You have to give Google props—the company isn't a quitter when it comes to powering smart TVs. The first two platforms it pushed out, Google TV and Android TV, never gained much traction with TV makers, but now the company is back with Google Cast, which works a lot like the company's inexpensive Chromecast streaming media player.
Several TV makers have signed on. Vizio is already using Google Cast for "SmartCast" TVs in its P-, M-, and E-series televisions. And other companies—Magnavox, Philips, Polaroid, and Westinghouse—have announced that some of their sets will be outfitted with Google Cast later in 2016.
Recently, we reviewed the 65-inch Vizio P65-C1 SmartCast TV and we think it would take some viewers time to get used to Google Cast. That's mainly because there's no onscreen menu or streaming apps on the TV itself. Instead, you control the TV through the SmartCast app, loaded on the tablet that comes included, or with your own phone or laptop. The set also comes with a rudimentary remote control that you can use for basic functions.
One advantage we found is that there are already hundreds of Cast-enabled apps, which provide more content choices than you get with most proprietary TV-based streaming platforms. And we expect Google Cast to get more frequent updates and improvements than most systems built by single TV makers such as Samsung or LG.
But there's also a disadvantage: While you can access Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube through Google Cast, right now it doesn't directly support Amazon or Apple iTunes.
Using Google Cast on a Vizio Set
Google Cast works differently from the screen mirroring many people are familiar with, where content is pulled from the cloud by the mobile device and then sent to the TV wirelessly. With Google Cast the mobile device is only used to access the app. Once you choose your show, the content goes from the cloud directly to the TV, freeing up your phone for other uses.
We found a few bugs in the service on the P65 model we tested. The connection between the tablet and TV wasn't always consistent, and sometimes a streaming service would get hung up and need to be rebooted. And at times the TV's response lagged behind commands entered in Vizio's SmartCast app by a few seconds or more.
It was also a bit disconcerting to look at the tablet instead of the screen during setup and calibration. That may not matter to many consumers. But if you're used to navigating a remote control's buttons by touch without taking your eyes off the screen, you may not like using the app. We found ourselves resorting to the simple remote control that comes with the TV in order to do basic things such as adjusting the volume or changing channels.
But we preferred the app for many functions. It was easy to search for content and to switch among different services. And the app was very easy to use for typing in searches or signing into a streaming service—those can be annoying tasks with other systems, where you have to use a remote to control a keyboard on a television screen.
Whether Google Cast is a better option than a conventional smart TV platform depends on who is using it. If you only have one or two streaming services and prefer a conventional remote control, it's probably not the best option.
But if you're already regularly using a phone or tablet as a remote, or are used to streaming content on a tablet or Chromecast device, Google Cast may be a good choice. We'll be testing more TVs with this platform in the months ahead, and look forward to reporting on how well it's implemented by different manufacturers.
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