Hisense recognizes that the differentiating factor in a post-SmartTV world is not based on the number of features that can be offered but rather on how those features actually function. Netflix streaming, YouTube, web browsing; you’ll find all of it with a SmartTV or set-top SmartTV. The products that stand out are the ones that consumers have an easy time using. That's the driving philosophy behind the design of the company's Pulse with Google TV box, an attempt to provide what the company messaging calls a "lean back experience" in your living room.
For those who don't know, the Pulse is a set-top box that effectively adds SmartTV functionality to TVs that lack it. There's value here for SmartTV owners as well, but the real target audience seems to be those who would like to have most of their multimedia entertainment center's features in a single package.
The Pulse is a small device, roughly the size of two Apple TV boxes stacked on top of one another. Once connected, you've got web browsing, access to video streaming services, live TV, and, thanks to the Google branding, access to a range of compatible apps and multimedia content available through the Google Play store. There's also a USB port that can read audio/video content off of any connected hard drive with a Windows or iOS directory structure.
Again, no different from the sort of features you might find in any SmartTV. What stands out here is the user-friendliness. First there's the Pulse remote, a double-sided cluster of buttons that ups the ante on standard remote functionality with a full laptop-style touchpad mouse (with tap-to-click functionality) on one side and a QWERTY keyboard on the other. Built-in sensors pick up on how the remote is being held too, rendering buttons on the "bottom" inoperable until you flip them to face upwards.
On the screen, you've got a Hisense-designed interface for each source of content you might be browsing through. The focus is very much on offering large, easy-to-access frames so you're not struggling to point-and-click some tiny thumbnail or hyperlink. The touchpad mouse already makes on-screen navigation a relative breeze, but being able to, say, click a large movie poster in Netflix to start your chosen video is a welcome added touch.
The Pulse also offers a hefty search feature that explores all of the content you have access to. Type in a search term and you'll see results pulled from all sources: the web, Netflix, Google Play, streaming content from you local network via Twonky, your cable provider's current and upcoming programming schedule. It's designed for extreme convenience, adhering to that same overall design philosophy of serving up large, easy-to-click links.
Hisense might be an unfamiliar name for those not in the know, but the company has had a North American presence for quite some time as the manufacturer of Insignia and Dynex products. The Pulse and a line of upcoming SmartTVs -- many of which we'll be seeing at CES in January 2013 -- amount to the company's first product offering in the United States under its own name. You'll be able to nab a Pulse with Google TV for yourself starting in November, for $99.