The Logitech Revue with Google TV is loaded with potentially game-changing functionality, but its high price, numerous caveats, and current assortment of bugs makes it best-suited to early adopters--at least until promised firmware fixes become available.
Logitech Revue (Google TV)
When we first saw the Logitech Revue demos, we were sold on the idea of a single set-top box that could search all our content sources--online or offline--and control our home theater components. Now that we've had our hands on a unit for nearly a week, we still love the concept, and the Revue has an undeniable amount of potential, but it's hard to give it an unqualified recommendation with all of its current issues and caveats.
As of press time, major content providers such as Hulu, CBS, and ABC are all blocking Google TV devices from streaming video content. Google TV's omnipresent search bar is an excellent way to find content across so many different online video sources, but it currently doesn't search titles available through Netflix, arguably the most important. There aren't many apps, and the existing Netflix app is about two generations behind those for competitors such as Roku and Sony's PS3.
Google's vision for complete unfettered access to the Web in the living room is powerful, and Logitech's Revue impressively well-thought-out for a debut product, but ultimately the software needs more polish and more content deals to compete with increasingly mature competitors like Apple TV, Roku XDS and even the PS3 Slim.
The Revue set-top box doesn't approach the impossibly small standards of the Apple TV, but it's still smaller than, say, a cable DVR or Blu-ray player. The box feels very light, weighing only 1.32 pounds, and has rounded corners with the case tapering down toward the bottom. Like many modern set-top boxes, the Logitech Revue doesn't have any buttons on the front, with only two buttons on the back for power and Bluetooth pairing.
Around the back are the inputs/outputs, including an HDMI output and input, two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, optical digital audio output and a couple IR blast ports. The HDMI input is used for connecting your cable/satellite box, which the Revue can control via its built-in IR emitters. (Alas, anyone with an older, non-HD TV that lacks an HDMI input won't be able to use the Logitech Revue.) There's also built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi if you don't have Ethernet in your living room.
Along with the full-size keyboard, there's also a touch pad in the upper right, and below that is a directional pad with Android-based keys such as back and home, plus picture-in-picture and favorite buttons. It's annoying that by default there's no tap-to-click functionality on the keypad, although it can be enabled by a series of keystrokes. For such a basic feature, we can't imagine why it's not on by default or why it requires a complex key presses rather than making a change in the settings menus.
The main home menu looks modern and feels responsive. Press the home button at any time and the menu will overlay whatever content you're watching. That means it takes just seconds to go from watching live TV to browsing YouTube, then jumping back again.
That being said, the interface certainly leans toward the tech-savvy in its layout. Whereas the Apple TV's main menus use simple phrases like "Movies" and "TV Shows," Google TV's interface has less-straightforward phrases like "Applications," "Bookmarks," and "Spotlight." Google TV is greatly customizable and you can make the "Bookmarks" section show all your favorite content, but it's not something that tech novices can jump right into.
We were also disappointed to see that Google TV's Netflix interface is still the first-gen interface we saw on the original Roku Netflix Player. That means there's no search functionality or the ability to see movies that aren't in your instant queue. There's really no excuse for that, with much better alternatives available on devices like the new Roku XDS, PS3, Xbox 360, and Apple TV.
Along the same lines, the Google TV software has some powerful options for the tech-savvy. For example, if you're watching live TV, you can hit the picture-in-picture button to minimize the TV to a small window, while you surf the Web in Chrome in the main window--it's really slick. Android users will also feel right at home with the home, back, and menu buttons, which make it easy to jump between functions from any screen. Once you get the hang of it, Google TV and Logitech's wireless keyboard make for powerful surfing experience, but there's no denying it caters to the power-user.
Press the dedicated search button on the keyboard and the search bar pops up at the top of the screen, regardless of whether you're using the Chrome browser, streaming Netflix or watching live TV. The idea behind Google TV's search is that it combs through streaming video, the Web, and regular TV to find the programming you're looking for. It's really the perfect solution to the problem of finding content spread out among many sources. Except when it doesn't work.
To start off, the Google search bar doesn't search Netflix, which is a significant oversight considering it's probably the most important service on the box. Excluding the Netflix omission, we also found search results to be occasionally inaccurate. When we searched for "Colbert Report" on October 26, the Google TV series results page didn't show that the October 25 episode was available, even though it was available directly from Comedy Central's site. Instead, we tried loading the next most recent episode--October 14--and Google TV loaded the October 25 show it said wasn't available. So then we tried the October 13 episode, and the correct episode was loaded, but we noticed Google TV's programming data was wrong. (The guest was Austan Goolsbee, not Arturo Rodriguez.) And we had similar problems with "The Daily Show." And although it said free Web streams were available for "South Park," when we clicked through we encountered a message that said it couldn't that particular episode until mid-November.
One of the standout features of Google TV is the built-in Chrome browser. There's support for both HTML5 and Flash 10.2, which means you're technically capable of accessing nearly any video source you can find on the Web.
The emphasis is on "technically," though. The reality, as mentioned before, is that many content providers, such as ABC, CBS, and Hulu, are currently blocking Google TV devices from streaming video from their sites. (Even the workaround hacks aren't working anymore.) The main issue is that major content providers don't mind people watching these videos for free on a computer, but don't like the idea of the same content showing up in the living room. The apparent reasons: Web advertising still doesn't pay nearly as much as traditional TV advertising, and--unlike cable and satellite companies--Web video currently doesn't offer any affiliate fees (read: revenue) for TV content providers.
If you don't have a Dish Network DVR, Google TV's cable/satellite box integration is pretty disappointing. When you search for TV content, Google will find it, but can't set your DVR to record it. All it can do it bring up the guide and you're forced to find and record the show on your own, like you would without a Google TV. The same thing goes for setting Season Passes. Yes, it's nice to be able to find the program quickly, but it's a huge letdown from what you expect it to do. Google says it is working with other cable/satellite providers to provide further integration, but there are no guarantees as to when or if it will actually happen.
Additionally, we did run into an occasional bug with Flash video where diagonal pink stripes would overlay on the screen. The stripes stuck around on video even if we switched applications and could only be removed by restarting the Revue. Normally we'd let a rare error like that slide, but we saw it more than once during our testing period.
One thing we weren't expecting was an HDMI cable included in the box. Despite HDMI cables being cheap and necessary for home video devices, few manufacturers include one in the box, so we applaud Logitech for tossing in a cable.