At its Launch Night In event today, Google officially unveiled Chromecast with Google TV. The new HDMI dongle is available starting today in the U.S. for $50 (it’s coming to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. on October 15). That’s quite cheap given that it comes with its own remote control and dedicated user interface. The latter is so important to Google that the company put it in the product name. “Think of Google TV as your personal entertainment content curator,” Google TV general manager Shalini Govil-Pai said. “We will be bringing the Google TV experience to many more streaming devices in the Android TV ecosystem. Today, Google TV is making its debut on the all new Chromecast.”
Like all the Google products announced today, Chromecast with Google TV has been leaking for months. The real news here is the confirmation that Google is giving Android TV another go by bringing back Google TV. (Android TV launched in June 2014, succeeding an even earlier smart TV effort from October 2010 called Google TV. Yes, Google rebrands as often and as poorly as Microsoft.) Android TV will continue to exist, as Google TV is an additional interface that runs on top.
The smart TV space is largely dominated by Tizen and webOS globally, with Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV winning over U.S. consumers. While Google saw plenty of success with its cheap Chromecast TV dongle early on (55 million sold from 2013 to 2016), consumers did not convert to Android TV as they upgraded their TV experience. Google is hoping it can use the successful Chromecast to revive its smart TV ambitions.
With the streaming wars heating up, the game streaming battle igniting, and the pandemic dumping fuel on both, this is Google’s latest attempt to claim the biggest screen in your home. Its Google Home smart speakers (slowly being rebranded under the Google Nest name) are already in millions of homes, but we are visual creatures and screens are still the golden goose.
Software and hardware
Again, Google is highlighting the software for this Chromecast because it actually has a user interface. Previous Chromecasts only let you cast whatever you were already streaming on your phone or PC — a simplicity that was key to its success but also ultimately led to users looking for a replacement.
Still, Govil-Pai highlighted today what exactly Google TV lets you do. You can search for content but Google TV’s main home page also shows titles pulled from all your streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, France.tv, Rakuten, Viki, and YouTube. (It also shows options from other channels that you don’t have, to indicate you what you’re missing out on). A big chunk of the user interface is dedicated to suggestions of movies and TV shows that Google thinks you might want to watch.
The hardware is also keeping up with this paradigm shift. If users are going to be doing more than casting, Google has made sure Chromecast with Google TV ships with its own remote control, unlike its predecessors. The remote features a directional pad and dedicated buttons for Google Assistant, YouTube, and Netflix. It also has programmable TV controls for power, volume, and input so you (maybe) can use just the one remote for your TV.
Chromecast with Google TV supports 4K HDR at up to 60 frames per second. It works with multiple Google accounts, as well as Bluetooth devices and USB-to-Ethernet adapters.
Finally, the price tag further confirms Google is aggressively pursuing the space again. At $50, Chromecast with Google TV costs $20 less than the Chromecast Ultra.
2020 has seen plenty of game streaming services debut in some form, including Microsoft xCloud, Nvidia GeForce Now, and as of last week Amazon Luna. Google launched Stadia in November 2019, but the response has been lukewarm at best.
It’s thus surprising that Chromecast with Google TV doesn’t support Stadia at launch (support will come sometime in the first half of 2021). At today’s event, Google reserved all Stadia talk for the Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a 5G section.
Presumably, Google will talk up Stadia for the new Chromecast when the company deems it ready for your TV. Maybe a “Chromecast with Stadia” bundle (that includes the Stadia Controller) is in the works.