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Logitech Updates the Revue (Sort Of)
The long-awaited firmware update eliminates basic features from the Google TV 2.0 feature set. Why is Logitech hamstringing its own device?

Logitech is finally rolling out a firmware update to its recently iced Revue set-top box, hoping to make the product more appealing to new customers in the holiday season as the company looks to clear out inventory from a "mistake" that the company's CEO said cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

Yet the firmware update lacks several key video features that cause concern among users, and may hold the key to understanding that the Logitech Revue failed not because of Google TV itself but because Logitech failed to implement the full Google TV feature set.

The firmware update adds limited "Google TV 2.0" functionality, a series of enhancement based around Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) that Google announced in late October. At the time of the Google TV 2.0 announcement, Ashish Arora, vice president and general manager of Logitech's Digital Home Group, stated that one of the key features would be enhancements to the integrated media player.

"We are excited to announce that the free automatic update for Logitech Revue with Google TV is coming soon," wrote Arora in an October 28 blog posting. "Some key developments will include access to the Android Market, faster and more comprehensive search capabilities, a simplified user interface, and improvements to the Logitech Media Player."

Less than two weeks later, Logitech announced it was discontinuing the Revue unit, as part of a $100 misstep in Europe and Africa as well as underwhelming sales of the Revue. We covered the decision in a previous article, noting that Logitech CEO called its foray into the Google TV market "a full scale launch with a beta product cost us dearly." Yet, we were impressed when the company promised to fulfill its promise to bring the updated features of Google TV 2.0 to the Revue. 

Between Google's announcement of Google TV 2.0 and Logitech's subsequent announcement to deep-six the Revue, rival Sony launched a firmware update for its award-winning NSZ-GT1 Google TV box that included all the major functionality of Google TV 2.0.

Revue customers began to agitate for the update as weeks went by with no word from Logitech as to the firmware release date. Some customers loudly complained on Logitech forums while other customers urged patience so that Logitech could "get it right" and avoid the issues it faced with the initial firmware.  Confusion ensued when Logitech began shipping Revue units with a "new and improved" sticker on the outside of the box, leading the company to issue a clarification that the sticker on the outside of the box did not mean that the Revue unit inside the box actually had the next version of Google TV software. 

When the firmware update began rolling out early this week, however, all attention turned to the anticipated full release of Google TV 2.0 goodness and an enhanced video streaming and media consumption experience.

Joy and delight soon turned to dismay as it became apparent to Revue users that Logitech had chosen not to support the full features of Google TV 2.0 in the Logitech Media Player. 

To learn more about the limitations of the firmware update, we tested Sony and Logitech Revue units side-by-side with a set of video files, probing to find where Logitech had failed to implement Google TV 2.0 media capabilities. The setup and basic formats used can be found at Transitions' Workflowed blog.

One of the biggest limitations found is the lack of support for transport streams (.ts) and the MPEG-2 codec, both of which Sony implemented in its NSZ-GT1 Google TV box.

Our first thought was that Logitech had chosen a more limited chipset that could not support the MPEG-2 codec used in traditional DVDs and that this limitation led to the decision not to support transport- or program-stream functionality.

Yet, a conversation with a developer of an alternate media player reveals that the Revue is not only capable of supporting MPEG-2 and transport streams, but that TS and MPEG-2 support were available in a pre-release version of Honeycomb that could be loaded on to the Revue hardware. In addition, it appears that an older version of the media player capabilities was listed on Logitech's page as recently as December 11 (after the roll-out of the new Revue software update) but has since been removed.

Alexander Kolychev, creator of the GTV Box Player [www.gtvbox.net] app that is available on the Android Market, first started working on a replacement app for the Logitech Media Player in early October, almost a month before Google's announcement of Google TV's update to Android 3.1 / Honeycomb.

We asked Alexander about his initial attempts at getting the Revue to play the test content used for the Workflowed blog tests, based on a few comments he'd made on a Google TV hacker site where he mentioned transport streams and M2TS several times during his initial Honeycomb testing in early October:

SM: Did the Revue hardware play M2TS content and VOBs with no problem?

AK: As you know from GTVHacker, when I started to develop GTVBox player I was using leaked beta of Honeycomb on my Revue. This leaked beta natively supported all formats listed on Google's support page except DTS sound. So [Revue] was able to play VOBs and MP2TS streams perfectly.

SM: Even though the Revue does not natively support M2TS, TS, or the MPEG-2 codec in this week's firmware roll-out, is your GTV Box player able to still play content in these formats, like you were able to in the early Honeycomb leak?

AK: In the second Honeycomb leak (so called UserDebug on GTVHacker) the MPEG2 codec and MP2TS did not work already. At that moment, I was thinking it was kind of a bug. But when the official release came out [this week], it appeared that it was switched off for a reason. GTVBox is able to play only natively supported formats, so it can not handle MP2TS and MPEG2 any more on Logitech Revue.

SM: Was the code eliminated from the Revue firmware version or "switched off" as you say, and still accessible?

AK: I believe MPEGTS support [is] still present somewhere in Revue code, but is not accessible. If you look closer at Google TV's system log, when you start to play a video file with unknown mime type, it tests a file against various templates for different file formats: MOV, MP4, WMV, AVI, TS, PS. Revue makes the same [tests]. When you try to play TS/PS file [on Revue], it actually detects it correctly, but then states it like "unknown." It really looks like that Google provided some general source code with support of all formats, but Logitech just switched something off.

We asked Logitech for a statement to clarify why it would choose to eliminate some codec and protocol support for Revue, as the lack of supported formats versus the Sony NSZ-GT1 was a common complaint in forum threads dating back to late 2010.

We have yet to receive a statement, but the revelation that Revue is capable of playing some formats that Logitech chooses to bar its customers from using is troubling, since Logitech's Arora had specifically called out Logitech Media Player improvements as one of the key benefits of the update for existing customers. It's also troubling for those new customers this holiday season who are still buying Revue units at Amazon or Best Buy.

There is the outside possibility that Logitech will launch another firmware update, at least according to an interview with Larry Yang, a Google TV product manager, who notes that Google is working with Logitech to determine future releases.

Yang says Logitech still has a team in place working on Google TV software for their devices, but the elimination of key features from Google TV 2.0 raises two questions.

First, why would Logitech blame Google for the failure of the Revue if Logitech itself chose to act as a gatekeeper to particular Google TV features and functionality?

Second, if Logitech went to the trouble to push out an update for a discontinued product, as an attempt to engender good will with its current (and future) customers, why go to the trouble to eliminate key video support features?

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