Google TV arrived last fall to lukewarm reviews for its complicated interface and lack of real usefulness. One year later the search giant is making another push to bring the web and television sets together with Google TV 2.0. The fresh release comes with a completely revamped UI as well as access to the Android Market.
The update will be rolled out to Sony devices starting on October 30 and will reach Logitech Revue set-top boxes soon after. There's no new hardware yet, but expect that to come next year from Samsung, Vizio and other unannounced partners. For now Google is focusing on making its software user-friendlier and building a solid base that will be improved upon with one or two major OS updates a year and through apps from third-party developers.
Google is tackling four key aspects in this release. The first is a cleaner user interface defined by a simple menu bar at the bottom of your display for quick access to applications. TV and movie discovery was also improved with more comprehensive and detailed search results and a new TV & Movies app that lets you browse for video content, using a range of filters to narrow choices pulled from cable and satellite, as well as free or premium online sources.
Google also redesigned the YouTube app to make it more living-room friendly. Videos now start playing in full-screen mode right away and custom playlists are created on the fly, so a related video will automatically begin playing when the previous one finishes instead of users' having to actively load another video themselves.
Lastly, the most significant update of all is that users will have access to a filtered version of the Android Market with apps optimized for Google TV. The total number of compatible apps available will be around 1600 to 1800 at launch. Most of them will versions of mobile apps that have been slightly tweaked to run on the TV screen, but about 30 to 50 apps "Featured For TV" will be expressly developed for Google TV -- including CNBC, Fox News Business, and Aol HD.
For now, the biggest question remains if Google can finally reel in wary content partners. If you recall, last year several major TV networks and streaming video providers like Hulu blocked their content from playing on Google TV in a move to avoid cannibalizing their subscription business model. Google is reportedly working with select partners now, such as HBO, and plans to work with more in the future but no specific deals have been announced.