updated 03:45 am EST, Tue January 10, 2012
We test Sony's 2012 Google TV hardware
Sony at CES unveiled new Google TV hardware that we had the opportunity to try. The hardware itself, a new NSZ-GS7 Network Player and a NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player, isn't a revolution but is subtler and fits well into a home theater. The more distinctive feature for us is the remote: while Sony wouldn't let users touch the early prototypes, which we'll go into depth for along with launch details and pricing.
The remote, on its face, appears to be an expanded version of a Boxee Box remote: it has the usual controls on one side and a QWERTY keyboard on the other. It's on the top side, though, where the big changes come. The remote gives users virtually any choice they want for control: it mixes a conventional navigation key set, a multi-touch trackpad, and (on the Blu-ray player) even voice commands, not unlike Lenovo's K91 TV.
While we couldn't get full control of the remote, it was clear that it was a much, much more effective scheme than the gamepad-like original Sony controller for Google TV. Whatever's most effective is what you use, and because it's much narrower, you can hold it like a traditional remote control. We liked the pinch-to-zoom on the web and the swipe scrolling, although we wish there were more gestures.
The remote works as a universal controller for home theaters, too, which we appreciate as a free bonus.
Google TV itself is largely a stock version of the 2.0 update posted last year. That carries a mixed blessing to us. Using the stock Android-based interface gives it a pure interface, quick updates, and the full Android Market for TVs. However, that also means an experience that doesn't dramatically change Google's position in the TV world. With few apps and a relatively simple interface that's still more focused on the web than native apps, it's hard to point users to a Google TV box unless they wanted it from the outset.
Perhaps the larger concern is timing: Sony isn't shipping either of the Google TV devices until the summer, well after the initial buzz will have gone away. It's hard to see Google's claims of most sets running Google TV in six months doesn't ring true if there are still plainer, cheaper TVs, especially if early rumors of a Siri-guided Apple TV set are real.