Chromecast with Google TV HD review: Raising the bar

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Few things give me more pleasure than when inexpensive products look, feel and behave like they’re worth more than I paid for. So imagine my joy when I opened the entry level Chromecast with Google TV HD and found a sleek, oval-shaped player that’s indistinguishable, other than its white color, from its more expensive, 4K-capable sibling, the Chromecast with Google TV.

The similarities don’t end there. As the name suggests, the Chromecast with Google TV HD is capable of streaming at a maximum of 1080p resolution and did not Dolby Visionbut otherwise the player comes with almost all of the same features – including an identical remote control – as found on the 4K model. The result is an attractive, easy-to-use, full-fledged device that completely resets the bar for a budget-only HD-only streamer.

As

  • Full remote control
  • Excellent build quality
  • Fast performance
  • Google Assistant integration

Do not like

  • 4K streamers are just a bit more expensive
  • Cluttered home screen
  • Search results are flawed

That said, 4K streaming devices doesn’t cost much more than the Chromecast with Google TV HD and will work just as well on non-4K TVs. It means something like Roku 4K Streaming Stick, Express 4K Plus or the actual Chromecast 4K might be better value in the long run, even if you don’t currently have a 4K TV. If you decide to upgrade your TV in the future, then your streaming device will be able to unlock the better capabilities of this new TV and display content in the higher quality picture settings.

Game-changing remote control

Many entry-level streaming devices skimp on hardware features in order to undersell their players. For example, the remote that came with Roku’s entry-level streamer, the Roku-expresslacks voice control or the ability to adjust the volume, let alone be able to turn the TV On or off. This means that you need both the original TV remote control and the Roku remote control to operate this unit. Amazon Fire TV Lite isn’t much better. It offers Alexa support, so you can use your voice to control the TV, but it still lacks physical volume, mute and power buttons.

By offering the same remote control as the Chromecast with Google 4K, the HD model brings a whole new level of functionality to its inexpensive streaming device. Not only did it work seamlessly to control my 2020 Samsung TV’s power, volume, and inputs, it also comes with a button to access the Google Assistant. I can’t tell you how much of a game changer this is for me. I absolutely hate having to use more than one remote at a time – it’s cumbersome and I always find myself picking up the wrong one. The Chromecast with Google HD solves this problem by allowing me to use one small, easy-to-read remote.

Chromecast with Google TV HD alongside the 4K version.

The Chromecast with Google TV HD remote (right) is the same as the Chromecast with Google TV 4K remote.

Sarah Lord/CNET

The remote isn’t the only upgrade to this player. It has the ability to stream images and videos from Google Photos and take Google Meet video calls from your Apple or Android phone to your TV. It also retains the same plug-and-play design and is even made with 49% recycled plastic, according to Google.

But it’s also fast. netflix loads from the home screen in a second, just like Hulu. HBO Max took a little longer to load, at around 5 seconds. Navigating around the platform is also quite fast. I moved easily between apps and navigated the home screen with virtually no lag.

Google TV is cluttered and has questionable search capabilities

Other than its inability to stream in 4K HDR, the only thing slightly holding this device back is the Google TV platform itself. The top of the home screen is filled with five rotating slots of various show or movie suggestions, mixed with an advertisement for NBC’s Peacock service. Below that is a row filled with Top Picks for You, followed by all my downloaded apps. Scrolling down gives you popular movies and shows, dramas, another Peacock ad, and recommended YouTube videos. Listen, I know some people really like to see cross-app content this way, but I find it too cluttered and overwhelming. I much prefer the cleaner layout on Roku. I just want to be left alone so I can access my apps directly. And if I don’t know what to look at, I’ll go to the search bar and find something myself, thank you very much.

a screen with search results for the Britbox app.

Britbox app search generated YouTube videos.

Sarah Lord/CNET

Searching on the Chromecast with Google TV is also not as good as Roku’s. Trying to find and download the BritBox app was a lesson in futility. First, I used Google Assistant to search for “BritBox”. Instead of the app, I received a row of YouTube videos reviewing the service. Searching under the Applications tab at the top of the home screen yielded the same results. I tried again by physically typing “BritBox app” into the search bar, only to have Google Assistant tell me that it “isn’t available on this TV, but here are some other apps that are”. Of course, the first “companion app” was the one I was looking for all along. It’s currently uploaded to my home screen, but Google search still doesn’t find it when I ask for it. The whole process is ridiculous and not something I would expect from a device run by Google, but here we are. Needless to say, I found the app in two seconds on my Roku.

Searching for something to watch was less of a hassle, although it didn’t always give me the results I wanted. Asking for football gave me football-related YouTube videos and a few football movies, but no actual games. However, I was able to launch apps like Netflix, as well as find individual shows – such as The Case Against Adnan Syed – with ease.

Conclusion

Capture of the Google TV home screen.

Google TV’s home screen is a little too cluttered for my taste.

Sarah Lord/CNET

Platform and search issues aside, the Chromecast with Google TV HD is by far the best entry-level HD-only streaming device you can find. If you’re looking for a cheap streamer for your HDTV, this is the one for you.

As I mentioned up top, however, it might actually make more sense to spend a little extra cash and opt for a 4K streaming device instead. Our current favorites, the Roku Express 4K Plus or Dolby Vision-enabled Roku Streaming Stick 4K, tend to go on sale for under $30 over the holidays. So while Chromecast with Google TV HD is great, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on sales on 4K streamers instead.

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