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Google TV Devices Race to the Bottom

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When Logitech stepped away from the Google TV platform about a year ago, with its CEO famously calling both the Google TV 1.0 and 2.0 specifications "beta software," the only company left standing with a Google TV product was Sony. Yet even Sony's NSZ-GT1, which included a Blu-ray Disc player, looked long-in-the-tooth compared to Roku, Boxee, and other "streaming only" units.

Today, however, the competition looks a lit more diverse, even if the products all look similar.

Joining Sony is Vizio, with HiSense about to join the fray.

Yet there's still a question about optimal price points, form factors, and basic functionality, three factors facing today's crop of Google TV units:

Price point. The original Sony NSZ-GT1 sold for $299.99 and the Logitech Revue sold for $199.99, although you can buy the units today for $158 and $140, respectively, on Amazon.

By comparison, the 2012 crop of Google TV units sell between $99.99 (Vizio Co-Star) and $199.00 (the Sony NSZ-GS7). Pricing is settling towards the $100 range, perhaps because Roku and other streaming only boxes use that as their high-end price point.

Will pricing go lower? Yes, if the history of streaming boxes repeats itself. Bare bones Google TV boxes with limited functionality and hardware interfaces could drop to $79.99 by this holiday season, spurred by increased competition.

Form factors. The largest 2012 Google TV box is still smaller than the Logitech Revue. The Vizio and HiSense units are each about 4.5-inches square.

Form factors may also decrease in size, as we've seen several USB-stick media players emerge. The key is full porting to ARM processors with integrated GPUs, which could occur as early as mid-2013.

Basic functionality. Here's where the biggest differentiator lies, and where the competition will heat up. Functionality may take the shape of hardware connections (pass-through HDMI) or software functionality (DLNA support).

A cautionary tale on this topic is the new Sony NSZ-GS7, which we've reviewed in-depth at Streaming Media Producer. While the Sony NSZ-GT1 had plenty of space for pass-through HDMI, and the NSZ-GS7 follows in its footsteps, there are other basic functions that the NSZ-GS7 does not possess -- making it a step backwards from a two-year-old model.

The NSZ-GS7, for instance, does not yet support DLNA. For those unfamiliar with DLNA, or Digital Living (Room) Networking Alliance, this is the consumer electronics industry's agreed-upon specification to stream content from one set-top box device to another. Content can reside on any DLNA-compliant device, including wireless routers, smart TVs, and even network attached storage (NAS) and is then accessible on the player of your choice.

Sony supports DLNA beautifully in the Blu-ray equipped NSZ-GT1, a two-year-old device, via the Media Player app. Several of Sony's network-equipped, stand-alone Blu-ray Disc players have supported DLNA for several years.

The NSZ-GS7 has also pared back Ethernet connectivity, from Gigabit Ethernet to 100 Mbps throughput. Anyone who has tried to view Blu-ray content via an NAS on a Google TV unit knows that 100 Mbps chokes when delivering the 35 to 40 Mbps required by a 1080p Blu-ray Disc data transfer. Given Sony's double-the-competition price point, there's no reason to skimp on a 30-cent Ethernet connector.

As Dan Rayburn noted in a recent blog post, the Vizio Co-Star includes support for pass-through HDMI and DLNA support -- and it does so for $99.99.

What's in store for the Google TV space? First, we hope Sony has a change of heart on the hardware side and begins to support DLNA and Gigabit Ethernet. Second, we suspect that Vizio will move its price point to match Hisense before the Christmas shopping holiday season, assuming that Hisense can get its Google TV unit into the market before Thanksgiving.

If those two things happen, we expect to see the race to the bottom between Google TV manufacturers continue at a rapid pace.

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