What can you do with Android TV?

Android is not just in the smartphone. Many smart TVs are also equipped with the Google operating system. And if it's not there, you can always add it through a separate media player. We show what Google is planning with Android TV and what you can already do with it.

Tip 01: How do you get it?

Android TV is the standard operating system in smart TVs from brands such as Sony, Philips and Sharp. The operating system in smart televisions is a popular counterpart to WebOS, which is used by LG, and Tizen, which you find in Samsung smart TVs.

All these platforms work with apps and usually the most popular apps are available. Android TV has the largest range of apps, because it takes advantage of the very wide range of the Play Store. In addition to the smartphone and tablet, many apps also work on a smart TV. That number is also growing rapidly.

Is Android not in your television? Then you can add it by buying a separate media player with Android TV. The range of these is just not very large. One of the best and most popular options is the pricey Nvidia Shield TV. Google may also come up with its own Android TV solution.

Tip 02: Editions

Android TV has been around since 2014 and can now be called a mature platform. In terms of releases, Android TV is slightly out of step with the implementation for smartphones and tablets. For example, version 10 was only announced in December 2019. The first smartphones with the same basis were already on the market for several months.

In terms of appearance and functionality, not much has changed. We see most of the changes under the hood, somewhat in line with previous editions. In practice, smart TVs are unfortunately a lot behind, partly due to the meager update policy of the manufacturers. You are then left with outdated software, while the hardware can still keep up. This should get better in the future.

Fortunately, a somewhat older version of Android is not such a problem for most apps: they often work fine on it. But you do miss innovations in, among other things, the user interface and security of the operating system. For example, one of the most useful recent additions is Google Assistant. Searching for content on, for example, Netflix or YouTube by voice works much faster than entering titles with the remote control.

Future of Android TV

Android TV gets the full attention of Google. For example, the company is committed to a wider range of high-quality apps, such as fitness and educational apps and games. We can already see the effect of this in absolute numbers: about 5,000 apps have recently started working on the TV platform. A year ago there were about 3,000. The company aims to have 8,000 apps by the end of 2020 and 10,000 by 2021.

Google also wants smart TVs with Android TV to receive updates faster and longer. Of these, it offers new features in Android 10 under the name Project Treble that simplifies the update process for television manufacturers.

Google has special plans for version 11. It seems that Google Stadia will be available for Android TV, Google is also working on a more accessible Play Store and the company may also be working on new hardware.

Tip 03: In practice

You will probably recognize something of the operating system on your smartphone or tablet in Android TV, although there are more differences than similarities. You can easily navigate through the menu with the remote control, with the most important apps listed on the left and a row of recommendations for each app. For Netflix, for example, these are the series that you have recently watched and which you can immediately dive into again.

All apps important for televisions work on the platform. You can easily add apps that are not already pre-installed via the Play Store. Is a well-known app not in there? Then it is not adapted for the TV platform. You can still try to install the app manually, which is called sideloading. There is a chance that the app will not work optimally, because it is designed for screen control. Also handy: Chromecast is already built into Android TV, so you can always stream from a device.

Android TV has more differences than similarities than the version of your smartphone or tablet

Tip 04: Nvidia Shield TV

Nvidia's Shield TV is a popular media player with Android TV. At the end of 2019, a new version came on the market in two versions: the regular Shield TV (from 160 euros) with a cylindrical housing and the slightly more powerful Pro version (from 219 euros) that looks more like its predecessor.

There have been some availability issues in recent months, especially the Pro is hard to find. It is also aimed more at gamers, for most the regular version is more than adequate. In addition to a power connection, it has an HDMI connection, an Ethernet port and a micro-SD memory slot. The more expensive Pro model does not have a micro-SD slot, but does have two USB 3.0 ports, more storage space (16 GB versus 8 GB) and more RAM (3 GB versus 2 GB). Incidentally, with limited storage space, you can always give the media player access to a network folder, for example from a NAS.

The processor in both models is the Tegra X1+. A variant of this is used in the Nintendo Switch. It is therefore a very fast processor that also ensures that the media player can be operated smoothly and that it can also handle all imaginable audio and video encodings. An alternative is the Xiaomi Mi Box S. A lot cheaper (about 79 euros), but in terms of hardware a big step compared to the Shield TV. The software is also outdated: by default it contains Android 8.1, or Oreo, although Android 9 (Pie) is now available with some delay.

New Chromecast

Recently, Google announced the new Chromecast with Google TV. Google TV is a new version of Android TV with a software shell that combines content from different video streaming services into one overview. There is also a DVR function in the device that allows live recording. The Chromecast 2020 can stream up to 4K at 60fps and works with Dolby Vision and supports HDR. This new version also comes with a remote control this time. Here you can find buttons that easily lead you to Netflix, Youtube and the Google Assistant. The new Chromecast will not be released in the Netherlands for the time being. The feature with which you can make a live TV recording is currently only available in the US. The new Chromecast is available for 70 euros in the German version of the Google store.

Tip 05: Streaming and gaming

The main application of your smart TV is, of course, streaming movies, series and programs. Android TV gives you all the options for that. The best known is Netflix. Some remotes, like the one on the Shield TV, even have a dedicated button for this. Newcomer Disney+ is also available for Android TV.

With Netflix (depending on the subscription) and Disney+, you also benefit from 4K and Dolby Atmos for better image and sound. For the enthusiast, Videoland is not lacking either, with many exclusive titles from Dutch soil. NPO Start is also available for Android TV for live viewing and replay of programs from the public broadcaster. You can also listen to Spotify or classic television via NLZiet.

Do you want to relax in a more active way? The Play Store offers plenty of games that also work on Android TV. You can install them and play from the couch. You can connect a game controller via USB or connect it via Bluetooth, just like any mouse and keyboard. Although not all your accessories may be supported. This is very dependent on your smart TV or media player.

Tip 06: NLSee

A TV subscription is often bundled with an internet subscription and is sometimes even compulsory. Nevertheless, the number of TV connections in the Netherlands is declining. Classic, linear television is becoming less and less attractive. There is an alternative with NLZiet. With this you can watch the programs of NPO, RTL and SBS up to one year ago and also just watch live. The subscription is free for the first month, after that you pay 7.95 euros per month.

The image quality of the streams is slightly less high than with a regular TV subscription from KPN or Ziggo, for example, but that difference has become smaller since a recent expansion. New regulations also make NLZiet even more attractive. You can use the subscription not only in the Netherlands, but also throughout the EU. An app for Android TV is of course also available for NLZiet.

With a subscription to NLZiet you can watch programs from NPO, RTL and SBS up to one year ago

Tip 07: Own media library

If you have your own collection with, for example, videos or music, you can use apps such as Plex and Kodi on Android and on Android TV to browse these collections. Kodi can be installed locally and can optionally access the files on a NAS, which is of course the most convenient place for such collections.

Plex requires you to have a Plex Media Server running somewhere in your house. That can of course be the same nas: both Synology and Qnap offer support for running this server application. Optionally, you can use the Pro version of the Shield TV as a Plex Media Server.

With the Nvidia Shield TV you also have an advantage when playing. The device effortlessly plays all major audio and video encodings. As a result, transcoding (converting formats) is rarely needed and the server has much less to do (and may be less powerful).

Tip 08: Stream games

In addition to videos, you can also just stream games. In effect, the games are then run on a different system and the image is returned. Your actions with your gamepad, for example, will be sent back to that system. The delay is so small that you usually don't even notice it.

Streaming is primarily possible via the local network from your own PC with, for example, the Steam Link app, useful if you already have a powerful gaming PC. Do you not have it or do you not feel like starting it all the time? You can also stream over the internet, also known as cloud gaming.

Nvidia has GeForce Now that uses the company's servers. Apart from a few free titles, you must already own or purchase games to play them with GeForce Now. Downside are the long queues that can be there due to the strong enthusiasm. Google also has its own game streaming service called Stadia. Everything points to the service becoming available for Android TV users. The big advantage of streaming games is that you don't need powerful hardware. So you can also play on a simple smart TV, smartphone or tablet.

Apple TV and Arcade

Apple also has its television platform called Apple TV, the biggest competitor for Android TV. It has media players (the Apple TV in HD or 4K variant), the streaming service Apple TV + with self-produced films and series and also a subscription for games under the name Arcade (4.99 euros per month).

This last subscription actually gives you access to more than a hundred games that you can play completely and without ads or additional purchases. It is therefore a kind of Netflix for games. An important difference with, for example, GeForce Now and Google Stadia is that games are not streamed. They are simply downloaded and played from the device itself. That can be an Apple TV box or your iPhone or iPad.

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