Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sony Google TV Blu-ray Player Hands On

I stopped by my local Sony Style store yesterday to checkout the Google TV products.  I am pretty excited for Google TV so I was expecting their store display units to be packed with people, they were not.  I was happy about that though since I wanted to spend some serious time with Sony's Blu-ray Google TV player.

For those unaware of what Google TV is, click on this link for some information and videos from Google.


The unit was a lot bigger then I was expecting.  While not as tall as a PS3, the footprint looked bigger to me.  It is a nice looking piece of hardware.  The sides are wrapped in glossy white plastic, and the top is covered with blue reflective plastic.  I know in pictures it looks like the top is black, but in person it has a pretty deep blue tint to it.

 The front of the box has a USB port, a power/eject button, and a connect button which is used to reconnect the remote as far as I can tell.  The back has your standard ports that you would expect.  Two HDMIs (one in, one out), optical out for audio, ethernet, IR blaster, and three USB ports.  The large fan that other sites have talked about is there.  You  have to remember though this is closer to a home theater PC than it is a blu-ray player.  It also has WiFi built in.

The much talked about remote was actually a lot more comfortable then I would have thought.  In a bit of irony it actually feels like an xbox 360 controller, just much lighter.  While the remote is comfortable to hold, it's an absolute mess to use.  While the QWERTY keyboard isn't so bad, its still hard to type something without looking down at the pad.  There are way to many buttons on it, and its hard to understand what they all do.  You spend most of your time in the dark grey area using the two directional pads.  The left pad is your standard four way directional pad with an ok button to select things in the middle.  The right pad is actually an optical touch pad.  Around the touch pad are your standard android buttons with the exception of search; this has been replaced with the Dual View toggle, more on that later.

The touch pas was responsive, but something i was surprised by is you use this to navigate almost everything.  The left directional pad doesn't really do much.  When using the touch pad, the screen doesn't not scroll automatically when you reach a screen edge.  You actually have to hold down the scroll button on the top of the controller to enable scroll.  I think this was a smart design decision given the frustration users might have when trying to select something near an edge.  The only other thing I found odd was the placement of the search button.  For a product that is based on a Google platform and has search as one of its main features you would think the search button would be front and center.  Instead, it is at the bottom of the controller next to the space bar.


I didn't capture any pics of the software because I think you can can a good idea of the look and feel of the interface on Google's site.  Instead I will just give you my impressions of the software.  I thought the performance of the box was pretty good.  I wouldn't call it snappy, but I would say it is on par with the PS3 XMB.  The only real difference between the TV with Google TV and the blu-ray player is the extra app added to watch blu-ray movies.  All the built in apps work just like you would expect.  Chrome is just like chrome on the any PC or mac.  Netflix looks and works like it does on all the other platforms it is on.  The apps really do have an android feel to them, which is expected given that Google TV is built on android.

The search feature is very helpful.  I tried generic search terms and got back what I was expecting.  For example I searched football and got back all the current college games that were on DirectTV along with the NFL channel.  The only problem I had was that I couldn't get any HD channels to return back.  Though this is most likely do to how the store had DirectTV setup and not the box's fault.   I should note  though that I did have trouble getting back to live TV.  It is easy to launch into the Google TV menu, but it was pretty hard to return back to live TV.  I couldn't get the back button to do it and for some reason the live TV button didn't work all of the time for me.

The only other issue I had was getting the Dual View to work.  Dual view is supposed to allow the user to view the Google TV software and live TV in picture-in-picture, but I kept getting an error on the blu-ray box.  It seemed to work fine on the TV sets, but every time I tried pressing the Dual View button on the remote I got an error.  I tried this on two different boxes and got the same error on both.


I walked into to store pretty excited about GoogleTV.  I left the store more excited about the future of the platform then its current state.  I think once they open the platform up to app developers and once Google works out issues with network TV and Hulu then it could really take off.  But at $399.00 its a bit hard to suggest given that it is basically a standard blu-ray player with some added software enhancements.  Sony will either have to lower the price, or Google will have to update the platform more to make it worth it.

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