Hands-On with Chromecast with Google TV

Posted on October 6, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Google, Music + Videos with 32 Comments

Every fall, Google holds a hardware event during which it reveals its new Pixel flagships and other devices. This year’s event was notable for two reasons: It was held virtually—thanks, COVID-19!—and I was far less interested in the new Pixels than I was with Google’s other devices, the Nest Audio speakers, which I wrote about yesterday, and the new Chromecast with Google TV.

I ordered the Nest Audio speakers and new Chromecast immediately, and both arrived this week. Of the two, however, I guess I’m more interested in the Chromecast. We’ve vacillated between a Roku Ultra, an Amazon Fire TV Stick, and, less often, an Apple TV 4K as our TV interface in our living room over the past year, and each has its issues. (Short version: The Roku is slow and has lots of ads, the Fire TV Stick is unreliable, and the Apple TV remote is a crime against humanity.) So I’ve been thinking about making a change.

Remote comparison: Google TV, Roku, Fire TV Stick, Apple TV (with case)

And there are definitely some possibilities. The newly-announced Roku Ultra, for example, is supposed to offer a significant performance improvement over its predecessor, so that would solve one of my issues with that device. And Apple is rumored to have a new Apple TV waiting in the wings; if that thing came with a better remote—a low bar—that would be an obvious choice.

But then Google announced the Chromecast with Google TV. I was immediately intrigued: I’ve always really liked the idea of Chromecast—and here, by “Chromecast,” I mean the video-based Chromecast dongles with HDMI ports, not Chromecast Audio, which was excellent and should still exist. The problem was that Chromecast relied too heavily on your smartphone, both to find content, as the dongles had no real user interface, and as a remote control. A real hardware remote control—even the crappy Applet TV version—is always better than using your phone.

Chromecast with Google TV solves both of these problems. It includes a full user interface, called Google TV, which looks/works like the UIs on other streamer boxes and will assumedly and eventually replace Android TV. And it comes with a great little remote, which seems to work well in early testing. It’s also inexpensive at just $49.99. By comparison, its predecessor, Chromecast Ultra 4K, started at $69.99 when it launched in 2016.

Compared to the Ultra, the Chromecast with Google TV looks and works similarly, though it features a kind of oblong body instead of the circular form factor of its predecessor. And it requires a power adapter, connected via USB-C instead of micro-USB, and can’t be powered off of a USB port on your TV. It also comes in multiple colors, Snow (white), Sunrise (pink), and Sky (light blue), whereas older models were black. I chose white, but black makes more sense for something that will be hidden behind a TV.

Setup is similar to that of the Nest Audio speakers, or really any modern connected device, which is to say that is a simple but time-consuming process with multiple steps, one of which involves downloading the requisite software update. Welcome to the 21st century, folks.

In the good news department, pairing the device with my TV (a Samsung smart TV) and soundbar (a Sonos Beam) was straightforward, and everything worked properly the first time. That means I can turn the TV on and off and change the soundbar’s volume with the Chromecast’s remote.

The interface is straightforward, with top-level For you, Movies, Shows, Apps, and Library options, and there are no real advertisements that I’ve yet seen, which is a problem with Roku and, to a lesser degree, Fire TV Stick. In fact, it’s very similar to Amazon’s UI.

I’ve only seen two issues so far, one of which I assume is temporary: The UI sometimes gets stuck on a blank-ish screen in which you can see content boxes but not the content they’re supposed to display.

And the Library view is a bit tough: Movies and Shows each get only one row to display all of the content in your library, and for folks like me that have literally hundreds of movies to scroll through, this is not ideal. I assume you’re supposed to search, but browsing is sometimes preferable and this UI is pointless for that.

Content playback works as expected, with nice navigation features, a captions toggle, and other settings.

Beyond that, you’ll find all the expected settings interfaces, and for those familiar with past video-based Chromecast dongles (and Google smart displays), you’ll also find the familiar ambient mode that appears after a timeout period. I’ve configured this to display family and friend photos from Google Photos.

Overall, this seems like a great choice for the living room. I’ll keep using it and make sure it continues to meet my expectations. But it seems great so far.

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Comments (40)

40 responses to “Hands-On with Chromecast with Google TV”

  1. brettscoast

    Excellent write-up Paul. This is exactly what I'm looking for. If it seamlessly integrates with your smart TV what's not too like. Setup seems reasonably straight forward.

  2. helix2301

    I know a lot of people like myself were hoping for stadia but not till first part of next year. Google has said they are not abandoning stadia but it looks like it was an after thought

  3. ghostrider

    I might just have found something to replace my venerable (but now limited) Nexus Player in the bedroom. I'll probably keep my Shield in the living room though - that is still a great streaming device.

  4. argrubbs

    Great post, Paul! I use an Nvidia Shield TV Pro in my living room for my content consumption (highly recommended, but expensive). I have a Chromecast Ultra on that TV, but it's entirely for Stadia. I have a TV in my office that has an original Chromecast on it that would probably benefit from this dongle. I'll probably pick one up when my local Best Buy has 'em in stock.

  5. melinau

    Annoyingly $49.99 becomes £60 ($77) when they swim across the pond this is a BIG markup, even allowing for 20% UK VAT. Having said that these gadgets look pretty good & I'll definitely consider using one on my older rather dumb TV.

  6. SvenJ

    "the Apple TV remote is a crime against humanity". Two words, Logitech Harmony.

    • mattbg

      In reply to SvenJ:

      It does make it better, but from what I can tell you need to get into some dodgy stuff to get Skip Forward / Skip Back to work properly.


      Also, the Apple TV itself does support mapping the controls of a non-Apple remote to the functions of the Apple remote, so you can use any IR remote you want. There's a sequence you can go through where it asks you to push the buttons you want to use for each function and it responds to those in future.

  7. gregsedwards

    Thanks for your review, Paul. I Just placed my order for one of these.

    I have worked over the past year to get all my household TVs migrated over to Vizio 4K SmartCast sets, mainly to standardize on one robust UI and set of apps. But to fully appreciate how I ended up there, first a little history...

    Previously, I relied on Xbox consoles connected to each random TV set in my home. Before that, Windows 10, Windows 8, and if we go way back, Windows 7 Media Center boxes (and even Vista/XP era MC solutions) and all the dedicated equipment (set-top box for CATV/DVR passed through to the PC/console for EPG integration and viewing on the TV, receivers, speakers, various remotes, IR blasters, cables, more cables, and even more cables).

    In the past year, I've cut the cord, ditched all the CATV hardware, and moved to Hulu as my live TV provider, which has simplified things a lot. I've also moved to a Plex-connected NAS for streaming my local content. The NAS isn't new, but Plex TV is, and I've found PlexPass to be an excellent value for giving my entire family easy, managed access to all our legacy libraries.

    Anyway, the Xbox setup works well enough, but it remains rather arduous to manage all the layers across multiple TVs and user accounts. Because watching something requires family members to sign into their own Xbox account, then navigate through their own dashboard, and launch apps, I could never really get them to buy into it. Somehow, it was all just too complex. I mean, my kids will gladly use Xbox for gaming, but often they don't have dedicated accounts for media apps, so they'd have to log on as me to watch something tied to my account, which is problematic for a number of reasons. And my wife would often just watch stuff through the one smart TV we had in the bonus room, which had a very dated UI and limited app experience from 2014. She liked the ease of use...being able to just turn on the TV and browse to Netflix was a better experience for her, even if the app didn't support user profiles. But I grew to hate the random kid shows and "corsets and bonnets films" appearing in my Netflix queue, because my profile served as the default. It was good enough but not great.

    FWIW, I still think Xbox offers an ideal, integrated solution thanks to the robust parental controls and global user account management. It's really nice to be able to set global content and time limits and trust those are going to be enforced consistently. At it height, I had my Xbox setup integrated with my Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant devices, and through SmartThings, even my lighting. But there's no denying it's just a lot of overhead.

    So anyway, back to my Vizio project. I had picked up a rather cheap Vizio 4K set back in 2016, and I was immediately enamored with the SmartCast platform. If you're not familiar, SmartCast is Vizio's proprietary Chromecast-based platform, which offers popular streaming apps (as well as a bunch of decidedly unpopular apps that you can't really uninstall, more on that in a bit), Vizio's Watchfree service (which is really just a skinned version of Pluto TV), a global search interface, and full Google Assistant, Alexa, and HomeKit support. And the key is that Vizio has been really aggressive about keeping current with updates. I've gradulally sold my old TVs and replaced them with new-ish Vizio sets all running SmartCast. I've added Vizio sound bars that work flawlessly with each TV, so there's no longer a tangle of receivers, wires, and remotes. Every TV in my home uses the same UI and remote. And there's a SmartCast app for Android and iOS. I can use my Google Assistant and Alexa devices to control my TVs...switch inputs, change the volume, launch apps, play/pause/seek (in most apps). And for scenarios where there's no dedicated app (Spotify is a notable example), I can easily cast to the TV from another device. It's pretty spectacular, really.

    The Xboxes are still humming underneath each TV but mostly now just for gaming. And given everything that's happening with Project xCloud/Game Pass Streaming, I don't know how much longer that will even be necessary. The minute Vizio provides an Xbox streaming app, I could definitely see myself going that direction. Or heck, just use a phone and a controller and cast it up to the closest TV. I've done it, and it works pretty well, TBH.

    However, Vizio has stopped short of fully embracing Chromecast, whether that's their decision to remain somewhat vendor-agnostic or a technical limitation imposed by Google. SmartCast isn't Android TV or even full Chromecast; rather, it's a subset of Chromecast streaming features. You can't install apps from the Google Play Store. In fact, you can't install or uninstall apps at all, including some truly D-list apps that I can't ever imagine anyone watching. Vizio have been pretty good about adding new flagship apps like Disney+ and even Apple TV, but they're also still missing HBO Max and Spotify. And you can't incorporate other Google-connected hardware, such as smart speakers. Vizio pops up ads all over the main screen showing trending content, but there's no real cohesive experience helping you to find or curate your media outside of the apps themselves. You just sort of get what you get from Vizio.

    Along the journey, I've also become heavily invested in the Google Home ecosystem, and that's why I'm intrigued by the new Chromecast with Google TV. I've always eschewed Chromecast for the very reason you mentioned: the lack of a real UI and remote is a huge turn off for me. I just don't think my family would enjoy using a phone or tablet as their primary way to navigate. But give me a more conventional user experience, and I think you've got a winner here. So, I'm considering this first one an experiment.

    The one other consideration is how/whether the new Chromecast with Google TV will integrate with my Google Nest devices. I have a dozen Nest Minis spread all over my home, including stereo pairs right in the same rooms as the TVs. And I figure I'll pick up a couple of the Nest Audio speakers as well. Being able to use these various audio devices as surrogates for a more elaborate surround sound configuration would be a nice addition. And what about Nest cameras as endpoints for video conferencing? Stadia gaming, which is supposedly coming next year? The possibilities are really interesting.

  8. rh24

    I would be all in on this device if it just had an IR blaster! All my TVs have very nice Visio sound bars, none of which support HDMI-CEC. Not sure if this thing could control my Onkyo receiver or not. I'm stuck with the lame FireTV stick or multiple remotes for most of my TVs. Tivo Stream comes really close to nirvana with a nice IR enabled remote, but man, that UI is a hot mess!

  9. buzzmodo

    I have to believe that a new Apple TV is right around the corner. Mine, V1, works fine, but as you have noted, the remote doesn't even rise to the level of "sucking"... That said, in terms of what shows up on the screen, is the Choromecast with Google TV result in better viewing experience? (And my Samsung is a 1080P model...)

  10. os2baba @hotmail.com

    For me this remote does nothing and hence the chromecast itself does nothing that my Android Box doesn't. I have a LG smart TV and I can cast to it and use the LG TV remote with CEC. But it's an unsatisfactory remote. Both in tactile feel. And most importantly in the inability to skip forward and back by 30 seconds. Without the skip buttons, the remote is useless and why I'm still using Comcast.

  11. panjjj

    Oh Paul, we do age don’t we ;).

  12. Rycott

    Shield TV was still the best thing I bought for my TV.


    Nvidia do some awesome AI upscaling of content as well if you turn it on.

  13. brian_c

    I ordered one with the idea of using it and a 7" screen with my stereo as a way of accessing Spotify, Plex etc. without needing a phone. Plus it will display photos when not in use. Missed the first batch but should arrive next week.

  14. mattbg

    Very interesting! I have to wait another week or two to get mine in Canada.


    I'd read you could disable "Google TV" and revert to Android TV (with Google TV essentially being an alternative UI for Android TV), although possibly losing voice search in the process. Any idea if that is possible?


    Roku, Sonos, and friends are starting to look like Netscape at this point with everyone using these as loss-leaders to bolster their other businesses. Sonos at least has great hardware and good integration with Spotify (Spotify Connect) and iOS (AirPlay 2), but I'm not sure what good you could say about Roku at this point when faced with the alternatives.

  15. lilmoe

    A Roku? Paul from 2016 must by turning in his couch.

  16. shameer_mulji

    For $50 you can't go wrong. It's a great value.

  17. brduffy

    Are there any obvious missing apps? I'm using the amazon fire tv box and its pretty annoying not having access to HBO Max on that. What are the app limitations on this?

  18. vkrickles

    Thanks for your review Paul. The new Chromecast with Google TV is about to launch in Australia and I was looking for a new device for my Samsung TV. Sounds like this is the way to go!

  19. JacobTheDev

    Just got two of these set up myself. Mostly loving them, but I have two major issues that are driving me nuts.


    First, you're basically locked to one Google account per device. The home screen has tons of personalization features, including recommendations, watchlists, and even purchased content from the Google TV app, but you're only allowed to use the home screen stuff with the account that you set up the device with. They even put a little account icon in the top right corner of the home screen, as if they'll allow you to set up multiple accounts, but clicking it just takes you to your account settings. Major pain in the ass, and I seriously I hope they get this fixed ASAP. The only "reasonable" option for other Google accounts is to cast to the TV, which isn't always convenient.


    Second, the only way to control volume via Google Assistant/Home is if you select "Chromecast Volume" under "Volume control," which doesn't actually adjust your sound systems volume. You can work around this by just turning your sound system all the way up to 100% volume, but if you switch inputs (i.e. if you have an Xbox on the same TV), you've got to remember to fix it before switching or otherwise have your ears blown out. What's particularly weird about this is that it supports both power and volume control over CEC, and it allows you to control power via Google Assistant/Home, but not power. I'd be surprised if this doesn't get fixed in a future update.


    But those are just two annoyances that I can (mostly) work around, otherwise these things seem great. Just hope they get updated to fix my two complaints lol.

  20. mike2thel73

    My only issue with any of the sticks (the latest chromecast that Paul just reviewed, any fire tv stick version, and any roku stick version) is that NONE of them come with adequate storage. Yes both this new chromecast and any of the recent fire tv sticks come with 8gb of storage but right out of the box more than 4GB is used for system for all of them. Even the tivo 4K dongle has this problem.


    If you buy a roku ultra you can buy a 2GB micro sd cards from roku direct for $5 each but NONE of them will work with a higher storage micro sd card. Another reason I poo poo roku in general and will no longer consider them going forward.


    I like the apple tv and nvidia shield devices but they are way overpriced unless you plan on actually using the shield for gaming and are able to take advantage of its additional capabilities.


    I think on prime day I'm going to see if the fire tv cubes are on sale and possibly get one. It comes with more RAM and doubles the storage to 16GB over the fire sticks.

  21. wolters

    I tend to stick with the XBOX as my media center but oh I wish they would finally release a great media remote. The "Talon" remote comes close but requires too much of a direct aim.

  22. rmlounsbury

    I was really rather excited for the Nest updates in the Fall event from Google. Specifically the new speakers and the new Chromecast and so far it looks like it was merited.


    I do plan on purchasing a pair of the new Chromecast devices to replace my combo of Apple TV/XBOX on the two TV's in the house for streaming content. I'm still a little stuck with part of my library being stuck in the Apple world (the bit that won't go cross platform with Movies Anywhere) but lesson learned I suppose. I hope to see Apple bring the Apple TV app to Chromecast which may resolve my issue. If Apple is making a Roku + XBOX app then it isn't a stretch for them to have a Chromecast app. At least, if their intent is to expand the audience for streaming subs.

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