Hisense's foray into Google TV delivers on content, not on features.
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We like Google TV. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that we like the platform a lot—we said plenty of nice things when we reviewed it on LG’s GA6400. Streaming apps, cable integration, voice recognition—this platform does it all.
Enter the Hisense Pulse (MSRP $99.99), the Chinese company’s take on Google TV. The physical unit looks similar to an Apple TV or Roku box, and promises the same Google smart platform that we enjoyed on the LG GA6400. Did Hisense succeed? Mostly. There are a few blunders on the Pulse, but the content is there.
Setup for the Hisense Pulse should be a simple affair: Plug your cable box into the Pulse’s HDMI input, connect the Pulse into your TV’s HDMI input, turn everything on, and enjoy. Oh yeah, you need some kind of internet connection to make all of this work, so WiFi should do. Or not.
The Hisense Pulse gets terrible WiFi reception. We tried to connect to our network in two separate rooms—both of which have TVs and laptops that connect wirelessly without a problem. The Pulse would not find the signal, no matter how long we waited. After giving up on wireless, we used an old-fashioned ethernet cable. Problem solved, but we wasted way too much time. If your TV is near a router, this shouldn’t be an issue.
There is an output for an IR blaster, and sure enough the Pulse comes with one—place the end of this blaster on your cable box so the Pulse can communicate with it. After setup, I was able to control the cable box with the packaged Hisense remote. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually turn the cable box on with this remote—a glaring omission. At least features like the TV guide and channel adjustment work flawlessly.
Speaking of the remote, Hisense bundles a clunky dual-sided one with the Pulse. The top features a touchpad, various buttons for apps, and volume/channel control—best for channel surfing, selecting content, and using apps; the bottom sports a full QWERTY keyboard—great for finding content and a rarity on smart TV remotes. The freedom from an onscreen keyboard makes this reviewer very happy.
While the remote is thicker than most, and the touchpad isn’t very responsive, it’s an overall good addition to the Hisense Pulse package. We still prefer LG’s sleek motion-controlled (and QWERTY) offering on the GA6400 Google TV, though.
The Hisense Pulse features a mostly-untouched version of Google TV, which means access to content services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, HBO GO, and even Google’s own store—the only notable omission is Hulu Plus. Streaming apps are the bread and butter of any smart platform, and we’re more than satisfied with what’s offered.
Aside from streaming, the main reason to be interested in Google TV is because of its cable content integration. We talked about this feature—called PrimeTime—in detail in our Google TV guide, but here's a quick refresher: PrimeTime shows you current and upcoming TV shows and films, but with beautiful movie posters instead of the wall-of-text you get on typical TV guides. In addition to the terrific interface, PrimeTime also recommends content based on how you rate things you watch. If you've rated The Simpsons and Family Guy highly on Google TV, it will recommend South Park.
Google’s app store, called the Play Store, makes an appearance, but don’t be deceived into thinking that every Android app is available. If you want to download a game, you won’t find the latest and greatest—just solitaire apps and other boring card games. At least there’s a Papa John’s pizza delivery app, and it works very well. Bon appétit!
One feature that we really enjoyed on the LG's GA6400 Google TV was its excellent voice controls. Sadly, you will not find them on the Pulse. I knew something was amiss when I pressed the microphone button on the remote and nothing happened. The problem seemed to be that the Pulse doesn’t have Google’s voice search app. I found it on the app store and installed it, and though pressing the microphone button did bring up a prompt, the remote wouldn’t recognize my voice.
After restarting the Pulse and making sure everything was updated, the voice search feature still wouldn’t work. Really, Hisense? This selling point that doesn't work misleads consumers.
Let's be honest: The missing voice controls on the Pulse are a huge letdown. With that said, the Google TV experience seen on the LG GA6400 Google TV is far superior, offering a better remote and both gesture and voice controls. Then again, at least the Pulse only runs you $100. To get LG's Google TV, you'd have to buy a whole TV. The Pulse vies for a spot in your living room, along with Apple TV, Roku, and video game consoles.
With an MSRP of $100, the Hisense Pulse offers plenty of streaming content and a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard, making movies and TV shows incredibly easy to find. In fact, the Pulse is the only smart TV box that has a QWERTY keyboard remote. Coupled with its stellar cable TV integration, this is still a decent product.