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What is Android TV? Everything you need to know

What is Android TV? How does it compare with Chromecast, Apple TV and the rest? And what's the best Android TV streaming device out there right now? Here's our full Android TV explainer, with all you need to know.

It's hard to believe, but Android TV was unveiled almost three years ago. This home entertainment service is a telly addict's dream, as it makes searching through on-demand TV services easy as pie, with the power of Google search at your fingertips (or the tip of your tongue, using voice control).

Here's everything you need to know about Android TV, including the best Android TV devices, a look at the best Android TV apps and how to get started.

Has Google finally got it right with Android TV?
Has Google finally got it right with Android TV?

What does Android TV do?

As its name suggests, Android TV is based on the same Android software found on mobile phones, but tweaked to work on TV streaming devices.

With full Google support, Android TV's best feature is its recommendation engine that comes up with suggestions for content based on keywords such as “Kevin Spacey movies”. You can even make very specific requests along the lines of “Sundance Film Festival Winners 2009”. And of course, you can search by typing or by using your voice, Google Now-style

As well as TV shows and movies, Android TV lets you play games, much like PlayStation TV and Amazon Fire TV do. Android TV will rely on the Google Play Store to deliver content, but the search will also comb through third party streaming services such as Netflix when relevant.

If you’ve got Netflix, Blinkbox or Prime Instant Video installed on Android TV and you ask it to look for films starring Cate Blanchett, Android TV should look through all of those to see what’s available. 

Naturally, you’ll also be able to watch regular TV, if that floats your boat. Sony, Sharp and other manufacturers have packed Android TV into their smart tellys, so you don't even need to buy a separate streaming box to enjoy the service.

Like Chromecast, Android TV also doubles as a streamer with its Cast feature. So users can find content on their mobiles or the Chrome browser and flick it over to their Android TV, no worries.

Haven’t we been here before?

Google did release its eponymous Google TV around two years ago and Sony had a device - the £200 NSZ-GS7 - that ran this platform. Despite critical success, the device failed to sell well.

It also tried its hand with the Nexus Q, which didn't even end up shipping in the end. Admittedly, it was more of a curio for developers to tinker with, but for many it represented another failed attempt for Google to break into living rooms. 

Then, there was Chromecast. This little streaming stick has gone down a storm - finally a Google TV success story. 

Back in 2012, we predicted that Android TV would kill off Google TV. Time will tell if it'll kill off Apple TV, Fire TV, webOS and the rest... 

Can you play games on Android TV?

Most people will probably use the device to watch Netflix or YouTube videos, but Android already has the ability to play games and works with a range of Bluetooth controllers. Great news, as you can get some great titles on Android TV, including the likes of Leo's Fortune and Grand Theft Auto games.

Amazon is keen to emphasise the gaming credentials of its Fire TV box, so it’s likely that Google wants to compete with one of its biggest rivals here.

What are the best games for Android TV?

Our personal picks for the best Android TV games include:

  • Implosion - Never Lose Hope
  • GTA: Liberty City Stories
  • DuckTales Remastered
  • Asphalt 8 Airborne
  • Star Wars KOTOR
  • Badland
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Wolf Among Us
  • The Bard's Tale
  • Machinarium
  • Inferno 2

What can I watch on Android TV?

The following on-demand video streaming services are available on Android TV, among others:

  • Netflix
  • YouTube 
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • Vevo
  • DailyMotion
  • Bloomberg TV+
  • Crunchyroll

What are the drawbacks of Android TV?

If you want to access paid TV from the likes of Sky, then you'll be better off with the likes of a Now TV device

Which Android TV should I buy?

If you ask us, you can’t go wrong with an Nvidia Shield TV, especially if you’re a gamer. 

You can play remote PC games on your TV via the Shield TV if you’ve got GeForce Experience and if not, there’s plenty of Nvidia-enhanced Android titles like Half-Life 2 and Portal to blast through. Alternatively, you can even stream your PC games firect from your home rig.

If you’re less sold on an Android TV’s gaming credentials, then the Asus-made Nexus Player, which costs £80, will likely suit.

My mate told me about this TV box that lets you watch Sky Sports for free...

We’ve seen many Android TV boxes for sale which claim to offer ‘all of the sports channels’, subscription free. We can’t comment on the reliability or the legality of these devices as we’ve not yet got our hands on any of them, but in our experience, if it walks like a duck...

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