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Can Google TV take down a HTPC?

21

From all of the articles I’ve written recently singing the praises of Google TV, you’d think I’ve never seen this kind of technology in place before!  If you’ve had the pleasure of reading those articles (hehe), you found that what’s got me so excited about Google TV really boils down to one thing: Innovation


The hype over Google TV reaches from Tunisia to Pakistan, to the United Kingdom to the United States.  Everywhere everyone is talking about the “Google Internet TV” devices.  We wanted to take some time to see if these devices really live up to the hype and how they compare to a full fledged Home Theater PC.

I believe that the majority of readers here most likely have a pretty in-depth understanding of various Home Technologies, but I want ensure I don’t assume that at least some of our readers perhaps aren’t very familiar with the concept of a Home Theater PC (HTPC).  So let’s compare the two technologies side by side, not with the intention of labeling one as “the best”, but rather to give you enough information to find out which one is right for you and your home!

The concept: intercepting the signal
HTPC:

A Home Theater PC is exactly what it’s name infers, a PC that you integrate with your Home Theater.  I think it’s safe to say that the majority of HTPCs are running a Windows OS (Windows 7 works amazingly well as a HTPC), but there are Linux and Mac OS variants as well.  Over the years the technology around HTPC’s has increased tremendously to the point where you can perform 100% of the functions of the rest of your equipment (i.e. DVD/Blu-ray playback, DVR functionality).  You can actually get away with having just the HTPC, a TV, and hopefully a surround sound receiver to create a very robust and flexible system.  The variety of configurations for a home built HTPC are numerous, but the HTPC basically intercepts your TV signal (from whatever source) and then forwards it on to your TV or surround sound receiver.  This concept of intercepting the TV signal from your cable and/or satellite company and being able to have more control over that source is the same direction that this newer generation of devices under the Google TV umbrella are moving.

revue
Logitech revue:

The Logitech Revue is an Android OS based device that also sits between your incoming TV signal and your TV and/or surround sound receiver.  The driving force behind these new players in your Living Room is the power of the Android Operating System (OS) and the ability for people to create applications designed for Google TV.  A great example of the power that is Android is its rapid growth towards world dominance in the Mobile Phone Industry.  It’s going to be very exciting to watch what happens with Google TV as people start to let down their guard about this newest attempt at joining of the Internet and their TV in the Living Room and embrace growth!  Android already has a huge pool of talented programmers creating apps for our Smartphones, that knowledge should transfer easily over to Google TV

Ease of Use
HTPC:

Having a HTPC in your Living Room, Family Room, or Media Room brings with it a nearly limitless platform on which can continue to be built upon as your needs and interests change.  All of that power and flexibility comes at a price however.  The more functionality you want in your HTPC experience, the more hardware and software you need to install and configure for everything to work properly. As much of an improvement Windows 7 is over previous versions, there is still a lot of tweaking that needs to happen to have everything working well.

Logitech Revue:

The Logitech Revue (as with all of the Google TV devices) is built for simplicity.  This unit seems targeted at the general consumer who probably has never considered having a keyboard in the Living Room, let alone performing everyday tasks like checking email or banking from the comfort of their own couch!  But this is the magic behind Google TV, they have built it so that realistically anyone can get the revue plugged into their system and start enjoying the vast resources of streaming content the Internet has to offer from a couch rather than a computer chair in the office.  I had the Revue plugged in and controlling my TV, Denon surround sound receiver, and the Revue within probably 10 minutes.

Don’t let Google TVs simplicity fool you however, as the App Market opens up and the OS matures (along with the hardware), this platform has the capability to be extremely powerful.  Speaking of hardware…

Hardware
HTPC:

Trying to compare the hardware aspects of the Revue to a HTPC can get pretty difficult due to the nearly limitless options one has on the HTPC side.  Depending on your budget, space available in your Entertainment Center, as well as how far you want to take your HTPC experience; a HTPC can range from a small unit about the same size as the Revue to a full desktop PC sized case with an LCD monitor right in the unit.

htpc-vs-logitech-revue

This makes it very difficult to really compare the two in the hardware category, but suffice to say that the HTPC comes with the potential for as much power as you deem necessary for performing tasks like encoding audio and video files.

The vast majority of video cards built for a HTPC today can output in full High Definition either directly to your TV or via your AV receiver through the HDMI connection.  The HDMI signal will carry your audio, but if you like, you can make use of the fiber optic connection your motherboard most likely has also.  Without going to far off topic here, it is reasonable to say that you can build (or buy) the right amount of power to match your desires and add on from there.

Beyond the audio and video, you also have the ability (depending on the form factor you chose) to add a TV tuner card that can replace your set-top-box and make that HTPC into your DVR.  Some higher end TV tuner cards have the ability to record 4 HD channels simultaneously.  Those recordings can be stored on the HTPC or on a separate server (Windows Home Server) for viewing from any of the PCs, laptops, and even cell phones you’ve got at home.

Logitech Revue:

While it’s easy to see that when it comes to Hardware flexibility the HTPC wins hands down, it is also important to remember that the Revue wasn’t created to perform all of the functions that a HTPC can do.  The Logitech was built to overlay search capabilities over your TV signal as well as the features that the available apps bring to the table, such as streaming content.

The Revue comes with the same 1.2 Ghz Atom processor that is found in many of the more popular Netbooks that are out there.  And while this may be enough power for the current set of features on the Google TV devices (they all have the same hardware specs), it is certainly not enough power for the types of jobs a well built HTPC can perform.

It is probably safe to say that Google TV devices will come out on more powerful hardware down the road, especially as more apps are created to expand their functionality.  In time, Google TV devices may be closer to HTPCs in form and functionality than they are today, especially with Android.

Functionality
HTPC:

When it comes to what feats these two devices can perform, one can see that the HTPC comes out ahead here again.  The question that remains however, is whether the features that the HTPC has beyond what the Revue offers are features that the general population really need.

With a properly outfitted HTPC, one can do a few “essential” things in the Home Entertainment arena that can’t be accomplished on the Revue.  They include:

  • Watching Blu-ray movies in full HD audio and video
  • Ripping, burning, and creating Audio CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays.
  • Playing the latest releases of computer games on a large HDTV.

When it comes down to it, the HTPC can do just about anything one can think of when it comes to watching movies or listening to music whether it be local content or streamed.  If you want to throw Microsoft Office and do some work from the couch, you can do that also!  There really is no limit as to what you can use a HTPC for in this context.

Logitech Revue:

Again, we come to the point that the Revue wasn’t built to do some of the things listed above.  If you really want the Google TV features, but also need a Blu-ray player, you can always go with the Sony Internet Blu-ray Player.

Google TV is meant to do the following things (currently), and it does them quite well:

  • Searching, finding, and then viewing streaming (HD) content from the Internet to your TV.
  • Allow you to search, and view the content on your Set-top-box (cable or satellite).  Features full integration if you are a Dish Network subscriber.
  • Enabling you the ability to search and browse the Internet while watching TV with the fully functioning built in Chrome browser and Picture-in-Picture.  Go check your email, banking, sports scores, and whatever else you’d like to check out right from your couch!

The Logitech Revue does what it was intended to do, quite well.

So…which one?

Despite the fact that I think that a well-built HTPC is still reserved for that segment of the population that have the technical know-how to make use of all of its features (read Geeks), it is still the most powerful, flexible, and robust solution a person can have when bringing the Internet to ones Television.

Personally, my HTPC is without a doubt my preferred means of interacting with my TV.  I use it to watch live TV, watch Blu-rays and DVDs, stream movies and music, surf the web, and even occasionally play games.

Windows_Media_Center_Logo

Currently, the combination of a Windows 7 HTPC and Windows Home Server, is in my opinion, the most complete Home Theater Entertainment platform there is.

However, I am not sure that a HTPC is for everyone.  I think that its complexity could be a major factor with those who’s technical skills aren’t as high as others.  This is why Google TV is such a genius product.  I say this because I think Google TV is a perfect solution for the masses.  It is simple to set up and use, it has the power of Google Search at its core, and more importantly, it has the power of the Android OS behind it.  As the Google App Market opens up to Google TV specifically designed applications, then only imagination limits where Google TV and devices like the Logitech Revue go.

While HTPCs are for more advanced users, Google TV is built for the masses.  In time, it seems reasonable that the capabilities of this new player in our Home Technology lives will begin to catch up with the PC.  Imagine a future where HTPCs can be built with Google’s Chrome OS instead of Windows 7.

google tv

Google TV is a brilliant product that brings Innovation to our Homes and to the Television.  The more we embrace new innovations such as this, the more innovation there will be period!  The more we are open to new concepts like having a keyboard in your living room, the faster Innovation moves!  This only brings the reality of Home System Integration to everyone, not just the people with lots of money!

Tom

What are your thoughts?  Do you have a HTPC in your Home Theater?  Do you think Google TV can revolutionize the Television or is it just a passing fad?  We’d love to hear your comments!

About the Author

Tom AbellPut simply, Tom loves technology! Having been involved in the IT world since leaving the US Navy Submarine Force in 1992, Tom has moved his way up to the top as an IT Systems Engineering. But having spent some time in the Home Automation industry early in his career, he’s never been able to shake his love for creating integrated Home Technology environments and has been running HTPCs and Windows Home Servers for years. With 17 years of IT Systems Engineering experience, Tom's recent OIF 08-09 deployment has rekindled his love for the Connected Home Industry and hence, the website. We hope you like the site, please share it with your friends and follow us on your favorite Social Networks! Read more about Tom on the "About Us" page.View all posts by Tom Abell

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    EmanTech11-10-2010

    Well written article. I think you are right on point. I think GTV is for the masses as well as those with more basic needs. I have been thinking of putting together a HTPC and I fall into the 'geek' type that would do it. My need however is simply to view net on TV (things like Academic Earth, Youtube, Email, etc.) which doesn't require an HTPC and could easily be done on GTV.

    I believe that GTV is a decent option now for the early adopter. However, the early adopter is generally the HTPC type. While I think GTV will have limited success now, it will probably do much better in version 2 and once a few of the issues are worked out (like network tv). By that time it may have challengers that give us options and limit its success. Then again, this is Google we are talking about so I'm sure they will innovate and make it work for them. And, that probably means it will work for most of us.

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    I am a geek that has built most of my desktop computers, but I am personally still leary of the video and audio quality from a HTPC's. That's one of the reasons I bought a Sony Internet TV Blue-Ray. Man it was easy to setup, just plug it in, set a few settings and it's ready to go. The sound and picture quality is very good. It does an excellent job of scaling various content whether it's from DVR, the Blue-Ray or DVD or Internet. The theater sound is incredible too. I don't have surround sound, but I have excellent Paradigm speakers and it mixes it down to stereo in such a way that it seems to fill the room and the movie explosions shake the room and bring out bass like never before.

    Sure, there's limitations, but it's such a handy little device that it adds features that are worth the money and I can let Sony upgrade the firmware automatically. I don't have to deal with reformatting a hard drive or re-installing a bunch of incompatible software, or experimenting with a combination that is just sort-a good. I am most interested in good audio, video (colors, scaling), and integration with existing hardware without breaking the bank or making the experience too geeky and the little Sony Internet TV seems like a very good balance and solution.

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Setup & Integration of Home Technology: Home Theater - Home Server - HTPC - Home Networks