Live at Logitech’s Google TV Launch: Revue Looks Good. But $300? Could Be a Tough Sell

Logitech is about to debut its long-awaited Google TV box at a San Francisco press event. It’s the first device to come out publicly since the search giant announced its Web-TV plans back in May. Those who pay close attention to Google TV already have seen basically what it looks like, so now the key questions will be:

* How much? Rumors peg the Logitech device, called Revue, at about $300. That’s too high for an impulse purchase, and while it’s considerably different from Apple’s new Apple TV, the latter’s new $99 price has to be more attractive, at least to Mac and iPhone partisans.

* What else? Rumor also has it that Logitech will offer a camera for videoconferencing.

* When? Word is that it will be in Best Buy stores Oct. 17.

OK, so we’re underway. Here’s the launch site and here’s the blog post. Logitech pleads to turn off any unnecessary wireless devices. Uh-oh, demo hell coming?

UPDATE: I wrote a somewhat more coherent post for Technology Review. The upshot: Logitech’s Revue ably illustrates Google TV’s potential for igniting a revolution in the nature of television, but the high price means that revolution won’t be televised for a little while.

First they’re going to show a demo of a living-room setup. Jerry Quindlen, Logitech’s CEO, comes on, promising more new devices to come after today’s. OK, how today came about: We have an avid interest in solving a huge problem for consumers that we also see as a significant opportunity. Consumers have access to an absolute vast collection of content (on the Internet and television). The problem is, it’s not easy to get to. 24 hours of video are uploaded every minute on YouTube. Lots of music streaming out there.

Here’s the problem: There has not been one solution for consumers to bring all this content together in one place. Why? For one, hardware complexity. The second big challenge is there’s a lot of different interfaces. It makes it really really challenging to search for content. Third, all this content is available on multiple screens, but one of this content is all available on a single screen.

No one has yet found a way to provide a complete solution, until now.

Last month, people who spent time simultaneously on the TV and the Internet did so 3.5 hours a month, up 35% from a year ago. Also, 62% of adults have watched a video online (that’s all??). So it’s clear to us and our partners that consumers are definitely ready for a solution that brings all this content together.

Now Ashish Arora, Logitech’s VP and GM of its Digital Home Group, comes on, one hopes, to get more specific. Consumers would love to access all of their content on the television, he says. Google TV integrates the Web, TV content, and apps all on one screen in a seamless way. You can bring everything from the World Wide Web… on the TV. Google also has a quick-search capability.

At the end of the day, if you can think it, you can watch it.

Every new user interface requires a new controller paradigm. He shows a photo of a slick-looking keyboard with a touchpad on the right side. So when users try to find something and select, they will be able to do so without changing remote controls. That’s because Logitech has integrated Harmony Link, using the underlying technology that powers its line of remote control devices, into Google TV.

So we’ve actually built an entire Harmony–Logitech’s line of universal and multi-devices remotes–inside the Revue. The Revue box sends IR to all other devices in your home entertainment system. This compact controller works out of the box. All the intelligence lives inside the Revue box.

We’ll offer apps on Android pads and phones in the future-demos shortly.

Logitech has sold more than 78 million Webcams. We want to bring high-definition video from any screen, anytime, anywhere. The TV actually leverages the Google TV platform to deliver high-definition video calling from the comfort of your couch.

And now the demo from a Logitech product guru: One button press brings up search. You get results from the Web, like YouTube, from your TV, from your DVR. First, YouTube–can go to full screen so it looks like regular TV. A single button press gets you to your DVR content. This is an unprecedented experience–going from Web to TV content to DVR content seamlessly. You can also do picture-in-picture. You could be watching a cooking show and looking for recipes from the Web.

Now he searches on BBC and sees what’s on BBC now–click on that and boom, you’re watching TV content.

What’s the plumbing? Google search brings together all these search results (meaning corpuses–Web, TV, DVR). So Logitech’s Revue fires the right TV channels when you choose that particular content.

The keyboard has not only Qwerty keys but device control buttons as well.

Now he’s showing a Logitech minicontroller, for those people who are worried about sitting on their keyboard on their couch. It looks like a really teeny little Netbook, with a small, maybe 4-inch-by-6-inch keyboard and similar-sized screen. He’s not showing us how the mini-controller works yet, though, even though I suspect most people will want that controller more than a full-size keyboard. (CORRECTION: It’s not a screen, just a plastic cover. I tried it out a bit and it actually is rather large to thumb-type comfortably. I’d rather use the larger keyboard, which looks nicely designed. It even stands on its side reliably, so it doesn’t have to hog horizontal space on a coffee table.) And you can use an iPhone or an Android phone as well, using an app, allowing you to swipe the screen to control the big screen icons.

Not only that, but you can do voice searches on the phone. He says, “The Price Is Right,” and that search comes up onscreen as a Google search, with results listed. You can also press one button on the phone to turn off all the related devices, because the system will remember the state of your devices. You can also send the content you’re watching on your phone to the big screen. Not by “flinging” it, as I think you can or will be able to do with Apple TV, but by bringing up a menu while you’re watching the video and pressing a button to send it to the Harmony system.

No price yet, but there’s word leaking out that it’s going to be $299 for the Revue.

Now he’s showing the Google TV guide. You can bookmark anything, from TV channel to YouTube channel to an app. The content you want is all together in one simple place.

And yes, we do have apps. A lot of them are preinstalled–Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Pandora, NBA, etc.–in other words, what Google announced earlier this week.

He’s also showing how to content your personal content from your PC, though I’m not clear how that happens. Home network?

Essentially, the message here is: You don’t have to buy a new TV (take that, Sony) to get Google TV.

Tim Leehane, director of product management for video at Logitech, comes up to show how videoconferencing works. There’s a cam on top of the TV screen. We’re watching a couple of people at Logitech’s loft–I guess the one in San Francisco. The video of the room here is in a small picture on the top right of the screen. The cam has two microphones, autofocus.

Now we’ll see what the Vid HD app working in Google TV. Leehane says it makes video calling easy. You can track missed calls.

Now, says Arora, the moment everyone’s been waiting for. Price: $299.99. The Revue will be bundled with keyboard controller. The mini controller will be $129.99. The keyboard controller, separate, is $99.99. And the TV camera is $149.99.

This will be available later this month. You can preorder at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, as well as Logitech.com. No specific date, though.

Dish TV CMO Ira Bahr describes a special pairing protocol that makes the integration with Google TV smarter–for example, searches for content will bring up DVR content and provide ability to record TV content on the DVR without going to another controller. Dish TV has an exclusive marketing deal with Logitech. Bahr says he hopes and expects app developers to use this special pairing protocol.

Quindlen’s back up. We’re actively working with Amazon and Best Buy to get these products out quickly. That means “two to three weeks,” he says with a tone of hopefulness more than certainty.

60 million HDTV households in the U.S. will be able to use this. “Today is just the beginning for Google TV.”

Now there will be a Q&A with Arora, Logitech’s Eric Kintz, Intel’s Wilfred Martis, Google’s Rishi Chandra, Bahr, and Quindlen.

Q: Is there a revenue sharing arrangement with Google?  Chandra: Those ads are not from Google. No ad mechanism on the platform today.

Q: What about Sling integration? Bahr: Yes. Will soon introduce a Sling adapter.

Q: Will cam work on Sony TVs? No.

Q: None of this is something that couldn’t be done before, and more expensive than other boxes, so how expect to sell $300 box? Arora: We’re passionate about ease of use, we’re passionate about creating great consumer experiences. Similar experience to using Harmony remotes. What we want to bring to the table is the ability to do it seamlessly. Quindlen: I hear you but respectfully disagree. It’s the level of seamlessness and integration that isn’t available today. I think they will see tremendous value in this. Chandra: This is a box that is going to get better every day (through apps and more optimized content). (Still, that’s a tough sell, IMO.) We’re enabling a new path of innovation. You’re going to see a lot more coming down the pipeline and I think that’s going to be the differentiator.

Q: At Google I/O, there was a lot of talk about Flash and Flash gaming–anything on that? Arora: It’s a very rich platform for Flash gaming. But talks about it in future tense.

Q: Any partners in Europe for Google TV? Chandra: no plans announced yet.

Q: What’s the cost of this to Dish customers? Bahr: $179 to new and existing Dish customers. Also a $4 monthly charge for the interactivity.

Q: How will DRM affect this? Arora: DRM-free videos will play no problem. (But not DRM-protected content.)

Q: Can you call up channels on, say, Comcast? Arora: Sure

Q: What kind of Android apps can be run on this–anything that runs on phones? Chandra: Intention is that any apps that don’t require phone-specific hardware will run on this, but more info coming when Android Market launches early next year.

Q: How long before we see one Dish box with everything in it? Bahr: no real answer.

Arora: We need to make sure the retailers are educated on the value of the Revue. Someone in the audience says, “Good luck with that.”

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