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Hands On - more

The image below shows two screenshots of the interface. If you touch the arrow in the upper right hand corner, the top half of the screen turns into a touch pad. On the lower half of the screen, you have icons for popular functions such as back, home, Live TV, PIP, favorites, search, display keyboard, and yes, a microphone.

Google TV iPhone App
Google TV iPhone App

I've looked through some of the online forums and a number of users have complained about the lack of voice control. Well, the wait is over. With the latest Version 3.2 firmware, the NeoTV Prime/Google TV now supports voice control. When you touch the microphone on the Google TV remote app, you can now speak your search request. The speech is then converted by Google into text and you have the option of sending it to the Search screen on the Google TV. As an interesting side note, if you tap the keyboard icon using the iOS interface, the iOS keyboard appears. If your device is "Siri-enabled", Siri will do the voice to text translation. In my limited testing, however, I found that the Google voice to text conversion was more accurate. Siri seemed to have trouble with "www dot smallnetbuilder dot com". The Google conversion got it correct.

The screen shot below shows the voice command feature on my Droid Razr Max. For me, the Google TV remote control apps made a huge difference in the usability of the NeoTV Prime device. I just didn't find the Bluetooth remote control particularly easy to use. Without an app running on some type of device, I would have been stuck with an external keyboard/mouse solution. I wouldn't have wanted the additional wires in my living room, and I probably wouldn't have spent the money on a wireless keyboard/mouse. (more stuff to clutter up the living room). The free apps along with the newly added voice control, rescued the product for me.

Google TV Remote Control app on an Android-based phone

Google TV Remote Control app on an Android-based phone

Closing Thoughts

It’s difficult to compare the NeoTV MAX and the NeoTV Prime, because they are two completely different products aimed at different consumers. As I noted in the introduction, both products bear the same family name, but they are only distantly related – mostly by the industrial design of the case. On one hand, the NeoTV MAX is primarily a device designed for streaming content. All of the sources are preloaded, and there’s really nothing else the consumer has to do except connect the device and use it. There may be occasional firmware updates that may add a few new services, but the MAX is essentially a streaming appliance.

On the other hand, the NeoTV Prime focuses more on a paid TV-based experience. After all, “TV” is part of the official product name. The NeoTV Prime is very similar to other Google TV devices on the market, just less expensive. As NETGEAR pointed out to me, Google TV devices are analogous to Android phones. There are core OS features common to all devices, with each manufacturer making small tweaks to the UI, the hardware (like the remote) and possibly some apps.

Contrary to the openness that Google is known for in search, however, Google TV does not provide a very open TV experience. Google is very much in control of what you see (and don't see) on Google TV, from the "search" results it returns to the apps that it supports. For example, you won't find a Hulu Plus app on Google TV, but you will find Netflix. Since I use Hulu Plus a lot, this makes the NeoTV MAX a better choice for me. On the other hand, the MAX lacks HBO GO, which is included on the NeoTV Prime.

But the bigger issue is what Google TV lets you see (or more accurately, what it doesn't let you see) when you go looking for TV content. When connected to my Comcast cable service, GTV properly read the TV schedule and let me know what was playing and what was "on soon". Comcast also offers a lot of TV content On Demand for free. But none of their free full episode content was included in either Primetime or Search results.

GTV search also doesn't include content from the networks' own web sites. Many networks (NBC, USA, TNT, CBS, ABC, etc.) stream their content (with commercials, of course) for free from their own web sites. It would be nice of those media sources were integrated in with the media search features on the Google TV platform. But if it did, I guess you would be less inclined to hit the Rent or Buy buttons that are presented instead.

As much as I like a lot of the features of Google TV, it really is primarily a content delivery platform that provides an alternative to your cable or satellite TV provider's program guide and whose primary purpose seems to be offering you the option to rent or buy content that you can otherwise access for free with any web browser. And serve you ads while it's at it.

It seems that Google's TV vision hasn't progressed much in its 2 1/2 year existence, except that the hardware has gotten a lot cheaper. In the end, it's just yet another pay-to-play platform whose primary goal is to make nice with the content owners, not let us watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it, at a reasonable cost.

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