Google TV is almost perfect — there’s just a little work to do.
2020 may have been a disaster in almost every imaginable way, but at the very least, this past year saw some pretty fantastic gadgets come to market — one of my favorites being the Chromecast with Google TV. We weren’t really sure what to think of the mysterious new streaming dongle leading up to its release, but as fate would have it, the new Chromecast is one of the best streaming devices you can buy right now.
Looking at the Chromecast, it’s not difficult to see why. For just $50 you’re getting 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, and a great remote (not to mention some truly gorgeous colors). The power and hardware of the Chromecast are pretty impressive given the low price, but what’s allowed it to truly stand out as the defacto streaming device is the software it introduced to the world: Google TV.
While the Chromecast is still technically running Android TV and works with all of the same apps, the interface you interact with on a daily basis was completely reworked. You can still open individual streaming apps and find content that way, but the entire purpose of Google TV is to make it so you don’t have to.
After linking all of your streaming apps to Google TV, it surfaces shows and movies from those services right on your home screens. Click on a title, Google TV tells you what service it’s available on, and you’re watching it in the blink of an eye. The more you use Google TV and like/dislike titles to indicate what you enjoy watching, it does a better job of surfacing content you’re likely to be interested in. In a world where it seems like a new streaming app is launching every other week, this whole system brings much-needed simplification to an increasingly complex market.
Google TV is the best way to stream anything in 2020.
What’s even better is how you can access that Google TV platform even when you’re away from your television. The Google TV app for Android is a seamless extension of what you get on the Chromecast, showing you recommended shows to watch, your library and watchlist, and Google’s digital storefront for buying/renting new titles. All of this might sound complicated on paper, but in use, it’s one of the most robust and powerful tools the streaming market has seen.
Google TV is already off to an incredible start, but as we head into 2021, Google needs to be committed to supporting the platform and not let it fall into obscurity — you know, kind of like what happened with Android TV.
Google’s done a surprisingly great job of getting most of the major streaming services to integrate with Google TV, but going into 2021, we need to see the remaining cracks filled — namely Fubo, TVision, Crunchyroll, and others. As new services launch in the coming years, Google has to work to get those added as soon as possible. Google TV will live or die by its app integrations, and if this is something Google ever lets up on, all of this hard work will be for naught.
That above point doesn’t have me too concerned, but what I’m really anxious to see is how much the “Live” page of Google TV opens up to other television apps. As it currently stands, YouTube TV subscribers can browse through a live guide of their channels directly within the Google TV interface. It’s clean, seamless, and really helps tie the whole experience together.
This is supposed to expand to other providers in 2021, but as of right now, the exact details on how quickly that will happen remain unclear. Opening this up ASAP to companies like Sling TV, Hulu, and Philo would give Google TV an even greater edge than it already has.
Finally, and perhaps the most important, Google needs to 100% commit to the Google TV brand as its go-to destination for all things streaming.
Google has a great product with Google TV, but the branding is a mess.
The “old” Android TV interface is still what’s running on the NVIDIA Shield TV, TiVo Stream 4K, and any television that ships with Android TV built-in. Google’s said that the Google TV experience will be coming to other devices outside of the Chromecast throughout the coming year, but once again, we don’t really know what this process will look like.
Google TV is both a better product and brand than what Android TV ever was, so it’d be in Google’s best interest to fully embrace it as much as possible. This can happen by updating as many existing devices to Google TV as possible, ensuring Google TV is present on any new dongles/televisions that are powered by Android TV at their core, or — even better — a mix of both. When people think of streaming platforms, the conversation needs to be around Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Google TV. If Android TV and Google TV are still fighting to exist alongside each other by this time in 2021, that’s not going to be a good sign.
Similarly, the Google Play Movies and YouTube Movies brands also need to die. If you want to buy or rent a show on the new Chromecast or Google TV app on Android, that’s all handled under the same Google TV name — driving home the point that all things movie and TV are part of the Google TV umbrella. Unfortunately, this is all thrown out the window when you remember that you can still get shows from Play Movies via the Play Store, titles can be purchased on YouTube under the YouTube Movies moniker, and that there’s still no Google TV app for iOS (just the old Google Play Movies one).
Clear-cut marketing/branding has never been a strong suit for Google, but that’s precisely what it needs for Google TV to be seen as the next big name in streaming. This half-assed approach we have right now isn’t helping, so it’s best to nip it in the bud while Google TV is still fairly young.
That may sound like a lot, but considering Google TV has only existed for a matter of months, this is a pretty short to-do list. So long as Google keeps supporting existing features and gets its branding mess under control, Google TV will be an unstoppable force.
While Google has let us down plenty of times before with new projects, I’m optimistic that Google TV is here to stay for the long haul. I could very well be wrong, but here’s to hoping that’s not the case.
Chromecast with Google TV
$50 at Best Buy
$50 at Walmart
$50 at B&H
Powerful, helpful, and affordable
If you’re shopping for a new streaming device in 2020 and heading into 2021, the only one you should consider is the Chromecast with Google TV. It supports 4K HDR streaming, has Dolby Vision and Atmos, and is super affordable at just $50. The best part though is Google TV, which curates all of your streaming apps into a clean, seamless interface with genuinely great recommendations.