Google’s latest streaming dongle is so similar to the previous one that when I first opened it up, I experienced a little deja vu. The new Chromecast with Google TV still has a puckish oval design, it comes packaged with an identical remote and even the OS powering everything is (largely) unchanged. The only major difference (at least on the outside) is updated packaging that features a label that says “HD.” So instead of supporting 4K displays, this new more affordable Chromecast is aimed squarely at people looking to stream shows and movies on 1080p screens. And from where I’m sitting, that’s just fine, because while it’s limited to HD content, this thing delivers essentially the same great watching experience that we loved on the original.
I’m not going to bore you with the typical design section, because the Chromecast with Google TV (HD) is incredibly straightforward and almost a carbon copy of its predecessor. There’s the Chromecast itself which plugs directly into your TV via HDMI, a separate remote with a built-in mic and Google Assistant button for voice controls and a power adapter with a USB cable that you can use in case your TV can’t supply enough juice using only HDMI.
Setup is incredibly straightforward too. Thanks to an update in Android 12 for TV (which comes pre-installed), there’s a new sign-on process that works by using your phone to scan a QR code in the Google Home app. This cuts out the tedium of having to enter your credentials, connect to WiFi and so on. Though, if you’d like to do things manually, that’s still an option too.
Once the Chromecast is up and running, you can log into your favorite streaming apps as normal and then dive into some of the more advanced settings like HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) which allows the Chromecast to do stuff like automatically turn on when you fire up your TV. You can also use Google’s controller pairing setting to program the Chromecast’s remote to mirror important functions like adjusting the volume or switching inputs. That means if you’re like me and you have a relatively simple setup, you might even be able to stash your TV’s remote in a drawer and rely completely on the Chromecast, which is a great way to cut down on clutter.
The streaming experience
When it comes to finding something to watch, things couldn’t be simpler. There’s a dedicated row across that top that makes it easy to find shows, movies, apps and purchased content, along with a Live tab that works with a handful of streaming TV services (YouTube TV, Pluto TV, Sling TV, Philo), so you can jump into currently airing program straight from the main home screen.
Naturally, as this model is focused on 1080p content, you won’t get support for 4K videos. But even with the HD model’s relatively lightweight specs (just 1.5GB of RAM with an Amlogic S805X2 chip), performance felt very similar to what you get on the original Chromecast with Google TV. Upon startup, there’s often a bit of lag as the dongle loads the OS and pulls down art for content recommendations. And if you pay attention, you might also notice some small hitches when you switch between apps or settings really quickly. But generally, things are smooth, especially during playback, which is when it really matters.
The other notable feature you won’t get on this new cheaper Chromecast is support for Dolby Vision. That said, this omission doesn’t feel like a huge deal as a lot of 1080p TVs (particularly older ones) can’t handle that anyway. At least there’s still support for HDR10.
Other new additions in Android 12 for TV
As the first device to feature Android 12 for TV pre-installed, the new Chromecast includes a number of handy quality-of-life improvements that will eventually make their way to other Google TV devices. These include the ability to adjust the text scaling (from 85 percent up to 130 percent), options for matching your content’s framerate (which is set to auto by default) and some additional surround sound controls. And just like Android 12 on phones, you’ll also get a little pop-up when the Chromecast activates its mic, so there’s no confusion about when it’s listening to you.
With the Chromecast with Google TV (HD), it’s clear the company didn’t try to do too much. And that’s totally OK, because the original blueprint works fine. It’s just tailored for 1080p screens here. You get the same great UI, a nifty compact remote that covers all the basics, and more than good enough performance — all for just $30. So if you’ve got an aging set or secondary display that could benefit from a modern streaming TV OS (and haven’t already invested in another streaming platforms), the Chromecast with Google TV (HD) is the watch buddy you need.