Logitech Revue revealed: is it worth the price?

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That popping sound you heard yesterday was Logitech bursting my bubble. All of my worst fears surrounding the Revue, Logitech's Google TV set-top box, were confirmed.

First was the price. Sure enough, they're asking $299 for the Revue and its keyboard-sized controller. To be fair the controller will also work as a Harmony Remote so if you don't have a universal remote yet, you're getting that functionality too. Logitech also revealed a smaller Mini-Controller that they'll sell separately for $129.99. Last up was an HD Camera intended for video calling: that'll set you back $149.99. (If you want a second standard controller you can get one for $99.99.)

Bottom line? Way too expensive, in my opinion. There is the deal for Dish Network customers that brings the price down to $179 and the Revue integrates with the Dish DVR, so if you're a Dish customer the system might be a lot more appealing than it is for the rest of us.

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So once you've spent your $300-$570 dollars, what can you do with it? Hands-on reports from people at the event say you can browse the web pretty well, and the built-in Chrome browser supports Flash 10.1. The full-sized keyboard remote has a multi-touch trackpad so you should be able to play your Facebook (and other Flash) games properly. That's good news, I guess.

Via apps you can watch Netflix or listen to Pandora or watch YouTube videos (and more, this is just a partial list). We kind of expected to see Hulu Plus support, but no dice. At least not yet. Google says they're still working on that. Expect more apps to appear over time.

Video calling is in 720P and supports digital zooming. If you know someone else with a Revue or the corresponding application on a computer, this could be interesting and in specific cases video calling could be a killer app.

There will be apps for both iOS and Android that will turn your mobile device into a Revue remote. Not only will these hopefully obviate the need for the Mini-Controller but they'll support voice search, too.

The Revue has an HDMI in port, and the idea is that you go from your cable/satellite box to the Revue, then from the Revue to your TV. While you're watching a show on cable you can pop up the Google TV interface and search for other content, surf the web or whatever. Your video continues to play in the background (seen through the translucent interface) or in a picture-in-picture window. Imagine watching a show and seeing some character actor and not being able to place where you've seen him or her. Happens all the time, right? So pop up Google TV and search IMDB to find out.

That's neat and even useful, but I'm not sure its $300-worth of neat and useful.

You can also search for content. Google TV will search the web and your local digital media, but not your cable provider's content, unless your cable provider is Dish Network. This seems to be the Revue's Achilles' Heel for now. If you've got Tivo or a DVR from Time Warner, Comcast, FiOS or any provider other than Dish Network and you want to know what's on it, you're not going to use the Google TV UI (though you might still use the controller given its Harmony functionality). If you want to watch live TV you're not going to use the Google TV interface to bring it up, though you could bring up Google TV over live TV in order to multi-task. Basically Google TV isn't going to replace your existing TV service provider's interface.

Google says this is just the beginning and they'll continue to work on integration with other service providers and when they do it could be really neat. Just as an example, last night I realized I'd forgotten to record Glee on Tuesday night. That made for domestic friction, so I wanted to find a digital copy of the missed episode. First I pulled up FiOS's On Demand guide and searched there. No luck. So then I had a couple of choices: 1) turn on the Roku Player and see if it is available on Amazon Video-on-Demand (it is, and for 99 cents, thanks to Apple TV) or 2) turn on the Playstation 3 and see if it is available on Hulu Plus (it is, and that's where we watched it). You could sub in Apple TV for either of those.

The point is, having to shuffle between different sources in order to search is a pain in the neck. I thought Google TV would be able to integrate everything so I could search for Glee, find it and play it all from one box, choosing whichever source suited me. And I still think that's the plan over the long term, but it doesn't seem quite there yet.

Next week Sony gets its turn to show off its implementation of Google TV. As far as I know there's no stand-alone hardware there so you'll need to buy a new TV or (hopefully) Blu-ray player to take advantage. Let's see how their system works. For now, Logitech's solution is too much money for too little functionality. I'll stick with Roku at least until the first Revue price drop.

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