It should not come as a shock that I am a huge Android Fanboy who is often an early adopter of the the latest offerings from Mountain View however I will also be the first to admit that Google has often failed miserably in capturing a fair share of the Home Entertainment market. Google’s “Google TV” platform was in many ways ahead of its time but in other ways but in other ways suffered from some serious problems such complicated controls and a lack of OTA upgrades. With the release of the Nexus Player last year, has Google made a comeback?
Before we dig deep into the Nexus Player, lets take a look at the two products that directly influenced the Nexus Player, the Google TV and the Google Chromecast. In 2010, Google and Logitech announced the Logitech Revue in effort to kick off Google’s entrance into the Home Entertainment market. The Logitech Review failed to gain a lot of adoption as it has used a slightly tweaked version of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) with a launcher that was more optimized for a touch screen and the $250 price tag did not help. The Logitech Revue shipped with a control containing a touchpad and a full qwerty keyboard, what will eventually become a hallmark of all Google TV products. The Logitech Review (and Google TV in general) was however incredibly powerful and had several amazing features such as HDMI passthrough, USB Passthrough and the ability to play media off of external flash drives. The crown jewel of Google TV was the smart TV guide that could search for any TV show or Movie to tell you the next time it is playing and tune your TV to it automatically thanks to the IR Blaster. The search feature would also search YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and over a dozen other streaming providers. Over the next 4 years, the Google TV platform found itself built into several other set top boxes and even embedded into TVs with the ASUS Cube being the last.
Google shocked the market in 2013 when they released the Google Chromecast; a compact, sleek, affordable and intuitive media player that has the ability to transform almost any television into a smart TV. The $35.00 price-tag was a complete 180 from the $200+ pricetag seen on many Google TV models. The Chromecast differed from Google TV in several ways; gone are the native applications, tablet optimized user interface and most importantly the remote control with over 100 buttons instead opting for a single “cast” button embedded in websites and mobile applications. The Tablet UI was replicated with a single homescreen containing the time and beautiful cover art. Although third party application support was incredibly limited at launch, the Chromecast is incredibly feature rich and now supports hundreds of applications. Netflix, Google Play Movies, Android, iOS, Hulu Plus and and even entire desktop streaming are all possible on the Chromecast.
In late 2014, Google announced that they are officially ending support for Google TV and announced the successor, Android TV. The first Android TV device was the developer focused ADT-1 which then gave way to the $99.99 Asus Nexus Player for the home market. In many ways, the Nexus Player is in many ways a hybrid between the Google TV unit and the Google Chromecast as it inherits many of the features found in both platforms. Unlike the Chromecast, it runs a full version of Android Lollipop and unlike the Google TV platform, it drops the complicated controls and the HDMI passthrough. Android TV supports ALL of the basic features found on the Chromecast and as it can run native applications, there is a massive amount of potential for future applications. The Nexus Player ships with a simplified control with 5 buttons, analog navigation key and voice control. An optional game pad can be purchased to allow your Android TV to be used as a gaming platform. Many new products shipping with Android TV are expected over the next few months.