If you haven't heard, Google launched its attempt to infiltrate the TV space with internet content this week. The Android based Google TV aims to bring not only video, but the whole internet onto the small screen. The search giant isn't the first to attempt to do so however, as Microsoft tried and failed to do the same thing many years ago with its WebTV. The big G thinks the failures of the past have been due to poor implementation, but I beg to differ.
OK, having certain web content on your TV would be a boon. Web video such as YouTube, Hulu and the plethora of other user created and network produced online video sites often deserve to get off your monitor and onto your primary watching device, your TV. But anyone who's ever tried to surf the web on their TV will know that it's a paradigm that simply doesn't work.
The thing is, your TV viewing experience is a long distance one. You sit several metres from the screen and control it with a simple remote. Reading subtitles, and possibly the digital text service, is about as much reading as you're ever likely to do on your TV and there's a reason for that. Reading text on your TV is both a strain on your eyes and frankly annoying, especially if the text is too small.
To do justice to web browsing on your TV you're going to have to sit pretty close to that screen of yours, even if it is a monster. And that's the problem; you're going to have to get off your comfy sofa and either grab a chair or sit on the floor, in the middle of your living room. If your TV was the only place to consume the web, perhaps this would be a viable option, but it's not. I for one, am not going to bother getting off my backside just to view a bit of news or IMDB on my TV. It's a lot easier just to reach over to my iPhone, my laptop, my netbook or perhaps even my tablet, and do it from the couch. It'll be a damn sight better browsing experience on all those devices than it possibly could be on my TV.
If we look at the devices that can currently access the internet and pack a browser whilst being plugged into your TV, we've got things like the PS3, the Wii, Media Centre PCs, perhaps even a Boxee box or Mac Mini. All of these devices do an admirable job of rendering text on the big screen, but you have to zoom in so far to actually read it, that it disrupts the browsing experience well beyond what could be considered a decent one. Is the answer reformatting and reflow of text to fit the screen? Perhaps you could strip out the content from the site and display it in a purpose made 'TV mode'. But again, isn't it just easier to grab that netbook that's beside you?
The other problem with browsing on your TV is that for the most part, TV watching isn't a solitary experience. Are your friends, family or strangers watching in from the street, really going to be chuffed with you taking up all or a significant portion of the screen to look up who directed the Exorcist? Perhaps the only social aspect of the current web experience is web video, meaning the browser simply gets you to the video content, nothing more.
Google initially wants you to use a separate Google TV box under your screen, which essentially sits in between your content boxes like Sky, Virgin, FreeviewHD or FreeSatHD receivers and your screen. It's yet another box to buy that doesn't really do anything you can't already do with other devices. OK, it's built on Android and there a myriad of exciting possibilities like link-ups with your Android phone and pushing of content from other devices directly onto your TV, but something tells me that this kind of thing is a long way off. Perhaps once Google manages to get Google TV into actual TVs with partners like Sony, maybe you'll find it gaining traction. But that's still only a maybe for the big G, and it'll likely be a hard slog.