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For more than a decade, TiVo has been one thing: a DVR. And while it’s been a really good one, an awful lot has changed about the way we find and watch TV since the first TiVo box debuted in 1999. And now the company is involved in its first non-DVR project. It’s designed the on-screen interface for two new Internet-connected LCD TVs from Insignia, one of Best Buy’s four “exclusive brands” (along with Dynex, Init, and Rocketfish).
Insignia’s TVs don’t have any DVR features, and doesn’t offer an on-screen programming guide for over-the-air or cable programming. So they’re missing the aspects of the TiVo interface most closely identified with, will, TiVo. But when Best Buy demoed one of the sets for me last week, the interface did look like it has some of TiVo’s approachable DNA. That’s a major plus: TV companies don’t tend to be very good at at coming up with user interfaces when left to their own devices.
The sets come with CinemaNow and Napster–two services owned by Best Buy–as well as Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. They use Chumby widgets to provide access to more than 1500 applets with information on subjects such as weather. And they’re the first TVs with built-in support for Rocketboost, a Best Buy technology for sending audio to speaker systems wirelessly.
They don’t, however, include DLNA compatibility, which would let you stream content off PCs and hard drives on your network: Best Buy says that its goal with these TVs was to keep things simple, and DLNA still isn’t straightforward enough.
The 32″ TV is $499; the 42″ one is $699. Best Buy says they’re available now, and that it plans both to upgrade their software with new features over time and to introduce new connected TVs and other devices based on the software in these TVs.
The Best Buy-TiVo partnership was announced more than two years ago; I was excited at the time, then so much time passed that I’d forgotten about it. Now I’m curious what other Internet-centric products TiVo might be working on. A Roku-style TiVo box could be nifty. And TiVo might be able to do a better job than Google TV has done so far at imposing a decent interface on over-the-air and cable TV. I hope that the company is furiously working on some of this stuff, and just hasn’t announced it yet…
Last week, there was much discussion on the Web of one specific tidbit from Logitech’s dismal first-quarter financial results: more of the company’s Revue Google TV boxes were returned to Logitech than got sold.
Logitech has issued a press alert with a few notes:
- The Revue price reduction to $99–it was originally $249–goes into effect today.
- “Google TV 2″ is “expected” to come out this Summer. (Google hasn’t said much at all about it so far–the platform was barely mentioned in the keynotes at May’s Google IO conference.)
- Logitech wants to be sure that people understand that the Revue’s “negative sales” didn’t mean that more consumers were returning the boxes that buying them. Consumer returns, the company says, were comparable to those of other products. “Negative sales” means that more distributors and retailers were returning unsold units than buying additional ones. (In other words, it wasn’t that people have been trying and disliking Google TV–they haven’t been interested enough in the idea to buy it, period.)
I still think that the concept of Google TV has promise. But at this point, its future is entirely dependent on version 2 being more usable and less buggy than the original, with more big-name content that doesn’t get blocked by the big media companies that own it. And if version 2 turns out to be a disappointment, I suspect that Google TV will end up not being one of the arrows that Google chooses to put wood behind.
Logitech is taking a beating for throwing early support behind Google TV. The company announced that it will cut the price of its Logitech Revue Google TV box to $99, which means each unit will be sold at a loss. And just in case there was any question of whether Google TV was a flop, Logitech offered an embarrassing statistic: The Revue saw more returns than sales last quarter.
This isn’t the end of Google TV. Google plans to revamp the software this summer with an interface based on Android Honeycomb, with access to the Android Market. But to make Google TV a living room powerhouse, Google and its hardware partners need to learn a few lessons from the first generation’s flop.
How is Logitech’s Revue–the first stand-alone Google TV box–selling? Logitech says sales are “slightly negative.” As in, more Revue boxes are coming back to Logitech than are being bought and used by consumers. I feel the company’s pain, but I’m not surprised by the bad news. I like the idea of Google TV, but when I tried the Revue last October, I found its software horrifically rough around the edges, to the point that it was no fun at all. Logitech has knocked the price down from $249 to $99, but a shaky product is a shaky product no matter what the price is.
As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out, the Revue is an example of a trend I cover in my new TIME.com Technologizer column: products which ship even though they’re clearly not ready to ship. I don’t know the Revue’s backstory–and tend to think that Logitech may have been as surprised by anyone at how iffy the Google TV software is. But reviewers like me and early adopters who bought the Revue found it lacking, and told other people. Is there any way that Google TV’s chances at success wouldn’t have been a lot higher if Google had finished it six months or a year later and invested the extra time in creating something that pundits and real people would have loved?
My friend and former colleague Ed Albro of PCWorld thinks some of the angst over Netflix’s price hikes is a tad overwrought.
People aren’t happy about Netflix’s effective price hike. I wonder what the odds are that it’ll address their concerns–or at least do a better job of explaining its actions?
Netflix is announcing some pricing changes which are kind of confusing. The upshot seems to be this: if (like me) you want streaming access but not DVDs, you’ll continue to pay a reasonable $7.99 a month. If you want the ability to rent one DVD at a time and don’t care about streaming, you’ll now also be eligible for a $7.99 plan. But if you want streaming and DVDs–which, until recently, was the only option you had–you’ll pay more than you would have in the past.
For instance, if you want streaming plus one DVD, you’ll pay $7.99+$7.99, or $15.98–up from only $9.99. Streaming plus two DVDs is now $19.98, up from $16.99.
Hulu announced its Hulu Plus premium service almost ten months ago, but it’s been taking its own sweet time arriving on devices. It’s only now available on TiVo Premiere–and Engadget’s Ben Drawbaugh wishes that it was better-integrated with other TiVo services.
My new TIME.com column is about TV on the Internet–and why it’s still nowhere near living up to its potential.