Some of us geeky types have lived with laptops connected to our TVs for years, unleashing the joys of Internet-based entertainment to the biggest screen in the house—pretty effective, but not a mainstream solution. In the past year, TV manufacturers have started delivering dollops of Internet content with Web-connected HDTVs, which provide worthwhile stuff from a limited range of predetermined sources. Now Google tackles the challenge with a new software solution called Google TV that delivers nearly everything the Net has to offer in an easy-to-use solution that’s good now, and about to get better.
Sony makes two HDTVs and a Blu-ray player with Google TV software baked right in—not a bad choice if you need the new gear. For the rest of us, there’s the Logitech Revue, an add-on to your current system that includes a compact console and a keyboard-equipped remote control. Why do you need a keyboard? Because as the Google name would suggest, you can type search terms into an on-screen window and bring up results from the Web, TV listings, your own stored music and video files, and if you have a compatible DishTV receiver, from your own recorded DVR programs.
The key software components are a full version of the Chrome Web browser and a set of apps created with the same Android programming software used to build smartphone apps. The browser will deliver go-anywhere Web freedom, rendering sites beautifully on a high-def screen, including support for the Flash video standard that dominates the web. Unfortunately, at this writing, the major networks are blocking Google TV access, but there are plenty of other available entertainment sources.
As for apps, the Revue delivers well-crafted basics right out of the box, including Netflix streaming, Napster and Pandora music, Twitter access and an NBA info-and-video feed. What should turn Google TV from a decent choice to a must-have, though, is the arrival of the Android Market for downloadable apps, scheduled for this spring. Developers have proven their ingenuity with fun and useful apps for Android smartphones and, while there are a few differences between big-screen and small-screen apps, it shouldn’t take long to not only fill in some gaps (e-mail and Facebook access, for example) but push the envelope with games, information resources and surprises, all accessible from the comfort of your couch.