Google has announced Android TV, a new TV platform which will brng the best of Android and the power of Google search to smart TVs.
Instead of a peripheral that effectively turns dumb TVs into smart ones, Android TV will come baked into the 2015 ranges of Sony, Sharp and TP Vision for Philips 4K smart TVs.
Rather than launch an entirely new platform, all apps written for Android phones and tablets ought to scale and work on your Android TV.
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Crunchyroll, Prime Instant Video, 4oD – basically any TV app that’s currently working on your Android phone – ought to work on Android TV as well.
Engineering director of Android Dave Burke said “TVs are fast becoming smarter and more connected and really they’re becoming computing devices in their own right. We see an opportunity to bring some of the strong capabilities of Android – voice input, user experience and content – to the largest screen in your house.
“We want [developers] to leverage existing skills and investment in Android and extend them to TV. There’s now one Android SDK [software development kit] for all form factors.”
Controlling Android TV will be simple. Burke said that any physical remotes will just feature a D-pad, a home button and a voice control. Controls can be mapped to gamepads and onto screens, letting people use their phones and tablets as remotes too. Burke demoed how the service would work on a red Nexus 5 running Android L.
“In L, we’ve added what we call the TV Input Framework to Android. It enables Android-based TVs to handle video from sources such as HDMI, TV tuners and IPTV receivers.
The UI provides a familiar navigation experience with channel information layered on the top of the screen. We’re not sure how we feel about the programme data being pasted across the top section of the screen – hopefully any budding developers out there will relegate such information to a more sensible place.
If you want to access content from Google’s store, whether that’s TV content or apps, pressing the Home button will call up a list of tiles, arranged in that familiar Google Play style. From here you’ll be able to zip through menus with the manual control or use voice search to find what you’re after.
As with Netflix, Android TV will keep a note of what you’re watching and playing and pull the most relevent content to you to the front of the queue when you tap Home. If you’re mid-way through a Game of Thrones binge-watch, you’ll be able to easily pick up where you left off.
A neat feature of search on Android TV is that if you look for a programme you’re after, it’ll not only find the content but tell you which services have that content, kind of like how Tank Top TV works.
Burke searched for Breaking Bad which pulled up a cast list and told him that the show could be bought from Google Play. Tapping on actress Anna Gunn’s profile in the list called up a second list giving you links to other films and shows – such as Deadwood, Red State – she’s starred in.
If you were searching for The World Is Not Enough, arguably Pierce Brosnan’s finest turn as Bond, and you tapped on his icon, Android TV would conceivably serve up links to Mrs. Doubtfire and Taffin.
As Netflix doesn’t tend to publicly share what titles are in its arsenal, it might not play ball with Android TV, much in the same way that it yanked its metadata from Tank Top TV last year. Search isn’t limited to services and titles found in Google Play however.
Burke also demonstrated how Google’s search might could be used to pull up more abstract results. Searching for ‘Oscar nominated movies from 2002’ pulled in the first Lord of the Rings film, Black Hawk Down and Moulin Rouge.
The Android TV app store should be live by the autumn, meaning by the time Android TV hardware goes on sale and is shown off at CES 2015, there should be a healthy brace of apps and services ready for you to dip into.