What’s the Difference Between Chromecast and Android TV?

Android and Chromecast logos.

Google is not particularly known for its clear branding. This is certainly the case for Chromecast, Google Cast, and Android TV. These platforms have some overlapping functionality, but they are also quite different. Let’s take a look at each of them, so you can determine which one is right for you.

What is Chromecast?

A third generation Chromecast dongle.
A Google Chromecast dongle.

Chromecast is Google’s trademark for its line of streaming media dongles. These devices are small, affordable, and do not require a physical remote control to operate. They connect to TVs via HDMI and act as receivers when you stream content from other devices.

The latter is what really makes a Chromecast a Chromecast. When you plug a Chromecast dongle into your TV, there is no “home screen” or traditional interface. It’s a blank canvas waiting to receive content.

A Chromecast remote is your iPhone or Android device, tablet, or computer with the Chrome browser. Anytime you see the Chromecast icon (pictured below) in an app or website, just tap it. Select the device you want to stream to and your content will appear.

Tap the Chromecast icon.

You can stream videos, slideshows, music, or even mirror a screen. Streaming is enabled by a protocol called Google Cast. Not only can Google Cast stream video to a Chromecast dongle connected to a TV, it is also what sends music to a Google Nest speaker.

Google Cast is where things get a bit tricky. It just refers to the protocol (devices with the feature will say “Chromecast built-in”). Google Cast doesn’t matter for Chromecast devices, but it does come into play for Android TV.

The important thing to remember is that a Chromecast is a small device that only acts as a receiver for content from phones, tablets, and browsers.

What is Android TV?

Android TV is a version of the Android operating system for multimedia devices. It’s typically found on set-top devices, like the Nvidia Shield, which are larger than a Chromecast. However, Android TV can also be found in smaller Chromecast-type dongles or built-in on some TVs.

Unlike the Chromecast, Android TV devices come with physical remotes. Indeed, Android TV has a homepage, from which you can launch applications and games. It’s similar to what you see on a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Smart TV.

The home screen on an Android smart TV.
The home screen on an Android TV.

The easiest way to understand Android TV is to think of a smartphone. It has an app store, where you can download apps and games, a home screen for shortcuts, and a Settings menu.

RELATED: How to customize the Android TV home screen

Just like Android phones and tablets, Android TVs also include the Google Play Store. This allows you to easily install apps specially designed for Android TV set-top boxes. You can even install premium games that you can play with a controller.

The “Chromecast built-in” feature we mentioned earlier is what you’ll find on your Android TV. Although the primary method of interaction is the remote and the Home screen, you can also “stream” content to an Android TV. as you can with a Chromecast.

It’s entirely possible to use an Android TV just like you would with a Chromecast. Anything you can cast to a Chromecast, you can also cast to an Android TV. It can get a little strange though.

For example, when you stream a YouTube video, the YouTube app won’t open, but it will work exactly the same as in a Chromecast.

Even the Android TV backdrop (or screensaver) is the same one you see on a Chromecast. The main difference is that an Android TV has a full-fledged operating system behind the streaming functionality, which makes it a more powerful media device.

What is Android TV?

An Android TV decoder.
This is not what you want.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is a big difference between Android TV and old Android. There are inexpensive set-top boxes on the market with the same version of Android that works on phones.

This version has not been customized for a TV interface. Avoid these devices if you want a clean, hassle-free experience.

Which is the best for you?

Now that we’ve covered each option, you might be wondering which one is the best choice for you. It depends on several factors including how you interact with your TV, what you like to watch, and your budget.

Chromecasts are great for casual entertainment like watching YouTube videos, streaming Netflix or photo slideshows, etc. Many people use a Chromecast as a secondary input on their TV. If you mainly watch cable TV, a Chromecast is a cheap and easy way to add “smart” features.

Another advantage of Chromecast is group monitoring. Anyone connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast will be able to stream content to it. Apps like YouTube even include a “queue,” so multiple people can add videos to a group list and watch them together.

Someone who holds an Android TV remote control.
Syafiq Adnan / Shutterstock

This all also applies to Android TV. However, in addition to the built-in features of Chromecast, Android TV is a full-fledged operating system with its own interface. You don’t need to rely on a phone or tablet to use Android TV.

Android TV is also great for more relaxed viewing as you can easily browse the content with the remote control. It also makes Android TV better for streaming TV shows and movies. It is simply much easier to navigate a channel guide on a TV screen with a remote control.

Generally, Android TV devices are more powerful and feature rich. You can connect a controller and use it as a game console, connect an antenna and watch live channels live, side loading applications, customize the screen saver, and more.

The last thing to consider is the pricing. Chromecast are quite affordable. A the base model will cost you around $ 30, while a high-end version with 4K support costs around $ 70.

Android TV prices vary. There are some options for around $ 50, but the majority are high-end models which costs you around $ 200 or more. However, it’s worth it if you want a more complete “smart TV” experience.

Chromecast, on the other hand, is better if you just need it for secondary use. It depends on your current setup and what you expect from your internet connected TV.

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