Chromecast with Google TV HD review: Entertainment made easy

Google’s latest streaming device, the $30 Chromecast with Google TV HD, isn’t designed for home theater enthusiasts who live and breathe 4K and Dolby Atmos. Quite the contrary. The device is limited to a maximum resolution of 1080p (Full HD) and completely lacks Dolby’s best audio and video tricks. It’s it is at least capable of playing HDR video. But the target customer is clear: this product is for people who want to add new smart features to an old TV (or monitor). Maybe you have an Airbnb that needs more entertainment. These are the use cases where Google’s new streamer, and similarly priced starter options from Roku and Amazon, make a lot of sense.

Despite having a lackluster processor that sometimes lumbers through the interface, the Chromecast with Google TV largely succeeds in its mission to deliver a good streaming experience wherever you want it. And just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s incapable. In addition to its core features and included remote, you can run a USB hub on the Chromecast HD and take advantage of external storage, connect a webcam for video conferencing, or connect to a wired Ethernet connection for bulletproof streaming.

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As for its design and size, good luck finding differences between this $30 dongle and the $50 Chromecast with Google HD 4K. Older hardware comes in various colors, but you stick with white for the HD model. That’s really the only visual differentiator. Otherwise, they both connect to an HDMI port and come with a USB-C power adapter, as USB ports on TVs often can’t provide enough power for them to work optimally. The included voice remote is also identical, featuring the same shortcut buttons for Netflix and YouTube, plus a dedicated Google Assistant button. It’s a convenient, compact remote that’s easy for you (or your Airbnb guests) to use in no time.

An aerial image of the Chromecast with Google TV HD and its remote control on a wooden table.

Even the remote for the Chromecast HD is the same as what you get with the 4K model.

You already know your video limits, but for audio, Chromecast with Google TV HD supports traditional Dolby Digital, so you can still enjoy surround sound. Only without the Atmos height channels.

Playback resolution aside, the user experience of both Chromecasts is, again, the same. And that’s a good thing. Despite some lingering slowness that Google is still trying to resolve, Google TV remains my favorite interface for searching for TV shows and movies from multiple different streaming apps and Internet TV services. Navigating through its sections (For You, Live TV, Movies, Shows, etc.) is intuitive, the recommendations are usually spot on, and Google ads are harmless. It’s not as obvious as what you get from Roku or Amazon, Google’s only competitors at this price point. All the major streaming apps are taken into account, though key players like Netflix have pushed back on some of Google TV’s features, like the universal watchlist. It’s not enough to ruin my preference for the platform, but it can be annoying.

An image of the Google TV interface with several different movies and TV shows.

Google TV has a sleek and modern interface.

Google TV has supported personalized profiles (and content-appropriate child accounts) for some time now, so everyone in your household can have their own watchlist and personalized selections. Overall, whether you’re digging into a show’s details page, doing voice search, controlling your smart home, or accessing a Nest camera feed, everything about Google TV feels sleek and modern.

I still think that Google could do with releasing a powerful streaming device that could really showcase this software to its full potential, but I haven’t had a bad time using the Chromecast HD. I was worried that might be the case, but Google’s optimizations over time (and the new Android 12-based OS) make it perfectly tolerable. If that remains true over time, we’ll know in a few months. What I can say now is that any drop in performance is only momentary and not a constant annoyance.

Explore the Chromecast settings and you’ll find that Google will let you go down either lane: simple or advanced. New with Google TV running Android 12, there is a “match frame rate” setting. But this goes beyond other implementations I’ve seen and gets delightfully nerdy. You have three options:

Seamless

If requested by the app, your device will match its output to the original frame rate of the content you’re watching, ONLY if your TV can transition seamlessly.

Withouth stitches

If requested by the app, your device will match its output to the original frame rate of the content you’re viewing. This may cause your screen to go blank for a second when exiting or entering a video playback.

Never

Even if the app requests it, your device will never try to match its output to the original frame rate of the content you’re viewing.

I appreciate that Google understands that home theater nerds are often so picky that a smooth transition between frame rates really matters. You also get some privacy-focused benefits with newer software, like the ability to cut off the microphone (on the handheld remote) or camera access (if you have a webcam connected). Added text scaling, which allows you to adjust the size of text on the screen between 85 and 115 percent. And setup gets a little quicker thanks to an on-screen QR code that can quickly bring the Chromecast to your Wi-Fi network. Obviously, these improvements won’t be exclusive to the cheaper Chromecast HD for long; Google has confirmed that Android 12 will be coming to the 4K model in the near future.

The Chromecast with Google TV HD still fully supports its long-standing namesake feature: streaming. But your cloud gaming days are effectively numbered, at least when it comes to Stadia. Personally, I’m still surprised that Google hasn’t yet released a full Google Photos app designed for the TV screen. I would be in all of that. Those with smart homes would similarly appreciate a full Google Home app for the TV platform, but that’s missing, too.

An image of the Chromecast with Google TV remote on top of various colored stones.

The included remote has a dedicated Google Assistant button for voice commands.

In a week or so of regular Chromecast use with Google TV HD, I haven’t discovered any major issues or frustrations. It offers the same modern, content-focused presentation as the old 4K hardware, but for $20 less. And it’s already been discounted at several retailers, so it could prove to be a compelling impulse buy for many over the holidays.

If you are a videophile, you probably do not pay attention to this product. 4K TV owners should definitely look elsewhere. But for anyone who needs an ideal streamer to hook up to a secondary TV in the kitchen, gym, second bedroom… whateverthis $30 Chromecast gets the job done and offers a much richer feature set than the original Chromecast from nearly a decade ago, and somehow costs even less.

I AGREE TO CONTINUE: CHROMECAST WITH GOOGLE TV HD

All smart devices now require you to agree to a set of terms and conditions before you can use them, contracts that no one actually reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze each of these agreements. But we start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “accept” to use devices when we review them, as these are deals most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To use Chromecast with Google TV HD, you must agree to the following:

  • Google Terms of Service
  • Google privacy policy
  • Google Device Arbitration Agreement: “All disputes related to your Google device will be resolved through binding arbitration individually, not class […] unless you choose not to follow the instructions in that agreement.”

The following agreements are optional:

  • Use Chromecast location: “Allow Google and apps with your permission on your Chromecast to use the Chromecast location estimated from Wi-Fi.”
  • Send usage and diagnostic data

In addition, if you want to use the Google Assistant, you must agree that Google collects:

  • App information from your devices
  • Contact information from your devices: “This data may be saved and used across any Google services you’re signed into to provide you with more personalized experiences. You can view your data, delete it, and change your settings at account.google.com”

Streaming services also have their own terms of service and privacy policies.

Final count: at least three mandatory agreements and at least four optional agreements.

Photography by Chris Welch/The Verge

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