Logitech pits Google TV richness against Apple TV simplicity

For a classic showdown between Google and Apple products, take a look at Logitech's new Revue set-top box, which runs Google TV, and compare it to Apple TV. Google fans will like the Logitech unit because it's customizable and has lots of features, while Apple enthusiasts will praise Apple TV's simplicity and elegance.

Logitech unveiled its $299 Revue on Wednesday. It's a direct competitor to the $99 Apple TV, and the two devices have a lot in common. They both connect your TV to streaming Internet video, audio, and photos, as well as multimedia content on your PC. Neither of them requires you to replace your TV, because they're set-top boxes. They both use HDMI cables, which might be a problem for people who have older equipment that doesn't support HDMI.

But from those surface similarities, the two devices are very different. The Logitech unit is more expensive, but it also does a lot more than the Apple unit. On the other hand, the Logitech unit lacks Apple's flair for simplicity.

Here's how the two devices stack up on paper:

Content supported: Apple TV supports the iTunes Store, streaming Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe content. You can also grab content off your Mac or Windows computer running iTunes.

The Logitech box plays content from Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, and YouTube -- but that's just the beginning.

Google TV devices, including Revue, run apps, and Turner Broadcasting, NBC Universal, MSNBC, and HBO all have apps for Google TV. The Apple TV also runs apps -- in theory. It's technically possible. But it's not a feature of the product today, and there's no indication when it will happen, if ever.

The Revue has a built-in Web browser for surfing the Web, and watching Web video on Vimeo and using other Flash-based and browser-based players.

Like the Apple unit, the Revue supports content-sharing from your PC or Mac.

And the Revue unit integrates with your existing cable box and DVR; just plug your box or DVR into the back of the Revue and you're good to go. If you use DISH satellite TV, you can integrate that device's recordings into the Revue user interface, so that a search on a show title, for example, turns up content from the DISH schedule, pre-recorded content on your DVR, and Internet content accessible through the Revue unit, all in one page of results.

If you have a non-DISH DVR, such as a TiVo, you flip between the Revue homescreen and your DVR's homescreen. But you can use the Revue remote to control both.

The Revue unit beats Apple TV for available content, for now. But Apple TV has one more weapon: The AirPlay feature will let you stream video from your iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. AirPlay is coming soon, says Apple.

Video conferencing: The Revue device supports video conferencing with other Revue users, requiring an optional TV camera, priced at $149.99. Apple TV doesn't offer anything comparable on Apple TV, although it does of course offer FaceTime on the iPhone, and it's reasonable to expect it might come to Apple TV at some point.

The Revue unit does a lot more than the Apple TV, but at the cost of greater complexity. Take a look at the Apple TV remote, it's just a stick with a couple of buttons on it. The Logitech Keyboard Controller (scroll down the page) is a PC keyboard with a built-in trackpad. The Revue also has a Mini Controller, suitable for thumb-typing, priced at $129.99. The Mini Controller is just as complicated as the full-sized controller. You could operate a nuclear power plant with those things. Your in-laws will take one look at the Logitech controllers and faint from fright. Both the Apple and Logitech devices can be controlled using apps for your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, and the Logitech unit can also be controlled by an Android app.

It remains to be seen whether the Apple TV's simplicity and low price ($99 vs. $299) will beat the Revue's complexity and power, and whether Revue and other Google TV devices are as good in the living room as they are on paper. Google and Apple fanboys will wear out their fingers flaming each other on the Internet, leaving the rest of us free to watch TV on the Internet in peace and quiet on whichever device we like best.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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