Fellow tech enthusiast and DC neighbor Joel Ward jumps back into his role as a Features contributor here at Zatz Not Funny. Beyond ZNF, Joel can be found at Joelsef Explains It All and @joelsef on Twitter.
I recently picked up a new Sony TV with Android TV for our living room. This television replaced a Sony LCD HDTV from the late 2000s. That set hails from an era when the majority of TVs were dumb — no built-in apps that today’s smart TVs feature. But I increased its intelligence by first adding a Windows Media Center PC back in 2009, then experimenting with Google TV, Boxee, Chromecast, and ultimately settling on Roku 3 as our over-the-top streamer.
We arrive in 2016 and it’s nearly impossible to find a decent television over 30″ without some sort of “smart” designation and apps aplenty. That’s why I decided to go with a Sony this time around. The last time we refreshed a TV (for a different room, back in 2013) we went with a Samsung and its Samsung Smart Hub. In the three years we’ve had that TV, Samsung has pared down the 2013 TV’s UI to the very basics and removed many of the original features. It still has apps, including Netflix and HBO, but it’s nothing like what Roku offers.
Our new Sony X800D series runs Android TV and Sony has Android TV across most of its television line now. Besides the Nvidia Shield and now defunct Google Nexus Player, Sony is the biggest player in Android TV at the moment, although Sharp and Philips have options as well.
The interface is very clean and modern. You can get Android TV compatible apps from the Google Play store. Since we picked up the set in July, many more apps have come online and for the most part are on par with what we use on Roku but the number of apps still doesn’t equal Roku’s catalog. For those apps without an Android TV version, you can use GoogleCast to beam content from your phone or PC, from apps with that feature of course. No separate ChromeCast necessary. Miracast/WiFi direct screen mirroring is built in as well.
The power of Google is the search, and this TV has Google powered text and voice search via a microphone in the remote. You can easily search the app store this way, and also search some app content from the home menu. More app developers need to integrate with this service. Another cool feature is the integration of the Channels app with other tuners like HDHomeRun and DirectTV. The HDHomeRun integration may work with the (still) upcoming HDHomeRun DVR too. The Channels app, and HDHomeRun’s native Android TV app, are a little clunky though.
The Live Channels app, another Google creation, is an attempt at combining live broadcast channels alongside streaming services “channels” for an integrated guide. It is a work in progress but the interface shows promise. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a Kodi app with many content options within the familiar if not dated interface. For HDHomeRun DVR integration that may work best.
The main complaint I’ve had has been the quirkiness of the TV. For the first few months some features didn’t work right, like GoogleCast. The TV rebooted itself a lot too. Recent updates have stabilized it, but this does make me nervous. When your smart TV might reboot itself on a whim, maybe a dumb TV is a better idea. That said, I have confidence this will not be an ongoing issue.
This new TV with Android TV built in has all but replaced the need to use an external streaming box like Roku in our living room. If the platform keeps expanding with new apps and integrations, I think Google finally has a chance to take over the living room.
- Familiar Android interface
- Google powered search
- Many apps ported to the Android TV interface
- GoogleCast built in
- Miracast/WiFi Direct screen mirroring
- Integration with 3rd party tuners like HDHomeRun and DirectTV
- The TV software has been quirky, though recent updates have stabilized it
- Not as many apps available as Roku, but Makes up for it with Google Cast support
- Android TV’s Channels app is still a little clunky