Chromecast with Google TV HD Review: Raising the Bar

Chromecast with Google TV HD Review: Raising the Bar

Few things bring me more joy than when affordable products look, feel and act like they’re worth more than what I paid. So imagine my joy when I opened the entry-level Chromecast with Google TV HD and found an elegant, oval-shaped player that is indistinguishable, except for the white color, from its more expensive, 4K-capable sibling, Chromecast with Google TV.

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

As

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

Do not like

  • 4K streamers are only slightly more expensive
  • Cluttered home screen
  • The search results are crazy

That said, 4K power units doesn’t cost much more money than Chromecast with Google TV HD, and will work just as well on non-4K TVs. This means something like Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Express 4K Plus or the actual 4K Chromecast might be a 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, your streaming device will be able to unlock the best features of the new TV and display content in the higher quality picture settings.

Game-changing remote control

Many entry-level streaming devices skimp on hardware features to sell their players at a lower price. For example, the remote that comes with Roku’s entry-level streamer, the Roku Expresslacks voice control or the ability to adjust the volume, never mind being able to turn it on Television on or off. This means that you need both the original TV remote control and Roku the remote control to use that device. Amazon’s 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 Chromecast with Google 4K, the HD model brings a whole other level of functionality to its affordable streaming device. Not only did it work seamlessly to control my 2020 Samsung TV’s power, volume, and inputs, but it also comes with a button to access 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 making mistakes. Chromecast with Google HD solves this problem by letting me use just one, small, easy-to-read remote.

Chromecast with Google TV HD alongside the 4K version.

The remote control on Chromecast with Google TV HD (right) is identical to that found on Chromecast with Google TV 4K.

Sarah Lord/CNET

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

But it is also fast. Netflix loads from the home screen in a second, so does Hulu. HBO Max took a bit longer to load, around 5 seconds. Navigation around the platform is also quite smooth. I easily moved between apps and browsed the home screen with almost no lag.

Google TV is messy and has questionable search capabilities

Aside from its inability to stream in 4K HDR, the only thing holding this device back a bit is the Google TV platform itself. The top of the home screen is filled with five rotating slots of different show or movie suggestions, interspersed with an ad for NBC’s Peacock service. Below is a row filled with Top Picks for You, followed by all my downloaded apps. Scrolling down brings you popular movies and series, dramas, another Peacock ad, and recommended YouTube videos. Look, I know some people really love seeing content across apps this way, but I find it too cluttered and overwhelming. I prefer much cleaner layout on Roku. I just want to be alone so I can get straight to my apps. 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 search results screen for the Britbox app.

Searching for the Britbox app brought up YouTube videos.

Sarah Lord/CNET

The search on Chromecast with Google TV is also nowhere near as good as Roku’s. Attempting 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 got a series of YouTube videos reviewing the service. Searching under the Apps tab at the top of the home screen returned the same results. I tried again by physically typing “BritBox app” into the search bar, only to have Google Assistant tell me that it’s “not available on this TV, but here are some other apps that are.” Of course, the first “related app” was the one I had been looking for all along. It’s currently downloaded to my home screen, but Google search still won’t find it when I request it. The whole process is ridiculous and not something I’d expect from a Google-powered device, but here we are. Needless to say, I found the app in two seconds on my Roku.

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

Conclusion

An image of the Google TV home screen.

The Google TV home screen is a bit too cluttered for my taste.

Sarah Lord/CNET

Disagreements with platform and search aside, Chromecast with Google TV HD is the best HD-only streaming device you can find. If you’re looking for a cheap streamer for your HDTV, this is the one to get.

However, as I mentioned at the top, it might actually make more sense to spend a little extra money and opt for a 4K streaming device instead. Our current favorites, the Roku Express 4K Plus or the Dolby Vision-capable Roku Streaming Stick 4K, tend to sell for under $30 around the holidays. So while Chromecast with Google TV HD is great, it might be a good idea to keep an eye out for sales on 4K streamers instead.

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