Will Google TV elevate the couch potato?

The interactive side of Google TV products from Sony and Logitech is Android running on top of Intel silicon. Will consumers buy into the TV-plus-PC this time?

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

Google TV products from Sony and Logitech pack a potent brew of software and hardware that could animate even the most inveterate couch potatoes. But will they sit up and take notice?

A TV? A computer? The Intel and Android logos on this Sony Internet TV Web page imply computer, not TV necessarily.
A TV? A computer? The Intel and Android logos on this Sony Internet TV Web page imply computer, not TV necessarily. Sony

TVs are quickly on the way to becoming hybrids that can switch freely between passive TV and PC-like interactive modes, according to Intel. Will consumers finally begin to lean forward more and lean back less? After all, this has been tried before.

"The reason we feel very confident this time around is it's less of a leap now because consumers are used to consuming Internet content," Wilfred Martis, general manager of Intel's Retail Consumer Electronics business, said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Intel is a key player in the Sony Internet TV and Logitech Revue set-top box, which was introduced yesterday, because it supplies the Atom CE4100 processor that powers the interactive side of the Google TV platform. And this is no ordinary Atom. It squeezes a lot of processing into a tiny system-on-a-chip.

"The CE 4100 combines dual 1080p video decoders, dual audio DSPs (digital signal processors), 3D graphics, display processing, and security infrastructure," said Martis. "That allows you to consume broadcast or Blu-ray content as well as all the content and applications on the Internet."

All very convincing on paper but some consumers, at least, may have beaten Google TV to the punch. Many people already use their laptop or smartphone while watching TV. And being connected to the Web on a separate device like a laptop doesn't interrupt what's being viewed on the TV screen. Martis points out, however, that viewers can use their phone to interact with a Google TV and that may tempt a number of consumers to defer to the TV for interactivity.

Intel's CE4100 crams a lot of functionality into a system-on-a-chip.
Intel's CE4100 crams a lot of functionality into a system-on-a-chip. Intel

Or, that is, defer to the computer inside the TV. When Martis describes what the processor is doing it sounds eerily like a PC or tablet. "When you're in interactive mode, the Atom processor is handling the Android stack as well as the Google Chrome browser with a Flash plug-in in some cases," he said.

And why stop at Facebook updates or fact checking. Intel is closely watching another potential hot spot: gaming.

"If gaming becomes a killer app on these smart TV products, we'll look seriously at beefing up our graphics solutions," he said. Currently, the CE4100 uses graphics technology from Imagination Technologies. "We have alternate paths that we're exploring internally."

Intel will also bring out dual-core Atom processors and widen the data paths inside the chip in the future to address what it expects to be an explosion in Android applications for the Google TV.

"We're beefing up our interconnect speed inside the chip because at some point you'll be bringing in 1080p video, you'll be decoding another 1080p stream, you'll be generating 1080p graphics at the same time, then 3D. Imagine all of those workloads kicking in at the same time and the consumer is playing a game on top of it. It requires a lot of processing power, a lot of graphics, a lot of internal interconnect speeds, and high memory bandwidth," he said.