Android TV interfaceSource: Android Central

We might have some bias by saying this on a website called "Android Central," but when you think about it, Android really is one of the most versatile operating systems in existence. We most commonly think of it as what powers smartphones like the Galaxy S20 and Pixel 4, but it also extends to tablets, smartwatches, car infotainment systems, and even televisions.

That last point is what we're talking about today — Android TV. This is the version of Android that powers smart televisions and streaming boxes, and it's been doing that since 2014.

Other platforms like Roku and Fire TV have overshadowed Android TV's popularity, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading and learning about. In fact, Android TV has quite a lot to offer if you're a fan of Google services and are looking for a way to bring more smarts into your living room.

Leading the pack

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

Android TV in all of its glory

Without a doubt, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV is one of the best ways to experience Android TV for yourself. This small and compact gadget brings Android TV to your living room with full support for 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and AI upscaling tech that converts HD content into 4K.

First off, what is Android TV?

Android TV Home Screen JoeSource: Joe Maring / Android Central

As mentioned above, Android TV is a version of Android that's designed specifically for televisions. It first debuted in June 2014, with the latest version (based on Android 10) launching in December 2019.

Similar to other TV operating systems, you can use Android TV for watching Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and countless other apps/services. Android TV even supports some games, giving you a nice change of pace when you feel like having some more interaction with your entertainment.

The current interface for Android TV is pretty simple. The top row houses all your applications, with the row of apps you see being favorites you've chosen to show on your home screen. When you click the Apps icon, you'll see a full list of all applications that are installed.

Below that is the Play Next section, which recommends certain shows and movies for you to watch based on your playback history. It's quite useful when it works, but the fact of the matter is that only select applications actually support it (Netflix and Hulu not being among them).

Below Play Next, you'll see a list of "channels" for your apps. If an app supports this (which, again, not all of them do), you'll get recommendations for shows to watch in that app right on your home screen. You can customize the appearance and order of these channels however you see fit, playing nicely into the customization we're familiar with in Android on our smartphones.

You won't be adding widgets or custom icon packs to Android TV anytime soon, but as far as smart TV operating systems go, it's definitely one of the cleanest and most intuitive.

The Google Assistant is baked in

Google Assistant on Android TVSource: Android Central

If you're a frequent user of the Google Assistant on your phone and smart speakers, Android TV will feel right at home to you.

As with other Google gadgets, the Google Assistant is built right in to Android TV. Click the Assistant button at the top of the screen or press the Assistant button your remote, and you can talk to the Google Assistant just like you would anywhere else.

This is helpful in a few different ways. For commands specific to your TV, you can have the Assistant pause what you're watching, adjust the volume, open certain apps, etc. However, it extends far beyond voice command playback controls. Ask the Assistant about the weather, who Brad Pitt is married to, or to turn off the living room lights. This is the same Google Assistant you know and love, just on your TV.

It also doubles as a Chromecast target

Android TV Chromecast HeroSource: Joe Maring / Android Central

Browing for shows to watch using apps on the big screen is a great experience, but for those times when you're already on your phone, Android TV has you covered with support for Chromecast.

Find a YouTube video or Netflix show on your phone you want to check out? Just tap the Chromecast icon on your phone, select your TV, and you can send that video to your TV just like that.

This works with any app that supports Chromecast, including something like Google Photos. Instead of hunching over your phone to look at family pictures, you can display them on your television with just a couple of taps.

There are streaming boxes/dongles with Android TV

The redesigned NVIDIA Shield TV (2019)Source: Phil Nickinson / Cordcutters

When it comes to getting your hands on Android TV, there are a couple of ways to go about this — the most affordable of which is to buy a streaming box/dongle with Android TV.

These are relatively compact gadgets that plug into your TV (sort of like a mini game console) and allow you to access Android TV and all of the perks that come with it. Whether you have a "dumb" TV with no smart interface or a Roku TV you want to upgrade, an Android TV box is perfect for adding a ton of new features while spending as little money as possible.

Two of our favorite Android TV devices right now are the Xiaomi Mi Box S and NVIDIA Shield Android TV. The Mi Box S is the most affordable, offering 4K HDR streaming and full Google Assistant support at an incredible price. The Shield TV is more expensive, but it ups the anty with a faster processor, Dolby Atmos/Vision, AI HD-to-4K upscaling, and even access to NVIDIA's GeForce Now game streaming service.

Best Android TV Boxes in 2020

Some televisions also ship with it built-in

Hisense Logo Android TVSource: Joe Maring / Android TV

If you have more cash to spend and are looking to upgrade your entire TV, you could also buy a television that comes with Android TV built-in right out of the box.

This is obviously a much more costly purchase, but if you need a new TV anyway, you might as well buy one that doesn't require extra hardware to use Android TV.

There are some solid options out there in this market, such as the Hisense 65H8F and pretty much all of Sony's smart TVs.

Leading the pack

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

Android TV in all of its glory

Without a doubt, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV is one of the best ways to experience Android TV for yourself. This small and compact gadget brings Android TV to your living room with full support for 4K HDR streaming, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and AI upscaling tech that converts HD content into 4K.

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