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Google on the box

01 Jul 2010

The convergence of the internet and television has drawn ever closer (at least in the US) with the pending launch of Google TV.

Google has partnered with Intel, Sony and Logitech to build a set-top box based on the Android platform. Users can find the TV shows they want that are available online, and watch them in television size instead of squinting at their computer monitor. Google TV will feature a version of the Chrome browser developed specifically for surfing the web, meaning they can also enjoy the likes of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other similar sites through their TV set. The viewer will be able to have a TV show playing on a small corner screen while using the rest of the screen for surfing, email, etc. Google TV will also be able to programme a video recorder.

How the user will work Google TV isn’t yet clear; it may require a full-size keyboard, it may have a remote control that includes a keyboard, or even a voice-activated search application operating through an Android smartphone.

The Google TV software will be open source, allowing development of extra applications. It will include Adobe Flash, so in theory it should play any online video. The partnerships indicate that Sony is likely to start producing TV sets with Google TV built in, and that Logitech will come up with a snazzy remote control.

Google is not known for taking business risks, and on initial analysis, Google TV looks to be a healthy prospect. There are currently more than 130 million Americans watching video online, averaging about three hours a month at home or at work. Faster broadband connections, the comparatively high cost of cable TV in the US, and the desire to watch ‘timeshifted’ TV (ie: at a time suitable to the viewer) are driving increasing numbers of Americans to web-based television.

How this is going to earn money for Google has yet to be announced in detail. Large media companies like Fox are sure to want some kind of payment for allowing Google TV to access their content. A likely scenario is a mix of free-to-view content supported by ads, with a premium for special content or ad-free viewing.

The price for the Google TV box has still to be announced, but to be competitive it’ll have to be around $US200. US launch is probably set for September/October. See www.google.com/tv for more.

Will we ever see it here? Google’s local PR firm says nothing is planned outside the US yet. The uptake of online TV here is bound to increase with the switch to digital-only broadcasting – and that could be another five years away.