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Google TV Rebounds with New Chipset Partners and Devices
On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show, Google makes a splash with key partnerships that promise a strong year for the battered connected TV platform.
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Just a few days ago, you could probably forgive any of Google TV's product managers who might consider cashing in their chips in Las Vegas next week at the Consumer Electronics Show. But what a difference a few days makes.

With the Logitech Revue out of the picture, Sony was the last company standing that offered a set-top box powered by Google TV 2.0. Additional prospects looked grim, despite Google chairman Eric Schmidt's predictions that 2012 would be the Year of Google TV. Samsung attempted to squash rumors earlier this week that it would use CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) to showcase an internet-connected smart TV powered by Google TV.

In the last two days, though, a clearer picture has emerged of several key partnerships -- including LG, Sony, Vizio, and even Samsung -- that may benefit Google TV growth, providing new opportunities for graphics, TV-friendly web content, and 1080p content processing for streamed 2D and 3D content.

The partnership announcements center on chipset capabilities, with Santa Clara-based Marvell and Taiwan-based MediaTek both announcing that their respective media processors will power future Google TV-based set-top boxes and smart TVs.

Google needed the good news of additional chipset partners, as Intel had announced in October 2011 that it was pulling out of the internet-connected TV market, where it had touted its Atom processor for a number of devices. Reaction in the market to Intel's decision was negative, and the company later partially recanted, opting to continue Atom support for set-top boxes for the time being, including the Boxee Box.

Why are the right chipset partnerships so important to Google TV's future? We see three basic reasons: parity, performance, and potential.

Parity

As we reported in a recent StreamingMedia.com article on the Logitech Revue, the Intel Atom CE4100 chipset powers both the Sony NSZ-GT1 Google TV box and the Logitech Revue. Google's initial idea was to provide a reference platform for all Google TV-powered set-top boxes, so that the original Google TV firmware -- as well as future releases such as the recent Android 3.1 / Google TV 2.0 -- would run consistently across all consumer devices.

Even with the same chipset, though, what Google discovered was that different consumer electronics companies chose to approach the baseline Google TV operating system differently: Sony went all-in and used the CE4100 chipset to its maximum advantage -- selling a significant number of NSZ-GT1 set-top boxes and smart TVs in the process -- while Logitech opted to hold back on the CE4100's capabilities, choosing not to support basic transport protocols and the MPEG-2 codec, and ultimately discontinued the Revue product.

There must be a certain level of satisfaction for Google in the past week, after being hammered by Logitech's CEO as "beta" software and calling the Revue -- which is now selling as low as $79.99 refurbished -- a "mistake" for his company. Sony announced that the NSZ-GT1, at almost twice the price of the Logitech Revue, had sold better than expected, and that the Sony Google TV-powered smart TVs (the 40-inch NSX-40GT1 and 46-inch NSX-46GT1) are the best selling TVs in Sony's stable of products.

"They're among the best-selling TVs we have," Brian Siegel, Sony TV vice president told USA Today. "Media has done a real good job of beating [Google TV] up."

Performance and Potential

If Google can't persuade device manufacturers to provide a parity product, it appears that Google is now set to offer options in the form of a variety of chipsets.

LG will showcase its own line of Google TV smart TVs, but instead of using the Marvell or MediaTek chipsets, LG's TV will run on its own L9 chipset.

The two chipset announcements from Marvell and MediaTek also provide insight into performance and potential future features of Google TV.

The Marvell announcement centers on the company's flagship Armada series of media processors, while the MediaTek chipset is unnamed but has appeared in a number of prototype boxes in the past month. Both companies appear to have a feature set integrated into the chipsets that the Atom didn't possess.

The goal, according to industry watchers is to allow 1080p playback at 60 frames per second, offer graphics overlays on the 1080p signal, and support simultaneous HDMI input-output from a single chipset. In addition, evidence points to the potential to simultaneously play two 1080p streams, in a PiP (picture-in-picture) setup, and potentially allow 1080p webcam connectivity. 

Marvell also notes that its Qdeo video processing technology can power the ARM-based Armada processors to "deliver superior 3D video, impressively rich audio, striking 3D graphics, and TV-friendly Web content."

In a blog post, Google announced that Samsung will offer Google TV-powered devices this year, Sony will debut new devices in the U.S. and worldwide, and Vizio will show Google TV-powered products in private demos at CES.

We expect a few more announcements in the Google TV space this weekend as CES kicks off in earnest at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

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