After months of rumors, the Chromecast with Google TV HD has arrived, giving you access to Google’s slick streaming TV system for $30.
That’s $20 less than the existing model (now dubbed the Chromecast with Google TV 4K), with the new device’s biggest trade-offs being a maximum resolution of 1080p, no Dolby Vision support, and no Atmos decoding. The two streaming dongles otherwise look identical, and even ship with the exact same remote control.
While 4K has become the standard resolution for most new TVs, plenty of folks still have older HD sets that might benefit from a plug-in streaming device, either because their smart TV software is horribly outdated, or because they have no smarts at all. With Roku and Amazon both charging $30 for their Roku Express and Fire TV Stick Lite dongles respectively, Google finally has a budget HD video model to match (and with a better remote to boot).
Chromecast with Google TV: HD vs. 4K
Just like the 4K model, the Chromecast with Google TV HD plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, providing its own menu system for accessing services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Its diminutive remote has a directional pad; home and back buttons; Google Assistant voice controls; shortcut buttons for Netflix and YouTube; and controls for TV volume, power, and input. That last point is notable because neither Roku nor Amazon offer TV controls on their own $30 streamers.
The menu system is the same as well, with an emphasis on content over apps. While you can launch straight into Netflix and other services, Google TV’s home screen has its own recommendations on what to watch. It also lets you add shows into a unified watchlist, and it has a “Continue Watching” row to help pick up where you left off from various services.
Jared Newman / Foundry
So how exactly is the HD model different from its pricier sibling? A handful of ways:
It has a maximum resolution of 1080p at 60 frames per second.
It doesn’t support Dolby Vision HDR (though HDR, HDR10+, and HLG are supported).
It doesn’t support Dolby Atmos audio decoding (though Atmos passthrough is supported for apps that allow it).
It only comes in white, so no “Sunrise” pink or “Sky” blue.
The dongle has an “HD” engraved on the back, to help distinguish it from the 4K version.
Only the new HD model supports the AV1 codec, which might allow services such as Netflix to consume less bandwidth while streaming.
Keep in mind also that the Chromecast with Google TV 4K frequently goes on sale for $40. We’ll have to see if the HD model gets its own discounts to keep pace with the likes of Roku and Amazon, whose own streamers often sell for less than the sticker price.
Chromecast is dead, long live Chromecast
The launch of the Chromecast with Google TV marks the end of the road for Google’s classic Chromecast dongles, which didn’t come with a remote and required you to launch videos through streaming apps on your smartphone or tablet. Google says it will only continue to sell the old Chromecast while supplies last.
Unless you see deep discounts on those older Chromecasts, you’re better off opting for the new version, which costs the same at $30 and offers a proper remote and on-screen menu system. Just like the classic Chromecast, the new model still supports casting, so you can use your phone as the remote if that’s your preference.
Exclusively offloading the controls to your phone was a brilliant idea back when streaming players and smart TVs were slow and clunky. These days, even the cheapest streaming devices feel fast and fluid—Google’s own recent performance improvements have helped on that front—so at last it’s time to move on.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.