What are Google TV and the Logitech Revue?
Inside The Box
Take Google’s Android operating system, along with Google's Chrome browser, put them either in an adapter device such as Logitech's Revue or directly into a TV such as Sony's Internet TV. Enable it all with a bunch of apps backed by content optimized for a 10-foot viewing experience, and that's Google TV.
First-generation Google TV devices feature Intel's Atom CE4100 processor, the same System-on-Chip (SoC) used in the forthcoming Boxee Box. This is significant. The Boxee Box is an open platform home entertainment and convergence device slated to go on sale in November. It had originally been slated to release months ago with an Nvidia-based core, but the company delayed its debut in order to switch to the CE4100. Why? Because that chip can decode up to two 1920 x 1080 (1080p) video and audio streams simultaneously, handle media formats such as Adobe Flash 10 and MPEG-4, reach speeds of up to 1.2 GHz, and feature a total platform (CPU and chipset) power draw of under 9 watts. All of that means more multimedia muscle from a very small, low-power, and affordable x86 chip than we've ever seen in this processor class before. A satisfactory convergence experience demands a platform that can tackle x86 computing as well as it does high-def playback. The CE4100 is the first SoC to meet this requirement with sufficient speed for modern users.
Outside The Box
The Logitech Revue is a flat, glossy box measuring 9.7 x 6.7 x 1.4 inches. It's a fingerprint magnet, but it blends in well with most home theater gear. There are only two green LEDs adorning the front panel, keeping the appearance unobtrusive.
The back panel features HDMI 1.3a in and out ports, making the Revue a sort of pass-through device between your current set-top box and the TV. Two USB 2.0 ports can accept flash drives, external hard drives, camera devices such as Logitech's Vid HD (more on this soon), and most likely other as-yet-unannounced peripherals. The Ethernet port is 10/100 and complements the internal 802.11n wireless adapter. (Logitech wisely copies Cisco's move away from pointy external antennas.) There are two IR blaster ports and a digital audio (SPDIF) output. Those needing RCA, component, DVI, or other common home theater connections will need the appropriate adapters. Logitech includes one Harmony Link IR blaster in the box.
There are currently three ways to control the Revue, and all are based on Logitech's extensive Harmony remote experience. If you've ever used a Harmony universal remote, you know how simple and thorough the devices are for tying together an entire home theater in one intuitive control interface. Logitech brought its Harmony savvy into two keyboard designs. The first is a full-size QWERTY with integrated trackpad in the top-right corner. Under the trackpad sits a four-way directional controller surrounded by navigation buttons and media controls, such as pause and record. The largely redundant function key could probably be eliminated, but otherwise the layout is quite good. There is no "right-click" function with this keyboard. Instead, there's a separate menu button. A dedicated "left-click" button in the top-left corner lets you hold-and-drag with the touchpad. The magnifying glass button near the bottom-left pops up a Google search bar at the top of the screen. Two AA batteries tuck into the raised bar under the keyboard, which tilts the key deck like a stand, and despite the unit's light weight (10 ounces) it feels very sturdy. The keys feel a bit stiff, but the keyboard is quite useable and comfortable at full typing speed.
The other keyboard option is Logitech's Mini controller ($130), which was not included in our review equipment. As you can see in the images below, the Mini consolidates all of the regular keyboard's functions into a far more compact format, adding a flip cover for protection against the rigors of the living room. In some environments, this will make a lot of sense. Perhaps it's telling that Logitech opted to bundle the full-size keyboard with the Revue rather than the Mini. You don't see smartphone vendors discuss voice calling in their marketing anymore; they're computing platforms that also make voice calls. Could Logitech's leaning toward a full-size input device signal a similar shift for the TV environment?
Not least of all, there's a bonus for Android phone owners. If you go to the Android Marketplace and search for Google TV Harmony, you'll now find a free app available from Logitech for controlling Google TV devices straight from your phone. While shown on the Nexus One below, I installed the app on my Droid, and it worked flawlessly. In some ways, I prefer it to my Harmony 880 remote. For example, I can change the input mode on my TV with one swipe and a tap, while on the 880 it takes far more fumbling. However, my wife also has a Droid. We'll see if this results in channel battles in the weeks ahead.