Sony's take on Google TV
The Internet's path from home computer to living room television has been littered with casualties, from WebTV, launched in the 1995, to Ultimate TV in 2000 and Apple TV in 2007.
Despite that, Sony is making a run at connecting the Internet with the TV this fall with a lineup of electronics that features built-in Google TV. Prices will range from $1,399 for a 46-inch high-definition LED-lit TV to $399 for a Blu-ray player. All will have the ability to connect to the Internet via built-in Wi-Fi.
Sony will be the only TV manufacturer this holiday that can boast having native Google TV, a software platform that lets users access the Internet on their TV to do things like search for show-related information, watch online videos or stream on-demand movies from Web-based services such as Netflix and Amazon.com's Video on Demand -- albeit not Hulu.
That's because Sony had half a dozen engineers working over the summer at Google's Mountain View, Calif., offices to fine-tune its version of Google TV (other TV manufacturers are expected to follow up with their own sets early next year).
Will Sony benefit from its first-mover advantage? Or will it end up like other Internet television pioneers -- with arrows in its back?
Mike Abary, senior vice president of Sony Electronics' television business in San Diego, is betting on success. He cites three reasons why this generation of Internet-connected televisions will fare better than its predecessors.
1. The Internet is faster now. Back in 1995, when Steve Perlman launched Web TV, dial-up modems were the gateway to the Web. Pages took seconds to load, and downloading pictures could take minutes. Today's bandwidth speeds allow many viewers to stream high-definition movies, Abary said.
2. More content. There's a lot more to watch on the Web now besides homemade cat videos. Netflix's Instant Watch service has more than 25,000 titles. Amazon's Video on Demand lets viewers rent thousands of movies and TV shows.
3. All-in-one simplicity. Abary argues that Sony's ability to build Google TV right into its sets means consumers won't have to fumble with an extra box, one of several key factors that killed previous attempts to bring the Internet to the TV. "It's seamless and simple," Abary said. "And when you sum up all these changes, it adds up to a perfect storm. The time is right."
To Abary's list, we'll add a fourth from James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research who has followed many of these failed efforts over the years.
"Most of these were attempts to throw the Web onto the TV in ways that were uninteresting and useless," McQuivey said. "Google TV is the first attempt that makes TV-watching better. It’s not bringing the Internet to the TV, but using the Internet to bring better TV."
-- Alex Pham
Photos: Top, Sony Internet TV, model NSX-46GT1, which will retail later this month for $1,399 for a 46-inch screen, $999 for a 40-inch set, $799 for a 32-inch set and $599 for a 24-inch version. Bottom left, Sony's remote control, which incorporates attributes from game controllers, mobile phone QWERTY keypads and a touch-based trackpad from laptop computers. Credit: Sony Electronics