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Google’s new Chromecast tries to make TV viewing more intelligent. Here’s how

September 30, 2020, 6:30 PM UTC

Google wants to play a bigger role in how you watch television.

The search giant on Wednesday debuted the newest version of its Chromecast video-streaming dongle that comes with software that recommends shows to users based on their preferences and viewing history. Someone who likes action films, for example, may see recommendations for the latest Bad Boys movie.

Users will only see recommendations for shows that are on video-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that they subscribe to. The Apple TV+ subscription service is not included.

The new software, called Google TV, is intended to give users a more intuitive “home screen” to help them navigate their various video-streaming services and other information. It’s also an effort by Google to more closely entwine itself in the TV-viewing habits of its users.

“If they’re presented with a lot of content options, and it’s still hard to find the ones that matter to them, it’s not so useful,” said John Gildred, director of Google TV. “So the personalization needs to be very strong, and…we’re working very hard to make sure that comes through.”

The new Chromecast comes with a small remote control that features Google’s virtual assistant, called Google Assistant. People can now use their voices to change channels, in addition to do things like display weather reports on their TV screens.

The new software also turns TVs into a hub for using Google’s Internet-connected devices, like its Nest security cameras. “You say, ‘Who is at the front door?’ and it will show you on the big screen,” Gildred said.

The remote control comes with two buttons dedicated to YouTube and Netflix, so that users can quickly access them.

Next year, Google TV software will be integrated with televisions from third-party manufacturers, Gildred said. Although he declined to name those companies, he said their TVs would support 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos 5.1 surround sound.

Currently, manufacturers like Sony and Chinese tech company Hisense sell televisions that are embedded with Android TV, the underlying operating system that powers Google TV’s user interface. By 2022, he expects that “pretty much they will all move over to Google TV.”

Ten years ago, Google debuted an earlier version of Google TV that manufacturers like Sony and Logitech embedded in their televisions and set-top boxes. By 2014, however, after the service failed to catch on with consumers, Google killed Google TV, and instead started heavily marketing the company’s Android TV developer software.

In more recent years, Google has introduced several new Internet-connected products that are integrated with its voice assistant. The new Google TV service and upcoming line of televisions is the company’s attempt to retry an older idea under the assumption that Google’s improved machine learning and voice technology will make them more compelling to consumers.

Under the current strategy, Gildred said Google TV would be Google’s consumer-facing software that people can use to interact with their televisions while developers will use Android TV for building apps.

The new Chromecast, which costs $49.99—$20 more than the previous version—competes with devices from Roku, Amazon, and Apple. It’s available in white, pink, and blue.