What Is the Android TV Platform from Google?

Add apps to your Android TV device to expand your options

Woman using smart tv in living room

Maskot / Getty Images

Android TV is an Android-based operating system for TVs and related devices, such as streaming boxes and media players. It can be used on standalone devices like DVRs and game consoles, and it can be embedded in devices such as smart TVs. Android TV devices can stream videos and run games and other apps.

Android TV in a Nutshell

Android TV is Google's answer to multimedia and streaming boxes such as Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV (Android-based). Like many of these platforms, Android TV is on dedicated streaming devices and built into some TVs to provide smart TV functionality.

Sony Bravia TV with Android TV
Sony

Like other streaming boxes or smart TVs, Android TV connects to the internet and adds services and suggestions tailored to your preferences. There’s still an advantage to keeping a cable subscription because many cable channels make online streaming available to subscribers. That gives you a TV that can stream shows on-demand, stream other services like Netflix or Hulu, hold the library of movies you digitally purchased, and play Android games or use other apps, such as weather services or photo albums.

Android TV has one major advantage over other streaming boxes, Android. It's fairly simple for app developers to port apps to Android TV, setting them up for living room use. It's not only Google that noticed this advantage. When users root Amazon Fire TV sticks, they're probably looking to unlock more Android functionality.

Several major TV manufacturers currently offer 4K UHD Android TVs in the USA. 

Android TV Game Boxes and Set-Top Players

You don’t have to get a new TV to take advantage of the Android TV platform. You can also use standalone set-top devices, such as the Nvidia Shield and Xiaomi Mi Box, to have many of the same features. Both are capable of streaming at up to 4K resolution, provided you have a TV and the bandwidth to support it. 

Google Nexus player
Google

The Nvidia Shield or Xiaomi Mi Box may be a better choice since they cost less than a new TV and leave you free to upgrade and replace your TVs and players independently.

The Nvidia Shield also offers some exclusive titles and GeForce gaming, a streaming game subscription service.

Android TV Apps and Accessories

Just as Android phones can play apps, Android TVs can download and play apps from Google Play. Some apps are authored to run on multiple platforms from phone to TV, and some are specifically designed for TVs or game consoles. 

Apps for Android TV

These types of apps are designed for TVs and game consoles:

  • Casting: As with the Chromecast, cast shows from an Android phone or computer running the Chrome Web browser and Google Cast extension.
  • Voice Control: Control Android TVs using voice commands by pressing the Voice button on most remotes. This is similar to the Amazon Fire TV and other voice-controlled devices.
  • Remotes: The remotes for Android TV vary by manufacturer and go from something that looks like a traditional TV remote to a simplified touchpad with voice control. The remote for game boxes like the Nvidia Shield are game controllers that can be used to control TV viewing options. Or, skip the remote and use an app on your Android phone. Many TVs also offer an iOS version.
  • Accessories: Android TV allows for a lot of accessories, but the most commonly available accessories are cameras for video chat and games, alternate remote controls, and game controllers. A phone counts as an accessory since you can use it to control the Android TV, as does a laptop.

The Difference Between Android TV and Chromecast

Chromecast is an inexpensive streaming device that hooks directly into the HDMI port of a TV and streams content from either a smartphone or a laptop using the Chrome Google Cast extension. There’s also a Chromecast designed to stream music to a stereo system instead of video content to a TV.

Chromecast
Google

Android TV is a platform that can run multiple types of devices, including TVs, set-top players, and gaming consoles. Android TV provides the same casting ability as a Chromecast plus:

  • Storage space: Android TV devices have space to store apps and media. Many also allow you to expand the storage with USB hard drives.
  • Apps: Chromecast cannot run apps. It only streams content. Android TV runs apps you download from Google Play or other Android app stores.
  • Games: Games are a type of app and Android TV allows for a better game experience in more ways than an Android phone does, including game console remotes and multiplayer games.
  • Smart TV: Manufacturers are better able to make Android TV part of your regular TV watching experience with a remote that controls both Android TV and standard TV functions.
  • Video Chat: With a camera accessory or a TV with an embedded camera, use your TV for Google Hangouts and have a natural communication experience.
  • 4K Video: If you have a fast connection, stream 4K content on an Android TV. The Chromecast Ultra also supports 4K content.

Android TV Alternatives and Competitors

Android TV is not the established platform for all smart TVs as much as Google would like it to be. Competitors include Roku and Tizen, an open-source, Linux-based platform developed by contributions from Nokia, Samsung, and Intel. LG is reviving the old Palm WebOS platform as a smart TV platform. 

4th Generation Apple TV
Apple Inc

Apple TV and Amazon Fire aren't designed as open-source TV platforms, but they are competitors in the streaming TV market, and they both offer solutions that include apps, streaming video, and music.