With devices like the Google Nexus Player, the Nvidia Shield TV and the Razer Forge TV now available, the idiosyncratic Android TV operating system is starting to come into its own. All told, there are more than 600 apps for use with Google's big-screen OS, but as with any system, there's a lot more chaff than wheat. If you want to go beyond the built-in Google Movies and TV app, here are the most excellent apps available.
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Netflix ($9 per month subscription)
You likely already know what Netflix is; it probably came preinstalled on your system. For $9 per month, you can stream thousands of popular movies and TV shows, from The Great Escape to The Hunger Games, and from Star Trek to Parks and Recreation. Netflix also produces a variety of original content, such as the American remake of House of Cards and the fourth season of the offbeat sitcom Arrested Development. Unless you have a huge library of your own content, Netflix will probably be your first stop to find great videos to watch.
Hulu Plus ($8 per month subscription)
If you want to keep up on current TV but don't want to dish out for a cable subscription or an HD antenna, Hulu Plus is the next-best thing. This service specializes in getting broadcast and cable shows up right after they air on TV, often within 24 hours. Hulu Plus features content from networks such as ABC, NBC, Fox, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, as well as a smattering of movies that run the gamut from "fairly decent" to "so bad, it's good." Original programming on Hulu Plus includes the paranormal comedy Deadbeat and the teenage drama East Los High.
Sling TV ($20 per month subscription)
Sling TV is about as close as you can get to a cable subscription without an actual cable subscription. This service provides access to a variety of live-streaming channels, including ESPN, AMC, the Food Network and the Disney Channel. Users can also add premium packages, such as HBO, for a little additional scratch. Sling TV is definitely one of the more expensive services out there, but you get the shows you love as they air, and that takes a lot of the sting out of cord-cutting. You can also cancel the subscription at will, a prospect that would make traditional cable companies blanch.
If your favorite thing to watch is "whatever's on" and you don't mind a few commercials along the way, allow Crackle to transport you back to the world of late '90s afternoon cable. Replete with action movies, sitcoms and questionably dubbed anime, Crackle will let you watch everything from Pitch Black to Seinfeld — on a rotating basis, of course. Sony owns the services, and routinely mixes up what's available. On the bright side, it's free, and also plays host to a number of original series, like Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
PBS Kids (free)
Those who have children know that, sooner or later, Mom and Dad's new gadget is going to become the kids' new toy. There are plenty of apps to keep kids busy, but for the preschool set, PBS Kids is one of the best. Not only is most of the programming free, but it also includes kid-friendly favorites, such as Curious George, Sesame Street and Wild Kratts. The app is colorful, intuitive and simple enough for children to operate it themselves. PBS adds new content on a weekly basis and provides a solid mix of educational and just-for-fun videos to entertain and hopefully inform.
In terms of sheer numbers, it's hard to beat YouTube for content. It has everything: music, TV and movies, and content that's paid, free, kid friendly and risqué. If you can't find it on YouTube, it's probably either copyrighted or doesn't exist. You can pick and choose videos one at a time, create your own playlist, or let YouTube autoplay content based on your browsing history and tastes. While finding worthwhile videos on YouTube is always a crapshoot (there is a lot of garbage, even by Internet video standards), wading through a sea of trash is arguably worth it to find that perfect 2-minute clip from your favorite show, or that one track from an obscure album.
Goat Simulator ($5)
In terms of games that we can't believe actually exist, Goat Simulator just about tops the list. In this anarchic, purposely nonsensical game, you'll take control of a chaotic goat who can climb ladders, perform platforming tricks and blow up gas stations with his prehensile tongue. It's zany, it's purposely buggy, it's aimless, it's open and it's extremely hard to put down. Better still, it's fun for both kids and adults, and it looks even better on a big screen than on a computer monitor or mobile device.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic ($10)
When Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic debuted more than 10 years ago, it was an instant classic. BioWare crafted a masterful role-playing game that effortlessly combined the Star Wars mythos with deep combat and character customization. An original story propelled the lovable characters to lasting recognition, and player choices could drive the narrative in drastically different directions. Lightsabers, Force powers, the temptations of the Dark Side — Knights of the Old Republic has everything you'd expect from a Star Wars adventure, with the thoughtful writing, moral ambiguity and engrossing gameplay you'd expect from a BioWare game.
The Wolf Among Us ($5 per episode)
The Fables comic series by Bill Willingham spins a wondrous yarn of magical creatures living in mundane surroundings, replete with intrigue, conflict, sex and narrative twists. Whether or not you've read it, you need to run out and play The Wolf Among Us. This point-and-click adventure title from Telltale Games (the masterminds behind The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands) plays out like an issue of the comics come to life. Taking the role of Sheriff Bigby Wolf, you'll explore the gritty, weird world of real-life fairytale characters living (and dying) in Manhattan as you solve a gruesome murder mystery.
Hotline Miami ($5)
Hotline Miami is not what it appears to be. At first glance, this game looks like a charming top-down action game, with retro graphics and generous throwbacks to the '80s culture that inspired it. Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll find that Hotline Miami is a psychedelic, drug-infused, sex-crazed, blood-soaked trip through the gritty underbelly of 1980s Florida. The game plays out like an ultraviolent puzzle title, as you must clear out enemy strongholds, one floor at a time, using any weapon at your disposal. Your foes die in one hit, but so do you, so strategy is key.
The Jackbox Party Pack ($25)
What's the point of having a big-screen game system if you always have to play alone? The Jackbox Party Pack can provide hours of fun for large groups of people — just add alcohol for an instant party. The package includes You Don't Know Jack, Fibbage, Drawful, Word Spud and Lie Swatter, all of which rely on some combination of using actual knowledge and deliberately misleading your friends, or just being as ridiculous as possible. Best of all: The games let players compete using their own smartphones, no extra controllers or remote-control swapping required.
MEDIA SERVER APPS
Computers and mobile devices have had access to the VLC media player for a long time, and people who use it tend to swear by it. VLC, which originally went by the name VideoLAN, plays just about any kind of video or audio file you can think of. This is especially helpful if you've built up a library of your own music and videos over the course of many years and on many different formats. Not only can VLC play content via USB ports, but it can also stream content from a local media server on your computer or mobile device.
Plex ($5 per month subscription)
Online streaming-video services are all well and good, but you don't actually own any of the content you watch when you use one of these services. If you're the kind of person who's built up your own library, a subscription to Plex may be all that you need to stay entertained by your living room screen. By installing the Plex software on your computer, you can set up a media server. From there, you can stream your entire library onto your Android TV device with the Plex app. With a clean, no-nonsense interface, Plex is a perennial favorite among those who prefer to supply their own videos.
Airplay/DLNA Receiver Pro ($5)
If you want to stream content from your PC or mobile device right to your TV, but don't feel like organizing it into a meticulous collection first, AirPlay/DLNA Receiver Pro is arguably the easiest way to do it. This program takes advantage of AirPlay on Macs and DLNA on PCs to stream content on a local network. You can play music and videos from your personal collection on the big screen, no fancy interface or costly subscription fee required. AirPlay/DLNA Receiver Pro is not for technophobes. But for those who want to stream their own content with as little resistance as possible, this is the program to do it.
Fox Sports Go (cable subscription required)
There's no way around it: If you want to watch live sports, you're going to have to subscribe to something. If you already have a cable subscription, though, you don't need to shell out any additional money to check out Fox's selection of live games. Fox Sports Go lets you watch live games that air on Fox networks, from hockey to baseball to basketball and beyond. Subscribers can access games from Fox Sports, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, regional Fox Sports networks, Fox College Sports and Fox Deportes. These channels include hundreds of games in full HD.
Post TV (free)
One of the best things about cable television is having access to 24/7 live news, but there's a free Android TV app that does it just as well. Post TV, an offshoot of The Washington Post, provides ongoing live-news coverage as well as pre-recorded clips about the important topics of the day. All stories come from the experienced Washington Post staff, and cover all the bases, from politics to international affairs to entertainment. The channel works best for consuming news stories in short bursts, but it's also good to leave on in the background, so you can learn a thing or two while doing something else.
Bloomberg TV+ (free)
General-interest news doesn't cut it for hardcore finance and business junkies, which is where Bloomberg TV+ comes in. You can watch Bloomberg TV live, 24 hours a day or select just the stories that interest you. Bloomberg TV+ lets you create playlists, browse curated channels and check a schedule for upcoming videos. The program will even recommend content for the front page of your Android TV box. While Bloomberg TV+ is admittedly a niche program, it's hard to argue with free, round-the-clock, high-quality programming on the big screen, delivered at your own convenience.
Pandora ($5 per month subscription)
One of the oldest Internet radio services is still one of the best. Pandora is a well-known entity at this point: You feed in bands and songs that you like, and it creates a customized station based on your tastes. Give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and the station will learn your tastes over time. You can create multiple stations, which is ideal for partying with your friends or studying by yourself. Pandora is free, but an extra $5 per month will let you listen without commercials, and skip songs at will.
If programming your own Internet radio station is not to your taste, you can always fall back on regular AM and FM radio stations. iHeartRadio provides radio stations from all around the country (including secondary, high-frequency channels that most listeners don't get to hear), all for free. Listen to your hometown classic rock station, or a classical station from across the country, or explore the airwaves to find new favorites. You can search by genre, track down podcasts and listen to themed broadcasts for comedy, workouts, driving and more. You can still create your own station by selecting your favorite artists, too.
DramaFever ($5 per month subscription)
Even if you subscribe to every major video-streaming service, you're still only seeing a fraction of the content that comes out in any given month. That's because English-speaking TV and movies account for only a small part of the overall picture. DramaFever, which gives you access to some of the most popular shows from Korea, Latin America, Japan and Taiwan, can open up a whole world of programming you didn't even know existed (all subtitled in English, of course). As the name suggests, DramaFever hosts mostly soap operas and romances, but you can also find plenty of action shows, thrillers, anime programs and feature films.
YuppTV ($20 per month subscription)
For a country like India — with more than 1 billion people, and expats, immigrants and their descendants living all over the world — it's surprising that more of the country's video content doesn't make its way to the West. YuppTV wants to change that. This Android TV app offers dozens of live-streaming channels in Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu and English, as well as tons of on-demand movies and TV shows, no matter where you are in the world. You can search for anything from Bollywood movies to TV serials, live news or sports, and there will be something you'll enjoy in a language that you understand.
- How to Buy a Set Top Box or Streaming Media Player
- How to Watch Live TV Online - Streaming TV Services
- Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.