Two key players in the electronics game are breathing new life into Google TV. Can Sony and Vizio succeed where others have failed?
When Google TV finally stepped into the ring with Apple TV, the first round didn’t go all that well. The most prominent piece of hardware running Android’s set-top cousin was the Logitech Revue, and it wise widely reported to have seen more returns than sales. How that’s possible is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that no one was too interested in the first incarnation of Google TV.
Fast forward to CES 2012, and it looked like Google TV was finally ready to offer a compelling alternative to Apple’s “hobby” device. Some truly interesting new hardware will finally arrive on Canadian store shelves in the coming months. LG is set to debut the 47 and 55-inch G2 HDTVs, and both Sony and Vizio have new set top boxes on the way.
Pre-orders for the Sony GS7 Internet Player kick off in just a few days. It’s a lot like their SMP-N100, which ran the same in-house software as many Bravia Smart TVs. The Internet Player runs Android 3.2 (though there’s a strong possibility an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich will be on the way), provides full access to all the apps and games in Google Play, and comes with the Chrome web browser pre-installed. With 8GB of internal storage, you’ll have plenty of room to install your favourites. Dual USB ports allow for expanded storage or keyboard and mouse control, and Sony has also included a completely re-designed remote. The SMP-N100 shipped with a stripped-down unit that made searching and navigation incredibly cumbersome. The GS7′s remote features a generous trackpad and simplified controls on one side and a full QWERTY keyboard on the other. It also has an embedded 3-axis sensor to allow the remote to operate as game controller. That will come in handy as the device also offers downloadable games via both the Google Play Store and a service called OnLive in the U.S. which will hopefully be added to the Canadian model post-launch.
As for connectivity, there’s HDMI input & output, optical audio connector, RJ45 Ethernet for connecting to your wired home network, IR blaster, and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi for wireless hook-up. The diminutive GS7 won’t take up much space in your entertainment unit, and it won’t run up your energy bill either: it consumes just 21w while in use.
It’s an attractive enough device, and at $199 it’s a great buy when compared to the $189 Boxee Box. It’s in tough against both the Apple TV and Roku 2 XS which retail for just $109 ($99 USD).
The Vizio Co-Star Stream Player, on the other hand, has come out swinging by matching that $99 USD price. While no Canadian availability has been announced so far, Vizio is offering the same core functionality as Sony (not surprising, since Google TV powers both devices), and, like the GS7, the Streamplayer also functions as an HDMI hub. That means you can hook up another device to the HDMI input (say, your satellite receiver or Xbox 360) so that you can free up a port on your TV or cut down on the number of times you have to switch sources. Much like the GS7, the Co-Star also offers gaming through the OnLive service.
The big difference between the two devices is price. It’s hard to imagine the GS7 being the device that puts Google TV on the map at $200 — but for just half that amount, the Vizio Co-Star has a fighting chance. Vizio became the top-selling HDTV brand in the U.S. by offering up quality products at reasonable prices. If they’ve gotten the mix right on the Streamplayer — and early impressions are that they have — the upstart home entertainment company may have found another market where they can challenge Apple.