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Smart Home

Google smart displays hit this July with YouTube TV

Google's answer to the Amazon Echo Show will hit store shelves in a couple of months with a few new features.

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The upcoming LG Smart Display can answer your questions and show you your schedule. 

James Martin/CNET

The battle between Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa is about to enter a new category of products: smart displays. Google debuted at CES this January a quartet of smart displays from Lenovo, JBL, LG and Sony and promised them this summer. 

At the Google I/O developer conference on Tuesday, Google shared more details. The smart displays will hit store shelves in July, with a YouTube TV app and a couple of other newly announced features in tow.

Now playing: Watch this: YouTube TV coming to Google smart displays
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What is a smart display? 

Smart displays respond to your voice commands like a Google Home or Amazon Echo smart speaker, but they also have a screen, on which you can watch videos and make video calls. The screen can also show additional information to provide further context to any trivia questions you might ask Google Assistant, or show you a map for driving directions, among other things. The Amazon Echo Show introduced the category to the mainstream last summer.

At CES in January, Google debuted its four-part response. None of the displays actually feature Google's brand like the Google Home, but Google partnered with Lenovo, JBL, LG and Sony to embed Google Assistant in devices with screens. 

I had a chance to see an extended demo of the Lenovo Smart Display at CES, and the screen pulled up a map with directions. It showed footage from a Nest Cam home security camera. Step-by-step cooking directions were another feature: Ask it for more information on any step in a recipe, and the display will pull up a YouTube video with an appropriate demonstration.

YouTube TV

Not only will you be able to watch regular YouTube videos on the displays, Google announced at I/O that each one will have access to YouTube TV -- a live TV streaming service like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. YouTube TV isn't free like the ordinary streaming videos on the site, but pay $40 a month and you'll be able to watch stations like TNT, Cartoon Network, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC on your smart displays.

Google owns YouTube, and it will want to push this integration as far as possible to give its smart displays an advantage over the Echo Show. Google pulled YouTube rights from the Show last fall in an ongoing dispute between the two companies. With YouTube and YouTube TV, you'll certainly be able to watch a lot more video on Google's smart displays, but I'm not sure I'd want to sit down and watch a TV show on one of these small screens.

Visual updates

In addition to YouTube TV, Google introduced customizable ambient screens at I/O and promised support for immersive third-party experiences. The first is a quality of life addition that will let the screen default to a variety of options when it's resting. It can show a clock, the weather, your own photos or pull from Google's library of scenic imagery. 

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The clock is one of your options for the ambient screen. 

James Martin/CNET

The third-party immersive support will help developers create games and experiences that make full use of both the touch and voice capabilities of these devices. At a hands-on demo in Mountain View, California, we saw a choose-your-own-adventure type of game complete with full-screen visuals and lots of sound effects. You play by either talking to your device or tapping your choices.

The screen on the Amazon Echo Show didn't win us over, and Google's smart displays similarly won't function as full Android tablets, which can make the interactivity feel artificially limited. You're meant to view the info on these screens and control them from a medium distance with your voice. 

Perhaps between YouTube TV and whatever Google's community of developers can create, the display part of these smart displays will start to feel more worthwhile by the time they hit store shelves in July. 

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