The Chromecast with Google TV was getting better, we'd heard. And since I always like to switch up my streaming style, I was curious how the device was holding up over two years into its life. I tried this last year, so why not try, try again?
The big benefit of testing the best streaming devices is that I've got a big box in my apartment where I keep them all when I'm not using them. So, I pulled out the Chromecast with Google TV, ran all the system updates available, and set it up with all of the best streaming services I subscribe to.
And the fact that nearly every app I use on the Apple TV 4K I love was there (with some minor exceptions) made this a very easy process. Especially since (unlike with past Chromecasts), this model has a physical remote.
The good news is that the Chromecast is still great for watching stuff. 99% of the time, I didn't even think about the device I was using. Only on Paramount Plus, where I saw oddly formated captions during Yellowjackets, did I wonder if things were better on the Apple TV.
That said, I'm going back to the Apple TV 4K — and here's why.
I'm sorry, but I don't need recommendations
The good news we learned about in February was simple: the Movies and Shows menus from the top of the screen were going away. That made me hope for a less-cluttered experience. But my big problem with the Chromecast with Google TV from before had remained: I still find its interface to be a bit congested. And while home screens aren't the be-all, end-all, they're the primary way we start to watch things.
The first hiccup was almost the worst: Brendan Fraser's The Whale was nearly tattooed to the home screen for the better part of a week in March. As someone who walked out of this movie (in theaters) after 40 minutes? This was too much. Yes, this was Oscars season, I get it. It's not as bad as what you see on the Fire TV, but it's a far cry from the tidy and spartan Apple TV 4K interface. On Apple, you get a clean set of rows of app icons. Sure, the TV app holds promoted content and recommendations, and I love that being there — as an opt-in feature. As in you have to open that app to get there.
Then, I tried to help the Chromecast TV find me better shows, by giving feedback through its recommendations row. In that "Top picks for you" section, you can long-press on show or movie's icon to bring up a menu, where you can click Watched it, Watchlist It, Like or Dislike.
The most irksome thing here, beyond the recommendations (I might like superhero movies, but nobody needs to watch 2015's Fantastic Four) was that clicking Dislike didn't immediately discard the recommendation and replace it. And the more I ran into main "slideshow" image recommendations and "Top picks for me" that did nothing for me? The more the Chromecast felt like work.
On occasion, they nailed it, like a Barry promo splashed on the home page, or when Spider-Man 2 made it into the Top picks section. The only problem is I'd already watched Barry season 4's screeners, and I'd just rewatched Spider-Man 2 too recently.
I'm an apps-first streamer
Not a huge amount of work, but a repeated two clicks down when I booted up the device to get to the section I want: my apps. Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I should just get used to living the Google Assistant life and use the remote to speak to summon apps. But I'm traditional.
On the Chromecast, that means I have to click three times to get to the apps, and then scroll though a single horizontal row of apps. And if the app isn't at the front of the line, that's click, click, click and more clicks.
This may not be a big deal for those of you with only a select group of apps you like. But I've got more than 12 installed, and I found myself clicking all the way to the right sometimes to see the dozen that don't show up on the home screen.
The thing that confuses the heck out of me is that this row of application icons doesn't rearrange based on what you've used most recently.
Over on the Apple TV, you get row after row of app icons, with 5 per row. And you can make folders of apps, too. It's simply better — at least for me.
The Chromecast isn't as fast as I'm used to
The above user experience probably wouldn't stand out so much to me were it not for the fact that the Chromecast with Google TV's interface is kind of sluggish. Not to an unusable point, mind you: there's just a delay or two that you'll notice if you're used to pricier devices.
I will admit that the Apple TV 4K spoiled me when it comes to user experience. And that better be the case when Apple's $129 4K box costs 160% more than the $49 Chromecast with Google TV does.
But when you feel like you're waiting for your tech to catch up to you? That's no fun. I know the Roku Streaming Stick 4K isn't the speediest stick on Earth, but it probably feels a little faster since it doesn't have an image-rich interface like the aforementioned Chromecast with Google TV home screen.
I like how the Chromecast gets live TV right
The last time I switched to the Chromecast, I didn't stick in part because the live TV screen was notably not enough. Now, though, I want to give Google credit for nailing the integration with live TV. You'll see tiles for live TV on the Picks for you row, and there's a top-of-screen live tab that integrates with YouTube TV, Sling TV and Philo.
I switched to YouTube TV earlier this year, and found the Live section to be an easier way to open a show that's live and in progress. Now, you can switch between the full guide and your favorites, a pleasant change.
I'd probably love this more were I still on Sling TV, as its interface is not as fun to use as YouTube TV's. Comparatively, Roku doesn't play in the live paid-TV space like this, neither does Apple. Fire TV offers something similar, but the Fire TV platform is even less for-me than Google's.
Outlook: Apple TV still beats Chromecast
I think, unfortunately, that the Chromecast with Google TV is wasted on me. The only time I wanted to "cast"-stream something to my TV, it was because one of my apps (IWTV, the Independent Wrestling TV streaming service) didn't have an app on Google TV. The other apps that weren't there are for watching TV screeners for reviews.
I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who want the ability to 'cast' to their TV. And I bet there are people who like to get the recommendations on their screens. I'm just ready to accept I'm not one of them.
"What I like about the apple tv is that it's dumb and only shows me apps"
Note that the problems with the on-screen ads don't exist if you buy the android tv versions, like the Shield or the walmart Onn 4k streamer.
The Onn device uses the same hardware as the chromecast, it has a far better and larger remote, and Walmart has issued more firmware updates faster for their box than google has with theirs. And it's under $20.
That's the perfect streaming device. Add an otg cable and plug in wired ethernet, storage or whatever. $6 for that.
Only if you never do an OS update. The Nvidia Shield got Google TV quite a while ago. I know because me, like lots of people were on Nvidia's forums complaining and their response was they were forced by Google so the only option was to do a factory reset, update to the latest update before they were forced to change to Google TV and never do an OS update again. Not sure what version this update happened in but it was a while ago. Same with the Walmart streaming device.. In fact on Walmarts site it says it comes with Google TV and has screenshots with ads. Google TV is a software layer running on top of Android TV so it's essentially the same but with ads that Google forces. This was roughly a year ago or more.
Google controls Google TV (and Android TV before the name change) so how does Walmart have more updates than Google's device if they actually control the OS? Similar to a pixel phone a Google device will always get the latest update first. The only difference is it's easier for third party manufacturers to upgrade because they don't completely reskin the entire OS like phone makers do like Samsung.
Fact is, Google forced Google TV on manufacturers who sold devices running Android TV to make money from selling ads which isn't a huge shock because it's Google and they like to do a bait and switch so they can make more money. You can switch launchers, that's it but underneath it's still Google TV which is just Android TV with a new skin with ads. Anyone with an Nvidia shield can confirm this unless they don't do OS upgrades.
Lastly, never buy a cheap Chinese no name Android TV box off Amazon, Linus did a piece on this recently and they are full of malware and are typically 1080p/720p and not 4K or HDR. They bought 12 cheap Chinese Android boxes from. Amazon and everyone had malware and/or ran at 1080p max. Some only at 720p.
It's sad that the Nvidia Shield is still the best android streaming box because it came out in 2019 and they used the same CPU as the 2017.model even though they claimed it was a faster processor. This has been proven I'm actually surprised they didn't get sued over it. That's why you can't get HDR for YouTube on any model of the Nvidia Shield. The processor can't do VP9 V2 which is the codec Google uses for HDR. It's a hardware limitation.
Button mapper also helps with this if you have something like a Harmony hub because you can also have Home Assistant run the IR codes or remote control button combinations for voice commands if you don't want to run a network ADB server which is a little more involved to setup. After you do finish setting everything up you never have to touch it again unless you install more apps you want to be able to launch using voice commands. I also like being able to remap the default app buttons which I've always found annoying that you need button mapper to do this.
Dolby claims there is no difference and the end results should be identical but I noticed a difference and so did many other people posting on Avsforums. You can only bitstream vanilla Dolby Digital with the ATV4K. Why they don't allow you to just send the audio signal to a soundbar or receiver like with android streaming devices is just puzzling to me. In fact, the entire idea of why Dolby came out with Dolby MAT puzzles me because the receiver or soundbar has to support it also so it seems pretty pointless. I think Dolby's official response is there is no latency when the player decodes the audio instead of a receiver or soundbar but any half way decent receivers/soundbars has some form of lipsych correction to fix any audio issues where the sound doesn't match up with what's on screen.
Thay said, Google TV is kind of the norm. Get a Sony TV, you're stuck with that interface, etc. I've had a 4k Chromecast since it came out. Use it daily on my older LG OLED B6 because of - better suggestions and integrations.
- it's not as fluid as apple TV.
- the remote is a lot less nicer than Apple
- I think the market for Apple TV is based on users with iphone not having the option to airplay.
- Chromecast is 100% streaming just as good as anything else on the TV Apps. Only problem I can see is you need good WiFi else the antenna is smaller and gets less signal than the one on your tv (usually the whole frame is the antenna)
- I actually have about 80% on spot accurate suggestions from the interface and about 50% of the time I will take one of those recommended things to watch right from the start.
- if you have suggestions of shows based on interests, it makes having more than one streaming service worthwhile. I have watched stuff I never even knew were available because I can't be bothered to enter amazon prime for weeks, for example.
- it allows a lot of customization, but if you want a clean interface with icons only, you probably don't need customization.
All in all, I believe Chromecast to be the better buy, unless you are an iPhone user and need airplay which is not available on your TV. The Nvidia shield and others are much better and yes, I also believe the OP got the HD version not the 4K one with dolby vision, 4K, HDR, etc.