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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Programming Your DVR Made Easy: Google TV, Dish & The Logitech Revue

Google TV has taken its share of lumps since it launched in October, but it shines bright in one particular aspect, making it simple for Dish Network subscribers to find shows and program their DVRs. Below, a look at Dish integration, as well as some hands-on with the Logitech Revue version of Google TV.

Background On Google TV

If you’re not familiar with Google TV, it’s a system that allows you to search for video content across the web and across broadcast television at the same time. Currently, it’s integrated into some Sony televisions, into a standalone Sony Blu-ray player and in a standalone Logitech Revue unit.

Life With Google TV: My First Day Review & Impressions is my previous review that goes into much more depth about Google TV. In that article, I used the Sony Blu-ray player for my testing.

In this review, I’m looking at the Logitech Revue, which sells for $300, though it’s currently discounted to $250 in various places. I purchased my unit through Amazon back in October.

Logitech provided me with a free mini controller to test. Because I attended Google’s Zeitgeist conference earlier this year, Dish provided me with a free Dish installation and three months of service, so I could see the integration in action. I already had satellite television through DirecTV, and that continues to be my main television provider.

Keep in mind that Dish integration isn’t exclusive to the Logitech Revue. The Sony-versions of Google TV also integrate into Dish in the same way.

Finally, this is a review about how Google TV works in the United States. That’s where I’m based. I’m sorry that I’m unable to test this properly for those outside the US.

The Logitech Revue

Before I get into the Dish integration, I wanted to share some thoughts about the Logitech Revue. It’s about the size of a small DVD player and very light. Here’s a picture of the front, with me easily holding it in one hand:

Here’s the back, with an image from the Logitech web site:

As with the Sony Blu-ray player, there’s HDMI pass-through for your DVR. This means you plug the DVR into the HDMI-In port of the Revue, and the HDMI-Out pipes content from either the Revue or your DVR to your TV. That’s nice, as it means you don’t “use up” one of your TV’s HDMI inputs.

The Revue comes with a full-sized keyboard, unlike the Sony units, which have mini controllers with keypads:

Above, you can see the keyboard shown alongside the controller for the Sony-version of Google TV and an Xbox controller, to give you a sense of size.

The keyboard is too large, in my view. While it’s light, it’s not something you’re going to hold in one hand and channel surf with. This is where I had high hopes for the mini controller that’s sold separately:

On the plus side, as you can see above, the controller is about the same size as the Sony TV controller. It’s easy to hold in one hand. It has a lighted keyboard, unlike the Sony!

On the downside, it has a flip-cover that looks cool but is a pain to keep opening — and no, you can’t remove it. It uses a proprietary rechargeable battery, which means you need to either leave the charger plugged in all the time, drawing down electricity, or you have to keep plugging it in when you need to fill up.

The worst thing is that certain commands only work if you hold down special function keys — and I could never figure out the logic about what exactly did what. There seemed to be three different ways to hit Enter/OK, depending on what I was doing. And as with the Sony controller, using the back button versus going back via the touchpad would do different things.

In short, I found the controller maddening. That could be down to the controller. It could be down to Google TV. All I know is that if I had paid the $130 or so that the controller sells for, I’d have been very disappointed.

The Revue can also be controlled from your Android phone using Logitech’s Harmony application. I loaded up the app, and after viewing the screens of tiny buttons, I gave up on it. I want to watch TV, not reprogram my phone to do things that a $10 generic remote could do.

Since my testing, Google released its own Google TV remote app last week (search for it in the Android Market to get it). I haven’t tried the app yet, but it looks promising. Here’s a video from Google about it:

Sony Versus Logitech

If you’re debating between the Sony and the Logitech, my advice is:

  • Price check! Last month, the Sony Blu-ray player was reduced to $300, matching the Logitech’s list price. Today, I see it back up to its $400 list price, but I expect specials will come back.
  • Do you have a DVD/Blu-ray player? If not, the Sony offers something extra that the Logitech lacks, especially nice insurance while Google TV product itself continues to fully mature.
  • Prefer a full-sized keyboard? Do the Logitech.
  • Need backlighting? Get a Logitech and invest in the Logitech controller or play with the Android (and soon iPhone) remote apps.

The Logitech also offers a video calling Logitech TV Cam add-on. I didn’t try this. That might be another tipping point, for some people.

Overall, be sure that whatever you buy comes with a great return policy. You simply won’t know which of these works best for you, until you try them — and $300 to $400 is a lot to gamble.

Google TV, Meet Dish Network

For those unfamiliar, Dish Network is one of the two major satellite TV providers serving the US (DirecTV being the other). Google TV has special integration to control a Dish box. Here, you can see the setup menu finding it:

Recording Shows The “Old Way”

Now, consider how you’d find a TV show or movie using Dish without Google TV. You might want to get a drink and settle in for this next part. There are a lot of steps.

First, you bring up the main menu:

Next, you head to the search menu:

Then, using the arrows on your Dish remote control, you move over to select that “Keyword” button. This brings up a new screen where — again using the arrows on your remote — you can enter words using an on-screen keyboard:

Now you’re presented with results. Can you tell which of those are for broadcasts of new episodes of The Office on NBC? I paged through to additional days, and that didn’t leap out at me.

Select a show (I went with one of the TBS options to test things out), and you can set your recording:

Programming The Google TV Way

Now let’s do the same thing but this time using Google TV as an interface into Dish. I push the search button on the Logitech Revue’s remote, then use the keyboard to type “The Office,” which causes results to appear right on the screen:

I can easily see that one of the listings is marked “Series,” meaning it provides information about the entire television series.

(Notice the NBC.com listing immediately above the “Series” listing, where NBC promises “Episodes Online for Free” — that is, unless you’re using Google TV. Or an iPad. Or a variety of other verboten devices).

Selecting the series option brings me to a nice page that shows episodes for the current series, with icons to tell me if they’re on TV, on the web for free or available through paid options:

Since I want to record shows on my Dish box, I select one of the episodes that’s flagged as being on broadcast TV:

Google TV tells me that it will be on NBC and exactly when it will air. Clicking on that listing brings up the record prompt:

Hit OK, and I’m done. Google TV talks to the Dish box and establishes the recording.

It Just Works

Keep in mind, this is all done via the internet — or at least, through your home network. Google TV is talking directly with the Dish box through a network connection. It all happens seamlessly, unlike what happens if I try the same thing with my DirecTV box.

Using my Sony Google TV unit that’s hooked up to my DirecTV installation, I did the same search above to try and record The Office. I got to the same “Series” listing. However, because Google TV (either the Son or the Logitech versions) can’t talk directly to my DirecTV box, I got this message:

The screen basically says to search for the show myself, using DirecTV’s own guide. If I push the TV Guide button that’s offered, nothing special happens. I’m not sent to the right place within DirecTV nor to the DirecTV search interface. I just get dumped into the TV guide for the current time:

From talking with Google, my understanding is that DirecTV or other cable providers could have this type of seamless interface for their boxes, if they wanted. Indeed, I can program my DirecTV box from the web. The Google TV box can do the same thing, as long as the makers want this to happen.

Maybe that will come in the future from other TV providers. I hope so. But it’s here now with Dish, and it’s pretty nice.

Finding Older & Recorded Episodes

I wanted to highlight a couple other sweet things about the integration. For one, it’s pretty easy to track down shows on TV from before the current season. That screen I showed for The Office above? As I noted, you can easily toggle to find episodes from previous seasons that are airing on TV. After doing that, you can then record them. Here’s an episode from last year’s season of The Office being displayed:

You also have the ability to record new episodes versus repeats:

Another nice feature is that Google TV searches not just across the web and broadcast listings but also through TV shows and movies recorded on your Dish DVR.

Below, you can see that I’ve done a search for 30 Rock. The red arrow points a “DVD Recordings” listing:

If I select that, I’m shown all recordings of 30 Rock that are on my Dish DVR. I can then select any of them and begin watching:

Dish Subscriber? Maybe Go For It. Not? Perhaps Wait

Right now, Google TV seems to be going on a bit of hiatus for retooling. The software was recently upgraded to offer a few new features, including a much welcome ability to move the Dual View screen. But Google has apparently asked new hardware makers to delay their launches until the software is further improved.

Meanwhile, the major US television networks continue to block the system from accessing their online content, and the promised Hulu Plus support that would largely resolve that issue hasn’t yet appeared.

So why would anyone buy a Google TV right now? Unless you love being an early adopter, and have cash to spend, it doesn’t make much sense. I expect both the Sony and Logitech units are likely to drop in price. If you don’t need one now, you might save later.

Similarly, when Google TV products from other manufacturers appear, you’re going to have more choices plus further competition that may also mean lower prices.

Of course, Google has promised that any Google TV device will be constantly updated with the latest software. So, if you do decide to adopt early, and you’re happy with the hardware configuration you’ve purchased, then better times should be coming.

For Dish Network subscribers, I’d say it’s another story. Google TV seems to offer features that make the Dish viewing experience much better. Visiting the Dish site today, I also saw that Dish is doing a special deal on the Logitech Revue, offering it for $180 — $70 less than the $250 price you can find it for currently. At that price, for Dish users, it’s a much more attractive product.

Tell Me More!

For more about Google TV and some related products, see our past coverage below:

    Also see our Internet-To-TV page for further stories that will come.

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