the good old D-Pad still works great for simple navigation tasks, which can be overly complicated if you want to solve them through voice or gestures. “It’s an enhancement of the remote control, not a replacement,” he said.
The second difference is that Google uses a lot of context to make sense of what people are saying. To demonstrate it, Chandra simply told the TV “GigaOM,” and it promptly fired up our website. The prompt “CNN” on the other hand led to a channel change. “Pixar movies” resulted in the program guide displaying live TV and on-demand results, and “how do I cook marinara sauce” fired up a YouTube cooking video showing off a recipe.
Google TV to feed into Google Now
Chandra told me that these different actions are all based on Google’s Knowledge Graph, which also powers the company’s recently launched Google Now app. Google Now and the thinking behind it has been a big inspiration for Google TV going forward, he added, explaining that the goal is to eventually display content in very much the same way that Google Now displays its information cards to its users.
The TV should just remind users if a game of their favorite sports team is on, instead of making them search for it, said Chandra, explaining that Google TV will eventually become much more proactive. You’re having a movie night with your wife every Friday, but like to watch kids movies with the entire family on Saturday? Then why not pre-select some titles, or even tune into something that’s on right now and meets everyone’s needs?
Speaking of Google Now: Chandra said we shouldn’t be too surprised to see Google TV viewing recommendations pop up on the mobile app someday. “We are going to be a source to Google Now,” he said. He wouldn’t tell me when this is going to happen, but added: “We are working on it.”
No updates for Logitech Revue
Google TV 3.0 not only includes voice control, but also a new programming guide called PrimeTime that replaces the existing TV and Movies app. It still gives access to both live TV as well as streaming content, but shines especially during live TV viewing, when shows on other channels are displayed through topical overlays. Eventually, the same functionality will exist for YouTube and other on-demand content, said Chandra: “Watching on demand will be as easy as watching live TV.”
The new version of Google TV, which is still based on Honeycomb, will come to LG TVs first — which is a good match, in part because LG TVs already have a remote control with an integrated microphone. It will be made available to second-generation Sony streaming devices as well as the Vizio CoStar in the coming months, and Google will give those users the option to use their mobile phone for voice input.
Logitech Revue devices, as well as the first-generation Sony Google TV devices, won’t see an update to this version of Google TV, showing that Google TV is transitioning out of the world of Intel-based (s INTC) hardware. However, owners of these devices will still be able to download the new PrimeTime app as well as the new YouTube app with AirPlay-like functionality that was separately announced Tuesday.