Nexus Q: Will your living room revolve around Google's sphere?

Google says the spherical Nexus Q media server is "the world's first social streaming media player." With easy cloud connectivity and a built-in amp, Google's Nexus Q has a lot going for it -- but how does it compare to the Apple TV or the Roku?

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    Google engineering director Joe Britt unveils the Nexus Q, a small spherical "social streaming media player" with a built-in amp. The Nexus Q will be able to stream music and video directly from the cloud, and can be controlled by anyone with an Android device.
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Amid all the skydiving hoopla at its I/O developers conference on Wednesday, Google made a more quiet introduction: it unveiled a small black-and-cyan sphere that could replace -- or at least become the centerpiece of -- your media center.

The Nexus Q, about four and a half inches in diameter, is an Android-powered home media server that’s designed to grab your tunes, movies, or TV shows from the cloud and stream them to your favorite screen and set of speakers. In that respect it’s awfully similar to the Apple TV or the Roku (or, for that matter, the not-terribly-popular Google TV), but there are a few things that set the Nexus Q apart.

The Nexus Q can be operated by any device running Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” or higher (which includes almost all modern Android phones and tablets). Your device of choice acts as a remote control, telling the Nexus Q what to stream -- a slightly simpler setup than Apple’s Airplay protocol, in which content is streamed from the cloud to an iPad or iPhone, then rebroadcast to a screen or speakers. Right now the Nexus Q works with Google Play and YouTube, although it’ll undoubtedly be supported by third-party apps like Netflix and Pandora before too long.

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Google also decided to make the Nexus Q a “social streaming media player,” meaning that it’s set up to be accessible to people with many different devices. Any number of Android devices can connect to the Nexus Q as remote controls -- so party guests can add songs from their libraries to the queue, share their movies, or stream YouTube videos to your TV. (Presumably there’ll be some sort of password feature to keep strangers from walking past your apartment and changing what you’re watching or listening to.)

The Nexus Q also has a built-in 25W speaker amp, which means you can pump sound to a pair of nice speakers, without having to have a separate home theater receiver. On the back of the sphere is a micro-HDMI output, an Ethernet port, optical and banana speaker outputs, and a micro-USB port (Google coyly says the latter is “to encourage general hackability”). Inside are 16GB of flash memory and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and NFC radios.

The inclusion of the onboard amp probably contributes to the device’s surprisingly high $299 price. (It’s also worth mentioning that all Nexus Qs will be assembled in the US and contain almost exclusively American components, which undoubtedly drives the manufacturing costs up a bit.) The New York Times reports that Google expects to bring the price down as more units are sold, which is a small comfort. Still, as slick-looking as the Nexus Q is, it faces an uphill battle against similar sub-$100 streaming boxes like the Apple TV and the Roku.

Google says the Nexus Q will be available for pre-order on Wednesday, and their site shows a shipping delay of two to three weeks. Readers, what do you think? Are you tempted to pick one up, or are you happy with your current media setup? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.

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