Intel was a surprise partner for the first generation of Google TV hardware. It was also the first time that the hardware platform for an Android device was almost utterly prescribed by Google. There’s a lot to unpack there but let’s start with the hardware itself. Let’s peek at an image we first published in 2010.

It seems easy to scoff at the Atom CE4100's CPU today, just as we’re on the cusp of seeing IPC in mobile SoCs intersect with the lowest end PC CPUs. At the time though, the delta between the fastest mobile processor and the lowest end x86 core was fairly massive. So the compute capabilities should be more than sufficient. Looking just to the right, you see that big grey box with three key components for an A/V tailored SoC. The media decoder can handle two simultaneous H.264 streams at once, and backed up by a display processor that can handle scaling, noise reduction and de-interlacing duties. Graphics are rendered by the venerable Imagination Technology’s PowerVR SGX535, seen also in the iPhone 4, plenty powerful enough for the UI and 3D gaming.

So, why the switch to ARM? If I had to guess, cost as much as anything else. The initial roll out of Google TV devices were . . . pricey. Foregoing the cost of an x86-based SoC would go some way to bring costs down to the $99 sweet spot being hit by so many other streamers. Our best guess has the CE4100 adding as much as $40+ dollars to the bill of materials, while a capable ARM SoC could cost as little $5-10.

Today’s Google TV devices use a Marvell solution, though not universally. LG opted to make their first foray into SoC design and produced what’s being called the LG L9. The specifics of the SoC will sound familiar to our readers: two Cortex-A9 cores, matched to a Mali-400 GPU. That combination provided plenty of performance for phones in the form of Samsung’s first Exynos SoC, and sounded like an excellent platform for a streaming device. So, how’d it fare?

Testing on Google TV is a tricky thing. Indeed, benchmarking any mobile OS device is a lesson in compromises, as most of the tests we use have their caveats. Some of the best are packaged for easy use on the Google Play store, and require little more than a quick download, installation and running it a few times. Others can be run through the browser, while others still require a bit more effort than all of that. On Google TV, though, there’s a different challenge. Applications in the Play Store are limited to those that are built for Google TV or that meet certain filters to ensure a good experience on the larger screen. None of our usual benchmarking apps appear through Google’s filters, and trying to sideload some was mainly an exercise in failure.

I did get the browser benchmarks to run, which should give us some idea of the JS performance.

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

BrowserMark

If you take last gen SoCs and take the power management brakes off, that’s what you end up with. The SunSpider score is somewhat disappointing, but we've come to expect the occasional score hiccup there. The L9 fares well against the Exynos 4212 it resembles (in Browsermark), but this doesn’t really give you a good idea for how the device itself performs. And it’s here that things start to tumble a bit. I couldn’t get any GPU tests to run, and if they did I’m sure that performance would be adequate, but it’s the actual UI composition that suffers tremendously here. Moving between home screens, opening the app drawer, scrolling around lists or web pages... all of these things are stuttery and glacial. There’s no denying it: Honeycomb is inside, and the console suffers for it.

Where everything feels hunky dory is in media playback. Watching streamed content, either in Flash or through the YouTube app, everything plays seamlessly and stutter free. And other content?

One of the challenges for companies in this space is user behavior. Typically when people watch television, they turn on their set, their set-top box, and then change the channel or pull up their guide to select their program. When your content comes from apps or local files, the experience is a little alien. Thanks to modern smartphone OSes we’ve become accustomed to using apps to view some content, but what about a local file? It took me some time to figure out how to even pull up a listing of local media files, let alone how they would get played back. The appropriate app for both, Media Player, doesn’t show up on the home screen by default, which goes to show the emphasis LG and Google place on that particular use case.

Our media playback test is absolutely brutal, but the LG does a decent job with it. Unlike other Google TV devices we've encountered, it seems to have no difficulties playing back MKVs of various combinations. Where it falls short is a bit of a mixed bag. There's no support for Blu-ray rips packaged as .m2ts files. There's also no support for subtitles, nor alternate audio or video streams. And oddly for a 3D display, it fails at autodetection of 3D content, both in the media player and other sources. All that said, in some of our highest bit rate files, the LG drives without a stutter. Interestingly, there are some lower bit rate files that presented some stuttering, but I suspect that had to do with some scaling difficulties.

Which brings me to the one big reason why you’ll want to playback local files on something other than the LG. Within Media Player there are just two display options: Full Screen and Original Resolution. In Full Screen the content is stretched to fit the 16:9 of the screen, and the results are as horrific as you can imagine. In Original Resolution the content is displayed untouched, so if you’re content is in 720p, or worse yet in something obscure, it will sit surrounded by a lot of black. So, if all your content is 1080p, or at least 16:9, you’ll never notice an issue; otherwise, expect some frustration.

The Panel Skinning Google TV
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  • tipoo - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Glad to see a TV review here, a lot of more regular TV review sites skip the objective hard numbers. I'm curious though, sRGB was a standard set for computers, was it not? Does it make a good test for TVs, since they were never the target? Is there no separate standard for them? Reply
  • cheinonen - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    sRGB and HDTV (Rec. 709) have the exact same primaries and white point. The only difference really is that video uses a smaller range of values (16-235) than RGB (0-255) for video, but it should hit the same color points. sRGB also has a gamma standard while HDTV does not, but HDTV and sRGB are very, very close to each other. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    I feel like unlike with smartphones, it's not a technology problem, it's a business problem, and those are a lot harder to fix. We all know how it SHOULD work. It SHOULD be just like Netflix, but with live, recent television. A show has a "live" broadcast with ads at a certain time, then as soon as the show is over, you can watch it on demand on the same service. You should be able to pick up any device to continue watching right at the same point. We should be getting fewer, far more relevant ads because you can do REAL ad targeting based on who is watching, not what they are watch and do away with this fake Nielson crap. I care about TV shows, not TV channels. I should be able to bring up the IMDB info of an episode as it's happening to find actors, writers, directors, etc... all in real time.

    I want the TV of the future I was promised, not the crap they currently peddle to us now.
    Reply
  • J_Tarasovic - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Ahem!!! The Ceton Q looked promising but it was announced that it was put on hold today. Too bad. Reply
  • ssj3gohan - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    And this is why the TV in its current, and past, form has never appealed to me. As soon as I got to (our country's equivalent to) college, I haven't really watched TV anymore. You can get the experience you're describing on a PC. I've been able to do that for the last 10ish years. Reply
  • hulawafu77 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Wow, you are truly a hardcore TV watcher. Reading that, almost made me think there was a new profession, TV watching that I was unaware of. Reply
  • ol1bit - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    I have the Sony Google Tv box, and overall I'd say Goggle TV gets a FAIL.

    Using Google Tv, all I get for choices seems to be Netflix or Amazon. It is no where close to MS media center! It can't see or connect to my Silicon Dust dual tuner, can't connect with any media server I have. Can't record shows, can't seem to stream video from the web other than Netflix, amazon, or youtube(yuck). Aka, media center has lots of plug-ins.

    Xbox, XMBC, Plex, MS Media center are better. Sure it has android, but you can't download very much for it.

    I use it for Netflix and Blu-ray, that's it.

    Don't get me wrong I have Android phones, Asus Transformer Prime, and they are wonderful.

    Google seems like they have no, zip, zero ideas what to do for a media device!
    Reply
  • mr_tawan - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    I have Sony Google TV, and I don't use those NetFlix or Amazon.

    I mainly use it for Youtube, a lot of clips don't play properly on the box. Next thing I uses is aVia media player for network player (uPNP and some online service) and local media player. And the other thing I use a lot is Slacker Radio, eventhough I'd prefer TuneIn, it's not available.

    I don't really understand why Google choose not to include Music or Video player from the Android into these Google TV. Without these we are drived to 3rd-party app, which is not really many given that GoogleTV does not support NDK (yeah I have to blame those developer for not porting the app entirely to Android).

    Google Play is still need to catchup on what on the Android. Currently it provides only app just like Android's one a few years ago.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    TuneIn is available as a web app. You can find it by heading to the Spotlight app. It's a pretty solid web app, though i would prefer the native app. Cheers.

    Jason
    Reply
  • EnzoFX - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    No these solutions aren't revolutions, but isn't it all we need?

    A revue seems to be all I need. Skip the provider cable/sat boxes, and all you're left with is a pretty streamlined solution to stream online content. Sure it's all a lot of boxes due, but I like the fact that there's a much more direct support from Google themselves. It works. How often do some other boxes have issues with their own implementations of youtube or netflix, etc.

    Is this not all we need? The app store is the real next hurdle, and it's bound to come, but until then, direct support for the basics, which even a power user must admit is 90% of what they would do with a TV is solid. This with the fact that it will trickle into your tv regardless is a nice icing on the cake for a sweet panel. Which if you think about the market, it's all about getting cheaper panels out.
    Reply

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