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Tuesday May 10, 2011 3:42 pm

Five ways Google can make Google TV a winner

Google TV improvements

Google paid off Hollywood on Monday. And in so doing, it bought a future for Google TV.

Just under a year from when Google and Logitech first unveiled the first Google TV, otherwise known as the Logitech Revue, Google I/O 2011 is this week in San Francisco with some real hope for the platform. Google just signed a deal that brings thousands of videos YouTube.

Content, content, content. Without it, you're as dead in the water as the some extended cable channel at 3 a.m. The only reason that fools like me own one is the vague hope that Google might see the light, open its pocketbook, and perhaps give us some real content to watch.

It's odd, in a way, that consumers could even gripe about such a thing. A few bucks to Netflix or to Hulu opens up a wealth of fresh and archived content that should keep the most devoted couch potato rooted for weeks. But there's something inutterably frustrating about visiting a website and seeing content blocked—blocked!—just because you own a particular piece of hardware.

It seems likely that Samsung will announce its Google TV devices this week, in addition to a Chrome OS netbook. With Logitech reporting just $5 million in sales for the Revue, it would seem that the supply will outstrip the demand.

But with Google's deal that brings rentals to YouTube, there's hope for the platform yet. While Google TV doesn't look likely to dominate the media streamer market, let's look at what Google could do to make the next generation of Google TV succeed.

1) Content, content, content. Finally, someone at Google gets it. Let's face it: Hollywood has won this round. They hold the content, and thus the cards. The great wealth of content Hollywood holds in its gilded vaults needs to move online, and fast, as Blockbuster and other brick-and-mortar video stores fade. Content attracts viewers.

But, you say—why do I need another source of the same content I can get everywhere else? Because Google landed 2010's Best Picture, The King's Speech, along with Inception and other hits. Start signing deals with CBS.com and other providers, Google.

And what else does Google do very, very, well?

2) Out-Hulu Hulu. Yes, that's right: we're talking about ads. I don't love ads, but Google does a capable job presenting relevant, interesting advertisements. YouTube already sells banner ads against its content, and has said before that it can run the type of pre-roll ads that Hulu runs.

Hulu reportedly is going to become some sort of cable channel; why not step into Hulu's role and start running ads against selected free content? Sony's Crackle already does this, but it runs the same bloody ad every five minutes or so. That kind of monotony will drive users away.

3) Android Apps. Is there any platform Angry Birds isn't on, today? Ah, yes, Google TV. While I don't really feel compelled to squash virtual pigs while seated on my couch, Rovio's flagship title has become a litmus test for a viable app platform. Yes, there are rumors that we'll finally see a version of the Android Market for the Google TV. We need to, if only to give the platform some legitimacy.

4) Beef up the performance. I wouldn't characterize the Revue as particularly slow, but nothing snaps, either. Sharp screen transitions imply performance, and the Revue's screens sort of trail into one another. On the other hand, the Revue often feels warm to the touch, and the last thing anyone wants is another fan inside their A/V cabinet. The "about:flags" page in Chrome OS and Chrome indicates several options to turn on hardware GPU acceleration. There should be an opportunity to beef up the performance a bit without pushing the heat envelope higher.

In addition, I should note that the Revue's wireless is lousy. I mounted mine (I own one; it isn't a review unit) directly over my PlayStation 3. While I could stream Netflix to the PS3 without a hitch, I had to tweak and tune the Revue just to receive a Wi-Fi signal. I thought it was a flaw with the software, but a powerline adapter fixed the problem. Incidentally, Logitech sent it over—apparently as their version of AT&T appeasing customers with free microcells.

5) Cut the price. A lot. Cutting the Revue's price from $299 to $249 doesn't mean much when the most expensive Roku player, the XD/S, costs $99. The Revue simply does not offer $250 worth of value. It has the potential to, of course. And that's the reason Logitech was able to charge $299 in the first place. But the Google TV's woes have tarnished the brand, and it will need to be polished.

To date, I've become accustomed to Google TV. I don't love it; however, I do use it, and my wife and family know how to navigate it. But I rarely wander beyond YouTube, Nextflix, and an app or two. Google TV was designed to put the full Web inside my TV. I'm ready to explore it, Google. Open it up.

This article, written by Mark Hachman, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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