News analysis: Google, partners have clout to make smart TV a reality

After years of PC-TV convergence talk, analysts say Google TV may make it happen

With Google said to be working with Intel and Sony to develop a way to bring the best of the Internet to television, industry analysts wonder if the time for a smart TV has finally arrived.

People have been expecting a convergence of computers and television for a long time now, but it never really happened. Could it be that the time for this idea has finally come? Some say that with the likes of Google, Intel and Sony involved, it just may have.

"This is an interesting alignment of some serious industry powerhouses," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "With this group, they have a lot of options to bring about a TV play, ranging from set-top boxes, to integrated TV processors, along with content from Google. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it."

Google and its partners are working to create what they're calling Google TV, a service aimed at putting the Internet search giant's Web offerings in people's living rooms, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. It would basically put Internet search on a TV, making it easier to find and watch content.

Google TV will combine Google's Android mobile operating system and applications with next-generation televisions and set-top boxes made to run the OS, according to The Times. The TV technology will run on Intel's Atom chips, the report says, and Google will develop a new version of its Chrome browser for the project.

A Google spokesman told Computerworld today the company would not comment on rumors and speculation.

Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner, said in a blog post today that he didn't have a lot of hope this idea would gain any real traction with consumers.

"Haven't we been here before?" asked Baker. "There have been countless products and services which are designed to bring Web connectivity to the television, starting with WebTV Networks in the early 1990s. There is only one problem with this vision: Consumers have repeatedly rejected these solutions."

But Olds noted that some consumers do want Internet-connected TV. One example of a service people want is Netflix, which lets customers go online to find videos they watch them via a Blu-ray or other device that streams Netflix service to televisions, rather than on their smaller computer screens.

"As more and more compelling content moves to the Web, people want to see it," he said. "While there's a lot of talk about using PCs as the main entertainment platform, for a variety of reasons, this isn't the case today and probably won't be the case tomorrow."

"So rather than making the PC the living room TV, in my mind, this move gives PC-like capabilities to the TV," Olds said.

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Business Technology Research, also is seeing an accelerating convergence of content and display between PCs and televisions.

"People are watching videos and television content on their PCs, and doing some Web viewing on their TVs," he added. "You want to watch your streaming or downloaded stuff on the big screen with the big speakers, but it's inconvenient. There are browsers in the game consoles, and in some TVs, but the user interface is limited."

But Gottheil said this could be the time for this to all become easier.

And both Gottheil and Olds said Google, Intel and Sony could be the right mix of companies to make that happen.

"On their own, I don't think that Google can drive PC-TV convergence, but with Intel, Sony, and others involved, we might be seeing this long-predicted convergence finally happening," Olds said.

"This partnership covers the bases in terms of core hardware, consumer products, and content," he said. "With proper execution, they could combine for some compelling products."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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