Can Google Make Sony Stand Out in a Flat TV Crowd?

A week after Logitech rolled out the first standalone box runningGoogle TV, Sony has revealed four new HDTVs and a Blu-ray playerpowered by the system.

Sony NSX-40GT1

Sony NSX-40GT1 television

The TVs range from 24 to 46 inches and include a RF-basedQWERTY keypad remote with a mouse built in, as does the Blu-rayplayer, a US$400 device. The televisions will range in price from $600to $1,400, a considerable premium in a crowded HDTV marketplace wherefalling prices have dominated consumer consciousness in recent years.

That is exactly why building Google TV into sets is a good play rightnow, Gerry Kaufhold Principal Analyst for In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld.

“The story for selling TV sets at the point of sale is to havefeatures,” he said.

For Sony, being able to set its TVs apart from competitors will helprestore some of the brand’s luster lost as Vizio and other discountbrands have eaten away at its market share.

“This clearly positions them as a technology leader,” he said.

Not Quite There

However, not all analysts are so bullish on the concept.

The ability to get video from anywhere to anywhere is clearly thefuture, said Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst for Technology BusinessResearch. But the current generation of boxes, connected TVs andnow sets with Google TV built in don’t quite get us there.

People who are interested in such technology are solving the problemby using PCs connected to TVs with HDMI cables, he said, a common scene in dorm rooms where the video-anywhere lifestyle is in vogue.

To appeal to either hipster technologists or mass-market TV fans, there’s room for what Gottheil calls u201cmoreelegant solutions,” he told TechNewsWorld, but manufacturers need to aim for cheaper,more open choices than what’s on offer now.

“The more elegant solutions need to be less expensive, less locked in,” he said.

Device Details

The three largest TVs announced by Sony — the 32-inch,40-inch and 46-inch models — all feature Edge LED backlighting. The24-inch uses CCFL backlighting, but in all other respects, the modelsappear to be identical: all deliver 1080p video, include built-inGoogle TV, the QWERTY remote, built-in WiFi and four HDMI andUSB inputs. Users will be able to surf the Web and watch TV at thesame time.

The Blu-ray player includes on HDMI input, one HDMI output and fourUSB inputs. It also features the same Google TV-based capabilities as theTVs announced.

All of the devices will be able to access the Android Market in early2011 and will have smartphone remote apps this fall, Sony said.

It does not appear Sony has made any significant changes to the GoogleTV interface from that shown off in Logitech’s Revue standalone box.

Press reports from the unveiling indicate Sony has added somerecommended video channels, but nothing else. Sony didn’t immediately respond to arequest for comment.

Risk of Obsolesence

Sony NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player

Sony NSZ-GT1 Blu-ray player

The TVs with Google TV built-in face agreater challenge than do the standalone boxes, Gottheil said. Most consumers keepTVs for a decade or more, risking obsolescence of the Google TVcomponent long before the TV is ready for retirement.

However, Kaufhold said Google and Sony are well aware of that concern andhave worked to alleviate it. Sony notes that the Google TV componentin its TVs is upgradeable.

Moreover, Kaufhold said, Google and Sony really need only to keep thedevice fresh for about three years, the typical period a TV is used asthe primary screen in the home. After that, he said, what features itlacks can be remedied by the addition of a new set-top box.

The new Sony devices are scheduled to be on the market later this month.

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