Chromecast is the only time Google has EVER got smart TV right, but next year it wants to blow our minds again with Android TV. What will it do that Chromecast doesn’t? Should we get excited?
It’s no exaggeration to say that Chromecast has been a runaway success. It’s cheap, easy to use and lets you do a ton of cool things on your TV with your phone. It’s on par with the even cheaper Now TV box in terms the amount of mileage you get for your money.
As the first Android TV devices won’t hit the shelves until 2015, comparing the two products is perhaps a bit premature. We don’t know how much Android TV hardware will cost or even what they’ll look like (spoiler: probably a bit like today’s TV’s and set-top boxes).
We do know enough about the main features of Android TVs - the UI, universal search and voice controls - to at least have an idea about how it’ll compare to Chromecast. Let’s take a closer look.
- Cost: £30
- Dimensions: 72 x 35 x 12mm
- Apps: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Google Play Movies, Chrome Beta, Red Bull TV
- OS Support: iOS, Android, OS X, Windows, Chromebook
Arguably, because Chromecast makes getting Netflix and BBC iPlayer content on to your TV screen so simple, it’s probably worth picking one up even if you’ve got a smart TV.
Thanks to the Cast icon that’s popping up on mobile apps like a rash, it’s really easy for you to ping Netflix content, iPlayer shows, Wuaki.tv videos and the like to your TV. No more crawling around in warren-like TV menus apparently designed by chimps armed with crayons.
There’s a social element to it as well. In the past, if you and your friends wanted to big screen hilarious Vine compilations of Dapper Laughs (or whoever the current idiot du jour is) you’d have to make use of Leanback or (shudder) proprietary YouTube apps like the frankly rubbish Xbox 360 one.
Chromecast makes all of that infinitely easier. Find whatever content you want on your phone, click the Cast icon, sit back and enjoy.
Come this autumn, you won’t even have to have your phone connected to the same WiFi network as Chromecast in order for it to work. Easy just got even easier.
You’ll also be able to mirror your Android phone’s screen on Chromecast in the future, letting you show off snaps and videos taken on the phone, as well as play games that might look better on the big screen, take a tour on Google Earth or Street View on your TV.
We’ve still not seen Google greatly improve the ability to cast tabs from desktop Chrome, so its usefulness as a work device is still limited. If you fancy hooking up your laptop to a TV screen for work or entertainment, then maybe an HDMI cable is still a better option than Chromecast.
- Cost: N/A
- Dimensions: N/A
- Apps: Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Google Play Movies... basically anything and everything that’s compatible with Android L
- OS Support: Android
Whereas Chromecast is all about wirelessly porting stuff from smaller screens onto your TV, Android TV is all about the TV.
It’s a smart TV platform that leverages the power of Google Search in order to help you find what you want from streaming services like Netflix.
Not only will Android TV let you search by title or genre, it’ll also let you perform some very specific searches like ‘Oscar nominees 2011’ or ‘Tim Burton films not starring Johnny Depp’. Much like Tank Top TV does, Android TV will scour all of your on-demand services for results.
If this wasn’t enough, any Android games you’ve previously bought from Google Play will also be playable on Android TVs.
In fact, anything you can get working on your Android phone, app-wise should work on Android TV. Unlike Chromecast which has a small (but growing) number of apps, every app that’s written for Android L - the next generation of Android - should also work on Android TV.
ITV Player and 4oD aren’t on Chromecast right now and it looks like they won’t be for the forseeable. Once the Android versions of these services get upgraded for L, you should be able to access them on Android TV. In this sense, Android TV one-ups Chromecast in that it should automatically have greater app support.
If you’re more invested in iOS than Android, then you might not be swayed by this aspect of Android TV. That said, if you’re a Netflix, Prime Instant Video or Blinkbox customer, you might not be bothered - there’s nothing fundamentally different between the iOS and Android versions of those apps. Game of Thrones will look just as good.
While we don’t know how much Android TV hardware will cost, we can make an educated guess. Smart TVs from Sharp, Sony and TP Vision for Philips’s 2015 ranges will run Android TV.
Smart TVs currently on sale vary in price from £600-£1,500. While whatever these companies unveil at CES 2015 will undoubtedly be huge, show-stopping and expensive, we expect that there will be a range of Android TVs with models geared towards the lower end of the market as well as the high end.
Chromecast vs Android TV: Verdict
Comparing Chromecast and Android TV is like comparing apples and oranges.
Chromecast lets you quickly and cheaply add smart TV features to a TV that doesn’t have them. Android TV is an all-in-one package. In 2015, you’ll buy a Sony or Sharp smart TV and you’ll be able to run Android apps, games and services on it.
There are things that Chromecast naturally seemed more geared towards, like sharing content. An update heading our way later this year will see you able to mirror the screen of your Android device on your TV. This effectively lets you get things that don’t make use of the Cast API - things like Google Earth, Google Maps and your photo gallery - onto your TV screen. How services that don’t support Chromecast natively - like 4oD - will work with this feature remains to be seen.
Ultimately, like Chromecast, Android TV is another way for Google to get into your living room and
take over your life let you watch what you want.