With the recent launch of new TCL Google TV models as well as the latest Google Chromecast with Google TV, there is no doubt that Google TV is here in style. As a successor to Android TV, the new Google TV platform is more than just a new name. It’s a slimmer, more intuitive and more capable operating system for your smart TV, which gives TVs more space and puts smart TVs more firmly at the heart of Google’s ecosystem.
With both Google TV models and Android TV devices on the market this year, it’s worth asking, what’s the difference? Google TV brings a host of new features and capabilities, so let’s go into detail.
What is Google TV?
Starting with Chromecast with Google TV in 2020, Google TV has emerged as the new TV operating system from Google, and has since appeared on smart TVs and other Android streaming devices. By 2022, we expect all new Google-based devices to use Google TV instead of Android TV.
However, calling Google TV as a replacement for Android TV is a bit imprecise. Google TV is more of a rebranding, since the underlying software is still Android. In fact, it would be accurate to say that Google TV is the new name for Android TV.
It also means that much of the core functionality you enjoyed with Android TV is still available on Google TV products. The wide range of apps available through the Google Play Store is still offered for TVs from Google. And the unique functionality of the built-in Google Chromecast has not gone anywhere, making it easy to share content from phones, tablets and laptops to your smart TV.
Google TV vs Android TV: The biggest changes
What has changed? Google has enhanced the Android TV experience with greater emphasis on personal content, bespoke recommendations, and functionality that extends beyond the TV and living room, so you can use your smart TV as a hub for your entire home, full of connected devices .
The changes between Android TV and Google TV are obvious the moment you turn on a Sony or TCL smart TV running the newer Google TV software.
The biggest change is the interface, which starts with the home screen. Instead of an experience focused on apps – such as Android TV’s older interface that uses row after row of apps and content suggestions – the new Google TV interface puts content first.
A large image on the home screen shows highlighted recommendations, cycles through movies and series of large, beautiful proportional images. These recommendations are taken from your own preferences, taken from the streaming services you use, the programs you see, and some predictive magic from Google.
Compared to the older Android interface, which offers a row menu of apps and app-specific content recommendations, the new Google TV interface looks much cleaner and easier to find something to watch without having to browse app by app.
However, some of these differences are not long lasting. Android TVs get updates that adjust the look to look and work a little more like Google TV. These differences may not roll out at the same time, and the timing may vary by manufacturer and model. In any case, the development of Android TV continues, with Google TV as the next big step.
The biggest functional changes that come with Google TV, emphasize the programming of live TV, with an entire tab dedicated to live TV. By subtracting from live content sources such as YouTube TV and Sling TV, you get a large on-screen channel guide that shows you live content in progress, as opposed to on-demand streaming options that can be viewed at any time.
With both YouTube TV and Sling TV – two of the best cable TV replacements – offering dozens of live channels, this guide gives you a great way to scan through live sports, news, programs, movies that are currently being “broadcast”.
It’s a way to highlight YouTube TV’s cable-like services, but also an improvement in surfing and engagement with content when live TV takes its place at the table in today’s connected TV environment. Other live TV services are likely to be added to this channel guide over time.
Mobile remote control
Taking advantage of Google’s large ecosystem of devices and connected apps, you can use an Android phone as a remote control for Google TV.
The addition of a touch screen and on-screen keyboard as part of the remote control also makes it much easier to navigate the TV. Entering passwords becomes softer than having to navigate on a “keyboard” on the TV screen, and typing a complex movie title may be preferable to having to repeat a confusing phrase to voice search over and over again.
App-based remotes are not new, as we have seen similar functionality offered by Roku, Vizio and others, but Google TV also combines this with content browsing and custom watch lists on your phone in the same app. We’ll talk more about these features in a minute, but combining all that possibility with a remote control, in the device you always have in your pocket, helps to break down barriers between smart TV and smartphone. It is a step away from the TV as a desktop device to the TV being a component of your larger media viewing world.
All of the above features include personalization, whether it is through recommendations, listings of subscribed services, or just let you use a personal device to control the TV. Google takes this a step further by introducing individual user profiles on Google TV.
This allows family members to have recommendations tailored to them, built around their own viewing habits and interests. It’s a huge improvement if you want to keep one person’s period drama recommendations separate from others’ suggestions for kung fu movies, and want to enjoy a series or streaming subscription without sharing it with the whole family.
Watch list from mobile
This customization also allows you to cure content when you are away from the TV. Watchlists allow you to select movies, programs, and events you want to watch, and add them to your personal viewer list from any device that uses your Google profile. Whether it’s your phone, laptop, or smart speaker in the other room, all of these Google-connected devices can be used to add a show to your watchlist.
Do you see a show mentioned on Twitter? Add it to your watchlist there on your phone.
Do you notice any virtual water cooler talk about an unknown movie on Slack? You can put it on your watchlist from your laptop or desktop computer.
Did you just remember the name of the movie you forgot while making the bed? Use your Google Home smart speaker to queue for you later.
Smart home integration
However, this integration of the smart TV with other devices across the Google ecosystem goes far beyond profiles and watchlists. Google uses its deep bench with smart home devices to let you get the most out of the “smart” aspects promised by smart TVs.
You can watch camera power from the best video doorbells and home cameras right on your TV. You can control the smart lights in your living room to set the mood for movie night without getting up from the couch. You can even skip a Google Duo video call by connecting a webcam to your smart TV, giving you a bigger and better screen for the virtual gatherings that have become so important these days.
And since Google Assistant is connected to all of these devices and built into the TV – complete with hands-free voice control – you can access all of these features just by saying “OK Google.”
Parental control and child profiles
In addition to using user profiles for custom content suggestions, you can also set up profiles for children, complete with content filters and parental controls.
These child profiles offer age-appropriate content recommendations, a child-friendly home menu, and filters for parent-app apps, movies, and apps. Moms and dads can block individual apps and specific titles, all from the phone – no one breaks the remote control from a misunderstood child until you can change things. It even lets you limit the view to specific time periods, and turns everything off at specific bedtimes.
“Basic TV” mode
An additional feature added to the new Google TV models is basic TV mode. This mode effectively shuts off all the smart features and connectivity required for normal smart TV use, while still supporting live TV via antenna or cable, and peripherals such as media players and game consoles.
But when the internet connection is turned off, you eliminate some of the privacy issues by tracking content recommendations and ads, and basic mode also turns off Google Assistant on your TV.
In a world where almost all TVs are smart TVs, it’s pretty cool to have the ability to turn off all of this.
Google TV app
To help link this whole experience together is Google TV app, which replaces the older Google Play Movies & TV app.
While confusing it is simply called Google TV, the same name as the smart TV software, it is less confusing when you realize that the app and the TV software are designed to be used at the same time. The new Google TV app is not so much extra available, it is a central part of the Google TV experience.
The app allows you to browse content from all your favorite services, add programs to your watchlist, buy or rent content, control your TV from the integrated remote control via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and more.
At the moment, the Google TV app is only available on Android devices, but we expect it to be available for Apple products as well. There is no timeline for an iOS version of the Google TV app.
Should I still buy an Android TV?
While Google is moving all of its smart TVs and streaming devices to Google TV, there will be a delay over the next year, as current Android TVs continue to be sold along with the latest Google TV models. So which one should you get?
For our money, Google TV is the way to go, as it offers everything that made Android TV great, but with more capacity, better content discovery and all sorts of new improvements in usability.
That said, Android TVs still have all the core features that Google TV offers, from a wide range of apps to built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant, and even many of the same smart home features (with just a few extra steps to set them up). Android TVs will be a particularly tempting choice as manufacturers and retailers lower prices to remove old stock, making them a smart choice for affordable buyers.
The point here seems to be that in both cases you get one of the best smart TV experiences available. Last but not least, Google TV is the winner, but you are sure to buy one of them.