In a bit of an odd move, Google has formally announced the new Chromecast with Google TV HD and made it widely available today. Coming in at $29.99, this new Chromecast is more affordable than the existing Chromecast with Google TV and does a few things differently than its predecessor. Overall, the storyline for this device comes down to price, and $29.99 is a decent one to start with. In the end, however, I’m still left a bit puzzled with this release.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. This new HD Chromecast outputs a 1080p signal versus the previous (and still available) Chromecast with Google TV’s 4K output. It has a bit less RAM at 1.5GB versus the original’s 2GB and the storage stays the same at a paltry 8GB. And the processor is a bit less capable than the 4K model as well. That’s a long list of downgrades, and as I’m writing this, you can get the first-gen version for $40-$50 at multiple retailers.
If you just look at the spec sheet, it is easy to dismiss this new version of Google’s Chromecast pretty quickly, but I’m still holding out hope that it will be a good fit for quite a few folks for a handful of reasons. There are upgrades with this device that need to be considered, so let’s talk through them before we dismiss this slightly-degraded Chromecast.
New OS version 12
First up, this new Chromecast is running Android/Google TV 12 out of the box. We’ll have our unit in-hand later today, but I doubt that will mean any significant differences in looks or UI. What it could mean is improved performance and a smoother experience across the board. That isn’t for sure just yet, but the existing Chromecast with Google TV is running Google TV 10, so this version is a full 2 years ahead of what we currently have on offer.
Better update abilities
While performance should be better – even with a less-capable processor and a bit less RAM – one part of Google TV 12 that is unquestionably better is the update process. With this version of the OS, Google can update it via storage partitions instead of relying on user-facing storage, and that means this Chromecast will actually be able to get bigger OS updates in the future, unlike the current 4K Chromecast that is still stuck on Android 10.
Though a bit less powerful, the new processor in the Chromecast with Google TV HD has a trick up its sleeve that the original cannot claim: AV1 decoding. AV1 is a newer codec that is more efficient with streaming high-quality video than the existing H.264 standard the original Chromecast relies on. As an example, YouTube has been pushing for this codec to be natively handled by hardware partners of late, so it really looks like AV1 could become the standard down the road.
Less resolution, more speed
Finally, this may not be a feature, but it will undoubtedly be an upside to Google’s decision to stick with an HD version of the Chromecast. No matter how you slice it, 4K is inherently more stressful on a processor than standard HD. We see it all the time with Chromebooks: when screen resolution goes up, performance goes down. It’s simple math and when you force the CPU to push around more pixels, every single task gets more intensive.
With a lower resolution, the new Chromecast will have far less overhead to manage with both the UI and video playback. And with many consumers still waiting to make the jump to 4K or not being too concerned with everything being as high-resolution as possible, 1080p could end up being enough for many of them for the next few years at least.
Still, the move to launch an affordable Chromecast with Google TV option a full 2 years after the original is strange. Had the two launched closer together, I’d get it. But in late 2022, I feel like we’re at the point where this device should be launching alongside an updated 4K Chromecast with more memory, a better CPU, and more RAM. Without that option, the lineup feels very out of sorts to me, and won’t make much sense until sale prices (which we know are coming) see this Chromecast with Google TV HD hitting sub-$20 price points.