Review of the Logitech Revue with Google TV

logitech_google_tvConclusion: It’s not ready.

Having gotten rid of my Verizon FiOS television service some time ago, I’ve been eager to try out the new TV solutions from Apple and Google. I reviewed the new Apple TV about a month ago, and really liked it. Last night, I spent the evening with the Logitech Revue with Google TV, and all I can say is that it’s really not ready yet.

Here’s a summary of my experience so far:

  • The first thing I had to do was go through a 12-step setup process which probably took about 15 minutes. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but I’m guessing the proverbial mom might have called her son or daughter to come over and help.
  • The good thing about the setup process was that it gave me time to read the manual on the keyboard. I actually had to look at the included documentation in order to understand all its functionality. To be fair, the keyboard does make Google TV potentially very powerful, and if you’re going to do things like surf the web, it’s actually a great accessory to have. I got used to it very quickly, and as soon as I accepted it as a powerful universal remote rather than an additional clumsy remote, I actually liked it.
  • Once my Google TV was all set up, the first thing I did was go to Hulu only to find that it doesn’t work with Google TV. Thinking I was more clever than Hulu, I changed my user agent to spoof a Chrome browser on Mac. That got me further into the site, but when I tried to play to a video, I was presented with yet another error message which essentially said: “Hulu is for computers, not for TVs. Nice try, though.” (The Flash Hulu player seems to be using some property from the Flash Capabilities class to determine that the client is a Google TV — huge bummer.) So after 15 minutes of setup and a remote control learning curve, the very first thing I was hoping to do was a complete wash. This isn’t Google’s or Logitech’s fault, of course — this is just Hulu (and the television networks) continuing to protect their traditional television advertising revenue.
  • I then decided to do ultimate test: I wanted to see how easy it was to go from a search for a television show to actually watching that show, so I brought up the search box and typed in “The Office”. I got results from NBC’s site (which claimed I could watch full episodes), and for Amazon Video On Demand. The NBC site refused to work with Google TV just like Hulu, and Amazon wanted to charge me $2.99 for one 20-minute episode. Conclusion: test failed. (I did get to watch some very funny previews, though.)
  • Realizing that I wasn’t going to be watching much TV with my Google TV, I decided to surf the web instead. I decided with a keyboard, mouse, and a 52″ monitor, the Google TV might be a great way to kick back on my couch and read some news and check out some blogs. Unfortunately, the hardware is so inadequate that surfing the web is actually much better on my phone. Pages load slowly, and any page with Flash content not only has rendering issues, but scrolling is painfully laggy.
  • The last hope for my Google TV was BBC news. BBC is probably the only thing I miss after having canceled my Verizon FiOS service, so I figured if I could catch some video clips on BBC’s site, my Google TV would still add some value. The problem was that navigating the site was way too painful (primarily because Flash content made it so slow), and every time I watched a video clip, I had to sit through an advertisement before the actual news began. I don’t mind some ads (I don’t expect content to be free — just reasonable), but to watch 15 short video clips (which is about what it would take to get a good sense of the day’s news), I would have to sit through 15 ads over the course of about 20 to 30 minutes, most of which would be the very same ad. (I watched about four video clips, and got the same ad three out of four times). Again, not Google’s fault, but a clear indication of technologies and business models not being aligned yet.

That’s about when it occurred to me that the Google TV was creating what was probably the worst TV watching experience I’d ever had. So I turned it off and picked up my laptop.

To be fair, I should point out two very important things:

  1. I don’t have a TV service, and part of the magic of Google TV is probably integrating it with a paid TV service. That said, even if I still had FiOS, the only thing Google TV could do for me is put a better interface on top of it. That’s not necessarily a small thing (both Comcast’s and Verizon’s DVRs are atrocious examples user experience), but it’s still probably not compelling enough to add another box to my living room setup. And to be frank, I’m looking for an alternative to traditional TV service — not another piece of hardware to augment it.
  2. It’s not Google’s fault that Hulu and NBC don’t allow access from Google TV. Of course, as a consumer, I don’t really care whose fault it is — I only care about the fact that my new (and not inexpensive) device isn’t very useful.

In summary, the Logitech Revue with Google TV feels like an early prototype to me. The hardware is way too slow and the partnerships and business models aren’t in place to make it even remotely useful yet (for me, anyway). Until one or both of these things change, I recommend the following:

  • The Apple TV. It actually has less functionality, but it’s cheaper, smaller, faster, and as of right now, I would say it’s generally more useful.
  • A Mac Mini and a bluetooth keyboard (or the equivalent in the Windows world). I may end up going this route yet.
  • A laptop or even a phone. You probably don’t want to cuddle up with your friends on your couch and watch something on a small screen, but with a significant other or by yourself, it’s fine.
  • Do something else with your time other than watch TV. Permit me to recommend some good science fiction.

Update: Richard’s comment has inspired me to make a quick update. First, just because Google TV isn’t working out for me, it is working well for others. If you’re thinking of getting one, analyze your particular TV watching needs and habits, and you might find that it works great for you. Second, I actually have very high hopes for Google TV in the future. I believe in what Google is trying to do — I just don’t think the hardware, software, and the partnerships are there yet. As the various pieces fall into place, I will continue to experiment with Google TV, and I will work it into my TV-watching routine as its features and functionality permit.

7 thoughts on “Review of the Logitech Revue with Google TV

  1. It’s strange to think that although the current version of the Revue is designed to work in the U.S., because of the networks blocking content I’m having a much better Google TV experience in the UK where I can access all major channel’s Flash-based free VOD, 1080p plays back perfectly. I can only hope they work something out because unless it works in the U.S. it’s doomed elsewhere.
    I totally agree the browser scrolls jerkily enough that it kind of lets down the whole experience. You end up using Page Up/Down to speed things up. It’s possible this can be fixed in a software update given the specs compared with an Android 2.2 phone which smooth scrolls (given, at half the resolution).
    This applies mainly to existing sites designed for desktop, however with the lean-back experiences (some of which linked to in the ShowCase app) things improve dramatically, these sites that are designed to work with simple navigation, Blinkbox, Clicker and so on, hopefully more and more sites will adopt this soon as it removes the frustration and gets out of the way of the content.
    The biggest thing it has going for it is the ability to just hit search without switching to another AV source, turning on a computer and so on, it’s really great for quickly watching videos or looking up/organising stuff/looking at where to go out with friends, and definitely changes the way we do this at home (previously using a tablet or laptop).


  2. Thanks for the info Christian – glad I’ve got you to serve as a guinea pig for these sort of things.
    I actually tried to convince Shira to cancel Comcast and just do the Hulu and Netflix thing. Most of the TV we were watching was off the laptop anyway, so why bother paying the absurd cable bill?
    The result: we’ve since dropped Comcast and now have Fios, with more channels than my brain is capable of processing.
    That’ll teach me not to wade in on the TV setup in our house – that’s firmly out of my list of decisions I have control over. I should accept this and just watch TV.


  3. I believe if the Revue is an early protype, then who ever owns a box, when the REAL one comes out should be able to upgrade with a much cheaper cost, but that wont happen, they are in business to make money. Great sugguestion though


  4. Hooked everything up and started on screen setup. One of the first steps is to maximize the size of the viewing area, expanded to fill the screen as directed and completed setup. Booting up is SLOW…over 5 minutes! I then activated the internet and found that videos requiring a player will not work on this system. This was my reason for buying, to watch flash videos from a membership site on our home gym tv.
    TV does not work inside of the system so I changed the input back to “tv.” (This may be an issue with my TV model) Now the size of my viewing area for my tv has SHRUNK! Let me be clear…Revue setup directed me to ENLARGE viewing area inside of their setup. Now the area has SHRUNK when switched back to tv mode.
    This morning I called “support” about the issue. Rude Andrew told me that the Revue system had nothing to do with my tv screen resolution/size. I rebutted: YOUR setup system required that I make adjustments to the viewing area THROUGH your device. When I switch OFF of your system (and when I disconnect it entirely) the viewing area on my original system has shrunk and it has nothing to do with your system? Using the tv remote I ran through the tv’s screen modes, none of them fill the screen now.
    I then asked Andrew how to reset through the Revue. He says there is no way, agian arguing that Revue has nothing to do with it. Critical thinking engaged here? Obviously not. I ask for a supervisor and am told there is none. I ask for number to corporate and am told that he has no idea. Really?
    I look up corporate on the internet and ask for escalation (which Andrew SHOULD have engaged for me). No one knows how to fix the problems that their system caused. I was offered a refund, but waht about returning my tv to it’s original state?
    RUN FROM THIS PRODUCT! It was released far too early and “support” is ill-trained. Escalation noted that there are many problems and they just don’t know how to fix them. Be aware, any site that has videos that need a “player” on your computer WILL NOT WORK! It seems that “apps” are coming in a few months, but no one knows if a “player” will be included.
    So, who will pay a technician to come out and try to reset my tv screen viewing area?


  5. Sorry to hear what happened to you Susan. I was one of the test subjects for the Revue and fortunately for me my screen size was not affected. I do work for DISH Network which is how I got one early. If you are a DISH Network subscriber and purchased the Logitech through us, we do have tech support offered.


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