TIME Media

Google’s Ambitious Foray into Your Living Room Is Dead

A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, California
Stephen Lam—Reuters A Google logo is seen at the garage where the company was founded in Menlo Park, Calif., on Sept. 26, 2013

At least the search giant's first effort, Google TV, is. Android TV and Chromecast have replaced its first living room device

Google TV, the search giant’s first big foray into the living room, is finally dead. Google announced via Google+ Tuesday that it would no longer be providing updates for the Google TV platform and that it was removing Google TV’s development tools from the Web.

Back in 2010, Google launched Google TV as a kind of modern take on Microsoft’s WebTV, which was once thought to be the future of television entertainment. On compatible television sets, users could boot up Chrome and surf the web for articles, videos and other content at the same time they were watching live TV, even using a mouse and keyboard if they chose. The concept didn’t catch on in the ‘90s when Microsoft tried, and it didn’t really work for Google either.

Since then, the search titan has pivoted to more streamlined and elegant TV options. The Chromecast dongle lets people stream content from their phones onto the big screen, the new Nexus TV set-top-box focuses on surfacing premium video content from a variety of sources and a new line of Android-powered television sets will attempt to make switching between live TV and online streaming services completely painless.

Google TV products will still work though they’re not being supported, and Google says a “small subset” of Google TV devices will be updated to run Android TV. But for all intents and purposes, one of the earliest high-tech competitors in the battle for the living room is no more.

TIME ces 2015

Your Favorite Google Feature Is About to Get Way Better

GAO Report Data Usage
Bloomberg via Getty Images An iPhone 5 streaming video from Netflix during a demonstration of the new Google ChromeCast at an event in July 2013.

Listening to music is about to get a lot easier

Google seemingly struck gold with Chromecast, the simple streaming dongle that lets users fling video content from their phones to TV screens. Now the company is adapting the same technology to audio with Google Cast, a new initiative announced Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show.

With Google Cast, users will be able to control the audio of compatible speakers using their smartphones, tablets or via the Web. This is not quite the same as simply hooking your phone up to regular wireless speakers via Bluetooth, though. The Google Cast speakers will stream music from the cloud—the phone, computer or tablet acts more like a remote control through which users can pick songs or playlists. Even if you turn your phone off or boot up a different app, tunes will keep playing.

The Google Cast speakers will work with music services such as Google Play Music, Deezer and Pandora. Speaker manufacturers Sony, LG and HEOS by Denon will launch the initial compatible devices in the spring.

Music isn’t the only entertainment sector where Google is expanding. The company also announced that Sony, Sharp and Phillips will launch new smart TVs powered by Android this spring. Video game company Razer is also launching a new gaming console powered by Android that will let users stream PC games onto their television sets.

TIME Media

Google’s Chromecast Overtakes Apple TV in Battle for the Living Room

Google Unveils Updated Nexus 7 in Push Against Apple, Microsoft
Bloomberg via Getty Images Google's Chromecast

But Roku is still the king of streaming devices

As tech companies vie for control of the television screen, a relatively new entrant is already making big gains.

Google’s Chromecast streaming stick managed to outsell the Apple TV in the first three quarters of 2014, according to research firm Parks Associates. Chromecast comprised 20% of the total sales for streaming devices in the U.S., while Apple TV netted just 17%.

Longtime market leader Roku continues to dominate with 29% of sales, but that’s down from around 45% in 2013. Amazon, another new competitor, has made solid progress with its Fire TV devices, gaining 10% marketshare in 2014.

Google’s quick ascent shows that the simplicity of the Chromecast, which allows users to stream content from their phones or tablets, may be a long-term winning strategy — its price, $35 to the Apple TV’s $99, probably hasn’t hurt either. Roku and Amazon, which started out with set-top boxes, both released cheaper Chromecast-like streaming sticks earlier this year.

TIME Gadgets

You Can Now Watch South Park on Your Chromecast

South Park
Getty Images—Getty Images Characters from the cartoon TV show "South Park", including Elton John (rear) with (from L to R) Kenny, Stan, Kyle and Cartman are featured in a 1998 episode.

Also Epix, Encore and Seasame Street Go

Google’s streaming stick Chromecast is getting some popular new content for the Thanksgiving holiday. The device will now support apps for Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street Go and TuneIn. Chromecast will also add more movies with the addition of Epix and Encore and more international content with the addition of the Indian television service YuppTV.

Chromecast seems to have been the most successful of Google’s many attempts to invade the living room. The device’s simple design and low price have been imitated by competitors like Roku and Amazon, which have either launched new streaming sticks or redesigned older models since the Chromecast’s release.

TIME Gadgets

Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Google Chromecast vs Roku Streaming Stick

TV Sticks
Amazon : Google : Roku Clockwise left to right: Amazon's Fire TV Stick, Google's Chromecast, Roku's Streaming Stick

Amazon has jumped headfirst into the streaming stick game, squaring off against Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick with its new Fire TV Stick. Here’s how the devices stack up against one another. Spoiler: They’re all good.

Price

Chromecast costs $35, Amazon Fire TV Stick costs $39 and Roku Streaming Stick costs $49.99. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick costs $20 until 6am Pacific on October 29, though.

Winner: Chromecast

Remote Control

Chromecast has no remote, so it sits out this round. You’ll need to run everything from your phone, tablet or PC, which is great if you’re the type of person who loses remotes all the time. If you’re hungover on the couch or watching stuff in bed, it’s marginally less relaxing than using a trusty remote, though.

Both Amazon and Roku include remotes, and both remotes work well. I’ll give Roku the slight edge here, as its remote has four quick-launch buttons — two of which are for Netflix and Amazon. The other two are for the far less-popular M-Go and Blockbuster On Demand.

Winner: Roku

Available Content

If you’re going for quality over quantity, all three sticks support just about every major streaming service. Notable omissions: Amazon’s stick doesn’t support HBO Go and Google’s stick doesn’t support Amazon content. Roku, on the other hand, has been around forever relative to its competitors and supports just about everything. And if there’s not an officially supported channel on Roku, chances are good that there’s an unofficial version that you can manually connect to the device.

Winner: Roku

Games

Amazon takes the cake here. Since the launch of the Fire TV box earlier this year, the company has done a good job porting games over, with the current tally sitting somewhere north of 200. The Fire TV’s $40 game controller works with the Fire TV stick, too.

Winner: Amazon

Performance

On paper, the Fire TV Stick handily bests its competitors, with double the processing cores, double the RAM and eight gigabytes of storage. The Chromecast has two gigabytes of storage; the Roku has 256 megabytes. Amazon needs more storage because of its emphasis on games and apps that can be loaded onto the Fire TV Stick, though: Storage isn’t really an issue on the other two sticks. Amazon also packs a better Wi-Fi chip than the Chromecast, though it’s on par with the Roku.

Winner: Amazon

Interface

I’m going to throw a curve ball here and say that the Chromecast’s utter lack of an interface makes it the best interface. You use the same apps you always use and, provided they have a Chromecast button, simply tap it to start playback on your TV. There’s no need to learn a new interface. Not that Amazon’s and Roku’s interfaces are overly complicated in any way — there’s really no bad interface for this category — there’s just something elegant about the Chromecast’s simplicity.

Winner: Chromecast

Device Compatibility

Chromecast works with certain iOS and Android devices and Google’s Chrome web browser on various computers. Roku works with certain iOS apps and Android devices and has beta computer and mobile screen mirroring features that are just getting off the ground for Windows 8.1, Windows Phone and Android. The Fire TV Stick works with certain iOS apps and Android devices, as well as with Amazon’s line of tablets. This one’s really close to a tie: Slinging your current browser tab to your TV is a great Chromecast feature; being able to use Amazon’s tablets with the Fire TV line is a great addition, and Roku has some interesting stuff in the works, too. In the end, however, the broader range of computers that can mirror Chrome to your TV means Chromecast takes a slight edge.

Winner: Chromecast

Which One Is Best?

Luckily, you have three dynamite options for under $50. You really can’t go wrong with any of these. If you have a lot of Amazon content and own an Amazon tablet or two, the Fire TV stick is a no-brainer. Same deal if you want to play games. If you don’t want to futz around with menus and you don’t want to spend a ton of money, go with the Chromecast. If you want a great remote and a nearly unlimited selection of content — both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path — head straight for the Roku.

Winner: Consumers

Here are some more in-depth specs from our friends at FindTheBest:

 

Read next: It’s Time to Seriously Start Expecting an Apple TV Again

TIME video

VIDEO: Here’s What’s Next for Google (in Two Minutes)

Wherein we smoosh Google's 2014 developer conference keynote from 2.5+ hours down to just under two minutes.

TIME Gadgets

Aereo Arrives for Chromecast As Supreme Court Decision Looms

Google Chromecast
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Delayed by a week, Aereo's TV-streaming service is finally available for Google Chromecast players.

Aereo, the Internet television streaming upstart currently embroiled in a historic Supreme Court showdown with broadcast companies, is finally available for Google Chromecast. Its arrival on Google’s streaming media dongle Thursday comes one week after its intended debut.

Aereo wrote on Twitter last week that it was delaying Chromecast support until June 4 “to work out a few kinks.” Make that June 5 then: the Aereo app is live now on the Google Play store. The move adds another significant Aereo player to a lineup that includes browsers for Windows PCs, Linux PCs and Macs, iOS devices, Apple TV and Roku set-top boxes.

If you have a Chromecast dongle, you live in an Aereo coverage area and you’re willing to pay the company’s monthly subscription fee ($8 for 20 hours of DVR space, $12 for 60 hours and the option to record two shows at once), you can connect online to Aereo’s local antenna bank to receive and record live broadcast TV. There’s no additional subscription fee — Aereo handles all storage of recordings on its end and you don’t need to have an existing cable subscription to view the antennae-captured shows.

The catch — and this is why signing up today isn’t risk-free — is that Aereo is smack in the midst of a momentous Supreme Court battle, squaring off with indignant broadcast companies for its right to exist. Since Aereo streams over-the-air content it intercepts via antennas — each the size of a dime and leased to one user — it claims it’s doing nothing you couldn’t yourself, and thus it owes broadcast companies nothing.

The broadcast companies (naturally) disagree. They claim Aereo is in violation of federal copyright law. At issue is whether Aereo’s service qualifies as a public or private performance: if SCOTUS deems it public, Aereo’s in trouble, whereas if it’s deemed a series of private transmissions, the company may be able to continue unperturbed.

A ruling is expected any day now.

TIME FindTheBest

18 Streaming TV Boxes Ranked from Worst to First

Quick: which type of device is currently dominating Amazon’s Best Sellers list, holding the top two overall spots (as of this writing)?

A) Smartphones

B) Tablets

C) Headphones

D) Laptops

E) Streaming Media Players

Answer: E. And it’s not close. Between the Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku 3, and Apple TV, streaming media players are lighting up online retail. As customers continue to cut cable, the streaming box (or stick) is the hottest new device, a product that is somehow both affordable (usually, sub-$100) and magical (can beam just about any media from one screen to the next).

But which streaming device should you pick? Clearly, a lot comes down to content. If you’re a Yupp TV fanatic, you’ll pick the Sony NSZ-GS8, ASUS Cube, or VIZIO Co-Star LT. Decision made. Suppose, however, you’d simply like a nice blend of Netflix and Hulu, plus the ability to use your friend’s roommate’s password to access HBO Go? Good luck choosing: You’ve still got a dozen different boxes, sticks, and hockey-puck-shaped streamers that meet your needs.

Since we have no way of know whether you’re a Mad Men junkie or Game of Thrones fan—and since all the top boxes seem to be getting all the same services anyway—let’s put the actual content aside.

Instead, we set out to rank the 18 most recent streaming media players based on specs, features, usability and expert reviews. We considered every major streamer released or updated since January 2013, looking at the following factors:

Specs and features: This primarily includes output resolutions and audio support, but also factors in wireless connectivity and features (like voice control, screencasting, and DVR functionality).

Expert reviews: What do the likes of PC Mag, CNET, TechHive, TechRadar, LAPTOP Mag, Home Theater Review, and Wired think? We aggregated review scores to get the best big picture perspective.

Here’s what we found:

The Rejects

18. Sony NSZ-GS8

17. TiVo Roamio

16. ASUS Cube

Like a rejected TV script, these media players simply don’t have the mass appeal or originality to become a true success. With limited inter-device streaming (the NSZ-GS8), clunky user experience (the ASUS Cube), and lackluster file-format support (the TiVo Roamio), they’re all stuck in pre-production. You can feel bad for them, but let them die their natural death. It’s better this way.

The Cancellations

15. Roku LT (2013)

14. TiVo Roamio Pro

13. TiVo Roamio Plus

Give these players credit for trying: Each brings something unique to the market. The Roku LT offers a low-priced, lower-resolution alternative to its cousins (the more popular Rokus 1, 2, and 3), while the TiVo Roamio Pro and Plus provide a strong feature set and all the familiar benefits of pause-and-rewind TV. Unfortunately, each ends up feeling a little like a lesser version of a more popular show, like Last Resort was to Lost or like Low Winter Sun was to every detective show ever made.

The One and Dones

12. Philips HMP2000

11. Samsung Smart Media Player

10. VIZIO Co-Star LT

Each of these players gets a lot right, with reasonably simple set-up, moderate feature sets, and decent compatibility. Still, clicking the Co-Stars’ retro-style remote or navigating the Smart Media Player’s menus has a subtle, dated feel—the kind of feeling you get when watching Seinfeld, licking an envelope or signing a check. These players had their day, but the world is moving on. Oh well. We’ll always have that one season.

Renewed for a Season

9. Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2

8. PLAiR 2

Unique, intriguing, and capable, both the Matricom G-Box Midnight MX2 and PLAiR 2 offer something special. The MX2 features full Android-based web browsing, something none of the top-selling players allow. Meanwhile, the PLAiR 2 is among the cheapest streamers you can buy (as low as $25), a good Chromecast alternative for Google haters and capitalization ignorers across America. Still, neither device is as polished or as reliable as any of the products below. Keep these options in mind, but don’t be surprised if they fade off in another year, like a once-renewed, forever-forgotten sitcom.

Network TV

7. Roku 1

6. Roku 2

Solid, predictable, and popular, the Roku 1 and 2 are a great choice for anyone who can’t afford the more full-featured Roku 3. Each offers top output resolutions, compatibility across dozens of file formats, and low prices to match (approximately $45 for the Roku 1 and $65 for the Roku 2). Like CSI and Law & Order, expect the two entry-level Rokus to stick around for several more years.

Cable TV

5. Google Chromecast

4. Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI Version)

Compared to the bulky shells of their competitors, Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick feel like the future: lighter, more efficient, and best of all, under $50. Experts say Roku’s Streaming Stick is roughly comparable to the Roku 2 in features and capabilities, while Google’s Chromecast oozes the company’s commitment to simplicity and user-friendliness. If you’re always using a tablet, laptop, or phone anyway, consider saving the extra cash and grabbing one of these.

Emmy Winners

3. Apple TV

2. Amazon Fire TV

It’s one thing to make a popular TV show. It’s quite another to bring home the hardware year after year. Whenever they present their new streaming media players, Apple and Amazon don’t walk on stage: they swagger. Where their competitors make simple streaming gadgets, the two tech giants create whole entertainment ecosystems, complete with industry-leading features and seamless operation. Even if you can’t stand one (or both) of these companies, it’s hard to argue that their offerings are simply bigger and better than most. If you already own three Apple products, or if you’re a long-time Amazon Prime subscriber, look no further than the company’s corresponding streamer.

The All-Time Classic

1. Roku 3

Sometimes focus is more important than money and talent. The Roku 3 is the best product of the bunch, with the snappiest operation, top-tier video and audio support, and extra features that make each part of the experience just a little better (for example: the headphone jack on the remote allows for convenient, private listening). Better yet, a Roku 3 won’t lock you into the Apple or Amazon ecosystem. Yes, you can guarantee some success if you hire all the best actors and spend the most money. But Roku understands that the best shows aren’t always about star power and special effects, but rather about tight execution and smart, ensemble casting. For the best overall streaming experience, get the Roku 3.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

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