Let’s not forget, either, that most Smart TVs also have built-in Web browsers these days. And actually our extensive experience of using Smart TVs underlines the problems with the Google TV box, as we’ve routinely found that we hardly touch the web browsers TVs carry, preferring to use the integrated Smart TV apps for the vast majority of our multimedia needs.
Not an experience for sharing
It also has to be said that attempting to use the Google TV box in a normal family environment underlined to us just how Web browsing continues to feel like a quintessentially personal experience rather than something that other household members want to share with you.
There are, happily, a few things that Google TV gets right. A boon if you’re by yourself is the box’s picture in picture facility, allowing you to continue watching live TV while you browse the Web. This is only really useful if you’re by yourself, however, as other family members tend to not be happy with watching a tiny TV picture while you surf.
The stability and quality of the Google TV video streaming is mostly strong too, proving the worth of the surprisingly high-level Marvell Armada 1500 video processor tucked away inside the svelte bodywork.
The key integrated apps you get, such as Netflix, YouTube and Sony’s Video and Music Unlimited platforms, are as attractive and easy to use as the versions on Sony’s Smart TVs, too.
The YouTube app in particular gives a tantalising glimpse at just what might be possible with Google TV if app developers really put the effort in. We can’t help but feel that this is a big ‘if’, however, with more popular Smart TV approaches already available for developers to work with. In fact, given how long the Google TV platform has been in development, it’s a real pity there aren’t more specially designed for TV apps already running.
As if to underline this problem, if you head into the Google App store, it promisingly opens with a ‘Featured for TV’ suite of apps. However, precious few of the apps featured at the time of writing really did much for us. For the record, they were Weather Underground, Zynga Poker, Red Karaoke for Google, Plex for Google TV (this one being the most useful but also carrying a 62p charge), Aquarium for Google, the aVia Media Player, something called Able Remote for Google, and the CNBC Real Time Google app.
If anything this supposedly TV-centric cluster of Store apps simply introduces a load of the sort of pointless apps we definitely do not want our TV cluttered up with.
We guess it could be argued that anyone wanting an Android-like, app-based experience on their TV will know beforehand that they’ll have to find their way through mountains of app crap to get to anything useful. But our feeling is that if this already feels a bit tedious on a phone or tablet computer, it feels ten times as irritating - as well as being out of place - on a TV.
If you want to introduce online functionality to an old, non-Smart TV, then we guess you could consider the Google TV box. If you do though, be prepared for a very steep learning curve, not to mention an awful lot of frustrations created by the combination of the complex remote control and the vagaries of trying to use mostly open Internet content in a TV environment.
If you do have a Smart TV already, there seems no compelling reason at all to get a Google TV box. The lure of the open Internet, which ultimately transpires to be the Sony Google TV’s main attraction, turns out to be something of a white elephant when compared with the convenience of using apps specially designed - like those on integrated Smart TV interfaces - for use within a TV operating system.
Overall, the more we tried to use the Google TV box, the more irritated we became by not just its practical issues but also its philosophical ones. Ultimately we came away from our tests feeling that the whole concept of having open Internet flexibility on your TV - via an external box, especially - feels out of place, oddly irrelevant, and most unexpectedly of all, already out of date.