NVIDIA Shield TV ($179 at Amazon) is the best full Android TV experience you can buy.
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When it comes to streaming TV, Android gets the short shrift. All the love tends to go to Roku and Amazon and Apple TV. And those are fine solutions.
But for many folks — particularly those who also rock Android devices in their daily lives — Android TV, and Chromecast along with it, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here’s what I’d recommend an Android lover look at when it comes to cutting the cord.
At the very least, get a Chromecast
If nothing else, spend $35 and get yourself a Chromecast. This is the little HDMI dongle that’ll allow you to “cast” damned near anything on a TV in 1080p. You’re not streaming content directly from your phone — it’s the Chromecast itself that’s doing the heavy lifting. But you control it from your phone.
And it doesn’t just work with Android — you can cast content from an iPhone or iPad, and from a desktop browser.
How’s it work? You plug it in, and set it up through the Google Home app. Whenever you see the little cast icon, you hit it, then sit back and enjoy whatever content you want on the big screen. And all of the streaming services — Sling, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, etc. — support Chromecast.
And if want an upgrade, the $69 Chromecast Ultra will do all this, plus 4K resolution.
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Even better is Android TV itself
Now we’re really getting serious. Chromecast is great, but it’s not my favorite solution here. For one, you control it with a phone, not a proper remote. That’s fine, but it’s not great.
Shield TV is downright ancient by tech standards, but it’s still remarkably powerful and 100% usable.
Android TV is, as the name suggests, Android’s full TV experience. You can get it one of two ways — it can be built in to a TV itself and serve as the operating system, or you can get a standalone Android TV box.
Android TV has scores of Android apps available, including the obvious ones for streaming content — all the major services, Facebook, Twitter, Pluto, etc. — as well as a whole bunch of games and individual channels. If your TV also sports an OTA tuner, that’ll feed in there as well. Plus there’s a great YouTube experience.
A number of display manufacturers use Android TV as their OS of choice. Sony Bravia and Sharp Aquos are two of the major examples.
You also can get a set-top box that runs Android TV. There’s currently only one of those that we actually recommend — the $179 NVIDIA Shield TV. It’s a little long in the tooth, but it’s aged remarkably well. The software is kept current, it’s still ridiculously powerful, and you can hook it up to external drives and use it as a local entertainment server, if you that’s how you like to control your media.
Shield TV also is a more-than capable gaming platform, with tons of titles available through Google Play, and even more serious gaming through NVIDIA’s Geforce program.
By the way, Chromecast may already be built in
If you get a full on Android TV experience, Chromecast is built in already. You don’t need a separate puck. And a number of TVs that don’t run the Android TV operating system also have Chromecast support baked in.
Vizio is a big proponent of that. Toshiba is another. It’s a great option that won’t cost you anything extra.
The bottom line
Here’s the short version: Chromecast is great. Android TV is better. It ties in directly with your Google account, so all the movies and shows and music you’ve bought on one magically appears on the other. It’s got Chromecast built in, so it’ll work well with your Android phone — as well as with an iPhone.
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