For the better part of the last decade, Google’s Chromecast dongles were the company’s primary homegrown solution for streaming video to your TV. But with the recent explosion in streaming services, even the most sophisticated Chromecast wasn’t really cutting it anymore, which is something the new Chromecast with Google TV is hoping to change in a big way, but bringing an actual streaming device OS to a Chromecast dongle.
The big change for this new $50 Chromecast is that it’s not your typical Chromecast at all. Sure, it still plugs in via HDMI and you can still use it to stream videos and content to your TV from your phone. However, instead of being based around the very basic Chromecast interface, this new Chromecast runs on Android TV platform which Google has improved with an enhanced UI and a few new features, which is where the Google TV part of Chromecast with Google TV comes in. And when you factor in the Chromecast with Google TV’s new dedicated remote these upgrades could completely change how you watch and interact with content.
Starting with the hardware, the Chromecast with Google TV consists of two parts: there’s the dongle that plugs into your TV and Google’s included remote. For the Chromecast with Google TV, Google is going with a simple ovular puck that comes in three different colors (Snow, Sunrise, and Sky) and features an attached HDMI cable that plugs into your TV along with a USB-C port and bundled cable that you’ll need to plug in for power.
The Chromecast with Google TV comes with support for 4K video at 60 fps with HDR via Dolby Vision, which ticks all the major boxes when it comes to streaming video quality.
As for the remote, Google kept things simple. There’s a circular D-pad up top with a button in the middle, along with navigations buttons below for Back, Home, and even dedicated buttons for both YouTube and Netflix. There’s also a mute button and a volume rocker on the side of the remote, and like practically every new Google device today, the Chromecast with Google TV’s remote has a mic and Google Assistant integration, including a dedicated button for getting the assistant’s attention. Finally along the bottom there’s a power button and input switch button, which is important because the remote can be synced with your TV so you can control everything with a just the Chromecast’s remote.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the software, Google TV will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used an Android TV box before, but with a few tweaks. Google’s main goal for Google TV is providing a more seamless streaming video solution that makes it easy to find content regardless of what streaming service a show or movie is hosted on, in addition to a more dynamic and engaging interface designed for big screens, so you won’t have to rely on your phone as the only way to send content to your TV like older Chromecast devices.
Along the top, there’s the For you tab which serves up custom recommendations based on what you’re already watching, the services you are signed into, and content Google thinks you might like based on your history, along with sections for Movies, Shows, Apps, and Library. And if you don’t see an app for a service you use, you can simply pull up the Play Store and search, as you still get access to the full selection of Android TV apps.
In the U.S., there’s also a new Live tab which is meant to surface live TV content and in the future, Google is hoping to partner with a range of services, though to start, the Live tab only works with YouTube TV.
Moving down you’ll find icons for all of your streaming services and Android TV apps, followed by various content categories such as Continue Watching and content genres like Action, Sci-Fi, etc. It’s all pretty organized and straight forward, which is really all people want from a streaming TV UI. When you’re not watching videos, you can also ask the Google Assistant to search for new shows or even show you a feed from Nest security cams integrated into Google Home, the latter of which is nice if you have a more built-out smart home setup.
At launch, Google TV will only be available on the Chromecast with Google TV, but starting in 2021, Google will make Google TV available to third-party devices makers before it becomes even more widespread moving into 2022.
Finally, the other part of the Google TV equation is that in the U.S., Google is revamping and renaming the Play Movies & TV app to Google TV on Android and iOS. This change will coincide with the release of the Chromecast with Google TV with the goal to deliver a more consistent streaming experience no matter what device you’re using. So you’ll have access to the same streaming services along with all of your previously purchased content and the ability to pick up a show where you left of if you happen to switch devices, though Google TV’s recommendations will differ slightly on mobile, largely to favor more short form content suited for watching on a commute.
The Google TV app even features a Watchlist feature that syncs with your Chromecast at home, so you can mark down shows to watch later and have access to them on both devices. Also one quick note for Stadia users. Currently, Stadia doesn’t have any native support on the Chromecast with Google TV, though Google says it is planning to add Stadia integration sometime in the first half of 2021.
To me, the big takeaway from all this is that Google is finally stepping up its streaming TV efforts, which to me is something that has been long overdue. Previously, while Android TV was available on a number of third-party devices, I always found it weird that the best Android TV box was the Nvidia Shield. Google hasn’t had a single first-party Android TV-based product on the market in years.
But now, between the new dongle, the dedicated remote with Google Assistant integration, and an improved interface via Google TV, it seems Google is maybe ready for primetime and properly equipped to offer an alternative to streaming boxes and sticks from Amazon, Apple, Roku, and others, while also being much cheaper than fancier and more expensive Android TV boxes like the $150 Nvidia Shield. We’ll know more when we’ve had the time to properly review it and put it up against those other offerings (most of which seemed to have been updated in the last week).
The $50 Chromecast with Google TV is available today in the U.S., with pre-orders going live in other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the U.K.