Sony's Google TV set-top box: First impressions

Sony's Google TV set-top box: First impressions

LAS VEGAS -- While Google TV hasn't been a big hit so far, Sony this week gave the platform a boost when it announced that Google's technology would power its upcoming Network Media Player set-top box.

So what has Sony done to make the Google TV platform more attractive to the masses? The big thing is making navigation through the Google TV interface a lot more like navigating on a PC with a touchpad remote control that features basic television controls on one side (i.e., channel control, volume, DVR, etc.) and a full qwerty keyboard on the other side. What makes the keyboard particularly useful is that it only operates if the remote control is facing upward, so you won't run the risk of typing something in while you're trying to record on DVR. At the very least, the new remote is a big improvement from a previous Sony model that both lacked a touchpad and tried to cram all of its buttons onto one side.

BACKGROUND: Google TV gets updated with simpler interface, app dev tools

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The keyboard side of the controller also benefits from having a quick search key that essentially acts as a universal search button that brings up results from sources such as Google, Wikipedia and YouTube. So if you do a quick search for your favorite actor on the remote, you'll be given a wide array of different resources to learn more about him, as well as an option to search all of the television shows, movies and music videos that he may have appeared in. Google TV's search capabilities also let you grab both paid and free content off the Web wherever you can find it, such as Hulu, Amazon, Netflix or YouTube.

The latest Google TV interface, which was first released last year, is also a definite improvement over the original edition that the company released in 2010. Instead of cluttering the entire television screen, the Google TV interface has basically been reduced to a bar at the bottom of the screen. From here you can access your standard applications such as Netflix, YouTube and Google Chrome, as well as the newly added version of the Android Market that contains Android apps designed specifically for your television.

As you might expect, the app selection for Google TV is still somewhat limited and apps for stations such as CNN, Fox News, etc. can seem a little redundant since you likely have access to those stations already. The games are also somewhat limited, although the new Sony remote control helps things out a bit as it can function as a steering wheel for driving games and its touchpad provides much more control over games than other remotes.

The bottom line: Although I wouldn't describe Sony's Network Media Player as a must-have, it does show some real improvements that can be built upon for future releases. Google, Microsoft, Apple and assorted television vendors are all trying to piece together how to make the television a fully connected and interactive device along the lines of PCs, smartphones and tablets. Sony's contribution to this puzzle is definitely a step in the right direction.

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