TIME Gadgets

Google’s New Chromecast Reveals How It Sees the Future of TV

The Chromecast Ultra can handle ultra-high-res 4K video

Greetings from the (near) future, a place (not quite) devoid of the tyranny of cables, and where I can watch television on (practically) any device I want, (almost) anywhere I want. The freedom is — hold on, my show is buffering — truly liberating. (So long as I don’t put my iPad next to my refrigerator. Then it’s infuriating.)

While unveiling the newest version of his company’s streaming media box just over a year ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook proclaimed “the future of TV is apps.” Today, Google revealed its competing vision for the big screen and, unsurprisingly, the two rivals are at odds with one another. The search giant thinks the future of TV is bandwidth, and from my Barcalounger — situated on the cutting edge of technology — I’m compelled to agree.

I’ve had the latest Apple TV for nearly a year, but I’ve only used it about a dozen times. Apps — at least in their current configuration — aren’t the future of television, at least not right now. In part, that’s because, while using the Apple TV, you have to use your television provider credentials to log into each and every different app. This is a major pain. Apple says a fix is coming, but it’s still MIA.

Another Apple TV hangup for some: It doesn’t support 4K video. What’s the sense of buying a shiny new box for your shiny new television if it will provide a picture that’s no better than your old flatscreen? A year ago, this was a three-way chicken and egg problem between studios that didn’t shoot shows and movies in 4K, Internet providers that didn’t provide enough bandwidth to handle large video files, and television manufacturers that struggled to get pricing low enough for mass adoption. But coming into this holiday season, 4K televisions will be in demand, 4K content will be more widely available through providers like Netflix and Google Play, and ISPs…well, Internet speeds are still a challenge.

So instead of using the Apple TV, I use TiVo. It’s a great service presumably only used by journalists and Europeans, because those are the only people I ever hear speaking lovingly about the company. Through my TiVo box and accompanying app, I can stream video to my iPad or iPhone whether I’m home or not. That said, it works much better in my home than outside it, and struggles in low-bandwidth situations like on public Wi-Fi or, as I alluded, next to my refrigerator. (The same can be said for any other streaming video app like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, and the rest.)

But the fact is, my home’s Internet setup wasn’t designed to let me watch Last Week Tonight via HBO Go on my iPad while I wash the dishes. The refrigerator, my body, and the running water all block my wireless signal as I scrub the pots and pans. As a busy father, the 20 minutes I get cleaning up dinner are the few moments in a day I get all to myself — and even then I end up troubleshooting the house’s Internet problems.

One of Google’s new products, announced at its event Tuesday, might help: Google Wi-Fi. Due to launch in December, Google Wi-Fi aims to eschew the central router concept in favor of an expandable system that improves coverage throughout the house. “Unfortunately, traditional routers weren’t designed for the way we use Wi-Fi in the home today,” Google Head of Product Management Mario Queiroz said while unveiling the gadget. “We’re streaming, gaming, video chatting and more, all throughout the house.”

By plugging in multiple Google Wi-Fi routers, which will cost $129 for one or $299 for three but are not yet ready for pre-order, the system creates a Wi-Fi network around the home that’s supposed to keep far-flung devices like my nursery webcam and my front door camera transmitting data just as quickly as my living room’s Apple TV can gobble it up.

But Google would prefer I use a new $69 Chromecast Ultra instead. The company is making a strong case for me (and anyone who owns a 4K television) to switch. Similar to the 30 million other Chromecast devices Google has sold to date, the new version will be capable of streaming ultra-high definition 4K content, at last taking advantage of all those gorgeous new televisions that everyone’s been neglecting.

And pairing Google Play’s upcoming 4K content offerings with equally high resolution images on YouTube, the chicken and egg problem is no more. Suddenly all of Google’s eggs are hatching.

Well, almost. The company still has to contend with ISPs and slow broadband speeds. But through Google Fiber, the company is conquering that, albeit slowly. Of course, my city doesn’t have Google Fiber and, most likely, neither does yours. But faster Internet speeds are coming. And the future of television with it.

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