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Android TV is here, confusing those looking for Google TV

Consumer Reports News: May 18, 2011 02:21 PM

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If you're tired of waiting for more companies to embrace the Google TV platform, a Shenzhen, China-based company is offering an alternative: a Google-based Android TV set-top box that brings the Internet to TVs.

It's not Google TV, however, despite being a device that uses the Android operating system as well as a Google Web browser. According to the company behind it, Geniatech, the Android TV is a multipurpose add-on that can act as a TV tuner, digital media player, digital photo frame, game console, and Internet set-top box, depending on the specific model. I first came across the company at CES, where it exhibited the Android TV at its booth, but hadn't heard anything since until this week

According to the company's website, there are four versions of the box:

  • Android TV Nano (ATV300, small form factor)
  • Android TV Basic (ATV1000)
  • Android TV Plus (ATV2000, with HDTV tuner)
  • Android TV Gold (ATV3000, with a hard drive bay)
  • Android TV Premium (ATV4000, with both HDTV tuner and hard drive bay).

The Android TV box is powered by a 1GHz ARM processor and runs the Android 2.2 (Froyo) operating system. It has a built-in Web browser and Wi-Fi and supports Flash, instant messaging, and Gmail. The company says the device can also handle most video formats, including 720p, 1080i, and 1080p video, as well as e-books and e-magazines.

The system has 2GB of internal memory, and accepts up to 32GB SD cards. The box has five USB 2.0 ports (two external, three internal), an SDHC card slot, and HDMI 1.3 and Ethernet jacks. Android TV comes with an IR QWERTY remote control, but a portable wireless keyboard and touchpad are offered as options.

As far as I can tell, availability is spotty, but I did find the Android TV Plus on Amazon.com for $149 from a third-party seller called Super Deal. But there was only one left when this report was filed.

Clearly, the Android TV is very different from Google TV, and it's unclear whether the product will gain traction here in the U.S. About a year ago, a Swedish company called People of Lava (gotta love that name!) launched what they called the world's first Android TV, a 42-inch LCD TV running Android 1.5. (There's a YouTube video explaining how it worked.)

It will be interesting to see how Android-based set-top boxes compete with official Google TV devices going forward, and how they're differentiated to consumers. We're also waiting to see whether planned updates to the Google TV platform--including support for the Android Market--will dramatically increase the features and functionality of Google TV-powered TVs, Blu-ray players, and standalone set-top boxes.

James K. Willcox

   

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