Considering it supposedly represents the future of AV, there isn’t much to Sony’s NSZ-GS7 Google TV box. Having finally - after a series of firmware update-related delays - got one perched on our test benches, we can’t help but be struck by just how small it is by AV standards; roughly the size of a standard paperback novel.
It’s also light thanks to its extensive use of apparently inexpensive plastic, and while it’s certainly not ugly in its glossy black finish and textured top panel, it’s also hardly a design classic.
More clues to its cutting edge nature are found on its rear, with its connections. Alongside a pair of multimedia-savvy USBs you get two HDMIs, one in, and one out, so that the Google TV box’s services can ‘piggy back’ on top of the HDMI streams from another AV source - most likely a Sky box or Freeview/Freesat receiver. This facility for ‘overlaying’ the Google TV functionality over a normal TV feed is key to its idea of integrating internet and Android features with your normal telly viewing experience.
After all, as well as making it more likely you’ll actually use the Google TV functionality, putting it on the same AV input as your external TV source potentially enables ‘enhanced’ TV viewing. For instance, you could Tweet or get extra information about something you’re watching on TV without having to turn to a secondary device such as a tablet computer or smartphone.
Given that recent research shows that around 45 per cent of tablet owners use these devices at the same time as they’re watching TV, it’s easy to see the potential appeal of Google TV’s ‘overlaying’ approach.
And yet we still have our doubts before actually starting to use it about the commercial viability of Sony’s Google TV box. For starters, we can’t help but think that most people would rather not clutter their TV picture up with a Twitter feed box or Internet feed when they can use their separate personal smart devices to ‘multitask’, especially as other family members are likely to be watching the TV screen as well.
Another concern is that Smart, online functionality is now already built in to a great many new TVs. So if you have or intend to get a Smart TV, is there any point adding the clutter of an external Google TV box? Especially when that box costs the best part of £200?
Next there’s the simple argument of whether people really want open Internet functionality as potentially extensive and sophisticated as that offered by Google TV on their TV. Plenty of research has been done suggesting that a streamlined, ‘ring-fenced’ interface is deemed preferable by most TV users to an open approach.
Of course, though, Sony and Google are both fully aware of all these arguments, and have been working hard to counter them. So it becomes clear the moment you start to use the Android-based (it uses a version of the Honeycomb OS that’s been optimised for HD TVs) Google TV device that lots of time and effort has been ploughed into making the latest Google TV service a much more intuitive and useful addition to your TV life than a basic web browser. Particularly noteworthy are the large, colourful icon-driven interfaces, and a startling two-sided remote control.
Easy to set up
We’ll talk much more about this remote presently, but first we should stress that the Google TV box isn’t difficult to set up considering how much it’s got going on, thanks to an initial guide that holds your hand through all the potential pitfalls. The process is quite time consuming, though, especially if you need to set up a Google Mail account.
The only area that felt a bit clunky was the set up of the IR extender that ships with the Google TV box. In particular, we struggled to track down our Sky HD box on the long list of receiver options until we twigged that you have to search for it under BSkyB rather than Sky...
It’s also worth adding here that we opted not to make the Google TV remote capable of operating our TV and AV receiver, even though the option for this is there. Why? Because frankly using the remote just for doing all the Google TV stuff is complicated enough without adding the demands of two further products to it.