With the recent launch of new TCL Google TV models as well as the latest Google Chromecast with Google TV, there is no doubt that Google TV is here in style. As a successor to Android TV, the new Google TV platform is more than just a new name. It’s a slimmer, more intuitive, and more capable operating system for your smart TV, bringing more TV capacity and making Smart TV more central to Google’s ecosystem.
With both Google TV models and Android TV devices on the market this year, it’s worth asking, what’s the difference? Google TV brings a host of new features and capabilities, so let’s get down to business.
What is Google TV?
Starting with Chromecast with Google TV by 2020, Google TV has emerged as the new TV operating system from Google and has since appeared on smart TVs and other Android streaming devices. By 2022, we expect all new Google-based devices to use Google TV instead of Android TV.
However, calling Google TV a replacement for Android TV is a bit inaccurate. Google TV is more of a rebranding as the underlying software is still Android. In fact, it would be correct to say that Google TV is the new name for Android TV.
It also means that much of the core functionality you enjoyed with Android TV is still available on Google TV products. The wide range of apps available through the Google Play Store is still offered for Google TVs. And the unique functionality of the built-in Google Chromecast has not gone anywhere either, making it easy to share content from phones, tablets and laptops to your smart TV.
Google TV vs Android TV: The biggest changes
What has changed? Google has refined the Android TV experience with a greater emphasis on personalized content, bespoke recommendations and functionality that extends beyond the TV and living room, so you can use the smart TV as a hub for your entire house full of connected devices.
The changes between Android TV and Google TV are obvious the moment you turn on a Sony or TCL smart TV running the newer Google TV software.
The biggest change is the interface that starts with the home screen. Instead of an experience with a focus on apps – e.g. Android TV’s older interface, which uses row upon row of apps and content suggestions – puts the new Google TV interface content first.
A large image on the home screen shows featured recommendations, cycles through movies and shows with large, beautiful proportional photos. These recommendations are taken from your own preferences, taken from the streaming services you use, the shows you watch, and some predictable magic from Google.
Compared to the older Android interface, which offered the drop-down menu in a row with apps and app-specific content recommendations, the new Google TV interface looks much cleaner and easier to find something to watch without having to browse app by app.
However, some of these differences may not last long. Android TV gets updates that adjust the look to look and function a little more like Google TV. These differences may not roll out all at once, and the timing may vary by manufacturer and even model. Either way, the development of Android TV continues, with Google TV being the next big step.
The biggest functional change that comes with Google TV is the emphasis on live TV programming with an entire tab dedicated to live TV. When you subtract from live content sources such as YouTube TV and Sling TV, you get a great on-screen channel guide that shows you live content in progress, as opposed to on-demand streaming options that can be viewed at any time.
With both YouTube TV and Sling TV – two of best replacements of cable TV Offering dozens of live channels, this guide gives you a great way to scan through live sports, news, shows, movies currently being “broadcast”.
It’s a way to highlight YouTube TV’s cable-like services, but also an improvement in browsing and interaction with content, while live TV takes its place at the table in today’s connected TV environment. Other live TV services are likely to be added to this channel guide over time.
Mobile remote control
If you take advantage of Google’s large ecosystem of devices and connected apps, you can use an Android phone as a remote control for your Google TV.
The addition of a touch screen and on-screen keyboards as part of the remote control also makes it much easier to navigate the television. Entering passwords becomes smoother than having to navigate a “keyboard” on the TV screen, and typing a complex movie title may be preferable to having to repeat a confusing sentence for the voice search over and over again.
App-based remotes are not new, as we have seen similar functionality offered by Roku, Vizio and others, but Google TV also combines this with content browsing and custom watch lists on your phone in the same app. We’ll talk more about these features in a minute, but by combining all that feature with a remote control in the device you always have in your pocket, it helps break down the barriers between smart TVs and your smartphone. It’s a step away from television as a desktop device, until the TV is a component of your larger media viewing world.
All of the above features include personalization, whether it is through recommendations, listings of subscribed services or simply letting you use a personal device to control the TV. Google takes this a step further by introducing individual user profiles on Google TV.
This allows family members to have recommendations tailored to them, built around their own viewing habits and interests. It’s a huge improvement if you want to keep a person’s period drama recommendations separate from another kung fu movie suggestion and want to enjoy a series or a streaming subscription without sharing it with the whole family.
Watchlist from mobile
This personalization also allows you to curate content when you are away from the television. Watchlists lets you select movies, shows, and events that you want to watch, and lets you add it to your personal watchlist from any device that uses your Google profile. Whether it’s your phone, laptop, or the smart speaker in the other room, all of these Google-connected devices can be used to add a show to your watchlist.
Can you see a show mentioned on Twitter? Add it to your watchlist right there on your phone.
Do you notice a virtual water cooler talking about an unknown movie on Slack? You can put it on your watchlist from your laptop or desktop computer.
Do you just remember the name of the movie you forgot while laying the bed? Use your Google Home Smart Speaker to queue it up for you later.
Smart home integration
However, this integration of the smart TV with other devices across the Google ecosystem goes far beyond profiles and watchlists. Google is taking advantage of its deep bench of smart home appliances to let you get the most out of the “smart” aspects that smart TVs promise.
You can watch camera feed from best video doorbells and home cameras right on the television. You can control smart lights in your living room to set the mood for movie night without getting up from the couch. You can even jump on one Google Duo video calling by connecting a webcam to your smart TV, giving you a bigger and better screen for the virtual gatherings that have become so important these days.
And since Google Assistant is connected to all of these devices and built into the television — complete with hands-free voice control — you can access all of these features by simply saying “OK Google.”
Parental control and child profiles
In addition to using user profiles for custom content suggestions, you can also configure profiles for children, complete with content filters and parental controls.
These child profiles offer age-appropriate content recommendations, a child-friendly home menu, and filters for parent-adjustable apps, movies, and shows. Moms and dads can block individual apps and certain titles, all from their phone – no one fights the remote away from a misbehaving child before you can change things. It even lets you limit the view to certain amounts of time and turns everything off at certain bedtimes.
“Basic TV” mode
An additional feature added to the new Google TV models is basic TV mode. This mode effectively turns off all the smart features and connectivity required for regular use of smart TVs, while still supporting live TV via antenna or cable and peripherals such as media players and game consoles.
But with the Internet connection turned off, you remove some of the privacy concerns raised by tracking content recommendations and ads, and basic mode also disables Google Assistant on TV.
In a world where almost all televisions are smart TVs, it’s a little cool to have the option to turn it all off.
Google TV app
Helping to tie this whole experience together is Google TV app, which replaces the older Google Play Movies & TV app.
Although it’s confusing just called Google TV, the same name as the smart TV software, it’s less confusing when you realize that the app and the TV software are designed to be used together. The new Google TV app is not so much an extra that is available, it is a core element of the Google TV experience.
The app lets you browse content from all your favorite services, add shows to your watchlist, buy or rent content, control the TV from the integrated remote control via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and more.
Currently, the Google TV app is only available on Android devices, but we expect it to come to Apple products as well. There is no timeline for an iOS version of the Google TV app.
Do I still need to buy an Android TV?
While Google is moving all of its smart TVs and streaming devices to Google TV, there will be a delay over the next year or so, as current Android TVs continue to be sold alongside the latest Google TV models. So what are you going to get?
For our money, Google TV is the way forward as it offers everything that made Android TV good, but with more capacity, better content discovery and all sorts of new usability improvements.
That said, Android TVs still have all the core features that Google TV offers, from a wide range of apps to built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant and even many of the same smart home features (just with a few extra steps to set them up ). Android TVs will be a particularly enticing choice, as manufacturers and retailers lower prices to clear out old inventory, making them a smart choice for cheap shoppers.
The bottom line here seems to be that in either case, you get one of the best available smart TV experiences. For the latest and greatest, Google TV is the winner, but you are sure to buy one of them.
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