Fair warning: reviewing Google TV in its entirety may take a few posts over the next few weeks. It is the kind of technology that wants desperately to integrate with your TV viewing experience. Just a week or so into the experience and it is clear to me that it takes some time to figure out what does and doesn't matter to my viewing habits. And we understand that Google is responding to early criticism with a major revision that is forthcoming. I will save for later discussing the Web-to-TV video piece of this and start with the way Google envisioned the technology serving as an overlay/front end for standard TV habits.
For the $300 Logitech Revue unit, the major partner is Dish Network, which boasts the most sophisticated integration of Google TV. The two Dish techies who installed the hook-up had only been schooled in Google TV/Revue on paper, so this was the first installation for all of us. It actually went pretty smoothly. I hooked the Revue into my home theater (HDTV. WiFi, home theater amp) while they latched a massive dish to my back deck. The Revue set-up ably detected the satellite signal once it was up and then dutifully detected my TV model and even my receiver model. The Logitech keyboard with touch pad has the well-evolved Harmony universal remote engine inside, and it already has proven to be among the best universals I have used. So far I rarely have had to resort to one of the original TV/Receiver/Sat box remotes.
The Google TV interface works mains as an overlay to your set top. When you are working with hundreds of channels on a Dish grid with only four or five channels visible at a time, the Google search box comes in very handy. A Search button drops down the overlay and entering a term will search the grid for the show or network, your DVR for recordings and even look for upcoming instances of the program that you might schedule for viewing. In most cases the overlay succeeds in jetting me to the right channel.
"Ooh, look at all of that Buffy," my fiancée and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fan says. This is no small thing. While I wouldn't say that adding a familiar search box to the TV interface is revelatory, I can see how it accelerates an existing shift away from TV's traditional emphasis on schedule and towards a consumer-orientation towards content. You start thinking less about 'what's on' and more about 'what's accessible?' It becomes easier to collect the content you like across channels and funnel them into the DVR repository. Surely, that sort of functionality is possible now, but having an overlay that sees across channels and into the near future for the content you really want, promises to alter at least my approach to the TV.
That is, when it works. Google TV's execution remains theoretical only. The search results themselves are wildly uneven. That Buffy example delivered vastly different and less satisfying results at different times. The results also can kick you onto the Web more often than you would like and into paid episode libraries. With multiple interface layers on top of one another (Dish, Google TV home page, Web browser) understanding where you are at any given moment can be tough. The device is unevenly integrated with my grid and the DVR so that scheduling programming kicks me back to the current spot on the grid where I have to scroll forward to find the show that Google TV already had discovered. The results themselves are not very wisely prioritized. The algorithms don't seem to logically expect basics like a network name. Which is to say that Google on a TV is still very much Google. The 'beta' stage is long but the promise is intriguing. More anon.