When Google launched the original Chromecast, it had a very simple premise: stream to your TV, using your phone, laptop or tablet as the source of all content. It was cheap, it was effective and it was available to Android users.
But it was up against some stiff competition. Amazon’s Fire Stick, the Now TV stick and other Roku-based media players offered a competitively priced alternative and didn’t depend as heavily on your smartphone to keep it supplied with content. They also didn’t put additional stress on your smartphone battery.
But Google has redesigned the Chromecast, adding the Google TV operating system and making it into a standalone player that you can still use in conjunction with your smartphone, but only if you want to. It even comes with its own remote control, putting it on a par with its rivals.
The newest version of the Chromecast with Google TV offers HD resolution instead of the 4K version launched earlier this year, meaning it also comes in at a lower price. Other than price, there are few differences between the two devices – they look the same, have the same remote control, they both connect to the HDMI port on your TV and are powered by USB. The changes are mostly on the inside – a different chip and lower RAM on the HD version, neither of which are particularly noticeable in day-to-day use.
The Google TV system is easy enough to use and navigate. It uses the Play Store for third-party apps, so you can find your favourite streaming, games and utility apps easily enough.
The Chromecast also works with voice commands through the Google Assistant, so you can ask it to find your favourite TV show or movie using the assistant button on the remote control. The system can search across TV apps too, once you give the appropriate permission.
One of the strong points of the Google TV system is the personalised recommendations: the more you use it, the better it gets. And the system will pull content from across the different apps you have signed into, so regardless of whether it is Apple TV, Prime Video or Netflix, your recommendations will all arrive on that home screen for you to pick through.
It’s a good way to find new content to watch, and selecting your chosen show will bring you straight there. You can also set up children’s profiles on the system so younger members of the family can’t access inappropriate recommendations.
The HD version supports content up to 1080p, as well as HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG, but no Dolby Vision; you’ll have to upgrade to the 4K version for that. It also supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Atmos. How much you notice the lack of 4K support will depend on what content you are watching and your TV. If you don’t have a 4K-enabled TV, there’s little point in spending the extra for the 4K version, and the HD Chromecast will suit your needs.
The Chromecast is easy to set up and start using. All you need is a Google account to download apps and the subscriptions for whatever services you want to access. Breaking the link with your existing devices is also welcome; the new version has its own operating system and apps to download, plus the remote control to access the system.
The content recommendations are useful for finding new content, and a good way to link all your subscription services together into one hub, similar to how Sky’s Glass system works. And if all else fails, you can use Google Assistant to navigate the system quickly and easily.
This version only offers high-definition resolution. That will be fine for most people but if you want to get 4K on your Chromecast, you will have to pay out for the higher-spec version.
Some apps won’t work properly, potentially down to geoblocks, and others are unavailable on Google TV.
If you have other Google-linked devices in your home – the Nest Doorbell, for example, or Nest cameras throughout the house – you can ask Google to show you the video feed. It’s a handy way to see who is ringing the bell if you don’t have your smartphone handy or want to get up.
Still a reasonably priced way to make your old TV smarter, or bring new apps to a limited smart TV system.