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Media Streamers

Google redesigns Chromecast for speed and power

The tech giant rolls out its revamped video-streaming device, along with a host of features to make the gadget smarter, faster and more powerful.

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Google announces its newly designed Chromecast video-streaming device. James Martin/CNET

Google unveiled its redesigned Chromecast video-streaming device on Tuesday with new bells and whistles.

In addition to a revamped look, the device has a "Fast Play" feature, enhanced Wi-Fi and easier content discovery. This brings the Chromecast deeper into Google's family of smart-home devices.

The Mountain View, California, company showed off the Chromecast alongside its new Nexus 5X made Nexus 6P smartphones at an event in San Francisco. This marks Google's move back to holding a formal event to unveil its flagship devices for the year. The company chose not to hold a similar event last year, and instead just announced the devices on its corporate blog.

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For Google, Tuesday's event was critical as it tries to get its devices in the hands of more consumers. Unveiling new gadgets like its Nexus smartphones allows Google to push its core products, like Search, Maps, YouTube or its Google Play marketplace, to more people. Its Chromecast device gives Google a good way to get its tech into people's living rooms, which have become a heated battleground for Silicon Valley giants including Apple, Amazon and Samsung.

Google first introduced the Chromecast about two years ago and has since sold more than 20 million of the devices globally, said Mario Queiroz, Google's vice president of product management. The $35 (or AU$49 and £30) gadget lets people wirelessly beam content from services like Netflix, HBO Go and YouTube to a TV from a smartphone, tablet or laptop. It originally looked like a USB-thumb drive, but is now a small circular device with an attached HDMI cable.

"We've redesigned the Chromecast to bring a modern new look," Queiroz said. "The small size of the new Chromecast allows for it to hide behind the TV."

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Besides the new design, Google added several features to the device. It has hardware that "significantly improves" its Wi-Fi performance with a new adaptive antenna system, Queiroz said. A "Fast Play" feature makes sure the Chromecast starts up quicker. This means that when users are nearing the end an episode on Netflix, for example, the app automatically starts to load the next episode so it's ready to play when that first episode is over.

Queiroz said there will be more content on the Chromecast now, including all of Showtime's shows and more sports and music. The company is additionally upping its gaming content with new games and a feature that lets people use their smartphone as a game controller. The Chromecast also now supports Facebook, Flickr and Google photos, so users can project pictures from their phone onto their TV.

Google also redesigned the Chromecast app. New features include a "What's On" discovery component and a "devices" tab that lets people use their phone, tablet or laptop as a remote for the Chromecast.

With its new features, the Chromecast plays directly into Google's strategy for getting its technology into people's homes. Some of Google's devices, such as its Nest Internet-connected thermostat, are on the cutting edge of all-in-one connected home devices. Others, like the Chromecast, turn devices like the television already in your living room or bedroom into smart gadgets.

As the Internet expands even further into people's lives, the tech industry's largest companies have focused on building devices and services for people's homes. For example, Apple's Homekit, a software package on iPhones and iPads, lets you turn your living room lights on and off, while its Apple TV lets you call out to your television when you want to watch an episode of "Game of Thrones." Amazon has offerings with similar functions.

Smart homes are still far from mainstream though. In 2014, 34 percent of US consumers said they were interested in a digital system to control all the lights in their house, according to Forrester Research, but only 1 percent actually had such systems. Only 2 percent had tried a digitally remote-controlled energy management system.

Google's new Chromecast comes in three colors: black, lemonade and coral. It's available starting Tuesday for $35 (or £30) in 17 countries. The new Chromecast app will roll out over the next few weeks on Andriod and iOS.

In addition to its revamped Chromecast video-streaming device, Google also showed off a new music-streaming device called Chromecast Audio. Go to CNET's Google page to see all of today's Google's news.