Google’s no stranger to the space. Google TV, Google’s first attempt at a set top box, failed to gain traction despite integration with televisions from LG and other manufacturers. Without software updates or new partnership announcements, it seems to have died a quiet death over the past few years.
But Android TV promises to be different. Where Google TV made your television experience more smartphone-like, bringing ill-suited apps to the big screen, Android TV wants to be an entertainment hub like Apple TV or Roku. One part of that is its focus on recommending content, and the other is its user interface. And indeed, the interface looks strikingly similar to these existing set top boxes. You can control this interface using a gaming controller, remote, or an app. You can also use an Android Wear watch as a D-pad to navigate through the interface.
The interface is based on cards you can scroll through. Cards are organized into Movies, Shows, Games and Apps sections and look reminiscent of a small movie poster. And as for apps, Android TV will support a host of custom apps made for the platform, including Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, and Google’s own apps, like YouTube, Hangouts, and Play Movies. These will be available in a store that opens this fall with the launch of Android TV.
Like Google TV before it, you’ll be able to control Android TV with your voice. And Google Search functionality is built into the interface so it’s super easy to search for content or information (“Who played Katniss in The Hunger Games?”, for example).
Gaming is also a big focus of Android TV. You can use an Android tablet as a controller, for example, while an Android game is broadcast on your TV set.
Android TV features full Google Cast support, so you can also use it just like a Chromecast. And as Google Cast improves, so will Android TV—like the new ability to cast straight to a Chromecast or Android TV without needing to be on the same Wi-Fi network (by pressing the cast button on the YouTube Android app, for example, it will connect through the cloud over the cellular network so friends can cast to your TV with very little friction). You can also mirror any Android device on your television, much like iOS users can do with the Apple TV.
Google Cast will also have a new ambient option called Backdrop, which lets you add personal photos, information like the weather, or specific genre images to the screen when you’re not casting something. You can also get more information about the image on the screen on your handset.
All of Sony’s 4K televisions and Phillips TVs will support Android TV. Streaming boxes by Razer and Asus will also be available within the year.