OCT. 16, 2014 • Google Inc. is back in the television set-top business with its new $99 Nexus Player. Preorders for the unit start October 17 but Google has not announced an official launch date. The Nexus Player is one of the first devices to run on the latest Android 5.0 (Lollipop) OS, which has been optimized for large screen HDTVs. Major features include Google Cast, a wealth of streaming content providers and access to Android games and other apps available on the Google Play store. Google Cast is the software that enables Android, iOS, Windows, OS X, Chrome and Linux devices to push video content to televisions. A $39 gamepad is available as an optional purchase. The Nexus Player comes with a 1.8GHz quad-core Intel Atom processor, a separate PowerVR Series 6 GPU, a high speed WiFi chip, 8GB of flash storage and 1GB of system memory. Also included is a slim remote control with a built-in microphone to accommodate voice search commands.
Impact: The market for Android set-top boxes is already pretty crowded. Neither is the ability to play Android games all that unique as a proposition given the Ouya, GamePop and Nvidia’s Shield products. The Nexus Player’s biggest competitor is Amazon’s FireTV system, which also provides much streaming content and games to play. But the feature that truly sets the Nexus Player apart, in our estimation, is Google Cast. If you have used Google’s $35 Chromecast device then the ability to send content from your tablet or smartphone to an HDTV is pretty addicting. Many apps like YouTube, Watch ESPN and Netflix already have built-in Google Cast support. Going to visit grandma, who doesn’t have ESPN? Just plug the Chromcast into an HDMI port, pull up Monday Night Football on your tablet and watch the game on the big screen. But what many people don’t realize is that Google’s Chrome browser supports Google Cast by default. If watching in-game videos via Twitch.tv and other sources is the big trend it is being made out to be, then the Nexus Player could be a hit. Gamers can dial up the videos they want to watch on their tablet, smartphone or PC and send it to the Nexus Player. True, Twitch is already supported on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but Google Cast opens up video from every source available on the web. As an Android game system the Nexus Player has powerful enough components to run most Google Play titles out there. The major downside is that 8GB of storage will fill up pretty swiftly. What is intriguing, however, is that any app already in your Google account will show up as available on the Nexus Player. Users who may be playing a title on their smartphone earlier in the day can go home to pick up where they left off on the big screen as long as progress is stored in the cloud. The same goes for any other app on an Android tablet or smartphone. All of this makes the Nexus Player one of the most versatile streaming boxes out there compared to Roku and AppleTV. Only Amazon’s FireTV provides as wide a feature set. The Nexus Player is not a replacement for game consoles, yet it is an attractively priced extension for consumers already invested in the Android space.