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Battle of the Digital TV Formats: Google TV vs Apple TV

Smart TVs are beginning to really pick up steam with consumers, as more and more Americans begin to opt for web-enabled media devices in the entertainment sphere. Since most households already have a high speed Internet service connection that far exceeds their web surfing needs, it was only a matter of time before TV and the web converged. Web TV hasn't really taken off yet, but it's in the process of becoming a big deal as more and more people sign on. Internet TV services enable users to view practically any content available on the web on their TV for a reasonable price.

Options and Hardware

There are two major options for Internet TV service providers. Google TV and Apple TV are the obvious choices. Both have their strengths as well as their weaknesses when it comes to choice and performance. Apple TV has been out for awhile now, and the hardware is relatively inexpensive at under $100. Google TV comes standard on most Sony TVs and Blue-ray players. In addition, Logitech produces a dedicated Google TV box that comes with its own keyboard and runs under $120. Web TV hardware is essentially an afterthought, though. The real story is the service itself.

Google TV: Pros and Cons

A major advantage of opting for Google TV is a diversity of choice when it comes to picking out your hardware. Apple TV requires a dedicated settop box, whereas Google TV comes built into a number of different Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. Google TV offers Personal Video Recording to disk, web browsing via Chrome, Flash compatibility, and the ability to use your Android as a remote. It also features a wide variety of content from practically any provider online. Google TV gives you access to media from Shoutcast, Amazon, Hulu, Vevo, Rhapsody, and many other providers.

Google TV isn't all smiles and sunshine. For one thing, web surfing on a large, widescreen TV isn't all it's cracked up to be. Most web pages aren't optimized for viewing on a 50” display, so the browsing aspect of Google TV sometimes falls short. In addition, Google TV's not a replacement for cable providers that serve up premium programming like HBO. While there were some bugs that had plagued Google TV here and there for months, they've been mostly worked out at this point. However, it's not always a completely glitch-free experience.

Apple TV: Pros and Cons

On the plus side, Apple TV manages to offer one of the best web TV experiences possible thanks to the iTunes Store. Users can search for content by actor, genre, and title, and the superb Front Row Mac software provides an elegant and intuitive user interface that's easy to work with. It puts out amazing sound and video, with plenty of connectivity options including HDMI. While it's somewhat limited in terms of hardware, future upgrades will bump up the specs of Apple TV a bit to make it far more powerful and versatile.

While Apple TV does manage to outshine Google TV in a few areas like overall polish, it's not without its faults. The fact that it's limited to iTunes for the most part makes it less versatile than Google TV. Much like the iOS platform and Apple in general, the “walled garden” approach offers a superb experience in selected areas at the expense of overall choice. In addition, web browsing and the lack of Flash are a huge disappointment. Apple TV isn't nearly as capable and full-featured as Google TV, which hurts its adoption rates with the general public. If Apple TV wants to avoid being steamrolled by Google, they've got their work cut out for them.

Parting Shot

You can have the best web TV service possible and still experience sub-par performance if you don't have a dedicated, high speed Internet service on which to run it. You don't have to have FiOS to get amazing web TV performance, however. All you need is a high-speed Internet service that delivers at least 10 Mbps and a wireless-N router to deliver a smooth and seamless HD TV experience. The choice between Google TV and Apple TV is a tough one, and the service you decide on will ultimately depend on your own unique preferences. Whichever route you take, both provide a superb Internet TV experience.