Nvidia Shield and the surprising resurgence of Android TV

The situation for Android TV looked grim 15 months ago. Google had just released a new version of its Chromecast streaming dongle, which relies on a phone, tablet, or laptop to control what’s playing on the TV. At the time, Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president of product management, suggested that this mode of viewing was key to the future of television.

Meanwhile, Android TV, Google’s other operating system for televisions and set-top boxes, seemed lost. Google apps and features that had shipped on other platforms were no-shows on Android TV, and the company didn’t even bother announcing the retail launch of Xiaomi’s Mi Box, last year’s only new Android TV streaming box. While Android TV did make its way onto some smart TVs and non-U.S. cable boxes in 2016, the platform felt like an afterthought.

But at the start of 2017, Android TV is on the brink of revitalization. New streaming boxes such as the Nvidia Shield TV and AirTV are innovating on the hardware side, while the upcoming arrival of Google Assistant will add powerful new voice controls to the entire platform, making Android TV a key piece of Google’s overall strategy.

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For cord cutters, 2017 will be the year of the antenna

The timing seemed appropriate last Sunday when NBC blocked all online streaming services from showing the Golden Globe Awards. The broadcaster failed to secure those rights from the producer, so unless you had cable, the only way to watch the broadcast was through an antenna.

Just a few days earlier, the over-the-air antenna had become the unsung hero of CES, the tech industry’s annual mega trade show in Las Vegas. Tech companies large and small are now integrating antenna support into their products in fascinating new ways, having realized that even in the age of streaming video, this free source of broadcast TV should not be ignored.

Antenna on your own terms

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Should you cut the cable-TV cord in 2017? Our guide will help you decide

Dumping cable TV still isn’t for everyone, but it’s much more doable than it used to be. With Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now, you no longer need a cable box to get traditional cable channels. And if you want premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and Starz, you might not need a channel bundle at all. Meanwhile, streaming devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV have become faster and cheaper, making the switch from cable or satellite TV to streaming video even less painful.

So as we start the new year, the timing seemed right for another decision guide for cutting cable TV, updating the one I wrote two years ago. Here’s a breakdown of why you should—or shouldn’t—ditch cable in favor of streaming video services.

Do you watch a lot of cable channels?

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The 2016 cord-cutter awards

Cutting the cable TV cord was a lot more challenging when I started writing a column about it more than two years ago. Most decent streaming devices cost $100 or more, and there was no way to get certain channels such as ESPN, HBO, and the NFL Network without a cable or satellite TV hookup.

While last year was a major turning point for streaming video, this year brought even better hardware and new streaming services. As the year winds down, here’s a look back at the best developments in cord cutting in 2016:

Best new hardware: Roku Streaming Stick

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Hands-on with Sling TV DVR: A valuable work in progress

One of the big drawbacks with Sling TV, compared to a traditional cable bundle, is the lack of DVR. While many Sling channels have on-demand catalogs, you can’t always depend on them to offer programming that recently aired live.

Last week, Sling began testing a cloud DVR feature, which lets users access recorded programming from any device with the Sling TV app installed. It could be a major step forward for Sling, and an answer to rival streaming bundle PlayStation Vue, which has offered cloud DVR since its launch in 2015.

But after after spending some time with cloud DVR in Sling TV, it’s obvious why the feature launched as an invite-only beta. Right now, Sling TV’s DVR has a lot of missing features and rough edges. If Sling intends to charge for this service—which seems likely, at least in some capacity—it will need to make some improvements.

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The new Apple TV update is no friend to cord cutters

Apple TV received a major update this week, but cord cutters aren’t its target audience. The latest version of tvOS includes a new “TV” app that pulls together videos from across dozens of other video apps, including Hulu, ABC, and Comedy Central. Think of it as a modern take on the TV guide, letting you browse through movies and TV shows without having to bounce between apps.

Apple clearly sees the TV app as the interface of the future for Apple TV. But right now, it doesn’t support enough video sources, especially if you don’t have a cable TV login.

No free ride

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9 free 'round-the-clock streaming apps for low-effort TV watching

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime excel at delivering on-demand video, but sometimes you don’t want to pick from an endless list of movies and TV shows. You might not even care that much about what’s on, provided it’s palatable enough to play in the background while you’re doing other things.

For this type of lean-back, passive viewing, you’ll want a video app that has some kind of ‘round-the-clock streaming element, so you can start watching with minimal effort. These types of apps have become more commonplace over the last couple years, so there’s a good chance you’ll find a few that match your interests. Here’s a list of our favorites:

Pluto TV

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