TVs

Google Assistant voice control coming to Android TV

Google's big-screen operating system is getting an update to add better voice capabilities including smart home control.

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OK Google, take over my TV.

Google Assistant, the company's voice recognition and control technology found in devices like Google Home, is coming to Android TV. That means devices that use Google big-screen operating system, namely select streaming boxes and recent Sony TVs, will soon get even better at responding to voice commands. They'll also gain the ability to operate smart home gadgets like thermostats and lights.

Google says the free update will arrive later this year, and Google Assistant will be retroactively applied to all Android TV devices back to Android M (Marshmallow).

Google Assistant on Android TV was first announced at CES in January with the Nvidia Shield, a $200 gaming/streaming device that's often first to get Android TV innovations. It comes with a game controller that has a far-field microphone, so you can leave the controller on a table and speak the catch phrase -- typically "OK, Google" -- without having to press a button. Nvidia will also sell a separate, $50 far-field mic add-on called the Nvidia Spot later this year.

For devices that don't include far-field mics, like Sony TVs, you issue commands into the remote control after pressing the mic button. Sony demonstrated an early version of the feature at an event in New York.

In addition to being able to turn on the lights, set the temperature of the thermostat, and watch Nest cam videos on-screen, Assistant adds context-sensitive, natural language commands. If a list of search results appears after you perform a voice search, for example, you can say "Play the first one" or ask "How many episodes does it have?" without having to name the specific result or show on-screen.

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James Martin/CNET

Google Assistant will also work with Google Photos on the big screen, and you can ask for stuff like "Show me photos of my ski vacation." Many responses are also accompanied by on-screen results, for example displaying a weather report on the TV.

Android TV is also getting a user-interface overhaul. Apps like Netflix will get their own separate rows to showcase individual TV shows and movies, and static thumbnails will be augmented by moving video. There's also a "What's Next" list that lets you easily resume an in-progress show, and add other shows to the list, watchlist-style.

Since its introduction Android TV has steadily improved, adding more apps and capabilities to better compete against platforms like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. The integration of Google Assistant adds another difference to separate itself from those others. We're looking forward to putting it to the test later this summer.

Correction: Originally this article said Google Assistant would come to Android TV this summer as part of the update to Android O. In fact, it's separate from Android O and Google's official timing so far is "later this year."