Google -- in one of the most ambitious efforts ever to marry the TV with the Internet -- announced an initiative to create a new class of Web-savvy products and services for television sets with partners including Dish Network, Sony Electronics, Best Buy, Logitech and Intel.
The Internet search giant's Google TV is an open-source software "stack," along with a hardware reference design, aimed at letting consumer-electronics makers, pay-TV service providers, content owners, apps developers and others create new ways to search and discover content on the TV.
The Google TV platform is based on the company's Android operating system and Chrome browser. The software is designed to provide an integrated search function across traditional TV programming and Web content, including the millions of clips on YouTube.
Essentially, Google's idea is to strip away the guide from a subscriber's current cable, satellite or telco provider and replace it with its own interface. The company detailed the TV project Thursday at the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco.
"We've been waiting a long, long time for today," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at the conference. "It's much harder to marry a 50-year-old technology with a brand-new technology than many of us in the new technology area thought."
Dish Network will give subscribers access to the Google TV features later this fall. The satellite operator plans to integrate support for the software in all its HD DVR receivers, to let users connect Google TV devices via an HDMI cable. According to Dish, Google TV "has an exclusive relationship with Dish in the satellite TV category."
"We always felt good business is giving our customers what they want, or what they may not know they want," Charlie Ergen, Dish's chairman, president and CEO, said at the Google event.
For other providers, at least initially, Google TV devices will connect using an HDMI cable and will control a cable, satellite or telco set-top box using a separate "IR blaster." The Google boxes will use Wi-Fi to communicate with input devices, such as keyboards and remote controls.
With Dish, Google developed an IP protocol that will talk to the operator's HD DVRs to provide a higher level of integration -- for example, to let users set DVR recordings from the Google guide.
Dish and Google, which also have a deal for Google to sell Dish's local ad inventory, said they began working together more than a year ago. The companies beta tested the technology with more than 400 of their employees, and feedback from that trial was used to develop Google TV.
Other Google TV partners include:
* Sony, which plans to introduce a Google-enabled "Sony Internet TV," featuring both a standalone TV model and set-top box-type unit incorporating a Blu-ray Disc drive, in the fall of 2010;
* Logitech, which plans to ship a Google TV controller and keyboard in 2010;
* Best Buy, which expects to carry Google TV devices at its retail outlets;
* Intel, whose Atom microprocessors will be used by both Sony and Logitech; and
* Adobe Systems, whose Flash 10.1 is incorporated into the Google TV platform.
The real question is whether regular viewers will find the Google TV promise of a richer video experience compelling enough to hook up an additional device to their television sets, according to Jonathan Hurd, director at Altman Vilandrie & Co., a Boston-based media and technology consulting firm.
"The value-added of those devices for your average consumer is low in comparison to just accessing some of these services on my PC," Hurd said. He said Google is not a client of his firm.
Rishi Chandra, group product manager for Google TV, said at the I/O conference that most existing approaches to bringing Web content to the television have failed for three reasons: they try to "dumb down" the Web for TV; they're closed; or they don't integrate traditional TV with the Web.
"What Google TV does is take the best of what TV offers today and the best of what the Web offers today," he said.
Google TV has already integrated with Amazon's video-on-demand service and Netflix's Internet-streaming feature. "For a user, it doesn't matter where I get my content," Chandra said. "The Web becomes a natural extension of the TV itself."
On stage at Google I/O, Schmidt brought out the chief executives from the launch partners: Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen and Logitech CEO Gerry Quindlen.
Schmidt ended his presentation by exhorting the gathered Google developers -- estimated to be more than 4,000 people -- to write new apps designed for TV. "We need you to take this platform and build extraordinary things that we haven't thought about," he said, adding that television "historically has been a medium that has never, ever changed."
The Google TV demos encountered repeated snafus during the launch event, which company execs blamed on wireless interference from audience members' cell phones. The Google TV keyboard was using the Bluetooth wireless protocol to communicate with the set-top, and Chandra several times urged the crowd to shut off their handsets.
Among the demos that worked, Google showed voice-recognition of the Android mobile phone paired with a Google TV device; when the presenter spoke "Good Morning America" into the phone, the system tuned to the live TV show. The company also showed off the ability to push YouTube clips to the TV using an Android device.
In addition, Google execs previewed "YouTube Lean-Back," a personalized version of the service that plays a continuous video stream based on a user's interests or keywords.
Another demo was supposed to show Google's language-translation engine translating closed-captioned text into Chinese, but that didn't work as intended.
Meanwhile, other companies are already piling onto the Google TV bandwagon.
Rovi, for one, said it plans to bring its TotalGuide TV navigation solution aimed at CE manufacturers to Google TV through the Android platform. In addition, Rovi said it has been in discussions with manufacturers about their implementations for Google TV.
"Rovi believes Google's announcement is yet another milestone in the developing Internet TV market," the company said in a statement.