Google, coming to a TV near you

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Google, coming to a TV near you

Logitech has launched the first Google TV device in the US. It's called the Revue, and while we won’t see anything like this in Australia for another few months at least (if at all), it marks a new era of smartphone-like functionality for TVs and other living room appliances.

It’s not the device so much as the operating system that’s got us all hot under the collar – although the Revue is pretty cool-looking with its gloss black enclosure and matching TV-optimised keyboard. The new Google TV operating system can be run on TVs, set top boxes and other peripherals that plug into the TV, and thus far Logitech and Sony have announced a ‘companion box’ and ‘smart TV’ respectively, the former of which can be pre-ordered in the US now for $US299.

If you’ve used any of the latest premium HDTVs, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. LCDs, plasmas, DVD players and Blu-ray players from the likes of Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG have all come with web-connected content for the past couple of years, offering features like YouTube streaming, weather widgets and RSS feeds.

But Google TV is another kettle of fish entirely. Rather than having a fixed selection of widgets that provide tiny chunks of Internet content – which has been the approach used by the major television vendors to date – Google TV is an open-source platform that can run on any device, providing full access to the Internet via the Chrome Web browser. It takes advantage of Google’s search technology to trawl through Internet video, free-to-air and cable programming, locally-stored content and other information sources to find the content that you’re looking for, and it supports downloadable apps that have been specifically developed for Google TV.

The latter capability is what we’re most excited about, as it enables the TV to be expanded to support functions that haven’t even been thought of yet. Just think – functions like augmented reality, voice and visual search engines and barcode scanners would’ve seemed like the stuff of science fiction a couple of years ago, and yet these types of apps are now considered standard for smartphones.

Some of the cool features that have been announced so far include the ability to use your smartphone as a remote control, a ‘Fling’ feature that lets you transfer whatever you’re reading, listening to or watching on your smartphone to the TV, and a picture-in-picture mode for browsing the web and watching movies simultaneously. The full roster of announced features can be found on the official Google TV website.

The Google TV devices announced for the US will ship with pre-loaded apps including Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Napster and Pandora. From next year, a software development kit for Google TV will enable developers to create and sell Android apps through Android Market.

So where does that leave tech-savvy coach potatoes in Australia? At Google’s I/O Developer Conference earlier this year, the Google TV product manager, Rishi Chandra, said that Google would only be launching this in the US in 2010, but it would move to international markets in 2011. Whether this includes Australia is yet to be confirmed, and we’re waiting on Google’s local PR reps to clarify local availability.

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