Google TV hits UK Shores.

Google TV UK

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Smart TV is the cunningly simple phrase applied to modern TV’s and set top boxes that provide a connection to the internet, integrating web functionalities and applications with the hardware that you use mainly for disconnected media. Simple enough to understand, and nothing particularly smart about it when you really stop to think about the natural progression of media consumption. Whilst the whole concept is still rather in its infancy, there are some big names who have been steadily developing their products and beefing up the hardware that big old screens that sit in your homes.

The big brands involved are those you already associate with producing the best TVs – Samsung, Sony, LG and Philips. There are also those producing little set-top boxes or additional hardware that enable the connected functionality, such as Apple, Roku and Boxee. Don’t forget your delightful games consoles either, your PS3s, Xboxes and Wii’s also provide some degree of “Smart TV” functions. All of these have been around for a while, some more than others, and yet they have all failed to make a real impact to the majority of TV owners. Recently the LA Times postulated that there were about 25 million Smart TVs in North America, of which only 12 million were used in a connected way, and yet in 4 years, over 100 million Smart TVs in North America and Western Europe will be out there. Analysts obviously see this is as huge market with great potential, but right now, that’s really all it is.

Google, ever willing to hijack an upward trend, have seen their chance to jump on to the band wagon in Europe now too. Apple have experienced less than joyous results from their TV venture, and rumours still abound that their little set-top boxes that retail at a solid £99 are to be discarded and replaced by a wholly produced Apple TV (not iTV). In fact, the question was hovering for a while as to when Google would bring their much maligned TV services to Europe. They have seen their efforts to wade in on the market suffer significantly as a result of network power, as well as being hampered by price. Their units are expensive compared to things such as Roku and Apple, and with in-built connectivity almost a given in modern TVs, it seems a tad redundant to even consider it if you are thinking about upgrading.

However these new Google TV UK set-top boxes are being produced in partnership with Sony (the Sony NSZ-GS7 to be exact!), and will be priced c.£200-300 and allow users to stream services such as BBC iPlayer and load up social media services like Twitter whilst watching live TV. The difference between Apple’s little unit and this, aside from the partnership facts, is that Google’s TV will be based on its Android OS, which means significant potential for future development as well as opening up the entire web, including browser functions and email. Apple’s TV run a severely stripped down and inaccessible version of their classic iOS in stark contract. In fact, looking at operating systems, each manufacturer currently use their own in-house developed (and quite rubbish) versions, but we’ll come back to this. In addition to this software difference, the Sony partnership will mean Google’s TV can come as a part of your BluRay player and bring Sony’s well established name to support the venture. Indeed, the hardware already looks good, with a connected remote that flips over into a qwerty keyboard.

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Google’s TV services in the US launched with fanfare, but played out with little success. Networks in the US stunted its growth, NBC, ABC, CBS and Hulu have blocked all content on Google TV. Viacom subsidiaries still block Google’s access, and without them on board its hard to imagine a great deal of success. Sales in the US have also been poor in comparison to their competitors. But could this all change in the future?

As mentioned the Smart TV market is incredibly fractured, with each TV manufacturer having relied on their own operating systems to deliver Smart products to the consumer. With Sony bringing Google’s TV into their world, and LG reported to be doing the same in the future, will there be a similar OS across a variety of manufactured TVs? This is what is really needed to drive the market forwards, an infrastructure across which third party developers can wade in, create their own apps, and start to bring the innovation the helped bring Smart Phones to their exalted place in the modern world. However, with Phones, developers embraced iOS as the slick platform to deliver their ideas, could TV go the way of Google? It is looking more likely at the moment than anyone else.

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