Google TV Lives!

After last year’s disappearing act at CES 2011, Google TV came back strong at CES 2012. Google announced partnerships with major players including Sony, LG, VIZIO, and newcomer to the Smart TV market, Lenovo. (Logitech was conspicuously absent from the list.) Consumer demand for “over-the-top” streaming video over the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds, and Google is certainly in a position to manage and deliver the oceans of information required to track and access all the online video content that is available. Having the largest search engine and YouTube certainly helps their position.

Sony's new network media player is powered by Google TV.

It also helps to have some top tier brands in your corner. One of the most interesting announcements came from Sony. The company announced two new products with Google TV. The NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player provides unprecedented connectivity. More surprising for me, however, was the NSZ-GS7 which is a network media player powered by Google TV. Now you can get a Sony that makes your existing dumb TV a Smart TV. (Or if you already have a Smart TV, it can make it smarter.) I take it as a strong sign that Sony feels that there is a market for a retrofit device such as this.

Now here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly: it’s still all about the remote. The press and analysts piled on when the original Google TV products came out, harping on the clunky QWERTY keyboards that were built into the remote. This generation is better, in that the remote has a touchpad to make mouse-like cursor control easier. The bad is that when you flip the remote over, there is the backlit QWERTY keyboard staring back at you. And the ugly is that no matter how you slice it, any remote that is large enough to hold a full keyboard is going to awkwardly large. I am reconciled to the fact that accessing streaming video on the Internet inevitably requires some text entry at some point, but I’m not convinced that having the keyboard with you at all times is necessarily the right answer.

I don’t know what the right answer is; it probably involves some combination of speech recognition, gesture or motion control, a keyboard, and a lot of intelligence the device to make good judgments about what I’m trying to find. But I’m encouraged that Google TV has lived to see another revision, and I expect that consumer interest in the platform will grow when these Sony products ship this summer.