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I just found out that I am one of a lucky few (if you consider 10,000 to be a few) developers to receive a free Logitech Revue Companion Box with Google TV and Keyboard Controller. Google TV is an interesting mix of different technologies, and Logitech’s device looks sleek. I’m thrilled to have won this and I’m psyched to check it out, but I’m still unsure about the whole thing.

Internet TV, as a concept, is solid.  TVs, especially in the HD age, are really just large computer monitors.  There’s no reason why we can’t throw the content that makes us drooling morons in our office chairs (read: pictures of cats, videos of people getting hit in the crotch) onto the device that makes us drooling morons in our living rooms.  The web is just another big source of entertainment, right?  Internet TV should just be like adding 50,000,000,000 channels to your on-screen channel guide (though, most of those are undoubtedly porn [which is probably the main use of internet TV, now that I think about it]).

Of course, we know this isn’t the case.  In fact, I’ve been able to browse the web on my TV for years (since the minute I set up my PS3), but I’ve probably spent a total of 5 minutes browsing the web that way.  There’s too many stumbling blocks.

  • I need to be using my PS3
  • Sites look like crap  and JavaScript and Flash support are iffy at best (Sony really dropped the ball on their browser, which is some proprietary bit of junk which it seems like they’ve never updated)
  • Input methods stink (Ever try typing on a virtual keyboard using a game controller?  You can connect a keyboard/mouse, but then you have to sit a cord length away from the PS3.  I eventually bought a wireless keyboard, but its hidden away somewhere out of sight and now I always forget to turn it on before I want to use the internet.)

Google TV seems to have addressed most of these concerns.

  • The device is integrated with your normal TV-watching technology.  That is, it works in conjunction with your cable or satellite box.
  • The browser is a version of Google Chrome (my browser of choice on the desktop) with excellent support for advanced web techniques (Flash, JavaScript and a bunch of HTML5 features)
  • Logitech’s out-of-the-box solution is a wireless keyboard/remote which isn’t as big or ugly as my old wireless PC keyboard, so it may stay out in the open. Of course, the even better solution is the Logitech Harmony iPhone app which will let me control the whole thing from my phone.

So, my main complaints with the TV web browsing experience are addressed, but there is another major obstacle before we can proclaim TV and Web happily married.  The way we watch TV is very different from the way we “watch” the web.  TV is something you turn on, and then generally don’t interact with for about 30 minutes (at least).  There is no web site on the whole of the internet that could keep you engrossed for 30 minutes without interaction.  Of course, with more sophisticated controls (smartphone / keyboard / Xbox Kinect) may come easier interaction, and a more seamless experience and sites like YouTubeXL and Google Reader Play have tried to minimize the ratio of interaction to entertainment (unsurprisingly both Google enterprises).

The biggest obstacle of a good Web experience on a TV is the Web design itself.  TVs sit 10 feet or more away from the viewers, whereas computer screens are less than 3 feet away.  Designs that work well at one distance might not (likely will not) work at the other.  However, this is something that web designers will need to become increasingly familiar with.  The number and variety of web-enabled devices is huge and growing rapidly.  We have smartphones, tablets, e-Readers, televisions, gaming consoles, not to mention the tons of different computer monitor resolutions.

And of course, that brings us to the reason I won this device.  Google wants as many developers and web geeks out there playing with this stuff so they can have it in mind when they create apps and sites.  I’m cautiously optimistic that their plan will work.  I’d love to come up with an app that works well from the sofa.  Any ideas?