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No one will be able to buy Google's ADT-4 Android TV box

Google is developing Android TV 14 on its ADT-4 reference device, but even developers won't be able to buy one.

Published onJuly 4, 2023

Amlogic S905X4 Developer Box Hero
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority
  • Google is currently working on Android TV 14 based on Android 14.
  • It’s developing the OS on its ADT-4 reference device.
  • Unlike with previous iterations, Google doesn’t plan to offer this device to developers.

One of the main reasons why Google made its Nexus (now Pixel) lineup was to have a reference device to develop and test new versions of the Android OS on. If you wanted to test Android 14 on physical hardware while it was in its Developer Preview phase, for example, you had to have a Pixel phone. Although Google does sell its own hardware running Google TV — which is based on Android TV OS — the company doesn’t use this hardware when developing new versions of Android TV. Instead, they develop Android TV on the ADT-4 set-top box, an unreleased device that Android Authority has learned will not be released to anyone outside of Google.

Developing an Android app isn’t easy, especially not when you have to deal with getting it to run well on devices from multiple vendors. Since there are so many different hardware vendors making Android devices, for example, it’s impossible for developers to test their apps out on each and every Android device that their users might potentially have. Instead, most developers test their apps out on an emulator through Android Studio, on a reference device recommended by the OS developer, and on a handful of retail devices that represent a good chunk of their user base.

While developers can test their Android TV apps on the latest version of Android TV through the emulator builds that Google provides, they have to use a physical device if they want to test anything that involves advanced display or audio formats. Features like HDR and seamless refresh rate switching need to be tested on hardware that actually supports them, for example. The problem is that, unlike with Android on smartphones, there aren’t any retail devices that support the latest version of Android TV, so developers who need to test on physical hardware have to pick up the reference device that Google uses to develop the OS.

Google’s Chromecast with Google TV (HD) and Chromecast with Google TV (4K) both currently run Android TV 12, which is not the latest version of the platform. The latest version of Android TV is Android TV 13, though that version is seemingly being retired in favor of Android TV 14. Android TV 14, which is currently in beta, is poised to bring new features like incoming call notifications, a remappable shortcut, and other changes. If a developer wants to test their app on Android TV 14, then their only option is to use the emulator, because Google’s not offering its reference device to developers this time around.

Android TV 14 about device
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority
Android TV 14 based on Android 14 is currently in beta testing.

Google unveiled its first Android TV developer kit at I/O 2014. Dubbed the ADT-1, the device ran an experimental build of Android 4.4 KitKat before receiving an update to Android 5.0 Lollipop. Its successor, the ADT-2, launched at I/O 2018 running Android TV 9. That device was succeeded by the ADT-3 in December 2019 alongside the announcement of Android TV 10. The ADT-3 continued to receive updates including one to Android TV 13, but the device was discontinued in December 2022. 9to5Google first reported on the existence of the ADT-4 that same month, but Android Authority has seen evidence that the device will not be sold to developers.

Google ADT Devices
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority

At Google’s annual Android TV partner bootcamp, the company informed its Android TV partners that its ADT-4 development device is for Google’s use only. A slide shown at the conference and viewed by Android Authority states that although Google is using the ADT-4 to develop Android TV 14, it will not be offering this device externally. 

Even Google’s Android TV partners won’t be able to get one, but this shouldn’t be a big problem for them since the ADT-4 is based on Amlogic’s S905X4 SoC reference device. Companies with contacts at Amlogic can get their hands on one directly from the company, while others may be able to get one from a third-party reseller. However, without direct support from Amlogic or Google, it’s unclear how one would be able to get a working build of the latest Android TV version onto the device.

Amlogic S905X4 Developer Box
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority

We reached out to Google and Amlogic for information about the ADT-4, but neither company responded to our inquiries. We also reached out to SEI Robotics, the company that manufactures the ADT-4 for Google, but we did not receive a response yet. It’s odd that Google won’t be offering its reference hardware to developers this time, especially since the company is reportedly making a bigger monetization push, according to Janko Roettgers in his Lowpass newsletter. One would think that more developers getting their hands on Android TV reference hardware would be a good thing, since apps and media content are where most of the money is made.

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