Marvell unveils the brains inside next generation of Google TV
Marvell, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor designer, announced Thursday that the next generation of Google TV will be built around one of its chipsets. The specifications of its reference design show, predictably, a considerable advance in power and chip integration over the first generation of Google TV: For example, Marvell's Armada processor is a dual-core chip, as opposed to the single-core Intel Atom processor found in Logitech's first-generation Google TV product. That's welcome, but the main problems with Google TV thus far have been business-model and software shortcomings. In other words, even if a Marvell-powered Google TV is more powerful and less expensive, it won't necessarily be more appealing.
According to Marvell co-founder Weili Dai, the semiconductor platform her company designed can handle high-definition 3-D movies and video games in addition to smart-TV applications. One complaint about the initial Google TV products, which debuted in October 2010, was that the roster of apps was thin. But Dai argued in an interview Wednesday that the open platform provided by Google TV will attract the same kind of attention from developers that the Android operating system has for smartphones.
"Many people are writing apps on that platform," Dai said. "Every day, every hour [they are] building that capability. ... What you saw for Android and smartphones in general is happening now with the smart TVs and the Google TVs of the world."
A bigger hurdle for Google has been the decision of many important suppliers of television programming online -- including Hulu, the four major broadcast networks and several popular cable channels -- to block Google TV from displaying the online versions of their shows. That reflects the networks' fear that Google TV could encourage people to swap their cable TV subscriptions for free TV online, undermining an important source of revenue for the industry.
The programming and software issues have been so significant that one of the two original Google TV vendors, Logitech, abandoned the product last month. That was a few months after the company revealed it had more returns on the unit than sales in the second quarter of 2011, prompting it to slash the list price from $250 to $99.
Dai said Marvell has cut the cost of the box's chips to the point where companies can "build very affordable devices." She also said she believes that consumers' experience with the connectivity, utility and flexibility of smartphones makes them hungry for a similar capability on the big screens in their home. But she conceded that it's up to Google and the TV industry to come up with a business model that persuades more content providers to embrace the Google TV platform.
"When Android was born, there was the learning curve. The Google TV side is the same thing," Dai said. Google has opened up the TV business model, but now "they need to work within the ecosystem," she added. "I'm hopeful they will resolve that."
Google TV products based on the new Marvell chips are expected later this year. Dai declined to identify any of the manufacturers, but at least some of them are likely to show off prototypes at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.
-- Jon Healey
Photo: Marvell's reference design for its Foresight Platform, which powers the next generation of Google TV. Credit: Marvell