After almost ten years, the Google Chromecast is finally worth buying.
In 2017, even though the Chromecast had sold over 55 million units, it started to lose ground to Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV.
Similarly, Google’s own Android TV operating system was considered a great platform. Still, it was confined to high-end devices like the NVIDIA Shield and Sony televisions.
Roku had become the clear winner, and Android TV needed a good but inexpensive streaming device to stay competitive. That’s where the new Chromecast with Google TV comes in.
Google took their popular Chromecast and added a version of Android TV designed explicitly for streaming. Then they made it only $50 to entice people away from Roku.
What is Chromecast with Google TV?
Over the years, there have been several different Chromecast generations.
This latest version replaces the Chromecast Ultra.
Let’s be honest. The Chromecast Ultra was never as big a hit as Google hoped.
The basic Chromecast, which only recently stopped production, retailed for $30, and you can usually find it on sale for under $20. The Chromecast Ultra, however, was almost double the price.
That’s expensive for a streaming device without any apps or remote control.
I’m glad that Google finally fixed those glaring issues – even if it was about five years too late.
The Chromecast Lineup
There are still two versions of the Chromecast on sale, in case you’re one of the dozen-or-so people that hasn’t already bought one.
Both Chromecasts have the same basic principle: an added remote control and a new operating system: Google TV.
The Chromecast with Google TV is the new flagship 4K streaming device. It’s available in three different colors: Snow (aka white), Sky (aka blue), and Sunrise (aka salmon pink).
The newer Chromecast with Google TV HD is similar but only streams up to 1080p resolutions. It’s available in white only.
Before you get too excited about the colors, remember that the only part of the new Google Chromecast you will see is the remote control. The rest remains hidden behind your television.
First, let’s take a look at Google TV in some more detail.
Google TV Launcher: Is Google TV Android TV?
There will be many people wondering what the difference is between Google TV and Android TV.
From what we can tell, Google TV is just a launcher that sits on top of Android TV version 10. After all, why reinvent the wheel, right?
Let me explain.
Android TV apps are arranged in rows along the home screen. If you want to watch something on Netflix, you click on that app to browse its content.
By contrast, Google TV puts the content front and center, letting you browse right from the home screen.
You start on the “For You” tab, which aggregates recommendations across several streaming platforms based on your viewing habits. You can narrow that down further by going to the Movies or Shows tabs.
Although you’ll still get recommendations from streaming services you don’t subscribe to, there’s a handy padlock icon to show you that content is currently locked.
This new UI has a mixture of free content and content available to rent or buy. There are also scrolling ads covering the top third of the screen, similar to Amazon Prime Video.
Unlike Amazon, though, it’s easy to tell which is which without clicking on the title.
Finally, we have the Library tab.
This tab automatically populates with movies synced with your Google Play Account. For me, that included all of my Movies Anywhere and VUDU movies
Chromecast with Google TV Specs
Google is notoriously tight-lipped about what hardware goes into their devices.
As always, I rely on our friend Jean-Luc over at CNX-Software.com. He did a little investigative research to get most of the hardware specs, and I was able to fill in the few gaps using AIDA64.
- CPU: Quad-core Amlogic S905D3 ARM-A55 processor @ 1.9GHz
- GPU: Mali-G31
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Storage: 8 GB flash (4 GB available)
- Video Output: HDMI 2.1 up to 4K HDR @ 60 fps with ALLM support
- Video: 4K H.265/H.264 with Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+ support
- Audio: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos (pass-through)
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz), Bluetooth
Although these specs don’t look like much, it’s important to remember that Google optimized the new Chromecast to work with the Google TV operating system.
As soon as you boot it up and start streaming, you’ll realize that the Chromecast with Google TV is punching above its weight.
Setting up your Chromecast with Google TV
One thing that Google has done amazingly well is the initial setup process.
Once you link your Smartphone to your Chromecast through the Google Home app, the setup process automatically copies over some vital information and connects some of your accounts.
You can still enter your information on the screen using the remote control. However, since there’s no easy way to use Chromecast without a Google account, the process is longer.
You’ll have to give Google additional permissions at specific points in the setup process to get the most out of your Chromecast.
The first is allowing Google to search for content across all of your TV apps.
This is at the core of Google TV, so if you don’t allow this permission, the new Chromecast loses many of its advantages.
The second is choosing what initial apps and services you want on your new Chromecast. The Android TV setup process is similar, but this is much more detailed.
The setup process took about 30 minutes, but you’re hands-off for most of it. There’s a mandatory software update, which needs to download and installed before you can even get to the home screen.
Chromecast Remote Control
Hands down, the remote control is the best addition to the new Chromecast with Google TV. Pun intended.
But as much as I like having a remote control for my Chromecast, I don’t like this remote control.
I’ll start with the good parts first, though.
Volume controls are on the upper right-hand side, exactly where your index finger would sit. The circular D-pad is contoured perfectly, so your thumb naturally finds the center point. It’s easy to go from pressing up on the D-pad to hitting the back button without straining your thumb.
In short…the button layout is perfect.
There are three special buttons as well. The two on the bottom will take you directly to YouTube and Netflix. The contrasting button in the upper right will launch Google Assistant.
But like I said, it could be better.
The satin finish is so smooth that it’s tough to get a grip on it when I’m picking it up. I wish it had some rubberized or textured part to grab onto.
I also found the remote to be very small – almost uncomfortably small.
When I do manage to pick it up, it feels like it’s getting lost in the palm of my hand.
Although, for the sake of transparency, my wife absolutely loved this remote. We both thought it reminded us of an Apple product. Everything is as simple as it needs to be, and no more.
Finally, there have been some issues with the Chromecast remote that require troubleshooting. Occasionally, those issues need you to reset and pair the remote to your Chromecast.
First Impressions & Performance
Once the setup and initial updates are finished, the new Chromecast with Google TV is a breeze to navigate.
As I mentioned, the main selling point is that Google takes your viewing habits and ratings and recommends similar content across all your streaming services.
The more you watch, the better the recommendations get.
Movies and TV shows are separated into their own tabs. Each allows for similar recommendations at the top of the screen.
I noticed that Google’s recommendations don’t care whether you’ve already seen the movie before. It’s still going to recommend it to you. For example, in the image above, these are all great recommendations for me, but I’d already watched them all.
Again, this is something I expect to improve over time as Google develops its own database of viewing habits.
Google TV’s ‘content first’ layout will take some getting used to. I can understand why they went in this direction. After all, Amazon has been using a similar approach with Fire OS for years.
Even though I prefer Android TV’s ‘app first’ layout, I can see how many people would love this new interface.
A couple of additional features in the new Chromecast are worth mentioning.
Most streaming devices have screensavers, which is nothing new.
If you use Google Photos, you can change your screensaver so a slideshow of your memories with just a simple setting change. There’s also an ‘art gallery’ mode that will display famous paintings when your screensaver turns on.
You can also enable the local weather straight from the settings menu. Hopefully, this feature will make its way into Android TV, so you won’t need a separate weather app anymore.
The Verdict: Is The Chromecast With Google TV Worth It?
In a word: absolutely!
I’ve always thought the original Chromecast was a great idea but needed more behind it. It’s great to cast a video or webpage to your television. The trouble is that I only needed to do it once or twice a month.
Usually, it was easier to search for the video on my Android TV instead.
Fast forward to the new Chromecast with Google TV.
It solves that problem and finally becomes a streaming device worth buying.
For $50, you get 4K Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video. You get a content-focused launcher on top of Android TV that adapts to your viewing habits. You even get some nifty additional features like built-in screensavers and weather information.
If you need a good alternative to the NVIDIA Shield TV, the new Chromecast with Google TV is worth a look.
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