CES 2013: Say hello to the new generation of Google TV hardware
We’re still sifting through the pile of OTT-related announcements made at the 2013 International CES, especially when it comes to Google TV — which tagged a bunch of new OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers.)
Google says it has a total of 9 OEMs manufacturing Google TV devices for the 2013 season, but so far we only count 7: TCL, ASUS, Hisense, and Netgear, along with existing partners Sony, LG, and Vizio. Like last year, all manufacturers are using the same Marvell Armada 1500 SoC (System on a Chip.)
As for the final two new GoogleTV OEMs, maybe we’ll see an announcement in the coming weeks, or (more likely) they’ll never see the light of day. Remember last year, when Samsung was supposedly going to launch a Google TV device at CES? Or when Eric Schmidt said that “By the summer of 2012, the majority of the televisions you see in stores will have Google TV embedded”?
As for the confirmed Google TV partners, here’s what they’re bringing to the table in 2013:
Price: around $150
Availability: March 2013
The hardware for this new Google TV “Buddy Box” (Google’s term for a standalone set-top box) looks like it could be the stodgy, straight-laced cousin to the Boxee Box.
The Asus Qube has the distinction of being the first “Buddy Box” to run Google TV 3.0, meaning it will run the new software that was announced back in November (and it’s jumped in the update queue ahead of our 2012 Sony NSZ-GS7 – more on that later.) The Qube also comes bundled with 50GB of free cloud storage through Asus’s WebStorage service.
Asus’s take on the Google TV software mimics their hardware, with a custom cube-themed UI that flips to show favorites as you scroll through categories.
Buddy Box and Smart TV, pricing and release date TBA
TCL introduced MoVo for Google TV as both a standalone box and a smart TV for 2013, but there’s no word yet on pricing or availability. One thing we do know is that the MoVo devices have TCL’s Personal Box Office technology, which uses facial recognition to figure out which family members are watching and provide a personalized experience. This’ll be an interesting one to test in the lab for sure.
(TCL MoVo Buddy Box. Image source: GTVfriends)
(TCL MoVo Smart TV. Image source: Engadget)
NETGEAR NeoTV Prime
$130, available now
Netgear, maker of the NeoTV and NeoTV Max devices in the lab, is branching out to include a Google TV device this year. The hardware looks just like our NeoTV Max, and the remote control is similar in that it includes 6 (SIX!) dedicated buttons for services like Netflix, Crackle, and YouTube. I’ve written about why I think this is an absurd idea before, but it bears repeating: the services that are available on these boxes change from time to time. Who knows if Netflix, or Crackle, will have the same name or even exist 10 years from now?
And if accessing Netflix is complicated enough that you have to add a dedicated button to the remote control, it’s probably time to rethink your UI.
Hisense, like TCL, is selling both a smart TV and a standalone “Buddy Box” for its Google TV debut.
Hisense Pulse $99, available now
The Hisense Pulse, which was released at the end of December, joins the ranks of being “just another Buddy Box.” Like the Vizio Costar, the NeoTV Prime and the Sony GS7-NSZ in the lab, it’s still running the old Google TV software. And based on the pictures, we’re sorry to say the Hisense remote may set a new button record in the lab. (Max button count so far: our 2nd-generation Sony Google TV NSZ-GS7, with 91.)
Hisense XT780 and XT900 (prices and release dates TBA)
No word on pricing or release dates yet, but here’s a first look at the Hisense XT780 Google TV.
(Image source: Engadget)
LG plans to launch seven new smart TVs with Google TV this year, including the top-of-the-line 55-inch GA7900 model. Pricing and launch dates haven’t been firmed up yet, but the GA7900 is said to be in the range of LG’s other Google TVs – between $1,499 and $1,599. When asked during CES how sales are going with its existing GoogleTVs, and if sales figures inspired the new units, a spokesman paused (for a fairly long time), then said “they’re trending well.” Whatever that means.
(image source: TechRadar)
Sony didn’t announce any new Google TV hardware at CES this year, but it does have an updated remote control for last year’s NSZ-GS7. This remote looks just like the one we have in the lab, only they’ve added a microphone to support the new voice search feature. And in keeping with the other Sony hardware in the lab, they’ve given this remote an equally creative name: the NSG-MR7U. Hot!
No word on pricing or a release date yet, but hopefully it will arrive around the same time the Google TV 3.0 update finally rolls out to our NSZ-GS7.
(image source: The Verge)
Like Sony, Vizio didn’t show off any new hardware at CES. However, it did announce that existing Vizio Costar units would be receiving the Google TV 3.0 update within “just a few weeks.” Based on our wait with the Sony NSZ-GS7, which is ahead of the Costar in the update queue, I’d estimate “just a few weeks” to mean “sometime in October.” Poor Vizio Costar.
And here’s where I go on a little rant about fragmentation.
When I got my Samsung Galaxy S2 in the fall of 2011, it was my carrier’s “flagship” phone and would be getting the upgrade from Android Gingerbread to Android Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) “any day now.”
Instead, a new flagship phone was released within the month, and I was told to expect my 4.0 update “sometime in early 2012.” The update finally arrived in mid-July, bringing with it a few features I rarely use, plus shorter battery life and general bugginess.
Obviously cell phone carriers add another layer of complexity that we don’t see with OTT devices, but my point is this: Google TV offers a choice between an ever-changing variety of hardware manufacturers and customized UIs that you don’t get with say, AppleTV, but there’s a downside.
Our 2010 Apple TV got its big update the same day the 2011 model was announced. With Google TV, the latest and greatest devices will always get bumped to the head of the update line, while others wait for months or never get the update at all.
It’s kind of like being in a never-ending club line, where everyone else is better-looking than you and knows the bouncer. (Again: Poor Vizio Costar.)
So there’s a big risk in shelling out $1,500 for today’s top-of-the-line Google TV, because it’s likely to get bumped to the back of the update queue this time next year.
And you never know which Google TV device will be the next to go the way of the Logitech Revue, but for the time being, our money’s on the Vizio Costar.