Apple TV vs. Google TV – Which Is Better?

October 11, 2010

By Terry Smiljanich:

Data giant Google announced that its new “Google TV” will finally be available this month. “Apple TV” has been around for three years, but released its newer, smaller, cheaper model just last month. Both company’s are vying for the potentially huge home TV/Internet market. Which one will win? Which one should you buy?

The TV/Computer Marriage

Television has been around for more than 60 years, home computers for more than 25 years. Combining the two, allowing a person to get the content of a small computer screen onto the living room television set, has been a goal for decades, with mixed results.

Apple finally beat everyone else with its “Apple TV,” a small (8″ square, 1″ high) hardware device that wirelessly connects your TV with your computer and allows you to access Apple’s ubiquitous iTunes library.

What does this mean? Well, say you have 10,000 songs in your iTunes that you have copied from your CD’s and several movies that you have downloaded onto your computer. You can remotely access them from your living room and play all your music through your stereo system, or watch downloaded movies on your TV set.

Add Netflix movies instantly downloaded, YouTube videos from the internet, and any photos stored in your iPhoto library, and you have a central home media library now accessilbe through your television set.

The price? A hefty $200 for the large capacity model, capable of storing up to 200 hours of video and countless hours of music. But Apple just released its newer version of Apple TV, a much smaller (a mere 4″ square) and cheaper ($99) unit that does not copy the computer contents onto its own hard drive, but rather streams the computer contents to your TV set.

Enter Google TV

Google just announced the release of its much anticipated “Google TV,” a different approach to the home media market. Rather than a gadget that Google sells, Google TV will be incorporated into TV sets (Sony will launch its new HD TV’s with pre-installed Google TV) and Blu-ray disk players.

Some manufacturers will offer separate TV box tops for Google TV, but they may be very pricey. Logitech’s new Google TV model costs a hefty $299.

Using Google’s “Android” operating system, Google will basically allow full web browsing through your TV set. Whatever video content that is available on the internet will be accessible through your living room television.

Which Is Better?

As is often the case, comparing “Apples” and oranges is always problematic. The different approaches taken give each company selected advantages and disadvantages.

  • Google TV allows full web browsing, Apple doesn’t. Many web sites use Adobe Flash for videos on their site. Apple doesn’t play Adobe Flash, Google does. For a full web experience, Google TV is for now the only show in town.
  • Apple TV is tied to iTunes, Google can’t access iTunes. This is both a strength and a weakness. iTunes is, for some, an indispensable way of playing home music through their stereos, using their TV as the interface. But if content is not available on iTunes, or by separate agreement with Apple, Google TV is basically (without illegal hacking) the only option.
  • Both companies have agreements with Netflix to allow instant downloading of its vast collection of movies for watching on TV. Apple TV, however, only supports 720p High Definition (a “lighter” version of HD), while Google supports full 1080p HD.
  • Network TV doesn’t like Apple’s policy of only charging 99 cents for TV show rentals, so for most network TV (e.g., past episodes of your favorite NBC show) you have to buy them for $2.99. Apple does, however, have agreements with ABC, Fox, BBC and Disney for 99 cent rentals. Google has agreements with the Turner television network (TBS, TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network), together with HBO.  Take your pick.
  • Google TV is basically just an operating system, requiring a compatible TV,  disk player or separately made TV box top. Apple TV is part of the Apple family, although it can be used with PC’s running Windows. If you already have an Apple system at home the Apple TV fits seamlessly into your home network. If your computer is not hard-wired into your TV set, however, you should have a good Wi-Fi network at home (built into both the Apple TV and your Apple computer).
  • Google TV promises apps for its system, meaning that games and special applications will be available on your TV set. Apple TV does not utilize apps, but everyone seems to agree that such capabilities are just around the corner for Apple. If so, the vast array of apps available through the Apple Store will be available on your TV set.

The Winner?

If you have music and videos stored in iTunes on your computer, the answer’s easy – go with Apple TV. You can also get access to thousands of movies and television shows, plus Netflix and YouTube, for downloading.

If you do not rely on iTunes and want full web browsing capability through your TV set, Google is the only answer. You will still have access to thousands of movies, including Netflix.

If you want the best features of both, there’s an answer to that as well. Get a new HD TV with built in Google TV, then hook up a $99 Apple TV device through one of the extra inputs on the back of the TV, and you will have the full panoply of home media services – music, movies and web browsing.  In other words, you get the best of both worlds.