Free 'Conan' on Google TV: It works, with quirks

Many major networks are blocking Google TV from streaming content, but so far TBS is allowing Conan's new show to stream on TeamCoCo.com.

Google TV owners can stream "Conan" for free, as long as they can tolerate the quirks. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

As both a longtime Conan fan and cable-cutter, 2010's late night debacle was a double-whammy for me. Not only did Conan lose his 11:30 p.m. "Tonight Show" slot after just eight months, but he moved to basic cable, which meant I couldn't watch his new show with my over-the-air TV antenna.

Luckily, Conan's return to late night coincided with the rollout of Google TV, which is designed to do exactly what I need: let me watch the free full-episode streams of "Conan" from TeamCoco.com on my home theater HDTV. Yes, I could connect my laptop to my TV via HDMI every time I wanted to watch "Conan", but it's a bit of a hassle compared with a dedicated streaming-video box.

Using the Logitech Revue with Google TV at home, I've been able to watch the first two episode so far (they go online the morning after they air) and for the most part the experience is positive, although it's a step-down from watching on cable.

Google TV's search doesn't find "Conan" online yet. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

The first surprise is that the new show doesn't show up in Google TV's search bar. You'd think it would be impossible for anyone not to know about Conan's new show given TBS's near-constant promotion, but Google TV's search bar has no idea "Conan" exists. The search brings up several unhelpful results and Conan fans won't be amused to see "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" still listed. ("Conan" on TBS will show up in search if you have cable/satellite service, although it doesn't have a dedicated Google TV series page yet and it's not aware of the online presence.)

Commercial breaks for online streams are at the same points they'd be for cable customers, but online viewers are treated to only a single 30-second commercial. I don't mind the commercials themselves, but every time a commercial plays, Google TV switches out of full-screen mode, so you need to click the full-screen button after each commercial. It's an annoyance, but since you're already wasting time watching a commercial (they are unskippable), I didn't find it too troublesome.

While closeup shots like this can look quite good, long-range shots fared much worse. (Click for larger image.) TBS

Image quality of the streaming video from "Conan" on my 50-inch plasma ranged from bad to acceptable. That's to be expected, since the streams are optimized for people watching on a computer monitor, rather than more specialized services like Netflix and Amazon VOD, which expect you to watch on a big screen TV. It's also dependent on your home network and broadband connection. (There's no indicator for stream quality, unfortunately.) In general, we found the picture quality fared the worst during any kind of long-range shots (like a pan of the audience), where there were lots of blocky compression artifacts. The best-looking shots were during the close-up desk segments, but videophiles will still notice the soft image and less blatant video compression issues. It's a compromise, but one I'm willing to make to avoid a pricey cable bill.

Overall, catching "Conan" on Google TV is certainly workable for cable-cutters willing to put up with the quirks. But before you run out to buy a Logitech Revue to get your CoCo fix, remember that TBS could follow in the footsteps of major networks at any time and block Google TV from streaming episodes. In fact, TBS's TV-optimized Web site, promoted by Google TV in the "spotlight" section, shows only clips of "Conan," indicating that TBS might not want you to stream full episodes to your TV. If TBS offered an online-only subscription of "Conan" with better image quality, I'd definitely sign up, but until then I'll be taking advantage of free streaming to my TV as long as its available.

 

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