Sony's Google TV  (Source: Sony)

The TV packs one big remote control. Soon you will be able to control your TV via your Android smart phone, though, even using voice commands.  (Source: Sony)

For those who don't want to buy a new TV, Sony is also offering a Google TV Blu-Ray player, giving customers one more way to ditch the set-top box.  (Source: Sony)
Google aims to take over the emerging TV OS market

Google is increasingly became a leading force as an operating system developer.  Its Android smartphone operating system is growing faster than any other smartphone operating system, and its Chrome operating system for tablets and netbooks will soon debut as well.

But Google's latest OS entry comes in a market you might not expect -- television.  On Tuesday, Sony introduced the first television hardware on the market to be powered by Google's new Google TV OS.

The new Google TV-enabled HDTV flat-screens from Sony come in 24-inch ($600 USD); 32-inch ($800); 40-inch ($1,000); and 46-inch ($1,400) varieties.  They will be sold through and at retailers like Best Buy.  Best Buy will have the new TVs stocked by Sunday.

The new Sony TV marks a departure from "dumb" televisions that had to be attached to set-top boxes from companies like Apple, Logitech, Roku and Boxee, in order to provide additional functionality.  With Google designing the operating system, Sony was free to focus on adding enough hardware to support it -- a manageable task.

Sony packed an Intel Atom-based CE4100 consumer electronics system-on-chip (SoC) into the television to provide it sufficient processing power.  The TV's video hardware is capable of providing a dual-view mode, with two simultaneous high-definition feeds.  You can connect the television to the internet by ethernet cable or by Wi-Fi

The operating system, Google TV, is actually a variant of Android and shares much of its source code.  As Android is built on a Linux kernel, this marks yet another example of how Google is quietly growing Linux's market share (Linus Torvalds must be somewhere silently cheering).

The OS is streamlined to provide easy web browsing, with a focus on common activities like reading the news, posting to Twitter/Facebook, and running searches.  Much like Microsoft did with Bing for its upcoming Windows Phone 7, Google has fine-tuned a version of its search engine that's more friendly for TV uses, with a propensity to display TV show schedules prominently in the results.  As with any browser, users can bookmark their favorite content for a speedy return at a later date.

One of Google's closest competitors, the new $99 Apple TV, has a lot to worry about from Google's new OS.  It is capable of playing 1080p video, while the Apple box can only muster 720p.  And while Apple has banned apps from its set-top (for now), Google has embraced them, with the new TVs soon being able to fully access the Android market (Sony's page says this feature is "Coming in 2011").  The Sony TVs come preloaded with CNBC, Napster, NBA, Netflix, Pandora, Twitter, and YouTube apps.

The TV will soon have a plethora of control options.  Current users must utilize a bulky six-inch remote that packs an optical mouse pointer, a mini keyboard, a home button, and more.  Soon, though, Google will be releasing an app that will allow Android phone owners to use touch and voice controls on their phone to navigate through their television's menus.

But Google isn't abandoning those with "dumb" TVs who are loathe to upgrade to a new set like the slick Sony HDTVs.  Accompanying the HDTV launch is a new $400 USD Blu-Ray player from Sony that come with Google TV installed inside.  This unit comes with the same kind of advantages as its television brethren -- eliminating the superfluous set-top box, offering full 1080p, and offering access to useful apps.

Surveying the Google TV launch, one can't help but get the notion that Google is plotting the demise of the traditional personal computer.  After all, much like Apple, it is luring customers away from their desktops and is getting them to increasingly devote their computing time to their smart phones and tablets.  And now it's doing the same thing with televisions.  Given the success of Android, it seems that makers of traditional PC hardware and software should be very concerned.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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