What does Android TV need to do to conquer your living room?

April 14, 2014

Google-IO-2013 Google TV logo 1600 aa

The market for streaming boxes and sticks to feed our TV habit is really taking off right now. The prerequisite of decent broadband speeds and Wi-Fi networks is in place for many. As more and more people cut the cable, or look to expand their options with content streamed from the Internet, more products are being released to fill the need. The problem is that they all offer something a little different and no one has nailed the perfect blend just yet.

Google’s first foray into this space didn’t go well, but, as many successful people will tell you, you have to fail before you can succeed.

Google’s first foray into this space didn’t go well, but, as many successful people will tell you, you have to fail before you can succeed. We’ve now caught a glimpse of what the next attempt, Android TV, might look like, courtesy of The Verge, and it appears to be an entertainment interface that couch surfers will find it easy to come to grips with.

Aping the competition and throwing in a remote isn’t going to be enough, so what does Android TV need to do to win your affections and your hard-earned cash?

The current offerings

Google-Chromecast

The Chromecast was something of a surprise hit. It revealed a gap in the market, delivering a cost-effective solution for people looking to upgrade their existing TVs to Smart TVs. We took a look at Chromecast and its competitors not too long ago, but that was before Amazon Fire TV landed.

Amazon has upped the ante, because the Fire TV is more powerful than the competition, the remote offers limited voice search, and there’s an optional game controller for an extra $40 that effectively turns it into an Android game console. Of course, it’s a fair from perfect solution.

At least for now, voice search only seems to work with Amazon’s Instant Video and Vevo, so it won’t search Netflix or your other apps. If Amazon doesn’t implement a universal search function, then you could end up paying for content unnecessarily and the feature is obviously hobbled. Amazon isn’t really interested in directing you elsewhere; its game plan is all about locking you into its ecosystem and making money through content sales.

amazon-fire-tv-remote-popcorn-image_1280

Roku is an early leader in this space with a series of set top boxes and a streaming stick. It still offers more channels than any of its competitors. It’s not looking to build a walled garden. It has innovated with a remote on the Roku 3 that allows you to plug headphones in and watch TV without bothering the rest of the room. There’s also a very simple, seemingly obvious feature to the Roku platform – universal search.

Apple TV is a natural choice for people with iPads and iPhones, but the underpowered and overpriced box could use an update. If you’re not already invested in Apple, and you don’t want to be tied in, then it doesn’t make sense for you.

There are plenty of other options in this space, from the cross-platform EZCast, to mini Android PCs, to the Ouya console. You can use a big name game console like the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One. You’ll also find it hard to buy a new TV today that doesn’t offer built-in streaming capabilities, although the choice can be limited and the interfaces can be torture to use.

Android TV

Image courtesy of The Verge

What Android TV could deliver

Having tried out many of the existing options it’s clear that there’s room here for someone to do it right. What would make Android TV a winner? Here’s our wish list:

  • It obviously needs a wide range of apps, including all the big players like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO GO. This will probably be a challenge because of the nature of competition in this space, but Google should be able to entice developers.
  • It needs a decent remote control and the option to use your smartphone, tablet or laptop instead. Ideally the remote would be RF, using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct, rather than IR so line of sight is less important and you can hide the box.
  • It should also support universal voice search through the remote and it should return clear results with “free” content first. For example, if a movie you want to watch is in Netflix and you have a subscription, put that result ahead of the pay to view version in the Play Store. If you want to limit your search to a specific app then that should be a possibility too.
  • It should be powerful enough to load menus, scroll through them, and fire up apps quickly. It should also have dual-band, dual-antenna MIMO Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port in case you want one.
  • It should have the ability to stream from Chrome tabs, like the Chromecast, but handle it better (this is still a Beta feature right now). If it did this and currently unsupported plug-ins like Silverlight, Quicktime and VLC worked, then it would be a real USP.
  • It should have an optional game controller and access to the Play Store game library.
  • It should have support for surround sound and an optical audio out port for those that want it.
  • It should know what you’ve been watching on any of your other Android devices and allow you to pick up where you left off.
  • It should allow you to mirror any smartphone, tablet, or laptop screen.

Bring in Google Now

okay google now voice commands

The leaked report on Android TV included a document stating “Access to content should be simple and magical.”

Google Now integration could be exactly what Android TV needs to stand out from the crowd

The idea of Android TV having a powerful search function and being able to recommend content and understand what you want sounds tailor-made for some Google Now integration. It could handle your voice searches and learn what you like to watch to return intelligent search results and good recommendations. How about a Google Now card that pops up on your phone when you get home, which you can then tap to fire up the latest episode of whatever you’re addicted to on your Android TV?

Smart TVs are still the future

It’s about time that someone fulfilled the potential in this space and Google is well-placed to do it, but the Fire TV is far from the last competitor we’re going to see entering the market this year. There’s also no telling how much longer the box or stick demand will last because built-in solutions in the latest smart TVs are always going to be preferable if they can nail the same experience.

LG is already taking a different direction with its new range of webOS smart TVs. If the future fight is to get manufacturers to adopt Android TV as a built-in platform on their new range, then Google has to act fast and demonstrate something truly compelling.

What do you think, excited about the prospect of Android TV? What must Google do to win you over to the idea? Tell us what you think in the comments below!

Comments

  • Bakirsaad200

    Crazy costumization and smooth operation

  • Pedro Fernandez Ruiz

    well, If Google TV will have the same features like Chromecast I’ll buy it anyway. Take my money google :) (I’m a happy chromecast and android user)

  • Marcellus1

    I have an Android TV right now (LG 55GA7900) that meets many of those qualifications you listed.

  • William E Evans

    support local media. I have TBs of movies and Tv Shows. I’m stuck using Gmote and VLC

  • Tim B.

    It needs strong local file share support with out using something like Plex. NFS and SMB with support for large libraries. (Something the WD live is goodt at). Full amazon instant video support not using web browser on my TV. It needs to be fully functional with a standard remote. Not some hybrid thumb keyboard. Although having that option would be good to.

  • Shark Bait

    Chromecast for me is a great device. Its very simple and works pretty much perfectly. For me powerful, and complex systems cannot be controlled well using a TV remote. The option are therefor amazing and perfect voice control, or use a phone.

    Chromecast already does the latter and it works well, but if I could also use “ok google, play me some ……” that would be awesome. Then it could also be used as a stand alone player as well.

    A final addition for me would be full console quality game streaming. Onlive got pretty close, and I am confident googles hardware could deliver smooth good looking game streaming. This would make the chromecast killer! a £30 game console, SOLD £££

  • Nick V

    Maybe future versions of the Nexus line could have IR Blasters, and use the Phone/Tablet as the remote. Something you can speak into, modify and more

  • Lamaur Cheetum

    Youtube still does it for computer watchers NOW WHAT!

  • Brandon Miranda

    Jesus Christ, Apple bash much?

  • Brandon Miranda

    I love Google Now. Only thing I wish for is for it to be accessible through any app not just the home screen in the Now Launcher. Give me that and I’m happy.

  • Brandon Miranda

    What if via the Nexus line you could turn your Tv into a SmartTv using Chromecast. Imagine it. Turn on your Nexus tell it connect to Chromecast and pull up Android Tv. It would then connect to your Nexus device and it would work similar to how Airplay works where what is on the Nexus is mirrored on the Tv. Upset the Nexus would now have Android Tv loaded up as an app. After a beta phase it could be opened up to other devices powerful enough to handle it.

  • Oli72

    LG pls come with smart TV 2014. My money is waiting.

  • alacrify

    Kind of a lazy list – “it should offer everything that all the current available offerings do, except search should weight to your personal registered services”. Maybe you should have made it a poll so the responders could give you some new ideas?

    • Bret P Hooyman

      Alacrify, I was thinking the exact same thing. Most of the features they stated they want in the article are already there. Though I will say that I haven’t used my GTV much since really toying around with Chromecast. If Google put Now and predictive offerings in Now on my phone and GTV, I think they’d have something special.

  • Canon User

    I’m gonna have to abandon Google if they make a habit of using the word ‘magical.’

  • Mike – Construction Contractor

    It needs HDMI pass through.

    Those that do not have cable or good speakers do not see the importance of this.

    I have been using Google TV daily aandit is great.Just needs a refresh.

    • John

      I agree 100%. This will be the ONLY thing that stops me from getting Android TV. I have cable TV and a DUMB 65″ monitor and it’s VERY convenient to control cable box with the Revue; regardless of it’s slowness. I don’t even use many apps on it because of its slowness (Netflix, Able Remote, a different launcher, YouTube Cast, a Live TV Twitter Overlay App, Redux, and most importantly the live tv search!). The browser is useless. But IMO, the HDMI pass through alone outweighs the drawbacks.

      • Mike – Construction Contractor

        Glad someone else agrees. Those who have never used HDMI pass-through do not realize the benefit of not having to change the source and sacrifice audio quality. I can bring up the Revue (Google TV) the second a commercial starts and go into an app or anything else.

        The browser is slow but it has been helpful a few times for ESPN3.

  • Goblin Shark

    I’ve had Google TV for a few years now. Typical Google, they dumped out a half assed product then just forgot about it, leaving us in the lurch with a $250 electric paperweight that has a few crappy apps available and not much functionality even with other Google products. I’d have to be pretty sure of Google’s commitment to Android TV before I’d plunk down another chunk of change on one of their products.

  • http://www.emuparadise.me/roms-isos-games.php Apple is a patent troll

    I want it to work outside of the USA as well as force you to be connected to the internet.

  • Stu14nmUD64bit7″

    I love the convenience of my Chromecast, but it’s not UHD/4k, I’d love to get an Amlogic S802, 4k, Kit Kat, 2 GB of DDR 3 RAM, Mali 450 graphics, Miracast, but PayPal doesn’t understand, that 2 people, can use the same account, on a credit card. Funny, Google Play store and Amazon get it, on a card that I’ve spent around $10,000 with, PayPal says no.

  • Bruce Leverett

    Love my google tv for the option web browsing

  • fredphoesh

    ADOBE FLASH PLAYBACK!!!! seriously. There are dozens of HUGE websites with content like ATP tennis official subscription channel, Tennis TV. This uses flash. There are many, many sites that still use flash, it should still be supported.

  • JG

    Ideally Android TV would serve as a replacement cable box and DVR plus have a built in bluray drive so it could replace all of the random boxes sitting below my TV.

    At least 1080 output, possibly 4k (though the Android TV unit will probably be out of date & needing to be replaced with a faster unit by the time 4k really hits mainstream so)…

    The ability to play local files, either in the Android TV itself, on an attached external storage device (SD, USB flash, external HD etc), or another device(*) on the same network, or a cloud storage account (Drive, Dropbox, etc). (* OEM independent – let me play files on my Moto X through my Samsung Android TV)

    Universal search feature. Display episodes I DVR’d, any episodes that are airing either currently or in the near future, on the network’s website or Hulu, Netflix, etc, and my Google Play account.

    The ability to link several Play accounts to a single unit, so Mom, Dad and Junior could all be signed in on the big screen in the living room so any content they purchase on their individual accounts is also accessible there. Then they don’t need to mess with switching between their individual accounts. Maybe also a temporary guest sync. Tap a phone to the unit and all of their content is available for the next 4 hours. Then if I’m at a friend’s house & he’s never seen Doctor Who, I could just tap my phone on his Android TV to sync and then say “OK Android TV, play Doctor Who season 1 episode 1″ and bada boom a new whovian is born…