Google TV is a new service--and we wouldn't be surprised if Google fixes many of these bugs over time--but in its initial incarnation, we didn't feel like Google's search bar functionality and cross-platform TV listings delivered the experience we were expecting.
Streaming media apps
The Logitech Revue is similar to many competing products in that it has support separate applications for several streaming-media services. The initial roll-out of apps includes Netflix, Napster, Pandora, Twitter, and NBA Game Time. (Amazon VOD is also supported, but only by browsing Amazon in Chrome, which isn't quite as slick as some dedicated apps we've seen.) We're actually surprised by how few standalone apps there currently are at launch, especially when a much cheaper box like the Roku XDS has standalone apps for Amazon VOD and MLB.TV, plus tons of other niche media services.
We were also disappointed to see that Google TV's Netflix interface is still the first-gen interface we saw on the original Roku Netflix Player. That means there's no search functionality or the ability to see movies that aren't in your instant queue. There's really no excuse for that, with much better alternatives available on devices like the new Roku XDS, PS3, Xbox 360, and Apple TV.
In addition to the apps available at launch, Google TV products will also be able to access the Android Marketplace sometime in 2011. This has the potential to add tons of innovative apps to the Revue and other Google TV devices, but until then you're stuck with what Google makes available.
One of the standout features of Google TV is the built-in Chrome browser. There's support for both HTML5 and Flash 10.2, which means you're technically capable of accessing nearly any video source you can find on the Web.
The emphasis is on "technically," though. The reality, as mentioned before, is that many content providers, such as ABC, CBS, and Hulu, are currently blocking Google TV devices from streaming video from their sites. (Even the workaround hacks aren't working anymore.) The main issue is that major content providers don't mind people watching these videos for free on a computer, but don't like the idea of the same content showing up in the living room. The apparent reasons: Web advertising still doesn't pay nearly as much as traditional TV advertising, and--unlike cable and satellite companies--Web video currently doesn't offer any affiliate fees (read: revenue) for TV content providers.
Unfortunately we expect this problem to stay in flux, with hobbyists finding workarounds, content providers trying to plug the holes, and official deals between content providers and Google coming slowly. (Although we'd bet Hulu Plus comes soon.) It is worth pointing out, however, that some content providers don't seem as vigilant with their content. Comedy Central and Cartoon Network currently aren't blocking Google TV--thought that could change at any moment.
Content issues aside, the experience of surfing the Web on your big screen is simultaneously frustrating and awesome. It's frustrating when the browser feels slow (which happens if Flash is used on the site) or when a pop-up window fills the entire screen. It's awesome when Chrome intelligently maximizes videos to full screen (which happens on Amazon VOD), and that you can now access any niche video site from your home theater. For better or worse, it essentially duplicates the feeling of watching videos on a slightly underpowered laptop, except you have the benefit of the big screen.
Cable/satellite box control
Cable/satellite box control is another feature that differentiates Google TV from other streaming-media boxes, like Apple TV and Roku. The Revue is technically capable of sending commands to your cable/satellite box using its built-in IR emitters, enabling Google to search it for content just like it searches the Web.
If you have another service, Google TV's cable/satellite box integration is pretty disappointing. When you search for TV content, Google will find it, but can't set your DVR to record it. All it can do it bring up the guide, and you're forced to find and record the show on your own, like you would without a Google TV. The same thing goes for setting Season Passes. Yes, it's nice to be able to find the program quickly, but it's a huge letdown from what you expect it to do. Google says it is working with other cable/satellite providers to provide further integration, but there are no guarantees as to when or if it will actually happen.
DLNA streaming, podcasts, video conferencing, and more
In addition to all the streaming content available, the Revue can also stream music, videos, and photos off a DLNA-compatible PC (or other DLNA-device) on the network. File format support is considerably better than many competitors, especially on the video side: .MKV, .FLV, .MTS, H.264, and AVI are all supported. There's also a dedicated area for podcasts, although a couple of quick searches made us feel like there wasn't nearly the selection that's offered on iTunes.
The Revue is also capable of HD video conferencing using the Logitech TV Cam ($150, sold separately). We'll update the review when we've had more extensive hands-on testing with the video-conferencing functionality.
There's no getting around it: network performance with our Logitech Revue was problematic. It may be our particular review sample is defective (Logitech is sending us a replacement unit), but we ran into lots of problems.
We started our testing with the Revue connected wirelessly, and browsing with Chrome was unacceptably slow. Though wireless connections are always subject to lots of variables, it's tough not to blame the Revue when we had a wireless laptop connected in the same room that was appropriately snappy. It's also worth pointing out that we've used tons of other wireless devices (Apple TV, Roku XDS, Blu-ray players) in the same location without issues.
When we switched over to a wired connection, performance significantly improved, but we still had problems. As mentioned before, we couldn't get an Android phone to reliably connect to the unit, even after trying several models. Also, when streaming DivX files off a laptop, we were faced with constant buffering. Yes, the laptop was connected wirelessly, but we've done similar tests without problems in that location.
Over the next few weeks we'll be testing the Revue in other testing environments, but it's hard not to be disappointed with its performance in our home theater testing facilities since we've tested so many products here without problems.
Aside from network issues, we also ran into stability problems. More than once we had messages on the screen about certain processes not responding and asking us if we wanted to force close, wait, or report. That's just not acceptable in a living-room environment.
As you'd expect from an all-digital connection, image quality was excellent with the Revue and the signals it passes through from a cable/satellite box. As always, if the incoming signal isn't good, the Revue can't make it look any better, but we didn't see any evidence of the Revue negatively affecting incoming HDMI signals. For video streamed over the Internet, it's highly variable, just like on your computer. Some stuff looks good, some stuff looks terrible. It's not Google TV's fault, but those thinking about "cutting the cord" and getting your "Daily Show" fix via the Revue should be aware that the video quality is significantly worse than cable TV. On the other hand, streaming video from more specialized sources like Amazon VOD and Netflix can look quite good, with the best of it approaching HD cablelike quality.
Additionally, we did run into an occasional bug with Flash video where diagonal pink stripes would overlay on the screen. The stripes stuck around on video even if we switched applications and could only be removed by restarting the Revue. Normally we'd let a rare error like that slide, but we saw it more than once during our testing period.