When Google shut down Google TV back in 2014, Android TV quickly replaced the platform. So what is Android TV, why does it exist, and how do you use it?
What is Android TV?
Android TV is a customized version of the Android kernel tweaked to run on televisions and media devices. Even so, it has a lot in common with the Android operating systems on cell phones. Like cell phone Android and other TV operating systems, Android TV users download and install apps to expand the functionality of their media devices.
Why is Android TV useful?
The main appeal of Android TV is consistent, superior operation. When a TV manufacturer builds an operating system in house, the result can range from mediocre to non-functional. Some OEMs with operating system design experience, like Samsung, do a decent job. Other OEMs fail miserably. Poor operating systems are typically constrained by limited hardware and are often made worse by irregular updates before abandonment. Users can suffer for months with security vulnerabilities, buggy operation and limited feature sets.
With a third-party OS like Android TV, users get the benefit of an expertly-designed and regularly-maintained operating system. It’s sad that the bar for television and media center operating systems is so low, but that’s one of the reasons that third-party devices like Roku are so successful, even when most new TVs have their own “smart” functionality.
In addition to use in televisions, Android TV is also available on a separate, stand-alone device. The constraints imposed by limited built-in hardware allow for faster operation, smoother animations and a better user experience. This faster hardware also means better, more consistent support for high-resolution content, gaming and more.
You’ll also find advanced features backed by Android’s experience on mobile phones. Google Cast’s Chromecast functionality streams content from devices easily, and powerful voice recognition makes it easy to search across channels. Android TV also supports television gaming. Devices like the nVidia Shield and the Razer Forge TV can play Android games on a big screen with console controls.
Android TV Devices and Apps
While Android TV isn’t widespread, some OEMs have started using the OS on their devices. Sony uses Android TV on their BRAVIA line of televisions, and Sharp pre-installs Android TV on their AQUOS line. The standalone Mi Box can connect to any screen with an HDMI port, allowing any modern device to run the Android TV operating system. The nVidia Shield and Razer Forge TV work as media-centered and Android gaming platforms.
Android TV also has access to the Google Play store. Developers can make a few tweaks to their applications to get them to run well on Android TV. Users can also use the Google Play Store to purchase and rent movies and TV shows. Every major streaming provider has a native Android TV app to support the platform. And built-in Google Cast support makes it easy to cast content from any Android device to a system running Android TV.
Android TV is still gaining users, but it’s a powerful platform. At CES 2016, Google announced that many more vendors would be implementing Android TV, but we’re still waiting on that.