It’s hard to fault the price, but many are still waiting for a true flagship streaming player from Google — and this certainly isn’t that
Google’s less expensive no-4K streaming player is officially being announced today. As rumored, it’s called the Chromecast with Google TV HD and slots into the company’s lineup beneath the $49.99 4K-capable Chromecast with Google TV released in 2020. Leaving out support for Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos has helped Google shave the price down to $29.99, which is even less than the original $35 Chromecast that became an unexpected hit nearly a decade ago.
But times have changed, and instead of relying solely on casting for entertainment like it once did, Google has embraced a traditional lean-back experience with its Google TV platform and bundled remote control.
Like similar streaming products from Amazon and Roku that top out at 1080p quality, the Chromecast HD is aimed at those who haven’t yet made the 4K TV upgrade — or people seeking a solution for a cheaper secondary set in the home. It features the same overall design and includes the same voice remote as the 4K model, though the HD hardware only comes in white. You can buy it starting today from Google and its usual retail partners including Best Buy, Target, The Home Depot, and others.
But there’s reason to be somewhat anxious about performance on this device. The 2020 Chromecast with Google TV has wound up being relatively underpowered for the software experience that it’s meant to showcase, and it comes with paltry (8GB) storage. Google recently acknowledged that it aims to continue improving the speed and responsiveness of Google TV and outlined numerous steps it’s already taken to do so, but there’s more work to be done.
I’m disappointed that the company isn’t launching a faster, more powerful 4K-capable Chromecast alongside the cheaper HD model. It’s been two years — that feels like the right cadence for a refresh — and the 2020 product was already lacking for headroom when it was released. This HD variant contains an even more modest chip and less RAM than the 4K Chromecast, though Google says software updates will be a smoother process thanks to new partitioning.
The Chromecast HD’s SoC also natively supports AV1 decoding, something the 4K product lacks. AV1 is more efficient at streaming high-quality video content than the older H.264 standard, and it’s also open source and royalty-free. YouTube in particular has aggressively been pushing native AV1 decoding on hardware partners including Roku, so it’s no surprise that Google itself is adopting it starting with the Chromecast with Google TV HD.
Last, the budget device will actually run a more recent version of Android upon release than the 4K model: it ships with Android 12, whereas the 2020 Chromecast currently remains stuck on Android 10. Google says an update for the latter is coming “in the near future.”
The Chromecast HD’s primary competition included Amazon’s $39.99 entry-level Fire TV Stick and the $29.99 Roku Express. There’s not much of a price gulf between these products and each company’s respective 4K alternatives. But for the price-conscious consumer who doesn’t really care about anything having to do with resolution, saving $20 could be worthwhile.
Google TV as a platform remains my favorite over Fire TV, Roku OS, and even Apple’s tvOS. But lag issues can sometimes drag down the experience. A high-powered flagship streamer would serve that experience well. Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards right now. Google confirmed that this is the last of its Chromecast news for 2022, so don’t expect any surprises at the company’s Pixel-focused October 6th event.