In late 2020, Google launched a new Chromecast dongle and with it Google TV; a new user interface on top of Android. For the first time, Chromecast has a full user interface, apps, games, and not least a remote control. The new Chromecast is expected to launch more widely soon and the Google TV experience will also make its way to the first TVs (Sony, TCL) this year.
Here is our in-depth review of Chromecast with Google TV.
Price and retailers:
Chromecast with Google TV - specifications
4K resolution, up to 60fps HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
1x HDMI 2.0
USB Type-C power Ethernet (requires adapter)
Amlogic S905D3G SoC 4x ARM A55 1.9GHz cores ARM Mali-31 GPU 2GB RAM 8GB storage (4.4GB free)
Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital
WiFi 5 (802.11ac standard) Bluetooth
MPEG2 MPEG4 HEVC VP9-2
Google TV (Android 10)
Chromecast device Remote control USB power brick HDMI cable
The new Chromecast is a small dongle not much bigger than the previous Chromecasts. It must be connected to a TV's HDMI input. While HDMI (and USB) is technically capable of supplying power to energy-efficient devices, Chromecast has been designed to be connected to a power socket via an included power cable and brick.
It is meant to be hidden and it is small and lightweight enough to hang behind a TV.
The big change of course is that Chromecast is no longer a just a passive receiver. It now has a full TV user interface (Google TV) and comes bundled with a remote control – a change that we welcome. It is powered by a quad-core 1.9GHz ARM-based processor, Mali-G31 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 8GB of built-in storage. Specifically the Amlogic S905D3G SoC.
Google's small remote control has left/right/up/down buttons with an OK button in the center along with a few other buttons plus two sponsored buttons for YouTube and Netflix, which is unfortunate if you are not using these services. It is possible to remap the buttons (with a third party app) but it takes a little effort. On the side of the remote, you have volume up/down that can control your TV's volume. We will get back to that in a moment.
Setting up Chromecast takes some effort and time (about 20 minutes for us) before reaching the finish line. You can install the 'Google Home' app and scan the QR code on screen, which makes the process smoother, but you are still required to enter text with the cumbersome on-screen keyboard. Google will ask you for your home address, location, access to Bluetooth, and more, which is not very comforting. You cannot even use the device without accepting Google's privacy agreements.
After initial set-up, Chromecast will install the latest system update during which the device is locked – surely it could do that later. Only then can you start to install apps and enter user credentials. It is a tiresome process and it seems like a job for Google (or Apple) to solve securely sharing of user credentials between apps on a handheld device and a TV device, both running the same operating system. Alas, this is the state of streaming devices.
Like the Apple TV box, Chromecast automatically configures its remote control to turn on/off your TV and adjust audio volume. The TV's remote control can also control the Chromecast's Google TV user interface. Some of this requires HDMI CEC, which has been supported in TVs from all brands for many years. It is a fully automated process and it is very smooth and elegant.
The remote is a small and cheap plastic clicker. Too small, round and cheap for our taste, but it works well. However, Google should have moved the finicky volume buttons on the side to the front.
Chromecast with Google TV was launched with Android 10 in late 2020. In April 2021, it is still running Android 10, despite Google having released the Android 12 preview. It is also still running the security patch from December 2020. In a sense, all of this defines Android TV (now Google TV) even if Chromecast is running more recent software than most other Android TV devices.
After set-up, you have only 4.4GB of storage available (of 8GB total) to install apps. It says something about Google's ambitions for its TV platform. Chromecast has always been designed as an inexpensive solution to get consumers on board with video streaming. That is either good or bad, depending on your perspective. It makes a product accessible and clearly Chromecast has sold very well since it first came out in 2013. However, later iterations started to feel too limited for a TV market that had to evolve. Chromecast held back TV apps because streaming services in a sense had to be designed for the lowest common denominator. TV can be a much richer experience than just video streaming. Just see what happened with smartphones after Android and iOS took off.
It was time to evolve and Google finally gave Chromecast a full user interface with Google TV. You can now install apps and even simple or classic games. You have access to all of the same apps that are available on Android TV through the Google Play store, although a few have compatibility issues – it may be related to Android 10 rather than Google TV.
Google TV functions as a layer on top of Android TV, which is the TV launcher for Android. Confusing branding aside, think of it as a refreshed user interface. Your Chromecast is running Android, with everything it entails.
The Google TV user interface is not drastically different. The idea is to bring content front and center. To make it more easily discoverable so you spend more time discovering new content on the homescreen rather than inside apps. You get recommendations (that sometimes resemble ads more than recommendations), a unified Watchlist, universal search (text or voice), content rows for each of your streaming services (if supported), and some degree of freedom to customize (but not a lot). Google tried to accomplish some of the same things in the latest version of Android TV, but Google TV takes it a step further.
However, there are important caveats. Only in officially supported regions (USA, UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Canada, Australia) will you get all of these features. In most other regions, Google TV will lack the 'For You' section and the curated row / recommendations. You cannot add titles to your Watchlist either. Instead, you have content rows like Netflix or YouTube along with an app launcher row.
You can still import and use Chromecast with Google TV in an unsupported country (once Google flips the switch, you will get a richer experience) but it will look different. Like this:
How the Google TV user interface will look in an unsupported country
If you want the richer Google TV experience in an unsupported region you will need to set up a VPN solution.
A very similar change is coming to existing Android TV devices including some TVs from Sony, Philips, TCL and others as well as streaming boxes based on Android TV. This is how Android TV will look in the future:
Old Android TV (left) and new Android TV (right)
This is the challenge that Google is facing. In order to put content front and center, it must convince streaming services to participate; to let their content live outside their app. Essentially to give Google control. It is exemplified by Netflix. At launch, Google TV offered deep Netflix integration but not long after launch, Netflix pulled the plug. Some of the features have returned but Netflix Originals still cannot be added to Chromecast's Watchlist. And that's Netflix. Many other apps, especially local services, offer no Google TV integration at all. These services will live as individual apps even when you have Google TV.
It is clear that Netflix and others want to retain control. Google is not alone in trying to push the concept of a content-first user interface – to serve the role of an aggregator. Apple is trying something similar with the Apple TV app and Amazon has moved in much the same direction as Google with its latest updates to the FireTV user interface. It will take time and it will be a bumpy road.
As a general concept, we like what Google is trying to achieve with Google TV. Making content more easily accessible should be the goal. However, we are concerned about privacy and more ads making it to the Google TV user interface. For example, HBO Max titles regularly show up as 'recommendations' even if you are not subscribed to the service. A conclusion would be premature, but we should point out that Google has been increasing the level of ads via server/software updates on Android TV so we would be surprised if Google TV turns out different. Google will have to win users' trust in the long run.
There are some annoyances too. Google is still not mandating a system-level keyboard in apps so many apps with use their own keyboard, meaning that you cannot use the 'Android TV' remote app for smartphones to input text. Disney+ for example is not compatible. Speaking of the 'Android TV' remote app, it has been largely abandoned and it shows. Even in apps that use Google's system-level keyboard, you should count yourself lucky if you are not getting double presses. Oftentimes, the backspace button does not work either. So most of the time you will be using the cumbersome on-screen keyboard and the remote control.
Google Assistant is not much help either in our experience. When it works, it works great. Asking Assistant to find "The Witcher" brings up a search screen that tells you can watch it (Netflix obviously). This is where Google excels. However, in our experience it is not a very reliable voice assistant. It took four tries to get it to recognize "Tenet". "4K60" became "OK FIR". It still has a long way to go.
Asking Assistant to find "The Witcher" brings up a search screen that tells you can watch it
We are not thrilled about the Chromecast's meagre headware either. While we applaud Google's decision to give the Chromecast a full user interface (you can still use it as a passive Chromecast receiver too, if you like), the dongle form factor sets clear hardware limitations, and it is something that Google and other parties should evaluate going forward. The user interface often slows down to almost a halt and it tends to lag even when scrolling through menus. Having just 4.4GB of free storage is not enough and it more or less disqualifies it as a TV gaming platform.
You could argue that game streaming, like Google Stadia, would solve the challenge, but Stadia – launched in 2019 – is not available on Android TV or Google TV. A baffling mismatch between Google's divisions. You can side-load the Stadia app, but it still needs some polish.
To support game streaming services like Stadia, GeForce Now, PlayStation Now, and Microsoft xCloud, Google would also have to provide wide support for game controllers. In our attempts, Chromecast recognized the Xbox One and Xbox Series controllers, PS4's DualShock, and PS5's DualSense as bluetooth devices. However, none of them would pair with Chromecast, leaving us with an error message.
Our Chromecast refused to pair with Xbox and PlayStation controllers
To drive home our point, we benchmarked Chromecast. In GFXBench's Manhattan 3.1 test, Chromecast delivered 88% slower performance than Nvidia Shield, which is no powerhouse either. In the Car Chase test, it delivered 91% lower performance than Shield. And in 3DMark's Sling Shot Extreme test, Chromecast received an overall score of 373 (photo) compared to 4238 for Nvidia Shield.
It is a chicken and egg situation in the Android TV space. What comes first: Games or more capable Android TV hardware?
Chromecast as a media player
By now, most major apps are available for Android TV / Google TV, including streaming apps like Disney+ and Netflix as well as media player apps like Kodi, Plex, and VLC. You can install new apps by searching for them in the general search bar or from the Google Play store, although the way into the app store is hidden well. The easiest way is to ask Google Assistant to open "Play Store".
Apps on Google TV look and function exactly like they do on Android TV, which we have covered extensively in our TV reviews as well as our Nvidia Shield 2019 review. So let us jump straight to picture quality and some technical aspects.
The new Chromecast supports 4K (at up to 60fps) with HDR10 and Dolby Vision. It also supports Dolby Atmos decoding, which means that it is an officially supported Dolby Vision+Atmos device, unlike some other Android TV that are can only take the Atmos bitstream and pass it on to another device for decoding. While the bitstreaming approach works with some apps, other apps will require decoding capabilities before they serve your device the Atmos soundtrack. To be sure that you are getting Dolby Atmos, you should pick an officially supported device.
Chromecast's 'Match content dynamic range' is off by default. You should turn it on
Chromecast has a built-in 'match dynamic range' function to ensure that you are getting SDR output when the content is SDR, HDR10 when the content is available in HDR10, and Dolby Vision when the content is available in Dolby Vision. The match function works well although we were a little surprised to see Disney+ deliver content in maximum HDR10 on the Chromecast when we are getting Disney+ in Dolby Vision on other devices. Also, be aware that the match function is optional. The default setting is off, meaning that Chromecast will push everything into HDR10 or Dolby Vision (depending on your TV's support), which is far from optimal especially on LCD TVs.
Apps on Chromecast with Google TV
Apple TV app
Match frame rate
However, Chromecast does not feature a 'match frame rate' function so your content will be converted to either 50Hz or 60Hz for output, depending on your default setting, which will often result in judder. You can manually switch to 24Hz output but it requires that you know what frame rate a given title is available in – not a solution for 99.9% of the users. Chromecast's 24Hz output mode is the fractional 23.976Hz, which is the norm, but we are starting to see more movies and series being released (mainly on Netflix) in integer 24.000Hz, including The Witcher. So even if you manually switch to 24Hz output you will still be getting a dropped frame every 41 second.
There are many variations and nuances to frame rate and the only proper solution is to have an automatic frame rate matching system in place. It is 2021 and Google should have one available if not in its own streaming device, then in Android. There are APIs in Android that streaming provides can use to enable it but these are optional. Frame rate matching is something that must be implemented and mandated on the system level to be useful to the majority of users. In this area, Chromecast lags behind the Apple TV 4K box. Due to this limitation, we would not recommend Chromecast to discerning users either.
Chromecast provides strong support for 4K streaming. At launch, we could not get 4K60 to work with YouTube but the issue was resolved in a later system update (this one). YouTube is now streaming in up to 4K60 with HDR10 on Chromecast. However, Chromecast does not support the AV1 video format so it falls back on VP9-2. It is a strange omission considering that Google is starting to mandate AV1 support in partner devices.
As for the app experience on Chromecast, many Android TV apps are designed to be compatible across the many Android TV devices out there. Designing an app to work on so many end points will prompt some providers to design for the lowest common denominator. Many apps on Android TV / Google TV are built on webviews; a webpage in a pretty wrapping. It often shows. For example, the Apple TV app requires that you click an extra time to make the viewpoint active on movie pages. Comparing it to the app available on the Apple TV box, it is a subpar experience. You will find many examples as you start to explore the app library; onscreen keyboards not working as expected, laggy app user interfaces, unstable apps, slow apps, awkward UI elements etc. Most apps are now available so it is time for developers to focus on the user experience – preferably with native apps.
Other well-known features from Android TV are available on Google TV too, including Google's great screensaver function. You also have the flexibility to side-load apps and tinker with things. Google TV has not changed the fundamentals of Android TV.
In addition to streaming apps, Google TV offers capable and flexible media player apps. Two of the most popular ones are Kodi and Plex.
Kodi (formerly XBMC) has become one of the community favorites as a full media player solution for TV that supports many advanced video formats and features. It can be modified to your liking with 'skins' and on Chromecast you can also expand Kodi functionality through plugins of various kinds. Kodi supports automatic frame rate switching, including to 24fps.
The user interface is not as user friendly and polished as some other media player apps but that is fine as Kodi aims to serve more advanced users who like to tweak things.
Kodi is the app on Chromecast if you have a large library of ripped movies stored in local or network-enabled storage.
Plex is available on most platforms and used to be more comparable in style to Kodi, although with a more streamlined look and fewer customization options. To use Plex you would set-up a local file server on your PC/Mac or some network-attached storage. The server would handle video transcoding.
Plex has later expanded to include many other features, including cloud services and storage, online music streaming, and a library of movies that can be enjoyed for free with (too many) ads.
Plex today is very different from Plex 5-10 years ago but it is still an excellent media player that many continue to use with great satisfaction.
However, if local video playback is important to you we would suggest that you consider the more capable and expensive Nvidia Shield, which also offers better support for advanced audio formats.
On the other hand, Chromecast manages, despite just 2GB of RAM, to hold more open apps in memory than Nvidia Shield (tube version). Our Chromecast easily suspended 4-5 apps that we could seamlessly switch between, which actually means a lot in the day-to-day user experience compared to Nvidia Shield. Chromecast will start to throw the apps out of memory after some time or if you open more apps, but that it to be expected. Cold starting an app usually takes 5-20 seconds: YouTube (6s), Disney+ (6s), Apple TV app (11s) etc.
What is Chromecast with Google TV? It is a break with the past. Chromecast is no longer just a passive receiver. With the Google TV user interface and a remote control, Google now embraces more than just video streaming. You can access a rich catalog of apps including HBO, Netflix, Disney+, Kodi, Plex, and even some casual games. In that sense, the new Chromecast is more comparable to devices like Nvidia Shield and Apple TV 4K.
It has wide support for 4K (up to 4K60), HDR (including Dolby Vision), and Dolby Atmos sound. It has a 'match dynamic range' feature (must be activated manually) but unfortunately it lacks a 'match frame rate' function, meaning that you either have to switch frame rate manually every time, which is not practical, or accept judder in many videos.
In terms of hardware, Chromecast is underpowered. The dongle form factor sets obvious limitations and we wish Google would up its effort and create reference hardware for Android/Google TV. Show the way. Right now, you will experience occasional stutter in menus and Android gaming on the TV is still stuck in neutral gear. It is a chicken and egg situation. What comes first: Games or more capable Android/Google TV hardware? Google Stadia could bring AAA games to Chromecast via streaming but the Stadia app is still not available.
As for Google TV, the new user interface is a content-centric approach that makes it easier to find and discover content, although many partners still lack deep integration. In smaller countries, partner integration still has a long way to go. In unsupported regions, Google TV resembles classic Android TV with rows of apps. Google certainly has experience in the area of organizing and curating content, but it also has experience with placing ads in-between all those content icons. The remote control is great in terms of functionality (it controls your TV too!) but otherwise a cheap plastic clicker.
So should you buy Chromecast with Google TV? It depends. It is a decent general-purpose streaming device but it does not match Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Shield in terms of hardware and performance, and enthusiasts will perhaps be disappointed. The Google TV interface will come to other devices later this year, including TVs, but these will be much more expensive. For the price ($50 / €70), it offers good value with 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos – maybe that is enough.
Apps is an evaluation of the app catalogue and the quality / user friendliness of the apps Features is an evaluation of the built-in functionality and how useful it is, as well as build quality User experience is an evaluation of user friendliness and the general use of the box, including the remote control Total score weighted as: 40% Apps, 30% Features, 30% User experience. All scores are calculated based on a moving maximum target, defined by what we currently consider the best on market. It is then presented as a percentage. This means that a score will fall over time as new and better media boxes set new standards. This allows you to compare scores across years. A score of 100% in a given category means that it is consider the best available media box in this category to date