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Don’t Forget About Android TV

Google I/O 2018 has focused largely on machine learning and Android P. But Android TV is also getting an update, and Google showed off two new devices that will bring Android to the big (home) screen.

First is the JBL Link Bar (above). Announced a few days before I/O, this soundbar is integrated with the Google Assistant, which Google says will place it at the center of a living room experience.

“Because we put farfield microphones into it, you don’t even need to pick up the remote control,” said Sascha Prueter, director of Google’s Android TV project, though the soundbar does ship with one. Just browse movies, TV shows, and other audio and video content using your voice.

You can also use it for everything you would use the Assistant for, such as setting timers, answering questions, and even placing grocery orders. Prueter said Google is working on a speaker-only mode for the Link Bar, letting it function as a Google Home-type smart speaker.

One unique feature of the Link Bar is the three HDMI ports. These are not pass-through ports, Prueter explained. Instead, they allow the Google Assistant to control the connected devices and overlay information into those experiences. “If you’re playing a game on the PlayStation, you just ask the assistant, and the Assistant can show you the answer cards over the screen.”

The JBL soundbar launches in the fall, and will include an optional subwoofer.

Newly announced at Google I/O, meanwhile, is the ADT-2 Android TV developer device. As the name implies, it’s not really intended for public release, but to give developers a platform to create channels and experiences for Android TV. In fact, Google requires would-be users to fill out a lengthy form explaining what they want the ADT-2 for, and what they’ll do with it.

But there are two interesting facets of the ADT-2 that might inform future Android TV streaming devices. For one thing, it runs the developer version of Android P, with all of the improvements made to the Android TV platform, the first time developers will get to see these features operating on their intended platform.

Second, and more importantly, is the shape of the device itself, which is very similar to Google’s Chromecast. The ADT-2 is like an elongated circle, vaguely tear-drop shaped, with an HDMI cable sticking out the back. The similarity to the Chromecast might suggest Google is interested in using the Chromecast’s smaller form factor with the power of Android TV. After all, the Chromecast can only receive information “cast” from compatible devices, while Android TV devices connect and stream content on their own.

With over 3,600 apps and integration into smart TVs, set-top boxes, and other platforms, Android TV is still growing. It’s rarely the most visible of Google’s projects, and even among Android devices it’s easy to miss, but that could be changing.




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