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Google's lost year in TV

Amid all of the bulletins Google made at a press match previous this week, the corporate may slightly spare a concept for TV.

Sure, Google did announce a brand new Chromecast—by way of a weblog put up, somewhat than exact degree time—but it surely’s only a minor improve over the second-generation fashion, with a 15-percent pace spice up, 60-frames-per-second toughen for 1080p movies, and a extra rounded design that you simply received’t even understand at the back of the TV. And whilst Xiaomi introduced a brand new Android TV field similtaneously Google’s match, that tool didn’t get any degree time both, most definitely as it’s two-year-old in a reasonably up to date bundle.

For Google, all of this makes for a sleepy 2018 at the TV entrance. Whilst different corporations, together with Amazon, Roku, and Apple are including new options and attempting new concepts, Google turns out misplaced as to the place it will have to take issues subsequent.

What Chromecast wishes

It’s simple to disregard what a leap forward the unique Chromecast used to be when it introduced in 2012. On the time, the most cost effective Roku participant price $50, had a gradual interface, and may play simplest 720p video. Chromecast used to be $15 less expensive, supported 1080p video, and didn’t really feel gradual as it offloaded all of the navigation on your telephone.

Since then, Chromecast has misplaced its steam, and that’s particularly obvious within the present . For the elemental $35 Chromecast, having the ability to play 1080p movies at 60 frames in line with moment will lend a hand for positive YouTube movies and Twitch streams, however now not a lot else. Just about each and every film and TV display performs at 30 frames in line with moment, and maximum are living TV channels that movement at 60 frames in line with moment best out at 720p answer. The velocity building up will supply a modest growth to video load instances, however all of the navigation nonetheless occurs in your telephone.

newchromecasts Google

The primary new $35 Chromecast in 3 years has a brand new design, a slight pace building up, and 60-frames-per-second video at 1080p.

And in relation to 4K streaming, Google’s $70 Chromecast Extremely is now not a number of the most cost-effective choices. Roku’s Premiere and Premiere+ be offering 4K HDR video for $40 and $50 respectively, and the Fireplace TV Stick 4K prices $50. Those gadgets additionally toughen Dolby Atmos encompass sound, which the Chromecast Extremely does now not. Even Xiaomi’s Mi Field S undercuts the Chromecast Extremely by means of $10, in spite of providing the similar casting options and much more.

In the meantime, Google has left some long-standing problems unaddressed:

  • Maximum telephones don’t have IR blasters in them, so you’ll be able to’t regulate quantity at the TV or A/V equipment with out a separate faraway. (Chromecast has its personal integrated quantity controls, however apps don’t toughen this persistently, and you’ll be able to simplest modify quantity down from the TV’s inner quantity degree.)
  • For those who’re on Android, there’s no unmarried sign-on characteristic for logging into a couple of TV community apps directly, like what Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fireplace TV be offering. (iPhone customers can use iOS’s unmarried sign-on characteristic.)
  • The Google House app, which acts in an effort to browse and seek content material throughout apps, gives no personalization from services and products like Netflix, no watchlists, and no technique to resume displays you’ve been looking at.

Chromecast stays an invaluable product, letting you briefly release song or video from the telephone you’re most definitely maintaining to your hand already, and it’s going to change into extra helpful when Google provides multi-room audio toughen later this yr. However as Roku and Amazon have diminished costs and added new options, Chromecast turns into more difficult to justify as the main technique to watch TV at house.

Looking ahead to Android TV

One idea I’ve had is that Google is retooling its TV solution to focus more on Android TV, which offers a full TV interface and proper remote controls (TV volume controls and all),  along with built-in Chromecast support. Google has said it’s optimizing Android TV for cheaper hardware with Android 9.0, wooing app makers with free development hardware, and creating “turnkey” hardware and software to help get new devices on the market. Android TV is also making its way onto interesting new devices like the JBL Link Bar, a soundbar that has smart TV capabilities built in.

Those plans, however, seem to be taking longer to materialize than Google expected. Folks who pre-ordered the JBL Link bar were recently told not to expect it this year, and Google has said nothing about its ADT-2 development hardware since announcing it in May.

JBL Link Bar Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

JBL’s Link Bar with Android TV probably won’t launch this year.

Android TV has lots of potential, and it fixes a lot of the issues inherent to Chromecast as a standalone device; but barring any surprise announcements, we probably won’t see any significant new devices running this software in 2018. That means Android TV won’t have any sub-$50 hardware to compete with Roku and Amazon, and no new premium hardware to take on Apple TV. The Nvidia Shield TV is still around, but it lacks the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support to match Apple’s high-end streamer.

Other bets

More than anything else on this list of nitpicks, what I’m missing most from Google is the Chromecast’s initial creative spark.

Over the last year, we’ve seen Amazon put hands-free voice control directly into a streaming box and take a swing at whole-home, over-the-air DVR. We’re seeing Roku use its streaming TV platform to solve wireless speaker headaches. And while Apple hasn’t released any new streaming hardware this year, it’s pushed some interesting new software features like password auto-fill, frictionless sign-on for cable apps, and gorgeous animated 4K HDR screensavers. (On the latter point Apple TV remains the only streaming box that renders its entire interface in 4K HDR, rather than just individual videos.)

firetvcubehero Jared Newman / TechHive

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is one of the most interesting ideas in streaming TV this year.

The closest Google has come to a sense of delight on the TV front lately is hands-free voice controls from Google Home speakers, but even that has too many gaps in its current functionality and only works with a tiny number of apps.

At its press event on Tuesday, Google spent a lot of time talking about how it wants to remove the friction from people’s lives, especially at home with devices like the Google Home Hub. Yet along the way, Google seems to have forgotten about the main thing people do to pass the time: They watch TV.

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