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Google TV and the Battle for the Living Room

Google TV is a different proposition because the idea is to build what amounts to an Intel Atom-powered netbook into a TV set, and most content will be free. So far, it’s limited to a few forthcoming Sony HDTV sets, with Logitech Revue set-top boxes for existing TVs. As with mobile phones running Google’s Linux-based Android operating system, the ultimate aim for Google TV is ubiquity, but prices will have to come down a lot (Revue is $299) for that to happen.

Logitech's Revue box is the first Google TV effort.

There are three basic ideas to Google TV. The first is to make existing TV much easier to search, in the sense that you’ll do much less browsing through electronic programme guides. The second is to bring internet video services such as Google’s YouTube to the TV screen. The third is to provide access to some sort of Android marketplace, making phone-style apps and games available on a bigger screen. Whether or not Google TV will take off remains to be seen, but Google boss Eric Schmidt sees personalised internet TV eventually displacing scheduled broadcast TV.

There are, of course, several arguments against that. I can’t see broadcast TV being replaced as a way of watching live sports, especially in HD, because the internet isn’t big enough or fast enough. Even with multicasting, the internet couldn’t cope with major events like the World Cup finals.

But there’s also the problem with the "One screen to rule them all" idea, because families no longer spend all their time in the living room in front of their one big TV screen. Often they are in different rooms using different screens, including laptops. Even if they’re all watching TV, it’s usually by different means – iPlayer, DVD box sets, BitTorrent downloads, and so on.

I can guarantee that once people have broken free of the schedules and can watch what they want whenever they want, they aren’t all going to want the same things. It was worth owning the living room in the 1950s, when they did, but times have changed.

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