Google TV unleashed

Here’s a prediction about the 2011 CES convention. The key theme, unlike last year, won’t be 3-D television, but rather, Internet-enabled television sets and Google-OS set-top boxes (STBs).

Set makers are facing real challenges, both technical and financial, in getting viewers to adopt (pay for) 3-D technology. For a myriad of reasons, 3-D is not a consumer-friendly experience. First, you need a new television, which can easily cost well north of $1000. Second, you need a 3-D source, typically some form of gaming box, Blu-ray player, or an additional-cost satellite delivery channel.

And finally, the coup de grace reason to not embrace 3-D television is those so unstylish, cumbersome and expensive 3-D glasses. I dare you to try and multitask while wearing 3-D glasses.

The yearly CES show can be a virtual crystal ball of where consumer electronics is headed. Often the show’s theme is dead on. But sometimes, like with 3-D, vendors send a message consumers don’t embrace. Sure 3-D is a cool theater experience, but the obstacles to viewing 3-D in the average home are significant.

Yes there will be plenty of 3-D technology on display at CES 2011. After all, the manufacturers’ goal is to convince you that you need a new television set. But I think the real innovation and focus at the 2011 CES will be on Internet-connected TV sets.

Of this category, there are really only two options. The first is vendor-centric. That’s where the set maker touts its own set of applications, store and functionality. The second solution is an Internet-focused portal.

One vendor-focused solution is Panasonic’s Viera line of televisions. The sets offer what the company calls VieraCast connectivity. The set provides integrated access to YouTube, Picasa photo processing, the Bloomberg channel and the Weather Channel. The set requires no external box, and the software automatically updates as new content becomes available. What’s missing? Applications. And you are locked into the company’s vision of the Internet and sites you might like to visit.

LG’s Infinia line offers a cool-looking, Internet-connected HDTV, but at a high price point. The package includes the Internet services of Netflix on demand and Vudu. I could go on, but you get the idea. Virtually all television set vendors will exhibit new Internet-connected TVs at CES.

I believe the most-covered technology will be Google TV. The Google TV solution is entirely different from that being offered by most TV set makers. Google TV is primarily software well integrated into a TV set or STB. Think of a browser-focused EPG providing access to both Internet and cable/satellite/over-the-air content.

Google’s first foray into the consumer TV space is embodied in Sony’s line of Internet-connected line of televisions. The lineup includes four integrated models and a Blu-ray disc player. The Sony Internet TV is based on an Intel Atom processor running the Android platform and Google’s Chrome browser.

Unfortunately, Google TV suffered a setback in late October when key networks refused to allow access to much of their content over the platform. Surprised?

What makes Google delivery different from satellite and cable delivery? Not much say the networks, and they expect Google to pay for access to their content. An interesting matchup is building between the networks who own content and a newbie who thinks content is free. We might even see the cable/satellite folks line up to support the networks in this battle. After all, if cable/satellite has to pay for content, why shouldn’t Google?

The first adopters of expensive new 3-D TV sets quickly discovered that new technology without content is pretty much worthless. Because there currently is little high-value content available online, Internet-connected TV set owners may find themselves in a similar situation. After all, how much "social networking" can you endure on that new $2000, 60in, Internet-enabled TV set before you long for the old days of just "watching TV?"