Google has made a big splash with its Google TV platform for blending TV viewing and Internet browsing, but it will be 2011 at the earliest before any Australians can access it.
The Google TV specification will be used to build TVs, set-top boxes and other devices which will offer simplified search and management experience for viewing television shows, online video content and web sites on a typical home TV. Google showed off how Google TV will work at its Google I/O Developer conference in San Francisco (battling occasional glitches caused by interference from a room full of 4,000 developers with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones).
During the demonstration, Google TV group product manager Rishi Chandra and technical director Vincent Dureau showed the ability to search for a show name, switch to any channel showing that program and identify sites offering streaming access to episodes.
The service can also automatically schedule recordings of a future recording on a connected PVR or PC.
When watching a sports broadcast, Google TV can switch to a picture-in-picture mode to allow access to live stats alongside the actual match.
Individual shows can have specially-developed results pages associated with them, making it easier to research their background or find other episodes.
YouTube is developing a feature known as 'YouTube Leanback', providing an individualised stream of relevant videos for viewing on a television. "The web became a natural extension of the TV itself," Chandra said.
While Google believes that there's a significant market gap for an easy-to-use Internet/TV hybrid, that market will, perhaps unsurprisingly, focus on North America. "We are launching Fall 2010 in the US only. Next year, we'll be going to international markets," Chandra confirmed at a press conference following the launch.
"We haven't yet announced those markets, but we will be going internationally. The reality is the opportunity is global. This is not a US-only opportunity." The first devices to be released using Google TV will include TV sets and Blu-ray players from Sony and a set-top box from Logitech, both of which are due mid-year.
The much-rumoured project has been in development for some time, reflecting how Google has experienced the same difficulties in trying to blend TV and Internet content as previous attempts. "It's much harder to marry a 50 year old technology and a brand new technology than those of us in the brand new technology area thought," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said.
Australians might well have to wait until when the full code of Google TV is open-sourced in mid-2011, making it possible for set-top box builders to construct systems which can draw on local electronic programming guides and streaming services such as the ABC's iView, Seven's PLUS7 and Nine's FIXPlay.
The platform is based on Android, and non-phone-specific Android applications will also run on Google TV set-top boxes, with a software development kit due to be released when the first hardware appears mid-year. One application developed internally at Google combines existing closed-caption subtitles with Google Translate, allowing viewers to see subtitles in any language of their choice generated on demand. It's also possible to use Google's voice-based search on Android phones to perform searches by saying the name of a show.
The specification requires Intel's Atom processor, suggesting that there'll be a healthy queue of existing PC netbook developers diversifying into making Google TV-compliant access devices. Some of the one-click recording code was developed in conjunction with US satellite provider Dish TV. Similar partnerships would likely be needed with Foxtel, Austar and Freeview in Australia to offer one-click access to scheduling recordings through Google TV.