Google TV, Take 2: Android Apps Join the Smart TV Party

The new version of Google TV includes direct access to Android Market. A select group of 30 apps, directly optimized for Google TV, will appear in the Featured For TV section shown above. Hundreds more — Google TV-compatible, but not expressly optimized — will surface if you dig further.

Google’s smart TV software platform, Google TV, is poised for its first significant overhaul since it launched in Logitech and Sony hardware a year ago. Via over-the-air updates that should begin streaming to hardware devices on October 30, Google TV users will find new TV-optimized Android Apps, an improved YouTube experience, and new features that provide easy, direct discovery of TV and movie content.

All this Googly goodness is wrapped up in a new user interface that aims to simplify a challenging information design — a design that’s left many Google TV customers with a persistent sense of yuck.

An Inauspicious Debut

When Google TV launched, it was supposed to seamlessly co-mingle “live TV” (read: broadcast, satellite and cable) with streaming video services like YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Video On Demand. You could also use your Google TV software to search the web, and even access digital content from your home network or attached storage.

In theory: Fantastic. In practice: Difficult to use.

Whether you were running a Google TV set-top box manufactured by Logitech or Sony, or directly tapping into the Google TV software installed in various Sony TVs, you were faced with a series of menus that defied easy access and discovery of the content you actually wanted to see. And it’s also possible you bought your Google TV in the mistaken belief that it’s a “cord-cutting” platform — that it would allow you to nix your cable or satellite service, and instead watch your favorite TV shows via direct Internet streaming.

After all, the TV networks stream full TV episodes directly from their websites. So Google TV must be the perfect delivery system for that content, right?

No, not so fast. The networks summarily blocked their online content from appearing on Google TV, giving a large subset of early adopters one more reason to kvetch about a hardware purchase they wished they never made.

Well, all dreams of cord-cutting should be put to rest. As Rishi Chandra, director of product management, Google TV, told me, “There was a perception that we were a cord-cutting product, and that’s something that we didn’t do enough to dispel. Our point of view is that there’s new content coming, content that you just haven’t been able to access with your TV. Now we’re bringing that content, and adding the discovery experience on top of it.”

So, no, Google TV can’t be your all-in-one, zero-compromises, Internet-only video delivery system. But what it can do well — namely, deliver YouTube, Netflix and other web-based video to your HDTV — is about to get better. I recently traveled to Google’s headquarters for a hands-on demo of the new software, and what I saw is a substantial improvement over Google existing (however compromised) status quo.

Here are four key improvements you’ll see in the next version of Google TV. (Sony hardware devices will begin receiving over-the-air updates on Sunday, with Sony updates  continuing through the middle of next week. Over-the-air updates for Logitech hardware will begin shortly thereafter.)

Improved User Interface

The first version of Google TV included a home screen that dominated your TV display whenever you summoned its presence. This original home screen, littered with gigantic thumbnails, was obtrusive by any measure.

The new home screen, however, is defined by a simple menu bar at the bottom of your display (see screenshot above). It’s clean, simple, and simply more fashion-forward than its predecessor. Likewise, the new Google TV software features a revised view of your All Apps menu. The old view listed apps in a long, single-file list arrangement. The new view (see screenshot below) mimics an Android Honeycomb tablet interface. Apps are arranged in rows of four, and the arrangement is customizable.

These may not seem like big changes — unless you’re already using Google TV, and have spent the last year coping with a cluttered, “something’s sort of ‘off’ here” U.I . From what I saw in my hands-on demo, various key interface elements have been tweaked and finessed to do away with Google TV’s previously horsey (or at least user-antagonistic) design sensibility.

TV and Movie Discovery

The original version of Google TV had all the necessary hooks into TV and movie content. It could catalog everything that was available from your cable or satellite provider, and also sort through all the content that was available from Internet-based video-on-demand sources (or at least the ones that weren’t blocking content). But actually finding the right content to watch was still quite difficult.

Sure, you could hit the search button of your Google TV remote, and key in an appropriate search term. But the results you received were anything but Googly in their depth and relevance, and weren’t aggregated across all of Google TV’s content sources.

This has been addressed in the new update. First, search results are now more comprehensive and detailed. Second, there’s a new TV & Movies app that lets you intuitively browse for high-end video content, using a full slate of filters to narrow choices pulled from cable and satellite, as well as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, HBO GO and other premium online sources.

When you browse content in the new app, you can head straight to various thematic headings (e.g., comedy, drama, sports) to window shop for a video that suits your fancy. You can also sort by video quality, price, and according to when a video is playing (e.g., “On Now”). And these are just the low-hanging fruit of more civilized content-surfacing. Chandra says that if users opt-in, Google TV will also create browsing choices that respond to personal preferences.

And, wait, it gets more clever than that. Says Chandra: “Once you open up this canvas to other tools available on the web, we can ask, ‘What are people tweeting about right now? What are people watching right now?’ There are all these different dimensions that can help us reorganize what we’re watching.”

OK, I’m not sure I want my friends — let alone the great unwashed Internet masses — nudging me toward the last 15 minutes of Bridalplasty. But I’m still heartened to learn that Google thinks a content-surfacing tool for Bridalplasty is an interesting thing to build.

Vastly Improved YouTube

In the grand scheme of all the hardware you may ever connect to your TV, Google TV has always delivered an excellent YouTube experience. Its YouTube functionality is better than what you’ll get from so-called “home theater PCs,” Blu-ray players equipped with YouTube apps, and YouTube apps built directly into the “connected TV” services of the latest HDTVs.

In fact, for its YouTube and Netflix features alone, I think Google TV — even the first version of the platform — is a smart purchase for anyone who can’t already get these content streams from existing living room hardware. After all, Logitech’s Google TV set-top box, the Revue, costs only $99.

And now a much-improved YouTube app makes Google TV even better. That’s good news for YouTube junkies, and there must be a few out there as Google says YouTube boasts 800 million monthly viewers.

Google TV’s new YouTube app is, at its heart, a TV-optimized Android app that’s been fine-tuned for speedy video delivery and a 10-foot user interface. During my demo, I was astounded by how quickly videos loaded. Load times were so quick, in fact, I asked Chandra if popular videos were sitting in ultra-speedy cache on Google servers.

No, Chandra said. The fast load times were solely the result of software optimizations. Google focused on improving how quickly the YouTube app pings its servers, leveraging all the software optimization tricks that Google deployed for YouTube in mobile devices. (Indeed, YouTube on phones and tablets must already copy with low-bandwidth, high-latency connections, so optimization has always been key to an Android YouTube strategy).

When all was said and done, Chandra said, Google wanted Google TV to flip between videos as fast a satellite box flips between channels. We’ll see how this plays out during hands-on testing, but the load times we saw at Google HQ impressed us, to be sure.

Also impressive: Viewing full-screen, professionally produced, HD video on the YouTube app. I was wowed by the clarity and definition of HD content, and for the first time, I really wanted to find more YouTube video to check out.

Well, the new app makes this easier thanks to a channel-building feature that creates custom videos playlists on the fly. Just enter a term into the YouTube app’s search field, and it will spit out a thematic selection of videos that you can peruse at top speed, “pivoting,” as Google likes to describe it, from one video to the next. The screenshot above illustrates a search for “Katy Perry.”

Bottom line: If you’ve ever used YouTube’s “Lean Back” mode on your computer desktop, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what YouTube now brings to Google TV.

Except the Google TV delivery seems faster.

A New Home For Android Apps

In the most significant Google TV update of all, Android Apps now have a home on your big-screen TV.

Obviously, not all the apps in Android Market would even work for TV-screen deployment. For example, those that reply on touch gestures or GPS  just wouldn’t make sense for Google TV (at least not as the platform is currently deployed). But Chandra estimates some 1,500 existing apps are already Google TV-compatible, and these will appear in the “filtered” version of Android Market that appears in the new software interface.

The real app gems, however, will be found in Google TV’s “Featured For TV” section. These apps — 30 should be available at launch — have been expressly developed for big-screen deployment, and Google TV’s unique talents.

Sure, one app I saw demoed is nothing more than a wrapper for an HD yule-log video (see Classy Fireplace in the screenshot above). But others are game apps (yes, Google TV is now a tenable platform for casual games), and the best apps will likely be the ones that deliver premium video content.

It’s quite ingenious: Google TV’s new Android initiative allows video-savvy media companies to do an end-run around licensing and distribution deals with the cable and satellite networks. Whether your media company is an indie upstart or a blue-chip heavyweight, this holds promise.

Take, for example, the Wall Street Journal. “They’re a premium brand,” says Chandra, “and they have great content, but they don’t want to build a 24-7 news cycle. They don’t want to negotiate deals to get content on the air, and they don’t want to pay to get access to users. So what do they do? They build an app.”

The possibilities: Dizzying. The proof: It remains in the pudding.

But as Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president of product management, told me, Google considers Google TV to be a marathon project, not a sprint.

“We ask, ‘How can we make the product better?’ instead of belaboring what’s being said,” Queiroz said. “We’ve tried to take what we could use constructively, and build a better product with version 2. As a Google mantra, we always launch early and iterate.”

And iterate they will. Google will soon announce new chipset partners for brand new Google TV hardware in 2012 (Samsung and Vizio are already on board). So, no, the story of Google TV does not begin and end with a single software version, or just a small collection of set-top boxes and TVs from Sony and Logitech.

Google TV is real and its ambition levels remain high. Stay tuned for hands-on reviews of the new version software and upcoming Google TV hardware.

How Apple Would Reinvent Your Big-Screen TV

Apple currently offers a set-top box called Apple TV, but it could have a television set in the works as well.

An Apple-branded big-screen TV: It’s the rumor that refuses to die.

The latest noise, fueled by a Bloomberg Businessweek article, is that former iTunes lead Jeff Robbin is heading up an Apple television project. This speculation is somewhat legitimized by a statement Steve Jobs shared with his official biographer, Walter Isaacson. Jobs said, “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synched with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

But this is just the latest hubbub over a big-screen, living-room-dominating Apple TV. Since 2009, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has been speculating that Apple has a full-fledged TV in the works. Another analyst, Forrester’s James McQuivey, also strongly believes that Apple has directed resources toward TV development.

In a phone interview this September, he told, “I’m 100 percent convinced that the Apple TV rumor is true. I’m also convinced Apple may never bring this product to market. If we don’t see one, it’s because Apple is convinced it’s too broken a market to enter into.”

iSuppli principal analyst Randy Lawson basically agrees. He told us he thinks it’s likely that Apple has a television in the works, but it’s a long-term goal, and we probably won’t see it within the next 12 months.

But for now, let’s not worry about Apple’s practical hurdles. Let’s accept that a big-screen Apple TV is inevitable, and consider what Apple may deliver to the “connected TV” landscape, were it brave enough to accept the challenge.

Industry watchers see three key areas of innovation:

Integration With iCloud, iTunes and Other Apple Gear
iCloud seamlessly syncs content so that you can share it among your Apple devices, from iPhones to iPads to Apple computers. Currently, iCloud can be used to store TV shows, photographs and other media, but it’s not farfetched to imagine the service being used for movie storage in the future. iTunes could be enlisted as a purchasing platform, providing a new flow of revenue for Apple — always important when launching a new hardware product, particularly one that has a long shelf life, like a big-screen TV.

“The most important feature of an Apple-branded TV would be seamless integration and connection with other Apple products in the home,” DisplaySearch analyst Paul Gagnon says. Such integration would allow users to push content from one device to another. To this end, iPad mirroring (a feature made available with iPad 2), as well as AirPlay music or video streaming, would likely be an option with the TV set, as well.

“I think there are a lot of people with mobile devices who have content they want to watch on a big screen. So far, the process to get that on a larger television screen is convoluted,” Gagnon says. But using iTunes to access content, and iCloud to store it, would be a dead-easy solution — especially if Apple could partner with content providers to make movies and live content available.

“While a solution for live TV combined with previously aired shows ‘recorded’ in the cloud remains a significant hurdle, perhaps this code is precisely what Jobs believed he has ‘cracked.’” So wrote Piper Jaffray’s Munster in a note to clients this Monday.

A User-Friendly Interface — Care of Siri and Touch Control
“One clear frustration point that users have with TV sets is the huge, bulky, multi-keyed, IR-based, always-lost-can’t-find-it remote control, and the clunky, page- and table-based user guides that requires [you] to scroll through reams of pages just to find what they’re looking for,” iSuppli analyst Randy Lawson says.

Apple, of course, already has several tools in place to address Lawson’s user-experience nightmares. The first is Siri, which could drastically simplify content search and selection, thanks to its smart voice-recognition technology. You could toss that heinous remote in the trash, and instead direct your TV experience using voice commands:

“Siri, resume playing TRON: Legacy.”

“Siri, download the latest episode of Community.”

“Siri, pause YouTube and get me a beer.” (OK, that last one may not be entirely realistic.)

For those uncomfortable with barking commands at Siri, the iPhone and iPad could be used as elegant remote controllers. Virtual keyboards wouldn’t be too burdensome for content searches — we already use them every day — and Apple’s handheld devices could also be used as controllers for onscreen games (assuming the Apple TV runs iOS and provides access to the App Store). And perhaps the gyroscopes and accelerometers within iOS devices could be used for navigation, allowing us to tilt to scroll through menus or fast-forward through movie credits.

Currently, the app and game offerings on connected TVs and set-top boxes are quite meager. With iOS compatibility, App Store access and an improved user experience, we may actually want to use apps and games on our TVs. Because, you know, they wouldn’t suck.

A Unique Form Factor, Improved Audio and FaceTime
Would Apple’s smart TV look like every other set on the market? “I think it’d be shockingly different in terms of form factor,” Gagnon says. In general, Gagnon says, the TV would be high quality: LED backlit, with a high refresh rate and possibly Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built in.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry believes that an Apple television set would be very similar to the Bose VideoWave HDTV, but even more simple. It would have a “spartan but elegant design sensibility,” he says, and would use a single cable (the VideoWave needs three). Chowdhry expects an Apple TV would be ultra thin, and would sport at least 16 speakers.

Lawson thinks audio quality would be an Apple TV trump card. In recent years, display quality has improved for most big-screen TVs, but because TVs are getting thinner, audio quality has suffered — or has at least remained stagnant. Lawson isn’t sure what solution Apple would come up with, but says “a robust audio solution would be a clear differentiating factor” for the company.

Lawson also thinks it’s likely that an Apple TV would include a camera for FaceTime video chatting. And that’s just the beginning of what Apple might do with a built-in camera. For example, a system that analyzes physical gestures, much like the Microsoft Kinect, would add another convenient way to interface with the TV.

Taming the Last ‘Untamed’ Room
The living room is the last “untamed” room in the home, Gagnon says. We can carry our laptops, iPhones and iPads to work and back, and from room to room, but our TV stays where it is, and for most of us, it’s only used in a very passive way.

But an Apple-branded TV could very well revitalize the way we “watch” TV and relax with our friends and family. A big-screen Apple TV would also be the next logical step for Apple in its quest to control our entertainment and content-consumption experiences. With a home entertainment ecosystem comprised entirely of Apple gear — a phone, tablet, computer, cloud network, and, yes, a TV — every device works seamlessly together, and looks good doing so.

Apple TV Update Adds Photo Stream, AirPlay Mirroring and… Hockey?

With iCloud, you can now watch angst-ridden but sexy vampires on any iDevice, anywhere

Amidst the deluge of software launches from Apple yesterday, it was easy to miss an update to the company’s “hobby,” the Apple TV. Version 4.4 of the set-top box’s OS is rather conservatively named, as it comes with many iOS 5 features.

AirPlay Mirroring

Before, you could stream video and audio content to the Apple TV from an iOS device via AirPlay. Now, with the iPad 2, the Apple TV supports AirPlay Mirroring, which lets you mirror the entire screen of the iPad 2 on the TV connected to the Apple TV.

Photo Stream

The Apple TV now acts like any other iOS device, and any photos added to your Photo Stream on an iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac or PC will be pushed to the Apple TV. Smart, as a big screen is a great place to share photos. The Apple TV will keep only the latest 1,000 snaps you have taken.


You can now browse and watch movie trailers, just like you could do in Front Row all those months ago. Tip: if you don’t have an Apple TV, and use the U.S App Store, you can grab the free Trailers app for your iOS device.


What’s to say? Live streaming of mullets and fights joins baseball and basketball on the big screen.

WSJ Live

Watch the streaming WSJ Live channel on the big screen, just as if you were watching regular TV.

There are also bug fixes and small additions (extra slideshow transitions), but the big thing is probably the integration of iCloud. The Apple TV already lets you stream previously-bought content. Now it has Photo Stream, and when iTunes Match launches later this year, the promise of no longer needing a computer at all will come a little bit closer.

Apple TV product page [Apple]

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$50 Roku LT, Now With HBO GO

Roku’s new baby LT will come loaded with HBO GO

If you still have space on your TV for yet another set-top box, Roku would like you to consider its new Roku LT, a little purple video and audio streamer which will sell for just $50.

The LT has everything you’d expect from a modern-day box: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon and Pandora streaming are joined by “more than 300 channels.” Signals come in via Wi-Fi, and out in the form of 720p hi-def video.

Possibly more interesting than the hardware, though, is a new channel coming to all of Roku’s boxes: HBO GO. Previously available on phones and tablets, the app can now be used to stream HBO direct to your TV. You’ll need to be an HBO subscriber to use it, but if you’re serious about watching good TV then you probably already have a subscription.

The LT will join the rest of the Roku lineup this November, ready to be stuffed in a stocking.

Roku products page [Roku]

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JamBox ‘Sound Clarity’ Update Gives You A Cleaner High

A post-update JamBox, ready to rock. Photo Charlie Sorrel

JawBone has issued yet another update for its little speaker with big sound, the JamBox. If you have been following along, you’ll know that the recent 2.0 software update added LiveAudio, a sound-processing based implementation of binaural audio which stretches out sound and makes it appear to surround you.

Used with an iPad playing Dolby surround movies, it’s pretty awesome.

This 2.1 update adds Sound Clarity which JawBone says “delivers clearer, distortion-free sound” when LiveAudio is switched off. Apparently there have been complaints on the Internet that v2.0 made some speakers sound cold and fuzzy, and generally worse.

I have hardly switched off LiveAudio since I installed it, so you can probably guess my take on the problem. I have noticed that it is a little quiet when watching some TV shows and movies, but that’s part of the LiveAudio processing. Switching it off makes things much louder.

The 2.1 update does indeed make the regular mode sound better. It’s warmer and clearer. I haven’t tested it at full volume because I still have some respect for my neighbors, even if one of them lets his grandchildren torture their baby sister while I’m trying to work, and another spends the entire day (not kidding) holding a (very loud) conversation with football (soccer) games on the TV. And then he sings hip hop (badly) to his daughter.

Jambox updater page [JawBone]

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‘Cat Scratch,’ The Turntable for Kitties

If you own a cat, there’s little reason not to buy it its own record player

Fact: Cats will scratch everything in your home except the expensive purpose-made scratching post you bought them. Shredding a sofa is always better than following the rules for these devil-creatures, but that doesn’t stop the Cat Scratch Turntable from being 100% awesome (and probably 100% tacky).

The flat-pack decks are made from cardboard, and ship complete with a “pose-able tonearm.” Not that everything is guaranteed to go smoothly: you’ll notice that in the photo the cat is standing on the wrong side of the turntable.

As somebody who has lived with both cats and record players, often simultaneously, I can report that cats do indeed love to chase a spinning record and scratch the needle across its delicate surface. So there’s a fair chance that kitty might relax her usual haughty rules and deign to play with this cat toy. And if not, who cares? The kit costs just £15 ($23), which is worth paying, just for the pun-tastic name.

Cat Scratch product page [Suck UK via Oh Gizmo]

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Epson Megaplex Projector With Speakers and iPhone Dock

Epson’s projector hooks up directly to your iDevice

When held at movie-watching distance from my face, my iPad’s screen appears bigger than any of my friends’ TVs, all of which are on the other side of the room. But with more than two people watching a film, things can get a little crowded. Enter Epson’s Megaplex MG-850HD, an LCD projector with a pop-out dock.

The Megaplex takes the audio and video from your iDevice and kicks it out through a pair of ten-watt speakers and a 2,800-lumen lamp at 720p resolution. It’s portable, too, with a carrying handle, and will juice your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch when plugged in.

You can also hook up other gear via component cables, HDMI, USB or VGA and there are even headphone and mic jacks, for solo listening or (presumably) karaoke.

As someone who doesn’t want or own a TV, and does all (and I mean all) of his TV and movie-watching on an iPad, I’m actually pretty interested in this thing. What I’m not interested in is the $800 price-tag. I guess I’ll just have to stick to pico projectors and darkened rooms when friends come to visit.

Epson Megaplex product page [Epson via UberGizmo]

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Smart-TV Space May Never Take Off as Predicted

Viewsonic has, for now, abandoned plans to integrate Boxee into a smart TV. Photo: Jon Snyder/

Internet-connected TVs, often referred to as smart TVs, were supposed to be the Next Big Thing. But so far, they’re more promise than reality.

A combination of factors, including a lousy economy, lackluster products and consumers more than a little hesitant to buy yet another gadget, have conspired to stall the adoption of smart TVs. The technology is faltering so badly that many electronics firms are reining in plans to offer it.

Viewsonic, for instance, just nixed plans for a Boxee-powered smart TV set and says we won’t see it anytime soon. The company showed off a 46-inch set earlier this year at CES and said we’d have them by the second quarter. But now the company says in a statement:

“’Smart TV’ has not achieved the consumer acceptance or market expectation… that was forecasted over the last couple years. In addition, consumer spending for Smart TV’s in general has experienced a significant slow down as the economy has slowed. Our current strategy is to stay involved with the various technology developments and consider them in the future as they become available.”

Viewsonic’s wake-up call is hardly unusual. Pretty much everyone is discovering consumers aren’t terribly interested in smart TVs.

“What’s happening in the connected TV space is it’s not really about what consumers want, it’s about what manufacturers are making,” Forrester principal analyst James McQuivey says. “Simply having a connected TV doesn’t mean you’ll actually use it.”

Other analysts share a similar sentiment.

“In most cases consumers are buying a television with Internet connectivity as insurance. In other words, they are buying them just in case they need it in the future,” says Van Baker, a vice-president at the research firm Gartner. “Less than half of Internet connected televisions actually get connected to the Internet so clearly consumers don’t yet see this capability as a must have feature.”

Smart TVs, as well as various smart TV set-top boxes like Boxee, Roku and Google TV, once had rosy outlooks.

“Over the next few years, connected TV will become a mainstream consumer technology. Its widespread adoption will not only be disruptive to the entertainment industry; it will also heavily impact the global advertising and marketing industries,” read a May press release outlining projected global shipments of connected TVs. By 2015, 43 million homes in the US are expected to have at least one connected TV.

But so far, evidence of a disruption is hard to come by. Logitech, for example, recently drop the price of its Google TV set top box, the Revue, from $299 to $99 to better reflect consumers’ perceived value of the product after customers returned them in droves.

Apple may be a notable exception to the trend, as there are persistent rumors that some sort of Apple TV set is in the works.

Many blame the lackluster economy for the slow adoption rate of connected TV sets. McQuivey blames the devices. He’s still bullish on the technology, but says the current crop of smart TVs are actually pretty stupid, lacking enough power to make them a truly relevant, transformative technology. Many people buy smart TVs, take them home, and then never utilize the connected features of the set.

The people buying these TVs tend to buy them because they are the best TVs on the market — not because they are connected. The people who actually use Internet connectivity capability do so for only a handful of tasks, like accessing Netflix, watching YouTube videos and maybe checking out photos on services like Facebook or Picasa.

“Nobody has designed these devices to be inviting, to work quickly,” McQuivey says, noting that Google is at least trying to fix that in the software space. The situation is entirely different from another product that debuted around the same time as the smart TV: the iPad. “We’ve found there are at least ten activities that 50 percent or more people do on their iPad, which is very unusual. The iPad beckons you to try these things.” And Internet connected TVs? Well, it’s a TV, so you mostly just sit there and… watch the TV.

And what about that Apple television rumor?

“I am 100 percent convinced that Apple rumor is true,” McQuivey says. “I’m also convinced Apple may never bring this product to market. If we don’t see one, it’s not because the rumor wasn’t true, it’s because Apple is convinced it’s too broken a market to enter.”

Apple would need to add something new in order for their smart TV to possibly succeed, and its options are to provide additional content (like when Netflix was added to Apple TV’s streaming abilities), or add apps. If they can convince major developers to create apps for the experience, McQuivey says, it may succeed.

It looks like Viewsonic may revisit the space when production become more affordable, citing ” future cost reduction of processing solutions” and “advancements as to the performance of streaming and decoding of digital media and cost” as technological developments they were working on in the meantime.

But there’s no point in pursuing smart TV development further if nobody’s adopting it.

“This will end up being one of the most successful flops in the history of consumer tech adoption,” McQuivey says.

Sony HUD Specs Show Subtitles to Cinemagoers

Sony’s subtitle-showing specs are great — if you wear contacts and hate 3-D. Stills captured from BBC video

Sony has an experimental pair of spectacles that will allow cinemagoers to see on-screen subtitles, even when none are being projected. The specs are for use primarily by the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and use LEDs to provide a heads-up display, superimposed over the movie. The words appear to the eye to be the same distance away as the movie screen, just like any other HUD.

The advantages are many. Not only can the hearing-impaired get subs on every movie, these specs could also be deployed to show different foreign-language subtitles to different viewers.

But the subtitles, as you can see in the BBCs video news spot, move. Unlike regular subtitles which always sit at the bottom of the screen, these follow the movement of the head. Get used to it though, and this could become a feature, eliminating the need to keep glancing down.

Of more concern is the never-ending pile of glasses we now need to watch a movie. If you have four eyes like me, 3-D movies already are out. Add these on top and you’ll have an unmanageable stack of lenses balanced on your nose.

Cinema subtitle glasses give promise to deaf film fans [The Beeb]

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Sony Mini Speaker Comes With Stylish Outsides, Dated Innards

The Sony SRF-18 will be released in October with cutting-edge AM/FM technology. Photo courtesy of Akihabara News

Sony’s SRF-18 portable radio speaker setup features technology that would have been unremarkable two decades ago.

The tiny speaker system has an AM/FM radio, sound recording, and an auxiliary input for whatever peripheral device you’ve got (be it smartphone or 8-track player). The tuner looks straight out of the ’70s, complete with yellow sliding bar and thumb-driven dial.

Sony’s Jambox lookalike can sustain continuous play for several days on two AA batteries. If you plan on using it at your desk and don’t want to burn through batteries, however, there’s an AC adapter available for purchase (sold separately, of course).

At the very least, the SRF-18 comes with a decent paint job. The unit is sold in pink, white or black options, and is currently set for a Japan-only release in October. It will sell for 3,500 yen, or about $45.

[via Akihabara News]