Google introduced Android TV a little more than a year ago, but I still manage to forget that it actually exists. It doesn’t get nearly as much fanfare as some of the other Android branches, like Android Wear and Android Auto, but it’s just as important to the Android family—especially if your goal is to have all of your Android-powered devices working together harmoniously.
Now that Sony’s come out with a line of Android TV-powered televisions, and there’s a couple of set-top boxes and micro-gaming consoles that run the software, we figured we’d revisit what Android TV actually is, what Google is doing with it, and how you can bring it to your living room.
So, what is it?
Android TV is Google’s smart TV platform. It's essentially a specific flavor of Android Lollipop, and typically comes built into TVs and set-top boxes. It offers immediate access to the Google Play Store, where you can download compatible Android TV apps.
How is it any different from Google TV?
Android TV replaced Google TV when it was announced at Google I/O 2014. Google TV was all about search, and integrating your TV into the web. Android TV is about making your TV "smart", adding useful apps and games.
What is Google Cast and why does it support it?
Google Cast is the underlying technology that lets you stream content like movies and YouTube videos from your phone, tablet, and laptop to a compatible TV or set of speakers. It’s what you use to stream stuff to a Chromecast, though it’s important to note that the Chromecast is not an Android TV product.
Android TV supports "casting" too, so if you have a TV or set top box that runs Android TV, there's no need to get a Chromecast.
That’s cool. Does it support HBO Now?
I knew you’d ask that, and yes it does.
How many apps are available for Android TV?
At present, there are over 600 Android TV channels in the Play Store, including apps for movies, sports, news, and games. All the usual suspects are there—Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB.tv...
The most notable exception from the Android TV app lineup is Amazon Instant Video. Amazon does make an Android TV app, but it's pre-installed on, and exclusive to, Sony TVs. Apparently, Amazon doesn't want your money and doesn't want you to be able to use its services as widely as possible.
Yes. Google really wants to turn Android TV into a viable gaming platform. Here are a few games we’ve enjoyed playing ourselves. Many games can be played with the remote, but some are best played with a compatible game controller.
Do they really expect me to play games on Android TV?
Google certainly hopes you do. If you’re interested, you should try out the gaming-centric Nvidia Shield, which features Nvidia’s cloud-based Grid game-streaming service that lets you buy and rent AAA games.
Does it offer any other neat features?
Like Android, and its various branches, Android TV is all about utilizing voice search. You can press a button on the remote or game controller that comes bundled with your TV or set top box to ask Android TV specific questions, like whether a movie you’re watching has ever been nominated for an award, or whether Chris Pratt has ever not looked good in a movie (Actually, don’t ask it that, though you can ask what else he’s been in).
How can I get Android TV?
What’s the difference between set-top boxes?
Android Central offers a helpful chart comparing the hardware specifications between the Nvidia Shield, Nexus Player, and Razer Forge.
If that’s too-long-don’t-want-to-bother for you, though, then know this: the Nvidia Shield has the leg up with its Tegra X1 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, and up to 500GB of onboard storage, as well as support for 4K output and 7.1 surround sound. It’s also the priciest, however, at $299 for the 500GB version.
Got any other questions? Sound off in the comments and we’ll get to it!