Guide to Google TV’s Ecosystem [Video]

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At this week’s Google I/O Conference, the company carefully articulated its vision of the world. There’s Apple in one corner, carefully controlling its ecosystem, rejecting Flash, and conjuring images of an Orwellian Big Brother. As the “one man, one company, one device” (Vic Gundotra’s words) becomes more powerful, Google is trying to posit itself as the other choice. The more “open” choice. Whether or not you agree with Google’s goggles, it’s a very smart and well defined message, creating an us vs. them environment and reinforcing the mantra “Don’t be evil.”

This point of “openness” was driven home on Thursday, during the I/O keynote, when Gundotra and Co. unveiled the highly anticipated Google TV project. Unexpectedly (and to great effect), Schmidt took to the stage at the end to introduce Google TV partners, a panel of high power CEOs (Best Buy, Sony, Intel, Dish Network, Logitech, Adobe). Together, those companies represent a market capitalization of roughly $200 billion ($350 B when you add Google).  Their attendance wasn’t really necessary— there was plenty of flash in the presentation (no pun intended)— but it punctuated Google’s message: Google is open, inclusive and powerful and we are definitely not an army of one. Let’s just say, I don’t think it was a coincidence that Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen was seated next to Schmidt.

Obviously, not every Google TV partner relishes the product’s rivalry with Apple TV, or the larger Google vs. Apple battle. Some of the CEOs seem simply convinced that Google TV will revolutionize the way consumers define “TV” and are excited by what it could mean for their bottom line. Regardles, here’s a closer look at the Google TV team and how it operates.

Sony will produce “Sony Internet TVs” and a set top box with a Blu-ray Disc drive. These products will have Google software and Intel technology built-in. The Sony Internet TV is part of the company’s new “Evolving TV” line— internet TVs that can “evolve” with new downloadable applications. This initiative could be the first of many Google-friendly Sony products, the company says they are looking into creating other Android-based “products for the home, mobile and personal product categories.” Release: USA Fall 2010.

Sony and Apple have been rivals for several years (i.e. Connect music store, e-reader, Vaio laptops). The company hopes to compete more aggressively against the iPad maker this year, with plans to expand its online media platform and mobile product line. CEO Howard Stringer sees open technology (like Google TV) as key to its success, in an interview with Nikkei Electronics Asia, he said “If we had gone with open technology from the start, I think we probably would have beaten Apple” (in music). (For more on Stringer, see our quick interview with Sony’s chief. Above.)

Adobe- Google TV will use the Android 2.1 operating system, Chrome browser, and yes, Flash 10.1 (which will be integrated into the Chrome browser). “Flash Player 10.1 will support hardware-accelerated video playback and deliver smooth, HD (1080p) quality video on Google TV devices,” Adobe’s Aditya Bansod said on the company’s official blog. Google TV provides the technical capability to run flash on sites, but it is up to the site to determine whether to enable content.

Adobe’s incentive to work with Google is clear. If you’ve been living in a hole for the last year, try this, or this, or this, or this.

Logitech will make set-top boxes, for user who want to use Google TV with other televisions. The Logitech’s set-top boxes will connect  your TV through an HDMI port and a controller (which includes keyboard capabilities). According to reports, it will include 4 GB memory and Dolby 5.1 surround sound. “We’ll be making a variety of options available right away, including video calling and a variety of controllers – even a Logitech smart-phone app — and even more stuff we can’t talk about,” Logitech says on its site. To make the product work, you’ll need a TV with an HDMI input and a broadband internet connection. And “To take full advantage of the content search, you’ll need a satellite or cable set-top box with an HDMI output as well,” according to Logitech. At some point down the line, Logitech also plans to roll out a companion HDTV camera to enable video chat. Release: USA Fall 2010.

DISH Networks – According to DISH and Google TV, the DISH subscription will provide the most optimized experience for Google TV (in regards to content management). Some of the features on the Google TV home screen can only be unlocked with DISH. “Only DISH Network Google TV customers will be able to enjoy a unified search across TV, DVR and web; easily find related content; and manage their entire TV viewing experience,” Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen said in a release. Release: USA Fall 2010, prices not yet announced.
DISH and Google have been working on this project for quite awhile. More than a year ago, the companies launched a beta trial with some 400 DISH subscribers.

Intel’s Atom CE4100 processor will be used in the Logitech and Sony products, to power Google TV. The chip promises “home theater quality A/V performance.”
Intel’s relationship with Apple is a bit complicated. Intel has been a major chip provider but the relationship has cooled somewhat, amid reports that Apple is flirting with rival AMD for future products. Apple seems to be slowly moving away from Intel (for example, introducing its own chip in the iPad), giving Intel extra reason to build on its relationship with Google.

Best Buy is the first, exclusive retailer for Google-TV devices in 2010. The Sony and Logitech devices will be available at Best Buy, starting in fall 2010.

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