Chromecast overhaul adds a remote, Google TV software for $50
Google's revamped streaming dongle transforms the gadget into what could be a legit competitor to Roku and Amazon Fire TV.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
ExpertiseStreaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation onlineCredentials
Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Google on Wednesday unveiled a new $50 (£60, AU$99) Chromecast streaming device, dubbed Chromecast with Google TV, in a revamp of its bare-bones TV dongle to better suit the streaming world's dramatic changes in the four years since the $70 Chromecast Ultra came out. And this time, the latest iteration of Chromecast adds both a remote control and a tailor-made interface called Google TV.
The new Chromecast was immediately available to buy in the US when Google announced it, and it is still in stock with a few retailers including Google's online store and at other retailers, like Best Buy. By Friday morning, the new Chromecast appeared to backordered at Home Depot, out of stock at Target and sold out at Walmart. A promotional deal in Google's online store, which bundled the new Chromecast with six months of Netflix's $13-a-month plan for a total of $90 (for savings of $38), also sold out within a day. The new device will be available Oct. 15 in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK, and people in those countries can preorder the device now.
Like its predecessor, Chromecast Ultra, it supports 4K resolution and HDR and Dolby Vision image quality. But by adding the remote and its own on-screen system to navigate streaming apps, Google is reimagining Chromecast for a radically different streaming age -- and trimming $20 off the price.
"Now there is so much content to choose from, whether it's movies, shows, live TV, YouTube. And it's across hundreds of content providers. It can actually take longer to choose something to watch than to watch the content itself," Shalini Govil-Pai, general manager of Google TV, said Wednesday during Google's hardware event. "There is so much wonderful content out there, and we want to help you find it easily."
Chromecast with Google TV was officially unveiled at Google's virtual event, which also unveiled its Pixel 5 phone and a Nest Audio smart speaker. But tons of details about Chromecast had already been reported because the device itself leaked two days before its big reveal. This new dongle hit shelves in some Home Depot stores Monday, unleashing a raft of spoilers online from shoppers and press outlets that snagged them early.
Facing off with Roku and Amazon
Though Google gave its $30 entry-level Chromecast a few tweaks in 2018, the newest Chromecast reflects the first major update to the search giant's line of streaming devices since 2016, when it revealed the Chromecast Ultra.
Watch this: Chromecast with Google TV wants to help you find what to watch
Chromecast's refresh this year transforms Google's skimpy dongle, which required you to use a phone as your remote. The revamped Chromecast could become a legit competitor to the most popular streaming devices available.
And more than that, the new Chromecast supports both HBO Max and Peacock -- something neither Roku nor Amazon Fire TV can match. For months, the absence of HBO Max and Peacock from Rokus and Fire TVs has been a glaring gap for the most popular streaming-TV platforms. The services and device makers hit an impasse over control of the data and money generated by your streaming activity, as they angled to entrench positions of power for the next era of TV. In the meantime, Fire TV and Roku users have been stuck in the middle.
Earlier this month, Roku struck a deal with Peacock to add it to its devices. But Peacock is still missing from Amazon Fire TV, and both brands of devices lack HBO Max. Now Google's new Chromecast has them both.
The new Chromecast with Google TV, like its predecessors, plugs into your TV's HDMI port to hide behind your screen. It streams 4K HDR video at up to 60 frames per second, and it supports Dolby Vision and HDMI pass-through of Dolby audio. It comes in three colors: white "snow," a light-blue "sky" and a peachy "sunrise."
The Chromecast's remote has dedicated buttons for popular services Netflix and YouTube, as well as an Assistant button so you can navigate Google TV's app selection by voice commands. Google says the remote has programmable TV controls for power, volume and input, which can eliminate the need for regularly using multiple remotes to control the TV.
Google TV is a new version of the company's existing Android TV software. Familiar to anyone who's used a device running Android TV (or anyone who's used a streaming device ever), it has features like rows of tailored recommendations and a watch list where you can bookmark things to watch later. Google's live TV service YouTube TV is tightly integrated, and the device also works with Google's Nest cameras and doorbells.
Google TV on the new Chromecast supports 6,500 apps -- including the two two most popular streaming video services, Netflix and YouTube, as well as Peacock and HBO Max missing from some competing devices. Support for Stadia, Google's streaming game service, is coming in the first half of 2021, the company said.
Google's launch event came as tech companies have been moving to unveil their new consumer devices in time for the all-important holiday quarter. The search giant typically holds its hardware event every fall in New York City, but the company took the unveiling virtual this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Selling devices is crucial for Google because the company knows that people don't only search for stuff on desktop computers anymore. They're telling their smart speakers to play curated playlists, using their phones to order takeout from their favorite restaurants, or creating a jogging route with a maps app.
The more Google knows about people and their interests, the more valuable its ads become to marketers who pay the company to target potential buyers based on their likes, dislikes, age, interests and location. The company's massive digital advertising operation, which has been under investigation by antitrust regulators, generates the vast majority of Google's $160 billion in annual sales.