In a bit of a strange move, Google formally announced the new Chromecast with Google TV HD and made it widely available today. This new Chromecast, which costs $29.99, 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 good one to start with. In the end, though, I’m still a bit confused with this release.
Let’s get the facts out of the way first. This new HD Chromecast outputs a 1080p signal compared to the previous (and still available) Chromecast with Google TV’s 4K output. It has slightly less RAM at 1.5 GB versus the 2 GB of the original and the storage remains the same at a paltry 8 GB. And the processor is also slightly less capable than the 4K model. That’s a long list of downgrades, and as I write this, you can get the first-generation version for $40-$50 at multiple retailers.
If you just look at the spec sheet, it’s easy to ignore this new version of Google’s Chromecast pretty quickly, but I’m still hopeful that it will be a good fit for quite a few people for a handful of reasons. There are upgrades with this device to consider, so let’s run through them before dismissing this slightly degraded Chromecast.
New OS version 12
First, this new Chromecast runs Android/Google TV 12 out of the box. We’ll have our unit in hand later today, but I doubt that will mean significant differences in appearance or user interface. What it could mean is improved performance and a smoother experience across the board. Not sure yet, but the existing Chromecast with Google TV runs Google TV 10, so this version is 2 years ahead of what we currently have to offer.
Better update capabilities
While performance should be better – even with a less capable processor and a bit less RAM – one part of Google TV 12 that is undoubtedly 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 can get bigger OS updates in the future, unlike the current 4K Chromecast that’s still stuck on Android. 10.
Although a little less powerful, the new processor in the Chromecast with Google TV HD has a trick up its sleeve that the original can’t claim: AV1 decoding. AV1 is a newer codec that is more efficient at streaming high-quality video than the existing H.264 standard that the original Chromecast relies on. For example, YouTube has insisted that this codec is handled natively by hardware partners lately, so it really looks like AV1 could become the standard in the future.
Less resolution, more speed
Finally, this may not be a feature, but it will undoubtedly benefit Google’s decision to stick with an HD version of the Chromecast. No matter how you slice it, 4K is inherently more taxing on a processor than standard HD. We see it all the time with Chromebooks: as the screen resolution goes up, the performance goes down. It’s simple math and forcing the CPU to push more pixels around makes each task more intensive.
With a lower resolution, the new Chromecast has much 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 worrying too much about getting everything as high as possible, 1080p could be enough for many of them at least for years to come.
Still, the move to launch an affordable Chromecast with Google TV option a full 2 years after the original is odd. If the two had launched closer together, I’d get it. But by the end of 2022, I feel like we’ve reached the point where this device should be launched alongside an updated 4K Chromecast with more memory, a better CPU, and more RAM. Without that option, the lineup feels very strange to me and won’t make much sense until retail prices (which we know are coming) see this Chromecast with Google TV HD hitting price points under $20.