Logitech Revue with Google TV (and all Google TV products) is a smart and user-friendly concept, but absent the support it needs to be a hit with consumers.  It is important to note that Google TV (and licensees) is not alone in lacking what is needed to be a hit with general audiences. D-Link’s Boxee Box suffers similarly.

Here is my quick take on both products:

I’ve been using the Logitech product for a several months and like it just fine.  It set up quickly and easily, as an interface box between my TV and TiVo Series 3.  It is actually an intermediary set top box (STB).  It is supposed to be where content is aggregated, easily accessed and presented on the TV, using either or both, in my case, the TiVo remote for TiVo-only functions as before AND the Logitech remote, which is fine Logitech wireless keyboard.  The STB is connected not only to the TV but also to the Internet via Ethernet, in my case.  I’ve got it plumbed to our fast, 25Mbps up and down FiOS Gigabit Ethernet network, but it can also connect via Wi-Fi.

The large, lightweight, wireless keyboard has buttons for accessing my TiVo and other STBs’ interfaces and menus for controlling it.  The concept, the very idea, is to get to all the user’s normal TV and STB functions and features as well as the uniquely aggregated capabilities living within the Logitech STB.  These include, natch, Netflix, searching via the embedded Google Chrome browser, and much more, that, absent what is really important, halts the product benefits for some users at the starting gate.

What is wrong?  Plenty, and it’s not really the fault of Google TV and its products, near as I can determine.  With Internet capabilities it should be an easy path to content beyond the expected YouTube, Pandora and so many others there for the asking.  It should be easy to also call up streaming content from, you know, the networks; ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox.  We should be able to access Hulu, too, to get those missed episodes, but we cannot.  (Hulu Plus at $10 per month works on Boxee, but what about plain old FREE Hulu??)  We can do this on our computers, right?  On our computers we can get episodes we’ve missed, which is what we all want to be able to see on our TVs, right? And these really are computers, aren’t they?  One would expect and appreciate having this new and convenient gateway to all that streaming programming otherwise missed.

One would expect to be able to stream the shows through this new STB (as well as through other iterations of Google TV now and later to be built into TVs) to the TV, using the controller at hand.  Seamlessly, transparently, naturally.  Right?  The networks, with usual arcane wisdom, have somehow determined that streaming in this way, using this method, is somehow contrary to their best interests.  Huh?  So, they prohibit it. Period.  Attempting to access the networks using the Logitech keyboard yields the message that such action is prohibited on this device. This altogether defeats a major and expected benefit of this product concept.

This prohibition limits available content to a much less desirable bucket from which to draw.  What are they thinking?  Or not thinking?  Why should the experience be different from accessing this content on a traditional computer and monitor?  Networks may still send commercial messages as before.  There is nothing special here. The only thing I can surmise is that they want to be paid.  Isn’t it in their interest to allow us to watch the content as they do on traditional computers?  How is this different?  Won’t someone please tell me!

There must be more to it. The reality is that I really don’t care what is the reason. All I know is that I feel screwed by the situation. Here, I want to fully enjoy and also recommend something useful to others, but without the ability to stream the programs I want from the networks via the Internet, I’m afraid I cannot recommend this product to most of you.

Most of you?  Sure, there are geeks and others who are not regular TV watchers and who will not miss this content availability absence.  Perhaps it is a generational thing, that under-30 users are more apt to be pleased with all the other content and not miss what is obvious to viewers/users such as I.

Consider the Logitech product’s price, currently $300.  Even with the expected content, this will be a stumbling block toward mass adoption.  Kicked to the gutter as it is, hamstrung in its functionality, the price seems even steeper.  It’s fun, but something important is missing.  With the availability of the content we all want and feel we are entitled to, the cost of entry is more easily overcome, even overlooked.  Without it, I can see only limited usefulness.

Logitech’s product also accepts an accessory camera for making video calls that mounts atop the TV.  Pretty cool?  Er, not so fast.  First, it is a $150 option!  Yes, it plugs directly into power and to USB in the back of the Revue unit.  It’s a wide-angle camera with 5X digital zoom capability.   Images are sharp and clear.  Go ahead and call your Skype friends or use it with Gmail from within Google TV.  Uh, no, not really. In order to use this accessory, the other end must have a compatible camera; it is required to use this proprietary software (free to download and use) ONLY. There is no compatibility with the ever-popular Skype or with any other service.  This severely limits the value of both the Logitech TV Cam and the Logitech Vid HD software.  Who are you going to talk to? If it was Skype or Gmail compatible, plenty of folks. The way it sits, anyone with a built-in laptop camera is not invited. Pity, because otherwise this might be a real killer app.

A minor point to me is the keyboard.  Some users may balk at that relatively large device.  I think of it as an advantage.  We all know how to use a keyboard.  Contrast this with the little remote control supplied with the D-Link device.  On the front, it is a three button remote. On the reverse side, the side that will see the most wear from being left that side down, is a small QWERTY keyboard, but it is so small and different that is takes time to become accustomed to using it.  It is not my fave! Neither is backlit!  The small D-Link remote’s QWERTY is tough to get right a big part of the time.  Logitech’s has a familiar feel, with scrolling track pad and right and left buttons.

D-Link’s remote has no mouse, no cursor. One must move the D-pad (the four-way) rocker to move from one field to the next with D-Link.  This system does not always work as expected, so it can be a source of frustration. Logitech allows full, easy movement of its cursor in conventional ways, with the trackpad and clickers, as expected.  There is no issue and no contest here.

While going a bit with D-Link’s Boxee Box for a moment, I find the interface a bit kludgy as compared with Logitech’s device that seems more intuitive.  Remember, both have similar limitations, though recently, finally, Netflix was added to Boxee Box’s capabilities, something Google TV has had since the beginning, or at least close to its launch.

Boxee has a different browser that is not as easily utilized, as is Chrome on Google TV.

I hope Google and its partners are able to rethink things and make current products more useful. If we can get promises from partners toward this end, go for it. Ditto for Boxee and D-Link.

I like being able to drop programs to a lower right window while surfing the Web as I can with Logitech Revue with Google TV. I suppose that, when in a group all watching TV, such master controlling of the TV screen would be quite annoying.  I’ve found it fun and useful to look up content while watching a show, but no one else present likes when I do it, which is understandable.

Watching HBOgo (my HBO subscription) through the Revue STB is completely satisfying and looks great in whatever high def iteration it is. I’m watching it now. It was just a simple click on the application icon from the menu.

D-Link Boxee Box, at $200 would, on the surface, seem a better value.  But I think not.  Again, maybe it is a generational thing, but the ease of use with the Logitech keyboard raises the bar keeping Boxee beneath it.

Boxee also has the capability, through its SD card expansion slot, of storing content.  I give this a big SO WHAT.

Boxee, too, was easy to set up, as it should be.

Both are free to use, except for pay-for-use features not exclusive to either device, so one need not worry about another monthly subscription.  And there are those who easily give up their normal cable or satellite TV provider for the free content available in these and other devices.  I’m not in that club.

That there is no shortage of things to watch via either platform is almost laughable.  It’s not just content, but useful and enjoyable content that matters.  If you can get by with YouTube clips, you’re better than I. I want the entire program, and I want to be able to pause and stop and return to the spot I stopped.  Oh, wait, I am describing TiVo and other DVRs.

You don’t need me to direct you to all the features and claimed benefits.  What I think I can bring to the discussion is my own pragmatic, hands-on view, presented here. In addition, that I have waited to have plenty of experience with each product before writing about them should prove of some value.  Don’t you hate to see those quick reviews of products immediately after introduction only to find that, after the honeymoon period, opinions change?

Is one a clear winner? No. Both lack finish and polish, but these, too, may come in time.  D-Link is more a geek’s toy while Logitech’s Google TV is more palatable for mass consumption, but all users will miss what is missing, I think.

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