Thursday, January 19, 2006

Review: Google Store Rough Around Edges

When a high-tech company slaps the word "beta" on a product, it's usually a sign the product isn't quite ready for prime time yet is far enough to get a good sense of what it will become.

Google Inc. regularly releases fairly advanced services that it dubs beta. So when it opened its highly anticipated Google Video Store last week, expectations were high.

But this time, Google really means beta.

Bellacor - Free Shipping

Subscribe to Sports Weekly

In the first days of its release, the online store is unusually rough around the edges. So far, it doesn't have much premium content, the quality is hit or miss and the interface could be better.

That said, there are some promising elements, including an architecture that has the potential to allow anyone with a video camera to post a creation and choose whether to make it available for free, a one-time charge or a one-day rental fee. Rates are determined by the content owner, not Google.

Though only a select few can do this right now, the implications could be huge once more people have access to the feature, which Google expects to be available in a few weeks.

Think of a vast online bazaar for video where an aspiring videographer or filmmaker could easily get a feel for what the market thinks of his or her talent. Google charges nothing for storage or bandwidth, though it takes 30 percent of any sales.

That, however, is for the future.

As it stands, the service at has a way to go before it will come close to its potential.

The problem is particularly striking when compared to Apple Computer Inc.'s well designed iTunes store, which last year kicked off Silicon Valley's latest sport of signing up networks, studios and other content providers for paid, Internet-based entertainment services.

car insurance at

Join Audible Now

ZapTel Phone Card Superstore Button

Apple also suffers from a dearth of content, though it's added a smattering of NBC shows to its previous handful of ABC programming that can be viewed on a video-capable iPod, a
Macintosh or PC. It's also got thousands of music videos and an endless supply of free video podcasts.

Google lets users browse through videos within their Web browsers, displaying brief previews that are often, annoyingly, no more than a show's opening tune.

Purchased video that's locked down by the provider can be viewed only on an Internet-connected Windows PC using Google software, not a portable player or a Mac.

(If the provider opts not to protect the video or gives it away for free, it can be moved — easily, as a matter of fact — to a portable and played on a Mac.)

Another drawback at this early stage is the content itself.

During the unveiling of the store earlier this month, Google co-founder Larry Page highlighted deals the company struck for premium content with CBS, the National Basketball Association and others.

CBS' prime time offerings on Google currently include one episode of "CSI," one episode of "NCIS" and 15 episodes of "Survivor: Guatemala." Each show is $1.99.

Classic episodes of seven CBS-controlled series also are available. "I Love Lucy" has 16 shows, "Star Trek: Voyager" has five and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" has twice that many. "The Brady Bunch" has 16 — all from before Greg Brady's hair got curly.

American Blinds Logo - Free Shipping

SYSTRAN Office Translator 5.0 - Buy now ~ Premier Moonstone Jewelry

The selection will surely grow, but there's also the issue of finding what you're looking for.

Unlike Google's other sites, the search box isn't terribly useful. That's likely because whoever uploaded the video didn't provide the right text for the search engine to index.

Far more reliable is a dropdown menu that lists a number of categories, including popular CBS shows, movies, music videos and NBA games. Trouble is, that handy menu only appears on the front page. The service would be a lot easier to use if it appeared on every page.

There's also a link to view random selections. It returns 15 thumbnails at a time, but for some reason the price doesn't appear in the grid.

I decided to purchase an early "Brady Bunch" episode that highlighted the awkwardness of joining the two families. It wasn't the only awkwardness on my PC that evening.

I clicked on the link to purchase the show and typed in my credit card number. At one point, the "submit" button was hidden because the scroll bars failed to appear in my Web browser. After hitting refresh a few times, it finally showed up.

The next step required to me to sign into my Google account, which I was already logged into. I retyped my information but the system said the password was invalid. It finally worked after a dozen tries and I was finally invited to download the Google Video Player.

Affordable Dental Coverage Join Today

T-Mobile eShop

In its default size, the video quality wasn't bad for a 30-something-year-old TV show. But when I blew it up to full screen, the video was noticeably blotchy — much more so than videos that I have played from Apple's iTunes.

A few days later, I bought and downloaded the movie "Teenagers from Outer Space" without a problem, though the audio was marred by a high-pitched whine from start to finish and the video quality was as disappointing as the plot and the acting.

In the world of the Google Video Store, it's up to the content providers to assure quality. As for the user interface and purchasing problems, well, it's still a beta.

This one probably should have stayed in the lab a bit longer.

No comments: