Tuning Into Another New Season of Internet TV

Google TV, the search giant’s bold attempt to connect TVs to Internet content once and for all, has launched. But is the world finally ready for it? Does Google have the muscle to make real where previous aspirants have failed? And perhaps most important: Will my mother be able to set it up without my help?

Tuning into Another Season of Internet TVIt feels like we’ve been through this so many times before. AOL tried it. Microsoft tried it. Apple has tried it a few times and continues to try to win acceptance for Apple TV. All sorts of set-top boxes (Roku, Netflix, Slingbox) have either flamed out or hung around, but nothing has really gelled.

What’s different now is that Google is doing the talking, and it has the power and deal-making ability to get big content providers (although not the three big broadcast networks yet), as well as hardware manufacturers, to sign on.

That last part is really important because while early adopters will probably have to wrestle with a Logitech box called the Revue, the technology will eventually be embedded in new TVs and Blu-ray players, making installation and use easier – allegedly.

Ease of Use. Ha.

So what will all this look like in the typical home? I’m not sure, and the Logitech FAQ is more intimidating than helpful. Therein lies the problem. Making this technological leap into TV’s future requires not only gadgetry but also the general public’s willingness to put up with training themselves on another remote control and perhaps even a coffee-table keyboard, something they’ve never latched onto before. Then there’s the classic debate that Internet and TV gurus have been having for 15 years: Are we ready to turn the “lean back” experience of watching TV into a “lean forward” computing experience?

I’m not as much of a Luddite as, say, Andy Rooney, but I do suspect this market will be slow to expand and will require a complete rev of TVs and DVD players, something that could take more than a decade until we all finish paying for our current 50-inch LCD TVs. And will the cable companies who control our current set-top boxes get involved somehow? That could be either a complication or salvation, depending on how it goes.

I have to admit that over the years I’ve gotten real pleasure out of asking the people who create these concepts a simple question: “What connects with what?” Invariably they seem shocked that an “expert” like me would ask. “Really,” I continue. “What connects with what? Is it wireless? Does the computer need to be near the TV? Do I need to buy another HDMI cable? Do I have to unplug something?” You’d be surprised how often they stumble on the answer and how cavalier they can be about the market’s acceptance of increasing the complications in our technological lives.

That’s why the best career advice I can give in the wake of Google’big announcement is to suggest that there will be a huge market for Geek Squad-style “home technology concierges,” who’ll travel around to update 20th-century home entertainment systems for the 21st century. Frankly, I could use one myself. Ultimately this is a home-networking challenge, and an opportunity for any gadget guru who cares to embrace the complications. My gut feeling is that millions of people are going to have no interest in “booting up” their TVs rather than simply turning them on, and it will be up to an army of helpers to make the experience tolerable. I, for one, don’t want to do tech support for my mother. Neither do you.

— Don Willmott