Google did not exhibit at CES 2015, but its partners announced a range of products based on Android TV, which looks like the most interesting TV platform right now. Here is an overview of all the Android TV announcements.
What you need to know about Android TV
With Android TV, Google is trying to do for the TV industry what it has done for the mobile industry, making one unified platform. Android TV will be based on TV apps such as Netflix and YouTube as well as games.
Sony, Philips and Sharp will all abandon their old platforms in favor of Android TV in 2015. You will not be able to update your old TV, but every 2015 TV from mid-range and up will come with Android TV built-in, including Full HD and Ultra HD models. The Ultra HD TVs will support 4K streaming via HEVC and VP9 – in other words, both Netflix and YouTube in 4K.
The Android TV user interface will also integrate TV channels, instead of making streaming services and TV channels two separate experiences. The same applies to recordings. The interface will not give priority to any particular service, but highlight the ones you use the most. You can use voice search to find movies and TV series across services, and it should support a range of languages right out of the gate, according to Sony. In the photo below you can see how TV channels are integrated.
The TV channel user interface also has a "Now on TV" section.
There will be media streaming boxes with Android TV, too. We had actually expected to see more announcements at CES 2015, but Google appears to let TV manufacturers get a head start. Two Android TV boxes exist: Google's Nexus Player and the new Razer ForgeTV, which has a heavy gaming focus (but also all the other things). None of the boxes will offer TV tuner functionality, so you will have to buy a TV for this. Huawei is also said to be working on an Android TV box for release later in 2015.
All the current "Android sticks" and "Android players" have nothing to do with Android TV and will not be updated to Android TV.
An important point here is that the Android TV user interface will look identical on all screens. TV and box manufacturers are not allowed to change the user interface. Google will review and approve all apps instead of the TV manufacturers themselves, so expect less bureaucracy, more apps, and faster app roll-outs across all devices.
No full app list, but Google Cast is ready
A comprehensive list of apps has not been released, but several major apps have been confirmed, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play Movies etc. Not much has been said about international apps, but we will know more in spring.
However, every Android TV device will have built-in Google Cast, which is the protocol that the Chromecast is based on. This means that you can push the video from your phone onto the screen from a range of different apps and services.
Games will be another leg of the stool. Think mobile games. All games will have to be modified by the developer and approved by Google to ensure that they work on the big screen with a gamepad, and in the beginning most games will be ports from tablets such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Leo’s Fortune, and Badland. You can use almost any bluetooth-based game controller, except the PlayStation DualShock.
Over time, as the hardware becomes more powerful, we can expect more ambitious games to be released. We are currently seeing some of the early PS3 and Xbox 360 titles being re-released to work with mobile-grade hardware, but it is still too early to sell your game console.
Speaking of hardware, the manufacturers prefer not to go into details, but we learned that most of the TVs will come with 16GB storage that is expandable via a USB hard drive. Sony’s Ultra HD TVs have been confirmed to use a so-called MT5595 chip from MediaTek, which has a quad-core ARM processor. The chip can decode 4K content in 24, 50 and 60 frames per second – or two simultaneous Full HD streams in up to 60fps. It will also integrate the TV tuner elements, including DVB and HbbTV. This could very well be the same chip that powers the TVs from Philips and Sharp, as it has been developed in collaboration with Google.