Logitech Revue: Lots to Like and Dislike in This Google TV Box
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 12:19 AM
The Logitech Revue with Google TV is nothing if not ambitious. Accompanied by a keyboard that incorporates a universal remote as well as mouse functions, this Android-based set-top box brings to your TV search capabilities and an honest-to-goodness Web browser along with solid media-playback and streaming services. With the addition of an optional USB video camera, the Revue also turns your set into a video-chat monitor.
It's not perfect, however. Key TV-network sites are blocking the Revue's Chrome browser from playing their content, its Amazon on-demand application doesn't yet support HD video streaming (an on-screen message says this is coming), and--strangest of all for a Google-based box--its searches are sometimes confusing.
The Revue's Atom processor makes for somewhat sluggish Web browsing, and the box's $300 price tag (as of October 25, 2010) seems excessive for a device that has no storage or DVR capability (although it can at least control the built-in DVR of my Comcast/Motorola cable box, as well as search recorded content on a Dish DVR). You might also quibble with the lack of full universal-remote features--the keyboard can control a home theater receiver, but not a Blu-ray or DVD player.
Still, in my tests with a shipping unit, I found more to like than to dislike. For starters, it was exceptionally easy to get up and running. Logitech and Google aren't fooling around with subpar TV quality: The unit expects an HDMI input from your TV source and an HDMI connection to your set (and it comes with a cable to make one of those hookups). It also has a digital audio hookup for a home theater audio system, if you use one. Finally, you must connect the Revue box (a fairly slim unit about the size of a typical router) to your home network, either via the built-in Wi-Fi or ethernet (I tested it using an ethernet cable connected to a HomePlug AV switch).
Once you plug in the box, the startup wizard directs you to use the power switch on the keyboard, a lightweight unit that is as good as most laptop keyboards I've worked on (a definite plus for anything needing data entry, since most set-top boxes require painful navigation through on-screen keyboards). Its remote features are located mostly on the right side, including a touchpad and button that control the on-screen cursor during Web surfing, and a four-way navigation button for getting around most other menus.
During setup you adjust the dimensions of the on-screen display using the navigation button, provide your zip code, log in to your Google account, and give model info for the devices that the Revue will control (TV, cable/satellite box, and home audio receiver). The keyboard has power on/off buttons for all three of those devices, as well as buttons to bring up any integrated DVR software, such as the one in my Comcast HD cable box.
Some other remote features require pressing the function key and others simultaneously, which is less convenient. However, the Revue can pair up with other Logitech devices such as Harmony remotes, so if you prefer you can simply use the keyboard with a separate remote.
Setup took me less than 10 minutes, at which point the TV displayed the home screen. By default the screen has icons for live TV, Netflix, and Amazon on-demand streaming media services, YouTube and several other music and video sites, and applications. These are essentially bookmarks, and you can easily add or delete them as you settle on favorites.
Google's Chrome Web browser appears in the applications list. Launching it brings up Google's search screen, but you can simply press the search button (which has a magnifying glass icon) on the keyboard to access the Chrome search/address bar. Typing in a URL or site name brings up the site just as in a desktop browser. It passed my test--playing a Flash-based bridge game--with flying colors, and it faithfully reproduced all the sites I browsed. A picture-in-picture button lets you view TV in a small window while surfing the Web.
The video content varied in quality, however. In the case of CBS and ABC, video didn't play at all (messages said that my browser/OS wasn't supported). And NBC video displayed all sorts of artifacts when enlarged to the size of my 42-inch set. Netflix disappointingly offered its old interface, which shows only the content you've put in a queue to play online (newer set-top box software lets you browse and select items directly from the TV screen). The built-in YouTube interface worked well.
Results of searches for video were confusing. When I typed "Saturday Night Live" into the search box, I got several choices--starting with the option to search TV and Web video. Then came what looked like this week's listing for the show, NBC.com's SNL page, something labeled simply 'Series', and yet another search option, this time for the entire Web. Clicking the first item (TV and Web video search) brought up yet another set of results: 'Series' (which when clicked produced a seemingly random episode from 2008), 'Episodes' (which produced listings for reruns on VH1), and Web videos (which produced SNL skits on nbc.com). It wasn't a great search experience, and trying to watch video while performing searches seemed to cause occasional glitches in the video (again, the Atom processor is a suspect here).
On the other hand, the search functionality was much better than Comcast's own for regular programming. I also found that video playback from files on networked DLNA-compliant devices (in my case, a Windows 7 laptop) worked fine, and the Revue is the first box I've tested that has built-in Netflix as well as DLNA support.
The built-in videoconferencing application, Logitech Vid, lets you make video calls to anyone else with the Revue or with Vid installed on a PC or Mac. In my tests, the $150 add-on camera and its built-in microphone worked well; keyboard controls let me easily tilt and zoom the camera so that my image appeared the way I wanted it to.
Overall, I liked a lot about the Logitech Revue, particularly its keyboard, its support for Web browsing on a big screen, its ability to stream media on my network, its search functionality (some aspects of that, anyway), and its videoconferencing support. If you're hoping for a box that will let you abandon your existing cable or satellite service, however, the Revue will disappoint. Its puzzling search feature and its inability to play TV-network content online (even if that isn't the Revue's fault) are serious flaws--and for $300, I'd want these issues addressed.