SAN FRANCISCO — Aiming to dissolve the wall between television and the Internet and extend its footprint from PCs and smart phones into the living room, Google and a circle of corporate partners will introduce “Google TV” to consumers this fall.
Featuring key roles for Intel and Adobe, the interactive combination of software and components will let users search TV the way they now search the Web, and also use their large screen TV to access more visual applications on the Internet, like Flickr or YouTube. Or, viewers could have a TV and Internet experience at the same time. Google TV — the system would include televisions made by Sony, and hardware powered by Intel’s Atom chips — would allow viewers to watch “American Idol,” for example, while simultaneously looking at Twitter to see what people were saying that moment about a contestant on “American Idol.”
Like Google Internet search, viewers would call up a search box on Google TV to seek out a specific piece of content, whether it was scheduled for broadcast on a TV channel like the USA Network, or was video available on a website like Hulu. The search box would allow viewers to search out specific episodes of a particular TV show, or even to seek out snippets of video showing a particular character, such as “Sesame Street” episodes showing Elmo.
Pay TV providers, technology companies and consumer electronics manufacturers have been attempting — unsuccessfully — to make TVs more interactive for decades, and to bring more Internet content to living room televisions. While analysts said it’s far from clear that Google and its partners will succeed, CEOs representing the six other companies most involved in Google TV said the technology has progressed to create the right conditions and their partnership is strong enough for a compelling marriage between television and the Internet to work.
“It really is a big deal, said Sir Howard Stringer, the CEO of Sony, which plans to begin selling Sony televisions equipped with Google TV this fall. “I can’t stress that enough.”
Beside’s Intel’s Atom chips, Google TV will feature software that will include the latest version of Adobe’s Flash 10.1 software and Google’s Android mobile operating system and Chrome web browser.
The system will be sold through consumer electronics retailer Best Buy, while Logitech will produce a component box and keyboard system will enable Google TV to connect with existing pay cable services. No pricing for those devices was announced Thursday. An enhanced version of Google TV will also be available through Dish TV, the satellite TV provider.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said it took years of advances in CPUs, Web design and open source software to make a system like Google TV possible. “It was much harder to marry a 50-year-old technology with a much newer technology than those of us in the new technology area thought,” Schmidt said.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, cable providers conducted several different trials with interactive set-top boxes. In the 1990s, WebTV, later a part of Microsoft, offered a box that allowed consumers to surf the Web on their televisions. And in the last decade, there have been numerous efforts, ranging from Apple’s Apple TV box to Microsoft’s Media Center interface for Windows, to make it easier for consumers to view content from the Internet on the big-screen TVs in their living room.
More recently, TV manufacturers themselves have been adding Internet connectivity to televisions, which allows their owners to get movies from Vudu or stock quotes from Yahoo directly on the devices without need for an external box. To date, though, none have enjoyed mainstream success.
“How many Web giants have tried do Internet to the TV? This is the latest effort,” said Jonathan Gaw, an analyst with the research firm IDC, noting the checkered history of efforts similar to Google TV. But, noting that there are a growing number of Internet-connected TVs, set-top boxes and game consoles in consumers’ living rooms, Gaw added, “We’re more primed for it than we’ve ever been.”
Lots of questions and potential obstacles remain for Google TV. Gaw noted that Sony was the only major video content provider on stage with Google, and Dish Network was the only service provider, both of which could be problematic.
Content providers have resisted allowing consumers to get content they offer on the Internet on to their TVs. Hulu, for instance, which is owned by Disney’s ABC, NBC Universal and Fox, has attempted to block users of the Boxee video software from watching movies and shows streamed from the site on their TVs.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who shared the stage with Schmidt and Stringer to announce the Google TV effort, said that while the chip maker has seen other efforts to mesh TV and the Web, Intel wanted to work with Google because “the Google-Sony-Logitech collaboration is the earliest, deepest and best we’ve seen so far. “