Google TV Unveiled With High-Profile Partners, Demo

Google has finally unveiled plans for its highly anticipated Google TV platform, promising that it “will change the future of television.” The Internet giant has brought on a stable of high-profile partners for the ambitious offering, including Sony Electronics, Dish Network, Best Buy, Intel, and Logitech. According to Google, the platform will “bring everything you love about the Web to your television.”

NBA Digital, one of the few third-party developers participating in the Google TV demonstration at last week’s Google I/O Conference in San Francisco, showed off a version of an optimized for the new platform.

“We think that this is going to be a big part of TV’s future,” says Bryan Perez, SVP/GM of NBA Digital (a joint venture of the NBA and Turner Sports). “This enhances your experience; it’s not a substitute experience [for over-the-air and cable TV]. You can search everything on the planet as opposed to just what’s on your TV guide, and that’s a great thing for viewers. Giving you seamless access to get to whatever you want is what really counts.”

Google TV is based on the company’s Android 2.1 operating system and uses a Google Chrome browser capable of running Adobe Flash video. The platform will allow users to simultaneously search for both TV programming and Web content via a simple drop-down toolbar. In addition, one-click DVR capability allows users to record a live TV broadcast or video from such Websites as YouTube and Android phones can also be integrated with Google TV devices, allowing users to conduct voice searches.

Set to launch this fall, Google TV will be available on Sony TVs and Blu-ray players, in Dish Network set-top boxes, or in separate set-top boxes with built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet that can be connected to satellite or cable boxes via HDMI cables. Logitech will provide the companion set-top box and input device, a keyboard/remote-control hybrid. Intel’s high-speed microprocessors will be used in both the Sony and Logitech devices. Best Buy has signed on as the exclusive retailer.

NBA Digital worked closely with Google and the pre-release version of the software, even co-locating an engineering team on the Google campus for a few weeks during development. Although based on the original platform, the Google TV incarnation of has undergone some major cosmetic surgery.

“We had to rethink the way that our home page might work on a device like this,” says Robert Occhialini, director of technology and product development, NBA Digital. “First of all, we optimized for the 10-ft [distance from the TV] living-room experience. The 10-point font size will work fine on your regular Web page, but it isn’t going render so that everyone in the family can read it on your television.”

The video capabilities also saw some big changes for Google TV.

“We worked really hard to optimize our video,” adds Occhialini. “We re-encoded and are continuing to re-encode our nightly recaps for a true 1280x720p experience with a really ridiculously high bitrate. We use adaptive bitrate, but we’re going to have to work on video delivery a little bit to make sure everyone can get that HD experience or at least the best experience for the connection that they have. We’re very much in the nascent phase of this cross-IP-and-television platform, and I expect to only look better for the start of next season.”

The biggest question, however, remains to be answered: why will Google succeed where so many have failed? Internet on television is far from a new concept, but, as of yet, not one attempt at the Internet-on-TV market has proved successful. Whether WebTV, Apple TV, or a host of other failed offerings, Internet-on-TV platforms have yet to gain a foothold. A series of technical issues during the Google TV presentation last week (most of which were blamed on spectators’ failing to turn off their mobile devices) did not bode well for the young platform. Nonetheless, officials at believe that Google TV will avoid the cemetery where its predecessors now lie.

“Why is Google TV different?” says Perez. “All I have to do is point to the fact that, after we did our demo, the CEOs of Sony, Intel, Adobe, Dish Network, and Logitech were all on the stage with the CEO of Google. That’s a lot of public commitment by companies with a lot of firepower. If anything, it has a real chance because Google is an [open-source platform]. People are looking for a unifying platform rather than the fragmentation that we’re already seeing on the TV app side. I really think this has a good chance.”

Occhialini echoes that sentiment: “I’ve seen a lot of people in the media make the WebTV comparison. But this is a different type of device than the lowest-common-denominator type of market that they were shooting for with WebTV. WebTV was really trying to be a replacement for Internet access at a computer. I don’t think that Google TV is being angled that way. This is an augmentation of your television experience and attempt to merge [the TV and the Internet experience].”

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