Hardware aside, Sony’s Internet TV fundamentally works the same as Logitech’s Revue, when you get down to the 1’s and 0’s. Which is why it came as such a surprise to us that Sony, through a handful of subtle tweaks, does it much better.
To spare some digital ink, we won’t repeat our overall impressions of Google TV. Check out our Revue evaluation for an introduction to Google TV, or our skeptical take on Google TV’s future to see what Google got wrong. In a nutshell, Google TV has promise but remains deeply flawed in its current state. Yet Sony manages to make the best of an imperfect platform.
First, Sony’s quintessentially Japanese controller-slash-remote. Tiny, obtuse, and covered with more buttons than ants on a spilled Coke, it’s the antithesis of everything Apple’s user interface philosophy represents. But it works well. Unlike Apple’s svelte remote, you can enter passwords and search terms in less than the time it would take to translate said text into Morse code and back again. Unlike Logitech’s supersized Revue keyboard, it fits properly in your hands and won’t take up an entire couch cushion. Unlike the near-perfect Boxee Box remote, it has an optical trackpad for fluid cursor movement. The learning curve might be steeper than any of these (just figuring out how to activate the mouse was a struggle at first) but we respect Sony for offering a powerful tool over one that’s merely easy to use.
Second, integrating Google TV directly into the television offers a streamlined, unified experience that’s simply not possible with a set-top box. Every television function has been tied into Google TV, from brightness and contrast to parental controls. It’s all under one roof, with one menu structure, and one remote. Even the built-in tuner gets a boost from Google TV, which picks up all the metadata for local stations and allows you to flip between them seamlessly without ever leaving the Google TV interface. It’s like having the TV guide functions of a cable box, with free TV. (It always irked us that our standalone TV had an OTA tuner, but the Revue could never tap into it, even with the ability to send the IR signals that would essentially control it.)
That said, many of our original gripes remain. The controller may be better, but Google TV still leans on the mouse way too much for operations like making video full screen. Commands still don’t work uniformly across the platform – you can play and pause with the remote’s dedicated buttons in Netflix, but in Pandora you’ll need to use the directional pad to highlight the on-screen commands for the same functions. And speaking of Netflix, Google TV’s craptastic “universal search” still dredges up content from it.
Access to the over-the-air tuner also highlights another issue: Why can’t Google TV act as a DVR, again? TV show searches routinely turn up content available in the future, but without pairing it with an aftermarket DVR, you’re impotent to do anything but set an alarm and roll out of bed at 1 a.m. for Judge Judy.
Not surprisingly, given the Atom processor it has in common with the Revue, Sony’s Google TV is no more responsive. That means menus pop up quick and are easy to sift through, but the Web browser chops along when you scroll and sometimes seems to manifest display quirks with Flash content. Crashes haven’t been eliminated, either. An episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t was humming along just fine for us until the browser zonked out and unexpectedly quit about four minutes in.
Slapping a feature that costs $300 in a standalone box into an already expensive TV is a good recipe for an overpriced catastrophe with no market. A lot of Google TV features, after all, appeal to frugal consumers who would rather not drop triple digits every month on a cable bill. Instead, Sony wisely built its first batch of Internet TVs from what might otherwise be considered middle-of-the-road sets. Every model gets full 1080p resolution, sure, but you’re looking at standard edge-lit backlighting (LED on the three largest and CCFL on the 24-inch), and 60Hz refresh rates, which even budget models have typically bounced to 120Hz by now.
Fortunately, the specs bely the reality of the situation, which is that even these ho-hum panels look great. Despite the 60Hz refresh rate, the 46GT1 actually exhibited less motion blur than we’ve seen from much-hyped 120Hz sets, and black levels were surprisingly good for an edge- LED-lit panel.
Having stepped down from the stellar Sony NX810, we were ready for image quality to take a corresponding step down, but surprisingly, the Internet TV held its own in the office. The viewing colors lacked the same eye-popping sizzle sure, but even without Sony’s Bravia Engine 3, video quality from less-than-perfect streaming sources looked smooth and detailed especially HD content from Netflix.
Selecting “standard” settings rather than “retail” during setup spares the rainbow explosion we’re used to with new TVs, delivering clean, conservative settings right out of the box that 90 percent of viewers will be thrilled with. Our only modifications were turning up the backlight to accommodate for the brightly lit room we had it in, switching on MPEG noise reduction, and engaging black corrector.
While Sony has had to build the price of Google TV into every set, its Internet TVs offer image quality competitive with similar-priced TVs that lack the same connectivity.
Sony’s Internet TV is the closest thing you can get to a 46-inch laptop in your living room, combining the flexibility of a PC with the size and picture quality of a TV. But “closest thing” doesn’t mean perfect. Google TV remains a tortured beast, pockmarked with huge content holes from networks likes CBS and NBC, major sites like Hulu still blocked, and a browsing experience that lumbers along too clumsily to use casually. Sony manages to make the best of it with the seamless integration of TV controls and menus, easy setup and a smart controller, but patching the rest of the potholes remains up to Google. Right now, buying a 46GT1 represents a $1,400 bet that Google will do exactly that. Google TV will either get better with time like a fine wine, or be replaced with the next feature-packed, whizz-bang platform, like the latest color of Amp energy drink. The gamble is up to you.
- Complete Google TV integration into every aspect of the TV
- Image quality exceeds spec expectations
- Modern edge-to-edge glass design
- Smart, capable controller
- Reasonably priced
- Google TV remains under construction
- Steep learning curve for controller
- Wobbly stand