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The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Google TV

Frequency, Showyou bring order to online-video chaos

Frequency
Deloitte's annual survey of the media landscape, released early last month, reported that 9% of the people interviewed had canceled their pay TV subscriptions in favor of watching shows online, and another 11% were considering it. Those are big, scary numbers for cable and satellite TV operators, as well as for TV producers who haven't found a way yet to make online viewing as lucrative as the combination of advertising dollars and monthly subscriber fees they collect from the likes of Comcast and DirecTV.

But there's another phenomenon that should be more alarming to industry incumbents: the emergence of services that capably transform the chaotic jumble of online video into compelling channels of entertainment. Two good examples are Los Angeles-based Frequency, which makes apps for mobile devices, computers and connected TVs, and Showyou, an iPad and iPhone app from San Francisco-based Remixation.

Unlike Clicker, neither company pays attention to the broadcast or cable TV episodes that are online, nor do they offer an index to movies on demand (at least not yet). Instead, they aggregate clips and links from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, among other sources, then organize them into feeds by genre and popularity. They also use social-media tools to create personalized feeds curated by one's Facebook friends, Twitter connections and other users of each app.

They have different strategies -- Frequency is trying to put its app on every device a person might use to watch video, while Showyou is focused primarily on iPads and iPhones -- and their apps have different looks -- Frequency presents multiple channels in separate scrollable columns, Showyou a single array that can be scrolled in two directions. But they have a similar effect, which is to present online video in the familiar, channel-based, lean-back context of television. It's interactive, sure, but without all the effort (or the keyboard).

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CES 2012: Television makers push Google TV in Las Vegas

Vizio Google TV

When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come. 

"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."

At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player -- all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.

The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.

McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."

"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up.... So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."

The prospects for Google TV -- which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities -- are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions. 

Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming. Vizio stream player

Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers. 

LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software. 

The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV -- one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source. 

"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Sesame Street Kinect shows promise of TV voice, gesture control [Video]

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.

Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.

But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.

However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraAt CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).

Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.

Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.

The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.

For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.

I At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraf the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.

The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.

Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.

Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.

There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES preview: Google TV items on tap from Sony, Samsung, Vizio, LG

Sony's first-generation Google TV set

Google is trying again with Google TV, and on Thursday it announced its partners for the television effort before hardware is unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.

The lineup is mostly familiar, with LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio producing Google TV products. Sony has released Google TV television sets and set-top boxes, and Samsung and Vizio both showed off prototype Google TV products at CES last year that never made it to market.

Absent from the Google TV hardware lineup this year is Logitech, which gave up on the Internet-connected TV software after its Google TV products failed to catch on with consumers, resulting in more returns than sales in the second quarter of 2011.

Marvell and MediaTek will produce chipsets for Google TV products.

LG "will showcase a new line of TVs powered by Google TV running on their own L9 chipset at CES," Google said, also noting that Samsung and Sony will have new Google TV devices on the market this year. LG said in its own statement that some of its Google TV sets will be 3-D.

Vizio will hold "private demos at CES showcasing their new line of Google TV-powered products," Google said.

The Technology blog will be at CES next week looking at Google TV products and other new gadgets, games and technologies, so stay tuned.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Sony's first-generation Internet-connected LCD television powered by Google's Android-based Google TV platform. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

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

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.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: Marvell's reference design for its Foresight Platform, which powers the next generation of Google TV. Credit: Marvell

Samsung says it's close to deal to make Google-ready TV set

Google
Samsung may make a new television outfitted with Google software.

Talks are in their final stages, an executive with the South Korean company told reporters in Seoul. But the TV will not be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January when Samsung competitor LG Electronics takes the wraps off its Google TV.

The two largest TV manufacturers are looking to boost sales and prices in the TV market.

Last year Google formed a partnership with Sony to launch a TV that let users surf the Web but users dinged the TV for costing too much and being too complicated to use.

"Samsung is a very important partner of Google's and we announced a Google TV partnership earlier in the year. We're excited about working with Samsung on Google TV in the months ahead, and we look forward to bringing great products to consumers in 2012," a Google spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Google is looking to boost its advertising business and increase viewership of YouTube by expanding to TV.  But the search giant has yet to win over ABC, CBS or NBC, which continue to block TV programming on their websites from being viewed on Google TV. Google does have partnerships with Time Warner Inc.'s HBO, Turner Broadcasting and others.

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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Google employees on the company's campus in Mountain View, Calif., in 2004. Photo credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

Logitech Revue with Google TV has more returns than sales

Logitech Revue with Google TV

So far, Logitech's bet on Google TV has been a bust.

The computer, video game and TV accessory maker has had more of its Revue set-top boxes running Google TV returned than sold and kept.

In response, Logitech is dropping the price of the Revue from $250 to $99 in a move "to accelerate adoption of Google TV platform in order to develop a large installed base for our products over time" the company said in a statement. When the Revue first launched last October, it sold for $299.

Logitech said that upcoming changes to Google TV should also make the platform and the Revue more attractive to consumers. Among the changes expected is an updated user interface and a new apps marketplace.

Evidently, hiring Kevin Bacon as a pitchman for the Revue didn't help sales either. Logitech has removed from its YouTube page ads that feature Bacon playing a fan of his who uses Google TV to connect to the Internet and find Bacon-related content online.

Now at $99, the Revue matches Apple TV's price as well as the new Roku 2. The Roku 2 and Apple TV are about the size of a hockey puck, while the Revue is about the size of a standard cable box and uses a full-size wireless keyboard or smart phone app to find content.

But negative sales numbers for the Revue wasn't the only problem for Logitech, based in Switzerland.

The company posted a $45 million operating loss at the end of its first fiscal quarter and also announced this week that its president and chief executive, Gerald P. Quindlen, is stepping down, replaced by Chairman Guerrino De Luca on an acting basis as the company looks for a new long-term CEO.

De Luca previously ran Logitech from 1998 to 2008 as president and CEO.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: The Logitech Revue with Google TV set-top box and keyboard. Credit: Logitech

Google buys SageTV in move likely meant to beef up Google TV

5116043862_f21402a7e2_b

Google has acquired SageTV, an Inglewood-based company that makes both DVR technology and streaming-video software for PCs running Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple Mac OS X.

The tech giant hasn't yet said exactly what it plans to do with SageTV or how much it paid for the company. But, a Google spokeswoman said the company was looking forward to taking SageTV's media management software and technology "to the next level."

The deal is seen as a move to improve Google TV, the Mountain View, Calif., firm's software that allows users to search and find video in their TV listings, DVRs and from the Internet, including sites such as Google-owned YouTube.

So far Google TV has failed to catch on with consumers, and it hasn't been met with much excitement from developers, TV makers or networks either.

One item SageTV offers that Google TV doesn't yet have is the company's Placeshifter software, which lets users watch TV (live or recorded to a DVR) over a high-speed Internet connection on another screen (such as a laptop or a second TV set).

Placeshifter is a similar product to the more-popular Slingbox and SlingPlayer software from Sling Media, which streams video to TVs, computers and even the Apple iPad.

Sling Media is building a version of SlingPlayer for Google TV and other Internet-connected TVs, but Placeshifter could allow Google to build in such functionality without having to rely on outside companies.

Google may also be looking to beef up its cloud services related to video and TV in an ongoing cloud computing arms race against rivals Apple, Amazon and (on the business end) Microsoft.

All three companies now offer cloud services for music libraries, but video and TV services aren't as fleshed out yet.

Rakesh Agrawal, who founded and runs SnapStream, which at one-time competed with SageTV and is now a TV-search challenger to Google TV, said in a blog post that he thought the purchase could be a step toward adding native DVR features. The technology blog GigaOm dismissed that notion on Monday, arguing that "this will be Google TV's take on TV Everywhere -- and it will add features to the device that will make Apple and others look weak in comparison."

SageTV announced the Google takeover on Saturday in a message on its website.

"Since 2002, we've worked to change the TV viewing experience by building cutting-edge software and technology that allows you to create and control your media center from multiple devices," SageTV said in its statement. "And as the media landscape continues to evolve, we think it's time our vision of entertainment management grows as well. By teaming up with Google, we believe our ideas will reach an even larger audience of users worldwide on many different products, platforms and services."

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 -- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

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Photo: Google TV, running from a Logitech Revue set-top box, on a Samsung TV. Credit: Brian Bilek via Flickr.

Internet-connected-TV sales to skyrocket

Image_access Sales of Internet-connected TVs are set to boom, but not so much in the United States.

Global sales of TVs with Internet access are projected to reach 123 million sets by 2014, bolstered mostly by growth in China, Latin America and Eastern Europe, according to a report from research firm DisplaySearch.

Already, almost 20% of TVs shipped last year around the world had Internet capability. By 2014, sales of so-called "smart TVs" in Eastern Europe are estimated to grow to more than 10 million from 2.5 million units in 2010, according to DisplaySearch, which also found that 33% of flat-panel sets snapped up in China will have Internet capability by 2013.

“The connected-TV market is developing beyond mature regions like Western Europe and Japan,” said Paul Gray, director of TV electronics for DisplaySearch, in the report. “With some emerging countries having excellent broadband infrastructure, the adoption of connected TV capabilities is a natural next step in TV feature innovation.”

In developed countries such as the U.S., TVs with more advanced options, like the ability to stream Netflix, follow "on the heels of digital broadcasting," DisplaySearch said. In other nations, such sets can leapfrog the broadcasting infrastructure. In China, Internet-connected TVs can stream video from the Internet, but many cannot decode standard programming, DisplaySearch said.

The research firm also predicted that options for Internet-capable TVs would skyrocket in the next few years, from basic sets that can stream video to more sophisticated (and expensive) versions with apps and advanced search engines.

“Smart TVs are adding to what is already a fast-moving and fiercely competitive battleground, with competition appearing in all directions, including mobile PC devices such as tablets and increasingly powerful set-top boxes with services accessible any time, anywhere," Gray said.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: An Internet-connected TV from Sony. Credit: Best Buy

Logitech denies Google asked it to stop producing Google TV box Revue

Logitech has denied rumors that have spread across blogs and news websites Monday that Google has asked it to suspend production of its Google TV set-top box, the Revue.

But while the Swiss tech firm was fighting one set of rumors, it stopped short of dispelling other rumors circulating online that it had decided to halt production of the Revue on its own.

"Contrary to recent speculation, Logitech has not been asked by Google to suspend production of its Google TV products," wrote Nancy Morrison, a Logitech spokeswoman, in a statement e-mailed to The Times. "Suggestions that production of the Logitech Revue companion box might need to be halted to address software issues are unfounded."

Google officials were unavailable for comment on Monday evening.

The DigiTimes was among the first of many tech news websites to report that unnamed sources had said Logitech was unhappy with the Google TV software and had halted its efforts to produce the Revue. 

Logitech_logoLogitech's Morrison said the company "does not discuss the specific production plans for any of its products. As a high-volume manufacturer of electronic products, Logitech's use of its own factories, as well as those of its manufacturing partners, provides the company with flexibility in how and when it produces products to accommodate customer demand."

She noted that Logitech was having no problems meeting consumer demand for the Revue.

The Revue, a small, black plastic box with hardware that stores and runs Google TV software, comes paired with a wireless keyboard to search the Internet for programming and to navigate various Google TV apps, such as Netflix and Twitter.

Logitech's support of the Revue and Google TV has not been insignificant since the device launched in October.

The company has been frequently airing commercials featuring actor Kevin Bacon playing a fan of his who uses Google TV to connect to the Internet and find content online.

Ashish Arora, vice president of Logitech's Digital Home Group, which developed the Revue with Google, wrote a blog post Monday titled "All's Well With Logitech Revue."

"At Logitech we usually refrain from commenting on rumors and speculation," Arora wrote. "But I can't ignore the recent puzzling speculation that Google has asked Logitech to suspend production of Logitech Revue to address software issues."

He pointed out that the Google TV software on the Revue could be modified over an Internet connection and the Revue box itself wouldn't need an update.

"Each of our customers will receive periodic over-the-air updates whenever Google and Logitech release changes to the Google TV platform," Arora wrote. "Logitech Revue boxes purchased at launch in October, as a holiday gift in December or to follow basketball in the spring, will all be the same and will all benefit from the same software updates."

The post said that Logitech and Google "have a collaborative, effective working relationship as we listen to consumer feedback and work together on enhancements to the Google TV platform."

Arora added that the two companies are set to show off Google TV products next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Video: Logitech Revue ad featuring Kevin Bacon. Credit: Logitech via YouTube

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