Chromecast revamps dongle with remote, Google TV software for $50

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Google unveiled a new Chromecast streaming device

Google unveiled a new Chromecast streaming device Wednesday, an update to its $30 dongle released in 2018 and the higher-end $70 Chromecast Ultra released in 2016. 

Google; screenshot by CNET

Google unveiled a new $50 (£60, AU$99) Chromecast streaming device Wednesday, dubbed Chromecast with Google TV, in a revamp of its bare-bones TV dongle to better suit the streaming world’s radical changes in the four years since its $70 Chromecast Ultra came out. 

The new Chromecast is already available to buy in the US, including in Google’s online store and at other retailers, and it’s going to widen to more countries before the end of the year — though specific release dates weren’t clear. It adds both a remote control and a tailor-made interface called Google TV. And like its predecessor, Chromecast Ultra, it supports 4K resolution and Dolby Vision HDR. 

But by adding a remote and its own on-screen system to navigate streaming apps, Google is reimagining Chromecast for a radically different streaming age — and trimming $20 off the price.  

“Now there is so much content to choose from, whether it’s movies, shows, live TV, YouTube. And it’s across hundreds of content providers. It can actually take longer to choose something to watch than to watch the content itself,” Shalini Govil-Pai, general manager of Google TV, said Wednesday during Google’s hardware event Wednesday. “There is so much wonderful content out there, and we want to help you find it easily.”

Chromecast with Google TV was officially unveiled at Google’s virtual event, which also unveiled its Pixel 5 phone and a Nest Audio smart speaker, but tons of details about Chromecast had already been reported because the device itself leaked two days before its big reveal. This new dongle hit shelves in some Home Depot stores Monday, unleashing a raft of spoilers online from shoppers and press outlets that snagged them early. 

Battling Roku and Amazon

Though Google gave its $30 entry-level Chromecast a few tweaks in 2018, the newest Chromecast reflects the first major update to the search giant’s line of streaming devices since 2016, when it revealed the Chromecast Ultra. 

Since then, streaming has grown more popular than ever, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and a raft of new streaming services have flooded the marketplace, including Disney Plus, HBO Max, Apple TV Plus and Peacock from NBC Universal. But during this heyday for streaming, Chromecast mostly stayed the same. That allowed competitors Roku and Amazon Fire TV to overtake Chromecast’s early popularity and dominate the market for streaming-TV devices. Combined, Roku and Fire TV represent an estimated 70% of the streaming player market. 

Chromecast’s refresh this year transforms Google’s skimpy dongle, which required you to use a phone as your remote. Instead, a revamped Chromecast could become a legit competitor to the most popular streaming devices available. 

And more than that, the new Chromecast supports both HBO Max and Peacock — something neither Roku nor Amazon Fire TV can match. For months, the absence of HBO Max and Peacock from Rokus and Fire TVs has been a glaring gap for the most popular streaming-TV platforms. The services and device-makers hit an impasse over control of the data and money generated by your streaming activity, as they angled to entrench positions of power for the next era of TV. In the meantime, Fire TV and Roku users have been stuck in the middle. 

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Earlier this month, Roku struck a deal with Peacock to add it to its devices. But Peacock is still missing from Amazon Fire TV, and both brands of devices lack HBO Max. Now Google’s new Chromecast has them both. 

Chromecast, reimagined

The Chromecast’s new remote has dedicated buttons for popular services like Netflix and YouTube, as well as an Assistant button so you can navigate Google TVs app selection by voice commands. The remote comes in three colors: white “snow,” a light-blue “sky” and a peachy “sunrise.”

Google TV is a new version of the company’s existing Android TV software. Familiar to anyone who’s used a device running Android TV (or anyone who’s used a streaming device ever), it has features like rows of tailored recommendations and a watch list where you can bookmark things to watch later. Google’s live TV service YouTube TV is tightly integrated, and the device also works with Google’s Nest cameras and doorbells. 

Google’s launch event comes as tech companies clamor to unveil their new consumer devices in time for the all-important holiday quarter. The search giant typically holds its hardware event every fall in New York City, but the company took the unveiling virtual this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Selling devices is crucial for Google because the company knows that people don’t only search for stuff on desktop computers anymore. They’re telling their smart speakers to play curated playlists, using their phones to order takeout from their favorite restaurants, or creating a jogging route with a maps app.

The more Google knows about people and their interests, the more valuable its ads become to marketers who pay the company to target potential buyers based on their likes, dislikes, age, interests and location. The company’s massive digital advertising operation, which has been under investigation by antitrust regulators, generates the vast majority of Google’s $160 billion in annual sales.

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