Are We There Yet?
Big trends often arrive with modest beginnings. In 1996, Gateway launched its Destination PC, a $4,000 audio-visual monster comprising a TV tuner-enabled PC running the company's DestiVu software, infrared controller, wireless keyboard/trackpad, remote control, wireless receiver, and either a 27" or 36" CRT monitor. That's a wall phone jack in the diagram below, not an Ethernet port. It was essentially the first mass market home theater PC (HTPC) destined for living rooms. The best thing to come from Gateway's convergence bomb was inspiration. Imagine it: a home PC that could meet all multimedia entertainment desires. Surely, if it could be built for half the price, people would buy it in droves.
Then came the realization that studios and content owners loved high-margins. Satellite and cable providers had no interest in sharing their monopoly with the PC space. Intel's Viiv effort built a tremendous sports arena...and nobody showed up to play. (At least Intel earned notoriety. AMD's LIVE! platform seemed to vanish in 2007 with nary a notice.) Microsoft's Windows Media Center Edition, along with MythTV, SnapStream, and many other media center apps, remained in the domain of niche enthusiasts, not the mainstream. And Apple TV? The new version may be a great product, but the sales numbers speak for themselves. In market-making terms, Apple TV is no iPod.
As an industry, we've spent more than a decade trying to mix and match tuners, ports, case styles, operating systems, wireless gewgaws, and all manner of marketing to get the average American living room online and converged. We never stopped trying to fulfill the Destination PC's promise in hopeful yet doomed fits and starts. For years, we've sensed that the extortion of the TV providers couldn't last. How could it when a pay-per-view title with no sharing rights costs $5 and Redbox DVD is just a buck? Yet, every effort to overthrow traditional living room paradigms has met with commercial failure.
Enter Google TV and with it the Logitech Revue ($299.99), a set of hardware devices able to bring Google TV to your existing home theater. I received the Revue three days ago. I can honestly say that I haven't been this excited about a consumer electronics product in years.
I want to point out right away that Google and Logitech are not just after the early adopter geeks this time around. To test their theory, I asked my wife to do the initial Revue setup. Keep in mind that she's never even set up a stereo before. One hour after unboxing the Revue, she posted this to Facebook:
I am in love. Google tv and this logitech keyboard are frickin' awesome. I am doing this post right now on my tv. SO COOL! Netflix, gmail, youtube, google chat, pandora, facebook and I can access them all on my tv with a cute little wireless keyboard
This isn't some lobotomized half-solution like WebTV. This is the real deal and our first real shot at bringing affordable living room convergence to the masses. Walk with me through this hands-on review and see what you think.