Google Cast-enabled products
Google Cast, a platform that allows you to simply stream audio and video from one device to another on the same network without muddling through page after page of settings, is getting a name change.
Over the past few weeks, Google's been downplaying the Cast label for something that it hopes will resonate with consumers a bit more – "Chromecast built-in" – even going as far as changing the name on the Cast page.
But whether you've taken to calling these products Google Cast-enabled or Chromecast built-in, the category has grown from a niche convenience to an essential function in the last two years. In that time it's left the Google Chromecast where it was first developed and leapt to everything from TVs to stereo systems.
It's hard to imagine now, but back in those beginning days there were only four compatible apps: YouTube and Netflix were supported on Android, iOS, and Chrome web apps, while Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV were also supported, but only as Android apps.
But, today, there are well over a thousand supported apps, and the ecosystem shows no signs of slowing down. That's due, in part, to Google's recently introduced Google Cast for audio, a platform that embeds the same easy-to-use software found inside Chromecast in dozens of soundbars, speakers and a/v receivers from manufacturers like Sony, Vizio, LG and more.
But Google isn't done. Those aforementioned products will soon be joined by a lineup of TVs from Magnavox, Philips, Polaroid, Toshiba and Westinghouse, as well as Google's very own smart speaker that it's calling Google Home.
In order to properly welcome the these devices into the world we've rounded up the entire list of Google Cast-ready receivers from both past and future for your viewing pleasure.
Chromecast is the alpha and the omega when it comes to Google Cast. From this modest, miniature device came the big idea that standard Bluetooth wasn't enough. That it should only take one touch for media to go from on your little screen to your big one.
Google made a smart move by putting the new technology in this ubiquitous little streamer. By making the original Chromecast available for about the cost of a Blu-ray and refusing to change the cost when it released a sequel in 2015, Google practically ensured its success before it launched.
Google's engineering team didn't stop at the Chromecast, however. Taking the internal components of the streaming stick as well as its form factor the team created the Chromecast Audio, an audio-only version of the streaming device that works with most mobile devices.
Plug the device into a wall outlet via the included micro-USB cable, then connect to any speaker using a standard 3.5mm auxiliary cable and voila! Now you have a Google Cast-enabled speaker that can receive 24-bit audio files at a sampling rate of 96kHz.
Who says digital doesn't sound as good as analog?
New for 2016 is the 4K, HDR-enabled Chromecast Ultra. Capable of doing everything the original Chromcast can, the Chromecast Ultra offers anyone with a high-end TV some of their favorite sources of streaming video in Ultra HD.
While visually similar to the original puck-sized streamer, the Ultra is a bit faster thanks to an improved processor and offers a more stable streaming experience thanks to its built-in ethernet adapter. That being said, you'd want to pick up the Ultra if you're ready to jump into the Google Cast ecosphere of products and you've got a 4K-ready TV at your disposal.
In the "I want it so bad it hurts" category is the recently unveiled Google Home smart speaker that integrates a personal assistant into a powerful speaker. While it's pretty clearly a doppelgänger of the Amazon Echo, Google Home promises a bit better connectivity by natively pairing with Nest products and other Google Cast-enabled devices.
At Google I/O, it was Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, who gave us our first look at the device. "When I walk into my house, I want to be able to continue to have access to the Google Assistant. But I should be able to interact with it in a hands-free way simply using my voice without having to take out my phone," he said. "This is why we are creating Google Home, a device which will be available later this year."
"Later this year" can't come soon enough.
We'll be the first to admit, the Asus-made Nexus Player isn't perfect. It stumbled as the second Android TV device not because it wasn't good, but because it came in the wake of the already-great Chromecast.
It isn't all bad, though. Its icon-heavy interface is fun to use, as is its IMDB-based search function – it's practically like having Roger Ebert next to you on the couch. The cherry on top of the cake is a solid gaming controller that allows you to fully explore console-quality games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. It may not be the Nexus to entertainment Asus promised us, but it's a good first step.
The Nvidia Shield is like Chromecast in the sense that it's based on Android TV and has Google Cast built-in for movies and music, but it's different by virtue that it's primarily designed for the most hardcore of hardcore gamers.
How's Nvidia making that a reality? By combining a Tegra X1 processor with 256-core Maxwell GPU, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage with its Nvidia Grid game-streaming service that has over 40 PC-quality games available for free, the Nvidia Shield will pretty much be Android TV's proverbial heavy-weight champion of the world when it comes out in a few months.
Razer Forge TV
People often confuse the Razer Forge TV with the Nvidia Shield. If you're one of them, there's no reason to lose sleep over it. Any way you slice it you've got two great gaming platforms based on Android TV and come jampacked with beefy silicon that can play the latest and greatest games.
While Razer may not have Nvidia's sweet game-streaming service or 4K capabilities, it does have a similar way to let you stream games from your PC to anywhere in the house. On top of of that, though, you also have a slew of cool peripherals to play with like the Serval controller and Turret lapdesk that will take your game to a new level.
Sony Bravia TVs
Remember when every smart TV had its own platform? Sure some were better than others, but by and large the competition was always overshadowed by better, smarter over-the-top boxes. And while Sony could've continued trudging down that dangerous path, it decided to take the high road and let the fine people at Google's Android TV division handle it instead.
Every single model in the Sony's 2016 line of ultra-slim smart TVs will come loaded with Android TV, PlayStation Now and its sweet screen-sharing program, Google Cast.
Vizio SmartCast series of TVs
Starting today, the phrase "I can't afford a 4K, Google Cast-enabled TV" is no longer an acceptable excuse. Affordable, connected UHD TVs are finally here thanks to Vizio's latest E-Series line of displays. These TVs start at $299 and offer a 4K version of Google's Chromecast built straight into the TV.
If you want something a bit more premium, check out Vizio's P-Series, which comes in 50", 55", 65" and 75" variations, and also includes a 6-inch Android tablet that will allow you to stream content from apps like Amazon Instant Video, YouTube and Netflix on your mobile device directly to your big screen.
Vizio SmartCast Crave Multi-Room Speakers
But Vizio's TVs aren't the only products that the company has endowed with Google Cast capabilities: Its new SmartCast Crave speakers – the Crave 360 and Crave Pro – will both be compatible with Google's open streaming platform once they come to store shelves later this year.
The Crave 360, like the Amazon Echo, is a canister-shaped device that blasts sound in a 360-degree radius. The Crave Pro, on the other hand, is more akin to a Sonos Play:3 or Play:5, built with high-end audio playback in mind.
Both 2.1 system speakers will support multi-room playback and, of course, Google Cast.
LG Music Flow Wireless Speakers
Despite what this list might suggest, video isn't the only thing Google Cast is good at. Thanks to Google Cast for audio, we can now enjoy standalone speakers, soundbars and receivers that hook into our devices with one click of a button.
The LG Music Flow set of wireless audio components are the first official audio boxes on the planet to come with Google Cast built-in, which means it's the only system to work with seamlessly with Android devices to control music anywhere in the house.
LG may be the first, but it clearly wasn't the last company to unveil a line of Google Cast-enabled speakers. Back at CES 2015, Sony unveiled a plethora of connected devices from a/v receivers to sound bars that hook into the Android ecosphere.
What makes the Sony speakers a better bet than LG or Vizio's lineup is its ability to push Hi-Res audio (96kHz/24bit music) without running into a bottleneck. That said, if Sony can continue to infuse the simplicity of Google Cast with the clarity of Hi-Res audio at a price point people are willing to pay, it could be game, set and match for audiophiles.
Bang and Olufsen BeoSound 35
Following in the footsteps of LG and Sony, Bang and Olufsen has brought Google Cast to its all-in-one wireless music system.
At present Google Cast functionality is limited to the BeoSound 35 speaker and the BeoSound Essence music controller.
Bang and Olufsen also has its own BeoMusic app for controlling its devices as well as on-board integration of the major streaming apps such as Spotify and TuneIn.
Grace Digital CastDock
Billed as "the first speaker made exclusively for Google's Chromecast Audio device", Grace Digital's CastDock takes the guess work out of pairing a Chromecast Audio and a speaker, shipping a combined unit that's ready for streaming right out of the box.
The ingenious part of the CastDock is that, at its core, it's really just a Chromecast Audio attached to a standard speaker. The Audio is then hidden at the top of the speaker, making it feel like a single, platform-agnostic device instead of two separate ones.
The CastDock is available in the US through Best Buy or gracedigital.com for $150 (or around £115), and can be shipped to the UK.