We spent some time with the prototype hardware and services Google is launching along with Google Fiber in Kansas City. The hardware consists of a set of three small boxes — two in a gray that is as nondescript as possible. That's not really a disappointment — these are utility boxes, after all — but it does mean you'll want to put these boxes in the corner instead of on your mantlepiece.
The TV box is slightly more distinctive, it's a thin angular black box that's bigger than an Apple TV, but is still much smaller than your average set top box. It's not hurting for I/O either, with a USB port on the front, and around back there's HDMI Out (and, interestingly, In), optical audio out, component A/V, coaxial, and ethernet. Since it works with a bluetooth remote, you can hide this box as well. You'll need one for each TV you want to hook up, and only the first one will come with the service for free.
One other thing is free with Google Fiber + TV: a Nexus 7 Android tablet that can be used as a remote. The early version of the software we saw looks like a fairly standard set of television remote features, including a guide grid, multi-television control, streaming shows, and of course Google's favorite feature: search. The latter will allow you to set up "smart recordings" that will automatically save shows featuring, say, your favorite actor. Interestingly, in addition to the Google Nexus 7 tablet, the service will come with a very standard remote control. The goal, Google tells us, is to make TV more accessible to those who are used to a traditional remote. To that end, there isn't a QWERTY keyboard on the remote, but it does work via Bluetooth so you won't need line-of-sight to use it. There is a very large search button in the center of the remote, which brings up a standard on-screen grid for you to slowly peck through.
The initial release won't be integrated with Google Play for movies or TV
The TV software is not finalized either, but as of right now the initial release won't be integrated with Google Play for movies or TV. That's right: Google Fiber + TV isn't the same thing as Google TV and other than YouTube, it cannot access any of the Google Play content other Google ecosystem devices can: not music, movies, or TV. It also doesn't appear as though it is able to access the web directly. It can access what Google promises will be a very large library of video on demand content and should have access to content saved on your Google Drive. We're also a little concerned about the channel lineup, but perhaps Google will be able to score a few more content deals before going live. Those complaints aside, Google is pushing the state of the art for DVRs forward, allowing you to record up to eight shows at once and save a total of 500 hours of HD television. The interface we saw looked clean and easy to navigate, but we'll obviously need to spend time with the final version before we render a final verdict on it.
We walked away from our time with the still-in-beta suite of products with cautious (and slightly confused) optimism. It's mystifying as to why Google isn't even making a half-hearted attempt at presenting a unified ecosystem here, instead presenting the same kind of service you can already get from your local cable provider. The same kind of service, that is, except for the stupidly fast 1,000Mbps connection that powers it. Even though you may need to make some compromises in order to get that kind of speed, they seem small by comparison.