The Google Chromecast with Google TV is your Gateway to Live TV Streaming
Before September 30, a 4K-enabled Chromecast would set you back a minimum of $69, and you were limited by having to use your phone as your remote, jumping around in your launcher to the app you needed to watch the show you wanted. On the day the Google Chromecast with Google TV was announced, I ordered it so I could put it through its paces. Before I go into detail about the setup process and using the device, I’ll mention that if you already have a 4K-enabled Android TV set-top box with a Google Assistant-enabled remote, there’s no compelling reason to switch, even less so given the at-launch limitations of this Chromecast (as I’ll explain later). But if you’re looking to upgrade an old “dumb” TV for the first time, Google’s new dongle is worth your consideration.
Setting up the Google Chromecast with Google TV
The setup process is pretty straightforward, if somewhat time-consuming. You’ll need to have your phone handy with the Google Home app installed to make setup as painless as possible. The setup process goes as follows (device in parentheses):
- Pair remote by holding the (TV)
- Connect Google Home app to Chromecast by scanning QR code (Home app on phone)
- Connect to WiFi (Home app on phone)
- Sign in with Google account (Home app on phone)
- Choose Google services (Home app on phone)
- Set up Google Assistant (Home app on phone)
- Choose your apps (Home app on phone)
- Choose Ambient Mode photo sources (Home app on phone)
- Set up volume and power buttons on remote (TV)
- Sign in to your third-party services (both TV and phone — some examples: Netflix seems to be the most tedious, Disney+ can sign in automatically with Google Smart Lock if you already have it enabled on your phone, CBS All Access can sign in automatically when you have the app open on your phone, Amazon Prime Video and ESPN require entering codes on activation pages in browser)
- (Optional) go back to set up input switcher button on remote by using the remote to go to settings on the TV
Using the Google Chromecast with Google TV
Thanks to the dedicated remote and the Google TV on-screen UI, Google’s new Chromecast is finally able to compete with the streaming stick giants from Roku and Amazon while outclassing them with its traditional phone mirroring capabilities. To clear up any possible confusion, Google TV is the rebranded Play Movies and TV app expanded to add a big-screen UI on top of the Android TV platform. With 8GB of local storage and 2GB RAM, it’s on par with the entry-level NVIDIA Shield TV (though the latter offers MicroSD storage expansion).
Speaking of specs, the processor is a 1.9GHz quad-core Amlogic S905X3, and it streams content at up to 4K resolution with HDR through an HDMI 2.0 connection. Power comes to the device via its USB-C port, and it supports an ethernet connection through an ethernet power adapter sold separately. Curiously there is no Google Stadia support at launch, but it’s expected to come in early 2021 according to the Stadia Twitter account.
Support for Stadia will be coming in the first half of 2021.
— Stadia (@GoogleStadia) September 30, 2020
The Google TV UI improves upon the Android TV interface primarily by consolidating content from your Google Play library and various supported subscriptions you may have such as Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, Amazon Prime Video, etc. The interface you see depends on whether you subscribe to YouTube TV with the same Google account you used to set up your Chromecast. If you do, you’ll see the following tabs: Search, For You, Live, Movies, Shows, Apps, and Library. Otherwise, you’ll see everything except for the Live tab. Below is a screenshot gallery describing what you’ll see on each tab.
While the new Google Chromecast with Google TV is an absolute step up from previous Chromecasts, it’s a definite step down from leading 4K-enabled Android TV set-top boxes. The biggest limitation is its lack of support for any live TV service other than YouTube TV. For this review, I went through the setup process multiple times using different Google accounts so I could use one to subscribe to a free trial of YouTube TV to illustrate the differences in day-to-day use. For instance, as indicated above, the Google TV UI will have a Live tab only if the Google account you used to set up the device has a YouTube TV subscription. If you have multiple Google accounts and you used a different one to set up your Chromecast, you’ll have to add your secondary Google account with the YouTube TV subscription in settings and go to the YouTube TV app in the app section to see live TV. Thankfully, Google is expected to add support for other live TV service providers in the future.
I had some minor quibbles with the remote in my two weeks of usage but otherwise, it’s a stylish and competent offering. The first problem I had was this: While holding the Google Assistant button down and saying “Play Iron Man”, it took me to the movie I purchased a few years ago from Google Play Movies, which was great except for the fact that the title on Google Play Movies maxes out at 1080p rather than the 4K version included with my Disney+ subscription. It goes to show that the results are mostly accurate but not always the best when more than one option exists. Two other minor issues: I wish the remote had a dedicated play/pause button and a dedicated skip-back-10-seconds button like the Roku remote. It’s a nice stylish space saver to consolidate all that functionality into the circular D-pad, but the Roku remote still had those dedicated buttons in addition to the D-pad.
It seems to me that Google was targeting the Roku Stick and the Amazon Fire TV stick when they released this new Chromecast with Google TV. Had they been targeting Android TV set-top boxes, they would have had Stadia support at launch and support for more live TV service providers. If that is the case, I’d say Google hit it out of the park (which is more than I can say about the Cubs lately, but that’s another story). Google TV, despite its bugs and its occasional latency, does what Roku and Amazon have not done: consolidate content from multiple services so the TV shows and movies take center stage, not the apps. Also, the Chromecast continues to offer the unparalleled phone mirroring it has been known for over the last seven years. The $49 price provides support for 4K content at $20 less than the Chromecast Ultra and keeps the Google Chromecast with Google TV competitive with other 4K streaming sticks.
Photos by Adam Conway