|ASUS CUBE Google TV Media Streamer|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Notebook | Compact PC|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 02 May 2013|
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Google TV Test Results
Google Android devices are everywhere, and the ASUS CUBE with Google TV is hardly the first non-smartphone product to feature this mobile-inspired operating system. We previously experienced Android 2.2 integration on Patriot's PBO Alpine Media Player, and an immature implementation of Android 4.0 later forced the cancelation of testing for the Pivos XIOS DS Media Player. But after a week of testing Android 3.2 (Honeycomb) on the ASUS CUBE, it seems that someone, namely Google, finally put serious effort into developing software suited for specific hardware. ASUS CUBE is supported at the Google Play store, although there are not as many applications available for Android 3.2 as versions of the O/S found on smartphones.
Most second-generation Google TV devices, both Smart TVs and Buddy Boxes like the ASUS CUBE, utilize the Marvell ARMADA 1500 (88DE3100) secure media processor system-on-chip (SoC). ARMADA 1500 is a high-definition audio/video decoder that includes two high-performance ARMv7 compatible PJ4B processors with symmetric multi-processing. Although not directly specified, software information forms our estimation of 1GB RAM on ASUS CUBE, with approximately 390 MB reserved for the Android O/S and 632 MB available system memory to applications. According to the Task Killer app, it's not unusual to have only 20-40% (128-256 MB) after start-up. CUBE comes with 2GB of onboard storage space for apps and files, which can be expanded with 50GB of free ASUS WebStorage space.
Like every product, some features will be appreciated more than others. Some folks may only want a cable TV subscription, but for me online services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, and YouTube are more important. While the Google TV features offer a convenient means of organizing television programming, I primarily used the ASUS CUBE for streaming multimedia content from all major online sources. These premium content provider apps (most of which work transparently through Google's Chrome browser for Android) functioned flawlessly, without so much as a single playback issue. The Android YouTube app, on the other hand, occasionally went unresponsive and required a device restart... reminding me the cost of free entertainment.
All streaming multimedia sources require an active broadband Internet source to receive content, although picture and audio multimedia will require much less than streaming video. Internet connection speed will dictate the video quality from these streaming services, but from my experience a 6 Mb/s DSL connection is the bare minimum while 10 Mb/s cable or 12 Mb/s DSL are ideal streaming speeds. Of course, faster is better, and even my 20 Mb/s connection did not always guarantee 1080p-quality streaming video. If you're only going to use ASUS CUBE for multimedia file playback, then connection speeds are obviously much less important than CODEC compatibility.
Google TV joins together a wealth of Internet-available multimedia options with television programming from cable, satellite, and antenna services under one umbrella interface called PrimeTime for Google TV. Many television-inspired applications also exist that stream sports broadcasts over the Internet (most require subscription), joining Google Android apps that deliver public radio scanners or cloud-based music playback functionality. The vast library of streaming premium entertainment choices on the Google Play store are easily discovered through Google Play Movies & TV or Google TV Search app interfaces.
ASUS CUBE is dependent upon Google TV's internal demuxer and decoder for audio/video playback, which supports MP3, WMA, AAC, Dolby Digital Plus audio CODECs. As a result, the Movie Player application (known as GTVBox Video Player, later released as ViMu Player for $2.99) played back all the modern media containers. My largest (10GB+) AVI, ASF, FLV, MPG, MP4, MOV, MKV, WMV, XVID, TS, and MTS video files played perfectly fine, with one significant exception: apparently many Google TV devices do not support DTS sound. So when it came to multimedia files encoded with a DTS audio track, CUBE would not render them or revert to compatible stereo sound.
Along with lack of support for DivX 3.11 files, the absence of DTS compatibility will be a major issue for anyone wanting to play back their DVD and Blu-ray digital backups. Practically every movie made since 2006 has DTS audio, making it difficult to ignore. I'm not entirely certain where the blame lies, since the Marvell ARMADA 1500 SoC featured in many Google TV devices includes an integrated post-processor that enables advanced audio algorithms such as Dolby, DTS, and AEC output. There's some indication that non-Sony players have simply disabled the DTS decoder. Regardless, lack of DTS support is a problem that exists on many other Google TV systems as well: Logitech Revue, LG SmartTV with Google TV, Vizio Co-Star, Hisense Pulse, NETGEAR NeoTV Prime, and TCL Movo.
The universal remote control that comes with the ASUS CUBE Google TV media streamer is unlike anything else we've ever tested. Boosted by an IR-blaster accessory that comes with the kit, this remote can control most other infrared-based home theater devices: from the HDTV and cable box to the AVR and Blu-ray player. The remote itself is impressive, combining a keyboard, touchpad, microphone with voice search, and gyroscopic motion sensors. After using the remote for several days I worked past some initial finger-ergonomics, but there were still a few refinements needed. Hotkey buttons such as Netflix might have been better left as generic, since non-subscribers might have benefited from binding this to their favorite service. Side buttons seemed too easy to accidentally depress while grabbing the remote, but can be corrected once you learn how to hold the unit.
Available at the front side of the unit, a directional pad also doubles as the remote's touchpad, which is activated by a cursor button located along the right side. Similar to touch commands on a smartphone, the remote's touchpad can drag and drop items, tap to choose, and zoom in/out using pinch motions. A microphone button is located at the side to activate CUBE's Voice Search feature, which I discovered requires very close proximity to the remote's pick-up point below the Play/Pause buttons. A QWERTY keyboard at the backside of the remote is great for text input, although these keys require above-average pressure to depress. Backlighting is absent from CUBE's IR universal remote control.
ASUS CUBE with Google TV includes Bluetooth 3.0 + High Speed (HS) functionality, and is backwards compatible with Bluetooth 2.0 Enhanced Data Rate (EDR). Bluetooth is turned off by default, but can be activated in Network settings. This allows users to pair their detected Bluetooth device to CUBE in much the same method as they use for their smartphone. It also allows other devices to be used for file storage or application interaction.