Google TV versus Boxee

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First up for your viewing pleasure is Google TV. Much noise was made (largely by Google, it must be said) when the new ‘biggest thing to ever happen to television’ was released on an unsuspecting and largely uninterested public. It doesn’t seem to have exploded, supernova-style, as other Google products have, but there may well be a long settling-in period, and Google certainly has the financial resources to play the waiting game.

The upside of Google TV will be that it’s designed to be “…a platform that combines your current TV programming and the open web into a single, seamless entertainment experience.” The downside appears to be more tangible and less like a sales pitch – three months after the launch, there still seem to be very few companies committed to making products to support the technology. At the time of writing, only Sony and Logitech had any hardware available, although more big-name companies intend to show off their new Google TV kit in the many spring 2011 trade shows.

Using only a single high-definition (HDMI) connection – which is mandatory – or a TV with built-in Google TV hardware, you’ll be able to watch programs from around the world, and search global TV schedules for that unmissable soap opera from Guatemala. You’ll be able to access online video, thanks to the Android operating system (Google’s own) and the Chrome Internet browser (also Google’s). If you’re bored with the 10,000-plus hours of programming schedules at your fingertips, you could perhaps search the web, rent a movie from one of the major online providers – streamed directly to you, check your local weather without waiting for a forecast and even make an HD video call to your mum – while watching football.

Sadly, for a hardened geek such as myself, I can’t really see it making a very big noise when it launches here in Europe “sometime in 2011.” Google TV is what is known as an ‘Internet appliance,’ a multi-function device that appears to be all things to all people. The big question remains; is this what the public wants from their TV?

Unfortunately, some TV networks aren’t happy about Google hijacking their content and many of the big names in the US (NBC, ABC, CBS) have actively prevented Google TV users from accessing their online full shows. Many of the subscriptions also seem to be paid, so in addition to coughing up for the hardware, you’re going to need to spend more money subscribing to channels, video-on-demand stores and the like.

Even from an entirely pragmatic viewpoint, I can’t see this being a winner with everyone. If you buy the box, you’ll then have to hook it up, virtually or actually to your cable, satellite, wi-fi  and possibly audio kit. In addition to that, your telly would now have a keyboard and possibly even a camera. For those people that aren’t inveterate knob-twiddlers, it could be several steps too far. I could be wrong – Google has revolutionized or stamped its mark on so much of what we do online now, the next logical step would be to corner the market in the other thing that captures the attention of 90 per cent of the population.

Boxy But Beautiful?
Somewhat easier to cope with is the unattractively named and well, let’s say ‘interesting’ looking, Boxee Box. For those that just don’t want to mess around with the mechanics of getting thousands of hours of telly onto their PC, the Boxee is a great alternative. The process behind it is similar to the illegal P2P or peer-to-peer TV networks, but the Boxee relies on free-to-air programmes and is considerably more stable. Backed by the Boxee company (well known to geeks for a while now) and with hardware made by the industry giant D-Link, this is essentially free global telly. All you need do is search for something and if it’s available anywhere online, Boxee will suck it up and squirt it out into your TV.

Naturally, you’ll need to connect it to your wi-fi , but that’s pretty much all you’ll need to do. Once connected, you can enjoy not only free TV, but also free movies, music videos and music. It will browse photos on Flickr, Pandora and many other photo storage services, and even has a feature where you can recommend what you see to a friend via your favourite online service – Facebook, Twitter and the like – and all this without a browser in sight. There’s going to be trouble in my house soon – I think I may have just talked myself into buying one.