Google has been making slow and somewhat quiet attempts to enter the Operating System space for a while. The last major concerted effort manifested as a new form of netbooks running the Google Chrome operating system dubbed Chromebooks. These new netbooks were supposed to be a huge hit, but haven’t quite taken off yet. Samsung recently announced an upgrade to the Chromebook line as well as a twist on the Chromebook with a new offering called the Chromebox.
The new Chromebooks from Samsung are higher powered than the previous models and also include an updated version of the Chrome operating system. The new version looks and feels a bit more like a traditional desktop OS, so it should be more intuitive for users. However, it inherits the same primary gripe: Chrome assumes constant connection to the Internet. Without an Internet connection, Chromebooks are very, very crippled. That makes them tough to use on the road – which is how many people use their Laptops and Netbooks.
The new Chromebooks also cost more than you’d expect. When you consider the limitations, you’d think a Chromebook would seek to beat every other Netbook on the market by price. That just isn’t the case. The new models start at $449. Sure that’s quite a bit less than a full laptop, but it isn’t a full laptop. That isn’t much less, and is in fact a bit more expensive in some cases, than other Netbooks on the market running Windows or Linux. Shouldn’t the ChromeOS at least cost less than a Windows version?
A smaller, fixed location version of the device, however, could make sense. When we first read about the Chromebox, we assumed it would fall somewhere between the media streamers of the world like the Apple TV or Roku and the Nettops that never quite took off. We didn’t think it would be a Mac Mini competitor, nor did we think it would displace full desktop PCs. The price of $329 seems to put it right in that range, just between streamers and full computers.
The concept behind the Chromebox, however, leads us to believe Google wants it to be more like a Nettop or PC replacement than a media streamer for your home theater. In fact, Google’s quote at chrome.blogspot.com is: “Chromebox is a compact, powerful and versatile desktop perfect for the home or office.” The box has two USB ports and a headphone jack on the front and 4 more USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a DVI port and two DisplayPort++ outputs on the back. All the makings of a “just add KVM” device.
The first thing that struck us from a Home Theater perspective is the lack of an HDMI port. Sure the DisplayPort++ outputs support HDMI, DVI, or VGA, but to get them to use an HDMI TV, you’d need to bring your own adapter. Not a great out of the box experience. The second issue is the total lack of audio output options. Sure there’s a headphone jack in the front, but where will you get a 5.1 or 7.1 audio stream from? Those two items alone remove the $329 device from serious consideration for your home theater. Of course the price is a bit high as well.
Admittedly, it would be odd for Google to compete with itself, marketing the Chrombox against any potential dedicated Google TV devices that may pop up in the future to replace the failed Logitech Revue. But at the same time, if you could get a full featured HTPC, in the form factor of a media streamer, for the reasonable price of $329, it would be worth taking a look. Building an HTPC can be costly. Nettops tend to be underpowered to run as HTPCs, so the Google Chromebox could have filled a niche. Granted a very small niche, but a niche nonetheless. And Google still needs to find a way to get SageTV back out to the masses.
So what good is a Google ChromeOS based PC? Great question. We’re asking ourselves the same thing. Google is responsible for all software updates and security patches on the device, so the IT overhead is greatly reduced. If there are companies out that that are Google Docs based, or otherwise use mostly web available or SaaS based software to run their business, the device could work as a simple desktop replacement. As a home computer for kids, so you don’t have to worry about viruses and malware, it could make sense as well.
While the Chromebox concept got us excited when we saw the first article about it, our excitement quickly fizzled when we did a little further reading. Sure there might be some great uses for it, but we’re not seeing them in the Home Theater. We’ll still have to wait for Google to bring a device to market that provides SageTV functionality for TV viewing, recording and streaming, along with the web enabled features of Google TV. It could make for a killer home theater device.
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Posted by The HT Guys, May 31, 2012 11:29 PM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.