It’s interesting to see how product manufacturers envision their customers. The traditional high-end home entertainment center has a central preamp or switching center into which plugs every component that the customer buys, including set-top box, Blu Ray player, game player, and so on. When the user selects a content source, the switch takes place in the central device. Go down a notch, and the TV set becomes the catcher for every device in the system. When the user selects among several content sources, it’s the TV remote control that gets used.
As simple as this may sound, the issue of how to switch among content sources remains the most confusing part of home entertainment to the average user. To insure that chaos reigns, every content source now has it’s own on-screen GUI and offers some alternative source of content, usually the internet or one’s home network. It’s not unusual to have Netflix, for example, appear on the GUI of more than one device, which can be very difficult to explain to someone who simply wants to watch their movie.
Users want to move away from boxes having lots of buttons, such as the high-end home system, to GUIs displayed on television screens that are controlled by a single remote control. The question is how to get only one box to produce the GUI, and where does the switching take place? On the surface, one would think the set-top box manufacturers would jump into this like fish to water. But like so many companies in the consumer space, set-top box makers appear to be busy staring at their tree, and missing the forest.
To market a set-top box, one needs content. That limits such players to satellite and cable companies. Or possibly an Internet player. Google, not operating a satellite or cable company, but with plenty of cash to muck around in areas it knows little about, introduced Google TV. Recognizing that Internet content alone wasn’t going to make their product popular, they partnered non-exclusively with the Dish satellite network in the US. A Google TV equipped device can present the user with a comprehensive GUI, capable of searching the Dish set-top box for content, as well as the Internet. Add a Blu Ray player to the mix, and you have the Sony NSZ-GT1, a non-descript name for a Google TV-enabled device where home entertainment meets the search engine.
By simplifying the user experience, Google TV has the right concept for a successful product in the home. Feeling confident of the fruits of their labor, Google execs waltzed into the offices of the US major studios to show it off. But the savvy studio execs know their game. They performed a search for the week’s opening movie, and up came their pirated titles. Google TV brings pirated content to home television. It’s just not the sort of thing a cocky young company in Silicon Valley would think of as a problem. Nor does it seem to be the sort of thing that Sony Electronics gives thought to, as it now offers a full line of Google TV-enabled flat-panel televisions. But it is a problem.
The bets are on. How long before the first lawsuit against Google? Will Google clean up its web search, sending millions of users to competing search engines that don’t block pirated content? Or will Google simply walk away from a difficult situation and shut down Google TV? After all, there are plenty of other areas for Google to muck around in. Such as self-driving automobiles that can download pirated music for the passengers.