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Logitech launches first Google TV player

Oct 6, 2010  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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[Updated Oct. 22, 2010] — Following months of teasers, Logitech finally launched its Google TV player today at simultaneous press events in New York and San Francisco. The company’s Google TV family includes the Android-based “Revue” STB (set-top box), large and mini remote controls, free iPhone and Android remote control apps, and a video cam.

The $299 Android-powered Revue acts as an intelligent hub for the Google TV setup, which minimally consists of the Revue box, a TV, and an Internet connection. To this, a maximal configuration would add a cable TV box, typically with DVR capabilities, plus an A/V receiver (AVR).



Logitech’s “Revue” runs Google TV
(click image to enlarge)

In addition to searching for, selecting, and playing A/V media, the Revue provides programmable universal remote control capabilities similar to Logitech’s Harmony remotes, so that its Google TV UI (user interface) can directly control the TV and other attached components (e.g. cable box and A/V receiver). Device-related commands via RF wireless from one or another of the available remote controls (more on those in a moment) are sent to the cable box, TV, or AVR via the Revue’s IR output, as appropriate.

Wide range of content sources

A/V sources usable on the Revue include live or DVR’d cable shows, static or streaming A/V content from the Web, and static or streaming A/V content from DLNA-compliant devices on the home LAN. In other words, on the Revue you can…

  • Browse an EPG (electronic program guide), select, and watch cable TV shows
  • Search through, select, and play DVR’d content
  • Play movies from Netflix or Amazon (and others to come)
  • Play videos from YouTube or elsewhere
  • Browse online photos from sharing or storage sites and services (e.g. Picassa)
  • Watch Internet TV from TV channels’ websites, Hulu, etc.
  • Listen to music from online music sharing or storage sites (e.g. Pandora, MP3.com)
  • Stream, view, or play your own content videos, photos, or MP3s from devices on your LAN, or on an attached USB drive (it supports flash or hard drives, formatted with FAT16 or FAT32 filesystems)
  • Use Twitter and Facebook, via their preinstalled apps
  • Browse millions of websites

Incidentally, the Revue supports picture-in-picture style viewing of two content sources at once. This, for example, lets you search IMDB for background on plots or actors while continuing to watch a movie in a reduced-size window, or check a player’s stats while watching a baseball game.

Additional standard Google TV features are described in our recent article about Google TV.

Unified, “instant” search

Thankfully, it’s extremely easy to search and sort through all the possible content sources listed above at once, using Google TV’s unified instant search function.

For example, searching for “The Daily Show” might return hits for live cable broadcasts, DVR-stored shows (with DVRs supporting content search), and Internet sources such as Hulu or ComedyCentral.com. Just pick the desired search result and it all happens seemlessly: the Revue automatically feeds the content you selected from its source to your TV and, if connected, outputs the sound to your AVR.

Logitech also demo’d the ability to submit search strings to the Revue verbally, use the mic on the Android phone running the Revue’s remote control app. It actually worked!

Incidentally, initially only Dish Network’s cable boxes will be equipped with the two-way communications function required for the Revue to search through DVR’d content. The 2-way cable box interface protocol will be standardized, though, so additional sources of cable boxes supporting DVR content search can should start showing up mid-to-late 2011.

Access to live cable TV content, on the other hand, will be more broadly available; all that’s required for searching live cable content is an Internet-accessible electronic program guide (EPG).

YouTube demo of Google TV features and apps

You can see many of Google TV’s basic media search, selection, and playing features and capabilities demonstrated in the following YouTube video:




 

The Revue’s I/O connections

The Revue’s I/O connections are shown in the photo below.



Logitech Revue STB rear panel I/O connections
(click image to enlarge)

As seen, the rear panel provides HDMI in, HDMI out, SPDIF (optical digital audio) out, two USB ports, an Ethernet LAN port. and a power connection. The device can connect to the Internet and home LAN via either its internal WiFi radio or its wired Ethernet interface. It can feed audio to an A/V receiver via either its HDMI or SPDIF outputs.

Three system connection diagrams appear below. Left to right, they show the following setups:

  • Revue, cable box, and TV
  • Revue, cable box, TV, and AVR (using HDMI to the AVR)
  • Revue, cable box, TV, and AVR (using SPDIF to the AVR)



Three connection scenarios
(click each image to enlarge)

Hardware specs

Although Logitech hasn’t disclosed many details of the Revue’s internal hardware, Rajiv Bansal, a senior product marketing manager confirmed the Revue’s embedded Intel CE4100 Atom processor is clocked at 1.2 GHz. Additionally, the device is equipped with 4GB of system RAM and 1GB , plus 4GB of NAND flash for storage purposes.

Maximum power consumption is rated at 36W, according to Bansal. That seems rather high for a box that doesn’t have a high-level audio amplifier; but unfortunately, Bansal was unable to provide typical or standby power ratings.

Three remote control options

Logitech has created two remote controls accessories for the Revue Google TV box. The larger Keyboard Controller (on the left, below), a near-full-sized keyboard with special Google TV control buttons, comes bundled with the Revue box.



Bundled Keyboard Controller; optional Mini Controller
(click image to enlarge)

The Mini Controller, a variant of the company’s earlier diNovo Mini, but with a few dedicated to Google TV control functions added, is another option. We’ve been using a diNovo Mini as the remote for our DIY Boxee Box for a couple of years now, and have grown quite fond of it.

Logitech also demonstrated the Revue’s Android remote control app, though not the iPhone app. Understandably, the company is a bit Google-centric at the moment.

One interesting feature of today’s Revue demo was the “flinging” of a YouTube video from an Android smartphone’s YouTube player to the Revue’s TV display, simply by “sharing” the YouTube link on the smartphone’s YouTube player with the smartphone’s Revue remote control app. It was impressive!

Optional IR blasters

As mentioned earlier, the Revue transmits IR signals to control the attached components. One concern, in this regard, is whether two or three attached components (cable box, TV, and AVR) can all be controlled reliably from the Revue box, since IR tends to have limited coverage and can’t go around corners or through cabinet doors.

To deal with this situation, the Revue provides jacks for connecting one or two Logitech “IR blaster” accessories. These let you position an IR transmitter close to the IR sensor on your cable box, TV or AVR.

Still, since there only two IR blaster jacks, it seems like in some installations it will be hard, if not impossible, to get the Revue’s IR output routed to all three external components.

In response to our question on this concern, Basal explained that the Revue box itself “has several IR transmitters included in it. The signals emitted by them also bounce off walls etc. This allows Revue to be really effective at controlling devices through IR.”

The additional, external IR blaster that comes with the Revue package is intended for the “case [in which] one of your devices is behind a cabinet where Revue’s signal cannot reach it,” says Basal. In addition to that, a second external IR blaster, available by separate order, can also be added to the system if needed. In unlikely event that more than two external IR blasters are needed, users can purchase an “IR splitter” and add more.

TV videophone calls

Logitech also demo’d Google TV’s videophone capabilities during the Revue’s launch event. Google TV provides pop-up notification of incoming calls, and can switch to and manage the calls or place outgoing calls with ease. The feature makes use of the company’s TV Cam, pictured below.



Logitech’s TV Cam
(click image to enlarge)

Thousands of Android apps?

Both Logitech and Google have stated that the Revue’s Android-based Google TV software platform will be extensible via thousands of Android apps, just like iPhones and Android-based smartphones.

While the Android platform’s openness will doubtless spawn a rich and varied set of third-party apps, fundamental differences between smartphone and TV screen sizes, input methods, and other factors are likely to complicate the process of adapting smartphone apps to Google TV devices. In short: don’t expect the “thousands of Android apps” available on smartphones to “just run” on smart-TVs.

Bottom line

Logitech’s Revue, with its Google TV content delivery platform, looks promising as a means to collect, select, and play A/V media from a broad selection of sources.

At $299, it’s a bit pricey in comparison to Roku’s Internet media player or to the many Blu-ray disk players and TVs that now come with built-in Internet-A/V streaming capabilities. But from our perspective, the benefit of having all content sources aggregated into one compact, low-power device — controlled by one UI and one remote control — seems irresistible.

Plus, with Android and Google TV being open platforms, it’s reasonable to expect the price of Google TV player boxes to drop precipitously starting mid-2011. That’s when Google says it plans to release sources and an SDK (software development kit) for Google TV. After all, look what’s happening in the burgeoning Android smartphone market.

In any case, we can’t wait to get our hands on a Revue, and are looking forward to comparing it to D-Link’s soon-to-be-released Boxee Box.

Further info

As of today, the Logitech Revue can be preordered for about $300 from Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and Logitech.com. Its price includes the larger-sized remote control keyboard, among other accessories. The Revue’s optional Mini Controller is priced at about $130, the TV Cam at $150, and additional Keyboard Controllers are $100. The Android and iPhone apps will be available at no charge from their respective app stores. Further details on Logitech’s entire “Smart TV” family are available here.

For more background on Google TV, read our recent article about Google TV and visit Google’s Google TV page.
 

(This article was originally published on our sibling site, DeviceGuru.com.)

 

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