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Review: Google Chromecast 2020 – Make your TV screen smarter

Review: Google Chromecast 2020 - This Chromecast really scores when it comes to supporting video and audio standards.

The new Chromecast, Google Chromecast 2020, is very different from previous editions of the Google adapter. For the first time, it comes with a full version of Android TV, turning the new Chromecast into a full-fledged media player and more. It is exactly what you need to make a TV without smart functions smart. And it doesn’t cost much.

Google Chromecast 2020

When you get your hands on the Google Chromecast 2020 adapter, you don’t immediately think, “Hey, this is a tough rival to an Apple TV or an nVidia Shield. ” After all, it is still a compact device the size of a hockey puck, with a very short HDMI cable attached to it. Just small enough to hide at the back of your television without being noticeable, even if your TV set is mounted tightly against the wall. Still, this is a completely different device from the Chromecast Ultra. With that older adapter you can ‘only’ cast video from a mobile device, which is actually very handy.

With the Google Chromecast 2020 you can of course still cast, but it doesn’t stop there. The adapter runs a full but modified version of Android TV, which is therefore called ‘Google TV’. So if you choose the HDMI input on which the Chromecast hangs, you will see a smart TV interface with apps. Apps from streaming services, for example, but also games and other applications can be installed. However, the core of the experience is focused on finding ‘content’: movies, TV series, videos and also music. That extra search and aggregation function is immediately the main difference with the Android TV that we know from Philips and Sony televisions. The Google Chromecast with Google TV sends out 4K, in theory up to 60 fps, and has wide support for HDR standards, including HDR10 + and Dolby Vision. On the audio side you can count on Dolby Atmos (based on Digital Plus).

Where can you buy it?

The Chromecast with Google TV is brand new and is not yet officially distributed by Google in the Benelux. However, it is possible to purchase it anyway through international retailers. For example, we found the device via the webshop of the Fnac chain that is active in Belgium, probably because the parent company originates from France and is the logistics hub there. The store asks the correct price of 70 euros for the adapter, but online we also find retailers that ask much more (up to 130 euros). Prices will probably stabilize as soon as more parties offer the Google Chromecast 2020. Who knows, maybe Google will ever sell the device to us at a price point closer to the US retail price of $ 50?

Supplied adapter is required

Although the box of the Google Chromecast 2020 remains very compact, it contains more than with the previous editions of the adapter. The most striking addition is the small remote that Google provides, but the adapter is equally important. Where you could still supply the old Full HD adapter with power via an unused USB port on your TV or AV receiver, that probably won’t work with this newcomer. Due to the consumption of 7.5 Watts, the Chromecast with Google TV requires its own supplied adapter, which you connect via a long USB-C to USB-C cable. The use seems to be a real obligation, because if we connect the device to a USB port of a Denon AVC-A110 (good for 1.5A and therefore able to support 7.5W), the Chromecast gets stuck at a error message.

Review: Google Chromecast (2020) - Make your TV screen smarter with Google TV

A short HDMI cable dangles from the device that you plug into a free HDMI port on your television. You could of course also connect it to a soundbar or an AV receiver. In principle, connecting the adapter to the network is done via WiFi. Unlike the Chromecast Ultra, there is no option to connect an Ethernet cable to the included adapter. It is possible, but then you have to look for the optional Chromecast adapter with Ethernet that Google is going to release.

Review: Google Chromecast (2020) - Make your TV screen smarter with Google TV

Set up in many steps

Setting up the Google Chromecast 2020 is not difficult in itself. You do need some time, because there are quite a few steps to go through and there is a good chance that the Chromecast will have to download a system update. The final installation of apps such as Netflix and YouTube also took us five minutes. This is not a disaster, but the first time you use it you should not count on a plug ‘n’ play experience.

 

Review: Google Chromecast (2020) - Make your TV screen smarter with Google TV

The installation process also takes a little longer as you have to switch between steps on the TV screen and the Google Home app on your mobile device. That may seem unnecessarily complex, but it makes connecting to the wireless network very easy. You can also quickly link the Chromecast to your Google account and Google Assistant.

Review: Google Chromecast (2020) - Make your TV screen smarter with Google TV

 

Ready for 4K

Officially, the Chromecast supports 4K resolutions. Initially we always had some problems with this – but that was really up to us. Hanging on to a brand new Denon receiver that is 8K ready and had no problems with other 4K sources, the Chromecast, for example, decided to always return to 1080p60. If we manually chose 4K30 or 4K25, we still noted some downtime. Strange, because the connection between receiver and TV is via an optical HDMI cable that can easily transport such a signal. So we decided to connect the Chromecast directly to the Sony KD-65AF9, which worked better. But the option 4K60 was not present. In the end it turned out to be the fact that the HDMI input used was not set to an extended profile. Well, of course you also have to think about the settings on your TV ..

 

With support for 4K60 and a dedicated game mode, the Chromecast with Google TV clearly targets gamers. Not surprising, given that Google gives this a priority with the Stadia service, among other things. However, Stadia is not yet available in our region via this Chromecast.

Good integration

Nobody wants a coffee table full of remote controls. Google has therefore provided the necessary integration options so that you do not always have to switch from remote to remote. There is quite a bit of flexibility provided, because both HDMI-CEC and infrared are supported by the Chromecast remote. The CEC option means that you may just be able to control the volume and turn on / off a device with the Chromecast remote control. It is a compact thing made of plastic that does not seem extremely durable now, but is pleasant to hold. You operate everything smoothly via the large four-way button, and the shortcuts to Netflix, YouTube and voice control are useful. However, those volume keys on the side are really strikingly small and weirdly positioned.

To provide maximum compatibility, you must go through a step-by-step plan during setup (or later, via the settings) to identify the device on which the Google device is attached. You can then also operate a device via infrared. Step one and two indicate which appliance you have at home and which brand it is. Fortunately, Google also thought of less conventional scenarios, because in addition to televisions, you can also choose AV receivers and sound bars as a category. Phew, we also find fewer mainstream options in the list of brands. For example, with AV receivers you can find Linn, McIntosh, NAD and Rotel in addition to A-brands such as Denon and Yamaha. Even when it comes to televisions, you are not limited to the four or five big names.

Then you go through a number of tests to discover whether you can adjust the volume, switch the device on / off and possibly whether you can also change the input. The latter is useful with devices with multiple inputs, such as an AV receiver. If we set up the Chromecast with a Denon AVC-A110 (which runs the same software as Denon receivers from 2019 and 2020), we immediately managed to configure the volume and power controls. However, it was not possible to change inputs, despite the three different codes that the Google roadmap let us try. Then we set up the remote for a Sony KD-65AF9, and that immediately worked for all three functions.

Setting up the remote to work with your TV is not an obligation, but it is a handy option. Especially if you are only going to watch via the Chromecast with Google TV. You do not have to reach for that large TV remote, just keep using the small and simple Google zapper. If you are looking for another option: the Android TV remote app (Android and iOS) also works with this Chromecast.

Uncomplicated presentation

We have had an nVidia Shield in use for years and the current television in the test room is a Sony KD-65AF9. As a result, we are familiar with Android TV and we immediately recognize the interface that the Chromecast conjures up on the screen. At the top there is a modest strip with the options Search, Home, Apps and Library. Installed apps appear on the Home screen in a horizontal strip below, with additional strips below that show content suggestions per app. Not every app conjures up such a content strip, only if the app developer has provided it (and you are logged in). Initially there is not much here, but as soon as you install apps, the main screen fills up and you have to scroll down. ‘Library’ shows content that you have purchased (from Google) or movies that you have selected on your watch list in the Google TV interface. Unfortunately, the items that you have ticked in the Netflix app will not appear here.

At the same time, Google TV is also different from the classic Android TV, especially compared to the interface of the Sony TV, which is supplemented with all kinds of extras. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Android One experience: it remains Android, but very frugal and to the point. Google TV also gives that first frilly impression. As mentioned, it will change if you start to install more apps and strips appear with content suggestions. You will also see shortcuts to videos you haven’t watched yet.

Despite the extra elements that appear after a while, Google TV remains sleek and crisp overall, and that’s a good thing. The best smart TV interfaces (think of Tizen and WebOS, but also Apple TV) are, in our opinion, the ones that you lose the least time when you are looking for viewing food.

Initially, you may install apps from streaming services with Google TV, which is also made easy for you during the initial installation of the adapter. Since it concerns Android apps, you may quickly find everything you can already install on your smartphone or tablet. Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Video, Google Movies are already offered during installation, but after that you can easily install additional apps via the Apps option at the top of the screen. Logging in to individual apps is different each time. Most app developers have a system that requires you to surf to a specific URL to enter a code.

Some apps do, some don’t

Most apps that are locally relevant are available for the Chromecast with Google TV. For example, in Belgium you can install VTM Go, Streamz, TV Vlaanderen and Yugo, but not ProximusPickx. Since the VRT streaming is completely web-based and no Chrome can be installed on the Chromecast, you cannot in principle take advantage of VRT NOW. Unless you install the Kodi app, you can do it via a plugin.

The Dutch can also install most local apps, but not all. Ziggo Go and Pathé, for example, not, Videoland, NLZIET and NPO are. Incidentally, we found it more convenient to search and install the app via the Play Store on a laptop than via the App search function on the Chromecast itself, but that is a personal preference.

We also read online that a lot of people have managed to sideload unsupported apps on the adapter, including Google Stadia and the Xbox app. This allows you to stream games to your TV screen without having to connect a PC or console. You can quickly connect the required Bluetooth controller via the settings.

It is a bit of a struggle to see how many apps you can apply. The Chromecast has 8 GB of storage space, which is not very much now. Fortunately, streaming apps are usually not very big. The rest of the Chromecast hardware (an Amlogic S905D3 1.9 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A55 processor and a Mali-G31 MP2 GPU, with 2 GB RAM) can also be called rather low-end – and you sometimes notice that . A cold start of the adapter really takes a while. Even if the interface is showing on the screen, you have to wait a few seconds at launch for it to become really responsive. Sometimes you also have that if you switch from app to app a lot. At most times, however, the Chromecast responds smoothly.

Smart search

Do you know this? You want to watch a movie, but you’re not sure which streaming service you can find it on. And before you know it, you have rented it through one service while it can also be viewed ‘for free’ via Netflix. The handy search function in Google TV prevents this. If you choose ‘search’ in the main screen or the Google Assistant button on the remote, you can say a title of a movie. You will then – in addition to a spoken and completely unnecessary short summary from Wikipedia – all information about that film with an overview of where you can watch it. Google is surprisingly honest about that.

Most of the time, this feature worked quite well, except for a few misses. We only got ‘Aquaman’ as a rental / purchase film at Google Movies, while it can also be found on Netflix. But only very recently; maybe that’s why it didn’t show up. It is nice that you can also search further on this overview page via photos of the cast and similar content is offered.

The speech recognition that you activate by pressing a button on the remote works excellently. The box shouldn’t even point you to your mouth, even if it’s in your hand and facing the TV, it hears your voice clearly. That is to say, what we said was usually recognized correctly. Even if we mixed Dutch and English, which you have to do more often with content. At “Play Star Trek Discovery”, for example. But that command did not produce the result we wanted. We would have been happy if we were taken to the ST: D screen in Netflix and even happier if it just started playing right away. But instead we got the error message ‘nothing found on Netflix’ and a list of relevant videos on YouTube, including the series trailer and interviews. We asked very dry “Space Force”, then we get served the Google TV overview page of the series, with the button ‘Watch now’. It’s a bit disappointing that you can’t just say “Watch now”, but you really have to click on it. Also commands that work in the car with Android Auto do not work here. For example, “Play Lady Gaga with Spotify” doesn’t work (just “Lady Gaga” only returns search results from A Star is Born and YouTube videos).

In this way we can outline a few more cases where things did not go quite as expected. Voice control still remains a gimmick in our opinion, but overall, the user experience with Google TV via the remote is very slick and intuitive. You really do feel like you have access to an immense number of movies and more in one place. The fact that some things were not entirely successful, may also have been due to the fact that the Chromecast with Google TV was not officially launched with us.

Atmos

Google promises Dolby Atmos support on the Google Chromecast 2020 with Google TV – and that’s exactly what you get. We check on the basis of the information that our Denon AV receiver indicates about the input signal. Through Netflix, Disney + and Amazon Prime Video (well, the Atmos offering in our region is limited to ‘Jack Ryan’ and ‘Carnival Row’) we get content with Dolby Atmos audio. And what if you view your own files, for example via the VLC app? Even then, movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks play smoothly, provided it is embedded in Dolby Digital Plus. This is usually the case, but you can also find (gigantic) files online that contain Dolby TrueHD with Atmos metadata. There is no sound with this one. We are a bit surprised that content with DTS and DTS: X tracks also play perfectly, that is not stated in the specs.

Google Chromecast 2020 – Conclusion

The Chromecast with Google TV costs about seventy euros. That is not an immense amount to give your television a fully smart TV system. It is especially interesting if you have an older television set with no or an outdated smart TV platform and if you don’t feel like keeping a mobile device at hand all the time. After all, that is the main difference between the regular Chromecast and this version: once it works, you can really do everything with the included remote. You don’t have to reach for your smartphone to look for new viewing food. Your TV evening takes place entirely on the TV.

Given its modest price, Google Chromecast 2020 really scores when it comes to supporting video and audio standards. With HDR10, Dolby Vision and HDR10 +, the most important HDR standards are covered, and you can count on Dolby Atmos soundtrack versions with (certain) content.

Cons of Google Chromecast 2020

  •  Power supply via adapter required
  •  The start-up takes a bit longer, sometimes slow

Pros of Google Chromecast 2020

  •  Fair price
  •  Fully smart TV platform
  •  Good support 4K, and HDR and audio standards
  •  Many (but not all) streaming apps

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