“Internet on your television” is probably right up there with jetpacks, flying cars and the white iPhone 4 in terms of consumer disappointment; many companies have claimed to pull it off, none have actually delivered. Logitech wants to change that with the Revue, the first set-top box powered by Google TV.
The Revue brings elements of the Web to your screen, from YouTube, Flickr and Twitter to everyday browsing, plus local music, video and photos from your home network, and even content from an attached cable box. Unless you want to cobble together a home theater PC from scratch and deal with the many issues of dragging a box meant for a desk into your living room, the Revue promises to be the next best thing – in theory, anyway. But is it easy enough for casual users to adopt? Will home theater diehards be satisfied enough to give up their omnipotent computers? Google and Logitech may have a ways to go in satisfying both ends of the consumer spectrum.
The biggest feature distinguishing the Revue from the myriad of other set-top streamers out there, from Apple TV to the WD TV Live Plus HD, is its integration with your existing home theater. The Revue is not just another component, it’s one component to rule them all, controlling your television, audio-video receiver, and set-top cable box.
Type in “basketball,” see a game on ESPN, and the Revue will command your cable box to turn to it and switch your TV to the cable box input. Turn up the volume, and the Revue will crank up the knob on your receiver. When you’re done, you can power off all three from the included keyboard.
This functionality alone makes the Revue distinct from the other set-top boxes that have come before it, but it includes the more standard selection of Web content too. You’ll find Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Video on Demand, but also a full browser with Flash capability that can load – and play from – any of the sites you would typically visit on a computer, from the Onion News Network to South Park. Google TV also includes applications that can open up non-video capabilities in the box, like photo browsing on Picasa and staying updated with Twitter.
The box for the Revue includes a black “companion box” that serve as the brains of the operation, a lap keyboard-mouse controller, and wired IR blasters (one included), which retransmit infrared signals to your A/V equipment to prevent line-of-sight issues. Logitech even includes an HDMI cable – a rare luxury among home theater accessories but a necessary one, since you’ll need both one to connect to the TV and one to connect to your cable box.
The companion box itself won’t draw much attention; it’s just a rounded blob of black plastic that you can either highlight by placing below your TV, or choose to hide entirely. Since the included keyboard controller operates by radio frequency, there’s no need for a direct line of sight between viewer and companion box.
Perhaps that’s wise, considering how many wires will run in and out of it. The back has both an HDMI input (for your cable box) and output (for your TV), a digital optical audio connector, two USB ports for accessories, an Ethernet jack, laptop-style power connector and two jacks for wiring up IR blasters.
If Logitech’s choice to include a full-size keyboard with the Revue didn’t have you skeptical enough, the quality of said keyboard will certainly raise an eyebrow. We had high expectations considering the top-notch quality of some of the Logitech’s desktop accessories, but the keyboard included with the Revue screams “accessory” — supernaturally light, cheap feeling, and easy to flex. The white base makes an odd choice for a home theater accessory, too.
While it might not look quite at home with your $3,000 leather sofa and cut-glass coffee table, you’ll be happy to have the full-sized keyboard as soon as setup gets underway. It’s nowhere near as plug-and-play as the Apple TV, but setup for such a complicated device is actually surprisingly easy thanks to a dead-simple, step-by-step walkthrough as soon as you power on the device. We never even had to glance at a paper manual.
The Revue takes you through everything from maximizing your screen area with an easy-to-use scaling wizard, to entering your TV type so it can automatically dig up the right IR codes to control it. Endless hours of tweaking and idiot-proofing show up in the tiny details here. When it prompts you for a TV model, for instance, a graphic shows where you should look on your TV to find it, and after you select a manufacturer, it displays an example model number true to the way that company formats them (ex. LC-42SB45U) to let you know what the string of numbers and letters should look like. It’s here and other text-entry scenarios like setting up Wi-Fi that make you instantly grateful for the keyboard, which cuts out the obnoxious process of choosing one letter at a time on screen with a keyboard. After no more than five minutes, pending no major snags, you’re ready to roll.
The Google TV home screen breaks down into six reasonably intuitive options: bookmarks, applications, most visited, queue, what’s on TV, and YouTube. Applications became our go-to category out of the gate, but as you visit sites and uncover more content, most visited automatically begin to fill in with useful options, similar to the “new tab” screen Chrome.
Google TV draws its lineage back to Android, and while the home screen has little in common with the mobile OS, leftovers seem to creep in all over the place. The dotted loading circle. The typefaces. The look of icons when you press ‘menu.’ While they don’t look particularly bad, these little remnants of Android seem to cheapen the interface a bit wherever they crop up, making it feel more like a modification than a fresh bit of original design. Though it’s functional, it doesn’t feel nearly as fluid and slick as Apple TV, or even the Xbox 360.