GOOGLE TV

Google TV was roundly criticized when it first came out. Who needs a TV that goes on the Internet? But it’s recently been upgraded to include more apps, and Samsung and LG Electronics are expected to come out with a new version of the connecting box early next year.

There are currently two kinds of Google TV boxes, one made by Sony and the other by Logitech. We have Sony’s combination Blu-ray DVD player/Google TV box and connected it to a $300 Vizio TV. After the system updated itself recently, the whole interface got simpler and gave us access to hundreds of Android apps.

The first app we played with (just for fun) was “Classy Fire.” It put a big fireplace on the TV screen with options to hear a crackling fire, a thunderstorm, jazz or all three at the same time. We turned down the crackles and jazz and turned up the thunderstorm. It’s the best recorded thunderstorm we’ve heard. If you have a compatible Android device, you can get it for free in the Android marketplace.

We also tried some other free apps, including the “Wall Street Journal Live,” “Flixter,” for movie news and trailers, “All Recipes,” and “The Big Picture,” which gives you nice photos with news captions, including several of the recent flooding inThailand. “Podcasts” (audio programs) on Google TV include favorites such as The Prairie Home Companion and many others, some of which aren’t updated very often. Some author interviews, for example, were eight months old. But others are right up to the minute. Netflix, Pandora and Twitter apps are pre-installed.

The Sony Blu-ray player with Google TV is $180 at BestBuy.com. The Sony HDTV with Google TV built in starts at $400.

Update: CEO Eric Schmidt predicts Google TV will be on the majority of TVs by summer of 2012.

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