This story was updated September 28, 2020 by A/V Staff Writer Nick Woodard
We’ve been reporting on rumors surrounding Google’s next Chromecast device for several months, but now it looks like the streaming media player — known internally as “Sabrina” — will be announced on Wednesday, September 30, at a virtual event hosted by Google.
Earlier this month it was reported that the device could have an unexpectedly low price of between $50 and $60, according to information gathered by 9to5Google. Now, with reports that some retailer locations have already started selling this yet-to-be-named Google streaming device, we can all but confirm that the newest Chromecast will sell for $50. It will also have support for 4K and HDR, Dolby Atmos, and Dolby Vision, and will come with both a remote and an Android TV operating system.
What else can we expect Google to say about its next Chromecast device? Here’s the rundown.
Thanks to some recently leaked renders published by XDA Developers, we can say one thing is highly likely: The new Chromecast won’t be a set-top box like an Apple TV or Roku. Instead, it will stick with the tried-and-true HDMI dongle that Google has used for both of its existing Chromecast models. In case you’re wondering, the “Sabrina” text that accompanies the photos is believed to be Google’s codename for the device.
The shape and texture appear to have morphed, however, as we can see in these images. The new device is slightly elongated, losing the circular shape that we’ve become accustomed to. New colors will also be on tap if the images are accurate. Gone is the glossy piano black, replaced by matte versions in black, white, and what looks like a pinkish Barbie-like hue.
Control, but no remote
Chromecast devices work differently from all other media streamers in that they can’t really be used on their own. In order to view content via a Chromecast, a smartphone, tablet, or computer must connect to the Chromecast to initiate a media stream. From the user’s point of view, Chromecast devices don’t have an on-screen interface, and these streamers have never shipped with their own remote controls — the device that initiates the stream is the remote.
While that arrangement certainly simplifies things, it means that Google can’t use the Chromecast as a proper entertainment hub, with the ability to highlight specific apps, shows, movies, or music. And there’s no way to browse available content comfortably from your couch like you can with devices such as Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon’s Fire TV.
As convenient as Chromecast is, it’s an accessory, not a home to a suite of smart TV apps and services. But a Chromecast with Android TV (or Google TV as we’ll discuss in a moment) would be a completely different 8-foot experience and would definitely require a remote.
The leaks provided to XDA-Developers.com also included a video that is supposedly meant to get internal Googlers up to speed on the new product. That video provides confirmation that the new Chromecast will indeed have a remote this time and a really cool-looking one at that.
Notice the star key on the remote? It looks like that might be a programmable favorite button, letting users pick an instant-access option like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or possibly any other app they have installed.
But then again, this might not be the button configuration Google chooses for launch. Another leaked image, this time from WinFuture, shows a different version of the all-white remote. This one appears to ditch the star and play/pause buttons while adding dedicated buttons for Netflix and YouTube. We’re guessing you’ll be able to play/pause from the D-pad’s central button as this is consistent with how Nvidia’s first Shield TV remote worked.
According to the lucky few who have managed to purchase these unreleased new Chromecasts, the product does come with a remote. We don’t have the full functionality details yet, but these buyers have confirmed that this remote has volume up/down buttons on the side — very similar to Roku’s advanced remotes for the Streaming Stick+ and Roku Ultra.
Google #Chromecast with #GoogleTV (full Android TV)… got a bunch final product pics for you. Excuse the low res on some. The remote has _extra buttons_ for YouTube and NETFLIX! https://t.co/LffP1maxTV
— Roland Quandt (@rquandt) September 18, 2020
So why has Google never given Chromecast an actual operating system? After all, Google knows a thing or two about creating user interfaces — and its Android TV OS has been gradually evolving into a full-fledged competitor to Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Apple TV. It’s the built-in OS on Sony’s smart TVs, and you can also find it on models sold by Hisense, Philips, and Sharp.
For a short period between 2014 and 2016, Google did sell such a device: The Asus-built Nexus Player. It was the only Google-branded device to run Android TV. But despite a relatively competitive $100 price and good hardware specs, it was poorly received due to a lack of decent apps and no universal search. It offered an optional game controller, but very few of the Android games it supported were designed for a TV experience.
Today’s Android TV OS uses a ribbon-style user interface that’s a hybrid of Apple and Roku’s app-grid home screens and Fire TV’s content-centric presentation. Google’s next Chromecast will reportedly use a new version of Android TV, one with a user interface that will “put a bigger emphasis on individual movies and TV shows” as opposed to apps, according to Protocol. It could end up looking more like Fire TV.
This new version of Android TV might even get a new name: Google TV. Those who have already scored these dongle-style streamers seem to have backed up that notion, saying the product runs an Android TV 10 operating system that’s adopted the aforementioned moniker.
If true, it would be a brave move on Google’s part. A lot of folks still remember the last time Google used this branding on a smart TV interface and it’s not a memory they cherish. The original Google TV was baked into a few TVs and set-top boxes a decade ago and was met with lukewarm reviews.
Will the new Google TV impress where the original failed?
Once again, the leaked video gives us some tantalizing peeks at what this new interface could look like:
There’s even an indication that the software will be designed to put a greater emphasis on Google’s Live TV streaming product, YouTube TV. That makes a lot of sense: Apple’s revamped tvOS puts the Apple TV app front and center, so Google will likely do the same.
The new Chromecast apparently will reportedly not offer Stadia support. This comes from a Reddit user sharing images of the device in action, pointing to signs that the unreleased Chromecast won’t be compatible with Google’s cloud gaming service. Stadia does work with the Chromecast Ultra, so the reasoning behind omitting it for this latest product remains a mystery for now.
Price and release date
In order for Google to be competitive with Roku and Amazon Fire TV, we think the Chromecast Ultra’s current price of $70 is just about perfect, especially if Google isn’t planning to add features like USB ports, or very high-performance chipsets. It could go as high as $100, but once you get into that territory you lose everyone who is content with a device that does what Roku and Fire TV devices are capable of.
The latest reports suggest that Google opted for a very aggressive price of $50, with the various Reddit users that snagged a streamer at their local Home Depot or Walmart confirming the cost. As cheap as that sounds, it’s not without precedent.
Earlier this year, TiVo launched its first Android TV dongle, the Stream 4K, which still sells for the introductory price of $50. That device supports Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Dolby Atmos, which we think makes it highly likely that the new Chromecast will too.
A leaked inventory listing from Target provides a potential on-sale date: September 30, according to Android Police, which, now that we know Google will be introducing the new device on that date, looks to have been very accurate.