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The $50 Chromecast with Google TV Is the Best and Smartest Streaming Dongle for the Money

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Photograph: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For the previous few years, I by no means felt like I understood Google’s strategy to streaming video. It vexed me, I was terribly vexxed. That’s as a result of whereas Google was blissful to offer Android TV to companions like Sony, Hisense, Nvidia, Xiaomi, and others to be used in TVs and streaming video containers, when it got here to Google’s homegrown merchandise, your solely actual selection was a Chromecast Ultra, which initially launched back in 2016. And whereas technically you can use a Chromecast to observe exhibits from Netflix, Hulu, and numerous different providers, the dearth of a distant and an actual interface made the entire expertise really feel missing in comparison with rival streaming gadgets from Amazon, Apple, and Roku. However all that adjustments now with the Chromecast with Google TV, which has immediately catapulted Google to the entrance of the streaming dongle wars with a $50 gadget that’s smarter and simpler to make use of than just about anything on the market.

Nonetheless, earlier than we get into the product itself, I’ve to take a minute to name out the Chromecast with Google TV’s identify. Sure, with Google’s new streaming dongle you may nonetheless push movies, music, and different content material out of your cellphone to a close-by TV or sensible speaker, however that’s not the star of the present. Google TV is what you got here for, it’s the factor powering the entire expertise, and it’s what elevates the gadget above its competitors. By tacking “with Google TV” onto the top, not solely did Google make the identify clunky and unwieldy, Google buried the principle attraction. Google TV must be entrance and heart, Chromecast is absolutely only a supporting participant.

Okay, now that we received that out of the way in which, we will truly speak about how Google TV elevates Android TV (which is what’s operating beneath) into being a very nice TV and film watching platform. Such as you’d get from an Apple TV, Amazon Hearth stick, or different trendy streaming gadgets, Google TV makes use of an app-based system for accessing all of your content material. And since Google TV is principally an upgraded pores and skin for Android TV, you’ve got entry to the complete vary of Android TV-based streaming video apps, which incorporates just about each service you’d ever need that’s not Apple TV+.

However the true prowess of Google TV comes from its UI and interface, which appears to be like beautiful due to a extra curated design that includes dynamic backgrounds primarily based in your content material. If you hover over a film, you’ll get a background with a shot from the movie, and in the event you hover over a ball recreation, you’ll see the logos of the 2 groups taking part in within the background. And although it doesn’t change the precise content material, it’s fairly participating and positively good to have a look at.

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Photograph: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Throughout the highest of the UI, you additionally see tabs for Search, For You, Stay, Motion pictures, Reveals, Apps, and Library, that are all neatly organized in a simple method. Search is the place you may simply discover new exhibits, with Google TV capable of let you know the assorted apps or platforms a sure present or film is obtainable on, which you can even do together with your voice just by urgent the Google Assistant button on the Google TV’s included distant (extra on that later). In the event you’re already signed into one of many obtainable service, clicking a present will teleport straight to the content material, skipping any menus or settings in-between—just like how Apple’s TV app behaves. And whereas Google doesn’t nail each single platform a present or film is perhaps on 100% of the time, in my expertise, it comes fairly shut.

Transferring onto the For You tab although is the place Google TV actually exhibits off, as a result of by analyzing content material you’ve already watched (which you do should choose into) Google is ready to higher suggest content material from any of the opposite sections because it sees match. That is one thing Google’s been doing on the Defend and different Google TV gadgets for some time and it’s actually welcomed. When a brand new episode of Property Brothers will get recorded on YouTube TV, it robotically pops up within the feed, no have to boot into the Youtube TV app itself. It’s additionally the place you go to select up on exhibits you’re presently binging or take a look at recommendations for associated content material which may pique your curiosity. It’s principally your private home for content material that hastens the method of selecting a present so can keep away from the unhappy state of affairs the place you end your dinner in entrance of the TV earlier than you lastly pick one thing to observe.

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Photograph: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Transferring over to the Stay part is the place Google TV integrates dwell TV programming proper into the interface. It’s just like the already current Live TV app, which is used with TV tuners for getting content material on Android TV. The Stay part is targeted much less on TV tuner assist and extra on assist of different Stay TV providers. It’s tremendous handy and makes it even simpler to change between dwell content material and on demand video, however it’s kind of a piece in progress. At the moment, the one dwell TV service built-in into Google TV is YouTube TV, and whereas Google says it’s planning on including extra, it’s undoubtedly a downer for anybody presently paying for Sling TV, AT&T TV Now, Hulu with TV, and others, who should manually open these apps themselves. For many who do have YouTube TV, you get direct entry to an updated TV itemizing, so as soon as once more, you get to pop out and in of dwell TV with out having to dive deep into an app.

The Motion pictures and Reveals tabs are additionally fairly self-explanatory, showcasing picks unfold throughout numerous classes corresponding to Well-liked Titles, New Reveals, What’s Trending on Google, suggestion (e.g. If You Favored the Mandalorian), and a variety of genres (comedy, drama, mockumentaries, and extra). As with the For You tab, content material is usually pulled from streaming providers you’re already signed into, although relying on the present zeitgeist, not at all times.

Lastly, the Apps tab is the place you go to obtain new apps and set up those you already use, whereas the Library tab offers you fast entry to any content material you’ve bought from Google (normally the Play Motion pictures & TV app, which is turning into the Google TV app) and likewise serves as one other place to see DVRed exhibits recorded on YouTube TV (and presumably different dwell TV providers sooner or later). A whole lot of this refresh is extra a tweak from the present Android TV structure, however its refreshingly straightforward to make use of and polished.

As for the Chromecast with Google TV’s {hardware}, the dongle is an easy puck obtainable in three colours (Snow, Dawn, and Sky) that plugs proper into your TV’s HDMI port. The puck additionally has a USB-C port which it is advisable hook up with an influence supply (utilizing the included USB-A to USB-C cable), which may both be a USB port in your TV or a typical wall outlet (utilizing the bundled energy brick). Most individuals will most likely select to connect with the web over wifi (which in my expertise has been fairly easy, although I do have a comparatively speedy community), however in the event you’re involved about streaming over wi-fi, Google does supply an optionally available Ethernet adapter for the Chromecast with Google TV for simply $20. I’m undecided it’s crucial for most individuals. The one time I bumped into any stuttering or efficiency lag was after unplugging the gadget or doing a handbook reboot, which is a bit annoying, however doesn’t occur usually in regular use.

Illustration for article titled The $50 Chromecast with Google TV Is the Best and Smartest Streaming Dongle for the Money

Photograph: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Lastly, there’s the Chromecast with Google TV’s distant which is a godsend for anybody like me who by no means actually purchased into the thought of utilizing your cellphone as a distant. There’s a D-pad for navigating by way of menus with an OK button the center, together with a handful of different face buttons for Again, House, Mute, and summoning the Google Assistant. Google even included shortcuts to YouTube and Netflix primarily based the justification that they’re the 2 hottest streaming video apps, which is sort of helpful, however I would favor it in the event that they weren’t there in any respect. Actually, you’re by no means quite a lot of faucets from moving into no matter streaming video app you need, which suggests the time financial savings simply aren’t actually value the additional buttons for particular apps.

For the distant, Google even stole a web page from its smartphone division by placing a quantity rocker on the aspect of the distant. This little bit of cross-device diffusion might sound unusual at first, however between the distant’s small measurement and the location of its buttons, I like the quantity rocker lots and I feel it’s a sensible method to offer performance without having to extend the distant’s dimensions to suit extra face buttons on prime. The one factor I want Google had included for the distant is a chargeable battery as an alternative of counting on disposable AAA batteries.

Alongside the underside there’s a devoted energy button and a button for switching inputs, which is notable as a result of the Chromecast with Google TV’s distant (see how awkward this identify is?) additionally comes with IR and HDMI-CEC assist, which suggests you may sync the Chromecast’s distant together with your TV to manage all of your primary TV capabilities. This allows you to ditch the TV distant and maintain litter to a minimal. Yay. Setup can also be useless easy, as a result of the primary time you boot up the Chromecast with Google TV, Google walks you thru step-by-step to verify your distant is correctly paired to your TV, with the entire course of taking only a minute or two.

For anybody who has used a contemporary streaming TV field, Google TV’s interface isn’t an entire overhaul, you continue to get a well-recognized set of apps, a number of content material recommendations, and helpful shortcuts to shortly soar into content material, no matter what service it’s hosted on. And tying the whole lot collectively is the assist for the Google Assistant, permitting you to simply search or discover new exhibits utilizing your voice (together with the entire Assistant’s ordinary duties together with asking in regards to the information, climate, and many others.). Nonetheless, in comparison with all the opposite streaming TV platforms and interfaces, the whole lot about Google TV feels only a bit extra curated, polished, and tweaked to make the method of leaping again into your favourite exhibits and flicks (or discovering new ones) that a lot quicker. And you probably have a Nest safety cam, you may even ask the Google Assistant to indicate you a dwell feed out of your cams proper in your TV.

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Photograph: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Moreover, in comparison with its competitors, the Chromecast with Google TV appears like a wiser and higher worth. The least costly Apple TV field—which is a tremendous gadget and has the subsequent greatest UI—prices $150, or $200 if you need assist for 4K. That’s 4 instances the value of the Google TV. Ouch. Identical goes for the Nvidia Defend, which is a improbable Android TV gadget that features a bunch of fancy options like 4K AI up-ressing and Plex server performance, however beginning at $150, it’s a bit overkill for most individuals.

That leaves solely a handful of actual rivals to this very reasonably priced dongle. You may get rival gadgets from Amazon and Roku for $50, however the Roku Streaming Stick+ doesn’t have assist for Dolby Imaginative and prescient (you’ll should improve to the $100 Roku Extremely for that). That leaves Amazon’s $50 Hearth TV Stick 4K because the Chromecast with Google TV’s closest competitor, which has virtually the identical specs and the same however considerably bulkier distant (although in contrast to the Chromecast, the Hearth Stick has entry to the Apple TV+ app). The Hearth TV Stick 4K is good, however I feel Google TV’s interface is only a bit extra properly designed, extra intuitive, and extra full-featured. So until you’re already closely invested into the Amazon ecosystem, the Chromecast with Google TV is the higher buy. It’s shut, however Google TV’s efficiency is worthy of prime billing.

README

  • Proper now, Google is giving the Chromecast with Google TV away to anybody who pays for one month of YouTube TV, which is a superb deal for anybody who’s not already paying for cable or one other dwell TV service.
  • As a result of Google TV relies on Android TV, you get assist for all the large streaming providers besides Apple TV, whereas OTT dwell TV integration is presently restricted to YouTube TV.
  • The Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t work natively with Stadia proper now, however Google says Stadia assist is coming someday within the first half of 2021.
  • This fall, Google additionally rebranded the Play Motion pictures & TV app to Google TV, to assist create a extra related expertise for each your cellphone and TV.
  • The Chromecast with Google TV helps 4K/60 fps video together with HDR by way of Dolby Imaginative and prescient, HDR 10, and HDR10+.

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Author

Sam Rutherford