What is it and how does Android TV work

After retiring the far too meager Google TV, the Mountain View giant wanted to revive its image in the smart TV world with Android TV. Unveiled at Google I/O in 2014, the new small-screen platform developed and produced by Google relies on the Android operating system to overlay an interactive user interface on top of regular TV programming. Welcomed by both developers and manufacturers, it has free access to the Google Play Store and its many apps, is easy to use, can be controlled by voice and supports Google Cast.

In short, in fact, you can say that it is Android optimized for TV. As you surely already know, there are other smart platforms, such as Tizen OS, Amazon Fire TV and Roku TV,  that offer free access to apps, movies, TV series and music, but Android TV is currently one of the most popular, widely compatible with different models produced by Sony, Philips, Hisense or Sharp. Not only that, it has peculiar features that distinguish it from the competition, and that we are now going to discover together.

Android TV: what is it

Android TV has been available since 2014, but thanks to the network connection it is constantly updated with new features and optimized to work best with the latest generation TVs. Google designed it with the specific intent of transporting everything we like about Android on mobile devices to the screen of smart TVs. Of course, this doesn't mean that we'll be able to use our TVs for emails, WhatsApp conversations and calls, but it does mean that we'll be able to use the remote control for easier navigation, greater interaction and a gigantic world of entertainment. Without having to buy an expensive modern smart TV.

So it's about making the TV "smarter", at a much lower price, with a recognizable and easy to use interface based on the cards. Un modo economico per accedere immediatamente a tutte le bellezze tecnologiche delle smart TV, semplicemente passando per un decoder Android da collegare al televisore tramite cavo HDMI e alla rete Wi-Fi.

Per utilizzare Android TV è di conseguenza necessaria una connessione a Internet piuttosto rapida sul fronte download, per goderci tutti quei contenuti che in caso contrario troveremmo solo su smart TV, computer, smartphone o tablet, e che spaziano tra informazioni meteo, film e addirittura videogame. In aggiunta, bisogna pure procedere all’acquisto di Android TV Box, un dispositivo esterno che fa da “tramite" e il cui costo parte da 21 euro, dipende comunque dai modelli in commercio. Configurarlo è facilissimo:

  • colleghiamo Android TV Box alla televisione tramite cavo HDMI, introducendo entrambe le estremità del cavo nelle porte;
  • impostiamo il segnale della TV su HDMI 1 o su HDMI 2, a seconda dell’entrata scelta;
  • colleghiamo Android TV Box alla corrente e mettiamola in funzione;
  • registriamo la rete Wi-Fi, collegando il dispositivo ad Internet accedendo alle sue Impostazioni, e selezionando quelle specifiche per la connessione di rete;
  • selezioniamo la nostra linea e digitiamo la password del router o modem;
  • per avviare il dispositivo dovete necessariamente disporre di un account Google, o crearne uno al momento, utile ad accedere a YouTube, Google Play Store e Google Play Giochi

Se fatto tutto nel mondo giusto, Android TV girerà alla perfezione sulla nostra TV, e potremo subito scaricare app, guardare film e serie, ascoltare la nostra musica preferita, e impegnare i polpastrelli con qualche simpatico videogioco. These are all features that we can enjoy through a familiar interface, which is based on tabs just like on cell phones. In January 2021, Big G has also published an important and massive update of the Android TV user interface, which includes a new simplified search function, a redesigned home page, able to show much more recommended content, and an app bar that allows access to all the apps we have downloaded on our smart TV. Just a few months earlier, Google had introduced compatibility with the Chinese app TikTok.

How Android TV Works

How Android TV Works

Having established what Android TV is and what it's for, it's a good idea to go and understand how it works. We'll do this by examining in detail all of its options, some particularly used and others less known, but equally useful to get the most out of the Google platform and our smart TV. In fact, the American company has thought of everything to make the user experience on the small screen almost similar to that proposed on the touchscreen, with small and large touches that show how much we have learned from the mistakes made with the previous Google TV. Among the features under review, recommended content shows on the home page movies and TV series similar to those we are used to watching.

This is because Android TV continuously analyzes our viewings, to offer us entertainment in line with our tastes. There's also the so-called universal search, where you can use the search bar on the Android TV interface or the voice search button on the remote control to find content and apps. Just enter the keyword and the Google platform will search for us among various services, including Netflix, Hulu or Google Play, to let us choose between those that suit us, or more convenient, if they are paid.

Not only that, as already mentioned, the "portfolio" of Android TV is enriched with native support for Google Cast: this feature allows you to play with a simple click content from PC or notebook on our smart TV, without any need for a physical connection. Instead of performing a long search by name, we can also use voice search with the remote control, integrated precisely in the remote control of the platform made in Mountain View, saving time and unnecessary effort. There is also no shortage of built-in Google Assistant, which was introduced among the possibilities of Android TV in 2017.

The functions available to users are exactly the same as we find on Google Home and any high-end Android smartphone. The assistant, like its competitors Siri and Cortana do, performs several tasks, such as reminding us of our commitments, managing our calendar or answering questions of common interest.

If the titles on consoles and PCs, but also Google Stadia,  are definitely more sophisticated and in step with the times, even on Android TV it is possible to dabble with some work in pixels and polygons, to be put on download directly from the Google Play Store. As on Android smartphones, some games are free, with in-app purchases, while others must be purchased. The option is particularly appreciable, in the face of what is, as of now, a catalog of video games superior to any other TV operating system.

To close, with the Android TV device we can find various interesting information about the cast and production of TV series and feature films: if, for example, we are watching a show with Norman Reedus, the integrated search will tell us in which other title we can see him acting, providing us with his complete filmography; clicking on the icon of a series, instead, we can know where to watch it and read information about the complete cast, as well as details and trivia about its production.

Android TV: apps and compatible devices

With Android TV, we can also access a wide selection of applications, to be downloaded directly from the Google Play Store through our personal Google account. Among these there are of course the most popular streaming platforms used by fans, such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Infinity or NowTV. Of course, each of these requires a paid subscription. Similarly, you can install apps such as Mediaset Play or RaiPlay, thanks to which you have access to a large free catalog of programs, movies, TV series and dramas, and live broadcasts on the various channels of the two companies.

You can also find applications closely related to information and disclosure, alongside thematic channels such as ABC News. On the virtual shelves of the Google Play Store, as if that weren't enough, there are apps for music, Spotify being the most popular, and for videos, led by YouTube, and popular games such as Minecraft and a few classic chapters of Final Fantasy, along with milestones such as Tetris or Pac-Man. Without forgetting the many puzzle games, racing, shooters, brawls, RPGs and adventures that populate the digital store of the Android home.

Turning to devices compatible with Android TV and Android OS, the list is composed first of all of many TVs branded Sony, Philips and Sharp, but also Cello and Hisense. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung, have chosen to use their own OS, while others rely on third-party OS. Similarly, Android TV is not identical on all smart TVs for sale, as each company can intervene on the code to better adapt it to their devices, adding custom settings and additional features, perhaps exclusively. Alternative ways to use Google's platform are Nvidia Shield TV Pro, Xiaomi's Mi Box S and Google Chromecast, a miniature device that, once connected to the TV with an HDMI cable, gives us access to the Android TV world.