If you can figure out how to use Google's new video interface gadget, you can expect to have some fun
The Logitech Revue, the new Google (GOOG) TV gadget, should carry a warning label: "Not intended for normal people." It's a set-top box for those who don't mind stumbling over an occasional "page not found" message on their big-screen television or changing channels with a keyboard. Yes, the $299 Revue's remote control is a full-sized wireless keyboard. It does offer a smaller remote for an additional $129. That has a small keyboard, too.
Understand that Google TV isn't itself a device. It's software that provides a single interface to the video universe and locates shows whether they originate with a cable or satellite provider, paid online services such as those from Netflix and Amazon, or free sites such as YouTube. Besides the Revue, Google TV is built into a line of Sony (SNE) TV models and one of its Blu-ray players. These products are among the growing number of products staking a claim on the future of the living room.
Connecting the Revue is easy: Just plug it into the TV and plug your cable or satellite box into it. It gets trickier when it comes to the 12 steps it takes to configure the Revue, a process that consumes the better part of an hour and requires a good deal of patience. The idea behind Google TV is a good one. Viewers shouldn't have to care where an episode of Entourage comes from. The problem is that the world of video is a wild and woolly place, and Google TV falls short of being able to tame it.
One example: Google TV helped me locate a 2005 episode of South Park on Netflix, but when I tried to play it, I received an error message. It took a call to Logitech to learn that I couldn't actually watch the program from the place Google TV brought me; instead I would have to launch Google TV's separate Netflix app. Of course!
By that point, the average viewer might give up and reach for the good old one-hand remote (particularly those unable to figure out the difference between "bookmarks" and "queue" on the user interface). Yet the undaunted few can actually have some fun. I was able to watch shows on the big screen that I otherwise would have had to watch on a computer.
A search for Stephen Colbert yielded not just recent episodes of The Colbert Report but also a 2006 profile of him on 60 Minutes. Look for Hugh Laurie, and you'll not only find a ton of House listings but also an Amazon (AMZN) link to his Jeeves and Wooster series, and YouTube clips of his turn as the dim-witted prince regent on the old Black Adder britcom. Add to that the ability to surf the Web while your television continues to play in a picture-in-picture window, and you'll be in TV-Web geek heaven. That is, only if you're a TV-Web geek.
The Cable Cabal
A crowd of set-top boxes is jostling for access to HDMI jacks, either to augment the offerings of the Comcasts and DirecTVs, or—eventually—displace them
Does one thing and one thing only: streams what you see on your computer to your TV. But does it very well.
Apple TV ($99)
It's simple, it's elegant, it's Apple (AAPL). Though so far it offers few programming sources outside Steve Jobs' orbit.
TiVo Premiere ($99)
A DVR that replaces your cable box and brings in online content—for $19.99 a month in fees (TIVO).
D-Link Boxee Box ($219)
The box makes TV social: You can suggest and receive recommendations.
Roku Player ($59-$99)
About as simple as you can get, with a growing universe of content. And the most cost-effective, too.