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Media Streamers

Google expands Chromecast capabilities, with new focus on gaming

The search giant will offer ways for developers to more closely connect apps with its Chromecast television streaming device.

Chromecast is Google's $35 thumb-size device that plugs in to televisions to connect them to the Internet. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Google is upping its competition against set-top boxes from Apple and Amazon with new capabilities for its inexpensive Chromecast streaming stick for televisions.

Google said it will begin offering new capabilities that make it easy for developers to create more interactive apps that run on a smartphone, tablet or PC, and then wirelessly stream to its Chromecast device, which plugs in to a television. One example is with video games, whose developers can stream a game's visuals to a television and use mobile devices as controllers.

The expanded capabilities for Chromecast are part of Google's wider efforts to bring its technology and services to televisions. But of course it isn't the only one trying. Apple and Amazon most notably offer their own set-top box devices, with their unique takes on streaming music, movie and television services, in addition to various app partnerships as well.

Each company has the same goal, however: Gain a foothold in living-room entertainment, a part of customers' lives that has vexed tech companies for decades. Titans of the industry, including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, have tried to offer devices for customers to use with their televisions and stereo systems, with mixed results at best. But they all seem to agree there's value in becoming a gatekeeper to consumers' television shows and movies. And with good reason: Apple's iTunes music store helped its iPod media player become the best-selling portable music device on the market. Even Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, was said to have spent time with his teams hoping to develop a television before he died.

Among the companies vying for customers' attention in the living room these days, Google is somewhat unique. It's offering two different devices for the television: the Chromecast, first shown two years ago, and Android TV, announced last year. The two devices are markedly different as well. The latter is a computer, crammed into a tiny box and loaded with specialized software designed to work easily with a television and remote.

The former is more bare bones, a tiny device that plugs in to the back of a television and is built primarily as a way for customers to easily display Internet videos, websites and apps on its big screen. Oh, and the Chromecast is cheap, selling for $35, compared with $39 for Amazon's cheapest Fire TV device, and $69 for the Apple TV.

Google said that in the last two years, it's been upbeat about uses. The company said customers who activate a Chromecast device spend 45 percent more time on the company's YouTube video site. And there are now more than 90 "premium" partners working with Google, such as PBS, Comedy Central and ABC. Though the company didn't say how many Chromecasts it has sold, nor how may people use the device regularly, Google did say those who do are watching 66 percent more videos and music than they did when the device launched in 2013.