CES Warm-Up: Whither Google TV?

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In the midst of the holiday revelry, where 3D TV sales were lower than expected but provided a boost to lower-price HDTV flat-panel sales, a new round of speculation emerged over what might be shown at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Just before Christmas, The New York Times ran a piece stating that Google has asked several consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers to postpone showing off their Google TV offerings, integrated in to set-top boxes, internet-equipped TVs and media players.

"Google TV has just enacted its first programming cancellation," the story led off. "The Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas was meant to be the great coming-out party for Google's new software for televisions, which adds web video and other computer smarts to TV sets. Although Google already has a deal with Sony for its internet TVs, other television makers-Toshiba, LG Electronics, and Sharp-were prepared to flaunt their versions of the systems. But Google has asked the TV makers to delay their introductions, according to people familiar with the company's plans, so that it can refine the software, which has received a lukewarm reception."

Google didn't rapidly jump out in front of the story, leaving several days of speculation, along with another story that quoted a Sony executive saying that sales were "in line with expectations" but refusing to provide numbers.

Then an additional news story hit on December 24 in which Digitimes quoted an unknown sources stating that Logitech had asked its Taiwanese contract manufacturer to halt production, at least temporarily.

"Logitech has reportedly informed Gigabyte Technology to temporarily suspend shipments of Revue set-top boxes (STBs) for the period from December 2010 to January 2011," wrote Digitimes' Monica Chen, stating that the reason was so that Google could "complete updates or to launch a new version of its software for Google TV, according to industry sources . . . Component suppliers in Taiwan expect Google to unveil Android 3.0 in the second half of February or March 2011 at the earliest, and related supporting suppliers will then resume shipments."

Within two days, Logitech was in a full-on press to refute the evidence, which publications like eWeek used as a second source point for Google TV's impending hiatus.

"Logitech came out swinging versus the media," wrote eWeek's Clint Boulton. "Logitech's rationale is that they would have no need to request a stay on new components because the Google TV upgrades are delivered over the air, the same way software updates are sent to Android phones.

Logitech had to know there were concerns, Boulton continued, citing the original New York Times article as well as Logitech's refusal to confirm or deny the Digitimes article when approached by CNET's reporting staff.

Finally, on December 28, Google stepped in to the fray, inferring a denial to the delay, and then attempting to switch the conversation back to a higher elevation.

"Our goal is to collaborate with a broad community of consumer electronics manufacturers," said Google spokesperson Gina Weakley, " to help drive the next-generation TV-watching experience, and we look forward to working with other partners to bring more devices to market in the coming years."

No doubt "the coming years" may put some conspiracy theorists on the path of looking a full year down the line, rather than just over the weekend at CES and into 2011, but the damage has been done: If Google's CE partners delay the displaying of Google TV products at CES, the concern over the platform's viability will grow.

Add to this the fact that Google has still not been able to gather critical mass in terms of the number of major networks and cable media conglomerates when it comes to searchable and viewable content, and the question arises whether the delay is a programming (as in TV programming) delay rather than a programming (as in the Android platform) delay.

The Android Marketplace, scheduled for release in March 2011, will invariably be lacking on device demonstrations at CES, but as Streaming Media's Dan Rayburn points out-following the lead of the original NY Times piece-there will be at least a few Google TV demonstrations at the show.

"I'm not a big fan of the Google TV platform," said Rayburn on his Business of Video blog, "as to date, it simply does not work the way it should. But Google is in this for the long-term and Google TV is not something Google needs to win at overnight. Partnering with Vizio is really interesting because Vizio is all about getting good TV technology into the hands of as many people as possible, at a cheap price."

Google's Rishi Chandra also re-emphasized the Vizio demonstrations, which The New York Times had stated would take place privately at CES, were indication that Vizio is a new Google TV partner.

"We're constantly iterating on Google TV, adding new features and content, improving the user experience, and fixing bugs," said Chandra in The Official Google TV Blog. "We are in the early stages, and the future is bright. Today I'm excited to share that we're kicking off the year with a new partner, Vizio, a leading TV maker in the U.S. Vizio is making a new line of TVs and a Blu-ray player incorporating Google TV that will hit shelves later this year."

CES kicks off on January 6 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. StreamingMedia.com and its sister sites, OnlineVideo.net and EventDVLive.com, will provide a variety of coverage throughout the show, which ends Sunday, January 9.

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