By now Google TV owners have had a little time to dig into the updated YouTube application. With the latest version 1.3.1, Google Product Manager Jurek Forcyiarz and his team of software engineers aimed to make the YouTube experience from the couch as good as your regular tube programming. They succeeded in some respects, as you’ll see in my review, but failed in others.
The earliest versions of the YouTube app for Google TV were clunky. The effect was an app that seemed to be squeezing a mobile phone or tablet experience into my HDTV. Not good. Google TV has its own look, feel and navigation — and it isn’t anything like navigating a mobile device. The YouTube app previous to version 1.3.1 worked. But it sure wasn’t fun running it.
In this latest update, the layout includes a more tiled and categorized view. It is a real improvement. Notice my screenshot below. The left of the screen displays categories. The right side shows the contents of each selected category. It’s clean. Listings for my own YouTube subscriptions appear, as you can see below.
So I selected my personal uploads category. As I expected, my uploads with statistics displayed.
When playing a video, you’re able to see the trending videos and also newly updated and related ones. These suggestions are available by pressing the down arrow on the Google TV remote. There’s a great looking sliding thumbnail view near the bottom of the screen. So far, so good.
Playback quality is really great. Of course, quality will vary from home to home due to Internet speed and other factors. As we said in a recent Google Hangout On Air, the quality of the video will scale down from HD quality due to the full path from the YouTube servers to the home. It doesn’t always matter if your connection is at a rapid 1Gbps download speeds. I found the YouTube app handles this network traffic smoothly.
Another nice touch. If your internal bandwidth tightens, a prompt flashes for about one second that states the video will scale down to standard definition. When the bandwidth opens up again, the video will automatically scale up to High Def where applicable. Not all videos uploaded in YouTube are HD quality, though.
This update includes a social aspect as well. So now, when you view a video, you can +1 it for your Google Profile. This feature does not share to your Google Plus stream at this time. Yet. That is undoubtedly coming.
Google Plus profiles list the +1s so this is currently the only way to see what videos have a +1.
Sharing to the Google Plus stream is coming, too, but here’s my big issue: Privacy.
Google developer Jurek Foryciarz talks about it in a recent Google Hangout On Air. He defends privacy concerns with what sounds like a good point. He says using YouTube on your PC or mobile phone is more private than using it on the family TV. On an Android phone, the Google account associated with it is usually the same account used on mobile Google Plus. It is likely the same scenario for the PC.
But consider this. With Google TV, it’s possible for one user to log into it with, say, Google Chrome, and another to be logged into the YouTube app. That means there is no unified account on a Google TV, which has those of us monitoring privacy issues a bit worried.
Bottom line on this update: There is room for improvement here. The new app is a big improvement, but it needs a lot of polish still.
Video details should be viewable over the thumbnails a lot better than they currently are. The ability to have a true lean-back viewing experience isn’t there yet, either. To me, a true lean-back experience means little or no interaction with the application. That isn’t possible yet. And that’s important. Here’s why.
Users like me will want to queue up their subscription’s newest videos and play them back sequentially — and do that without having to get involved and browse manually from subscription to subscription. That’s clunky. Also, the rating system needs improvement.
And overall app navigation speed? Still laggy.
Bottom line: The YouTube app for Google TV is a big improvement over previous renditions but it isn’t there yet. I say, don’t make the plunge yet.
If you’ve tried it, let me know in the comments. I’d like to know if my comments, pro and con, match yours. For aNewDomain.net, I’m Ant Pruitt.