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Google launches Android TV -- and here's what it looks like

Google changed the channel on Google TV, switching over to Android TV on Wednesday morning. 

Essetially, Google is treating the television as simply a larger display, with some tweaks; there will be one software development kit for all sizes, executives said.

“Smart TVs are generally limited, and not competitive with their mobile cousins,” said Dave Burke, the engineering manager for Android who introduced Android TV on stage at the Google I/O developer conference in San Francisco. “We wanted to change that.”

Users will be able to stream content from their smartphones and tablets to their TVs using the system, which will also integrate with Google’s Chromecast device.

“This isn’t a new platform; that’s kind of the point,” Burke said. “We’re simply giving TV the same level of attention as phones and tablets have traditionally enjoyed. We want you to leverage your existing skills and investment in Android and extend them to TV.”

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Android TV overlays information about the TV show.

Android TV wil replace Google TV, a platform that Google launched in 2010 with partners like Logitech. Its Logitech Revue ran a host of apps, but Google never delivered on its initial promise of delivering the best of the Web for your TV. Now, it’s trying again.

Android TV requires just a directional D-pad as well as voice input, which could appear in a traditional remote, a virtual keypad on a smartphone or even a gamepad, Burke said.

In an “early look” at the platform, Burke showed off the TV input framework, which allows Android TVs to handle both HDMI and streaming video.

Search and content, all guided by Google

When you press the “home” button, you’ll receive an overlay of shows and movies. But unlike mobile devices, there’s a set of recommended movies at the top, with the most frequently-used applications tucked in below. Android TV also revamped search, which is powered by voice. Burke used his phone to search for content, but the remote could be used. When he searched for Breaking Bad, he got a list of actors and YouTube clips, as well as the show itself.

google io android tv breaking bad search result

The search interface of Android TV.

Burke then tried searching for “Oscar nominated movies from 2002,” which gave him a list of Oscar-nominated movies. He also asked who played Katniss in The Hunger Games, which gave him the right answer: Jennifer Lawrence.

Burke constantly talked about a “lean-back expeience,” which has been a staple of its YouTube experiences for years. The idea is that you’ll simply be able to recline, relax, and let Google do the hard work of selecting what want to watch. A left nav bar not only offers you the chance to watch “My Top Movies” and TV shows, but also categories like “riveting TV drama”.  The Android team took the Google Play store app for the tablet and added the leanback layer, Burke said.

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Apps, apps, apps.

Most mobile users typically visit the Google Play Store to download games; in fact, three out of four mobile users visit the store to download a game, Burke said. With the games platform you can share achievements, and even play multiplayer games like NBA Jam.

Android TV even supports Google Cast support, so you can use it just like a Chromecast, Burke said.

Naturally, Google will offer an apps store, which will launch in the fall, complete with some of the expected big names: Netflix, for example, tailored for TV, Burke added. 

And here’s the hardware

Google is working with Marvell and Intel on the silicon front. But the real news is that all smart TVs made by Sony in 2014 as well as all smart TVs made by Sharp and TPVision in 2015 will run on Android TV, Burke said. And look for dedicated Android TV boxes from Asus, Razr, and others to launch this fall.

Android TV represents Google’s growing interest in connecting a larger number of devices in people’s homes. Google earlier this year acquired Nest, the Internet-connected thermostat and smoke detector company.

With Android TV, Google stands to gain new data about user’s media consumption, as well as new opportunities for targeted ads.

Zach Miners of IDG News Service in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Updated at 1:38 p.m. with additional context from IDG News Service.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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