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Google Chromecast Ultra: What you need to know – CNET


4K TVs are getting cheaper every day, and now 4K-capable devices to connect to those TVs are following suit. The cheapest so far is Chromecast Ultra.

This tiny device, available for $70 in November, promises better image quality than the current $35 Chromecast. That’s because it can stream the 4K and HDR video available from a handful of streaming providers, namely Netflix, YouTube and, coming in November, Google’s own Play TV and Movies store. The latter two only offer 4K, not HDR.

In theory 4K resolution provides a sharper picture than 1080p HD video, but in CNET’s tests the difference is subtle at best with Netflix and other streaming sources. HDR, aka high dynamic range, can provide a more dramatic improvement in contrast and color, depending on the video in question. Just don’t confuse it with HDR for phones (even Pixel phones with HDR+).

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Google

Notably the Ultra is the first external streaming device to handle both HDR formats, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Other HDR devices, including the $200 Nvidia Shield, the $100 Roku Premiere+ and the $70 Xiaomi Mi Box, are all HDR10-only. In our tests we’ve found that with TVs that do support Dolby Vision, the image is slightly superior to HDR10.

Of course, to get the benefits of 4K or HDR (in either format) you’ll need a compatible TV. You’ll also need to be watching a 4K and/or HDR TV stream, which are still restricted to a just a few shows, videos and movies. Such higher-quality streams require good bandwidth — 15mbps or higher for Netflix, for example — and you’ll need to subscribe to Netflix’s $15 monthly plan to get access.

Aside from 4K and HDR, the Ultra is very similar to the current Chromecast, except that it’s only available in black. Both are tiny pucks with integrated HDMI cables designed to hang out of sight behind your TV.

One additional difference is the inclusion of an Ethernet port for wired internet, housed on the power adapter of the Ultra. That’s a nice addition given the higher bandwidth requirements of 4K video. The standard Chromecast is Wi-Fi-only, and both offer 801.11ac Wi-Fi. The Ultra is 1.8 times faster at starting streams then the current version, according to Google.

Chromecast requires you to use your phone, tablet or PC to “Cast” video from supported apps to the TV. The system is quite versatile and reliable in our tests, and app support is superb. One exception, however, is Amazon video. That popular service doesn’t work with the Cast system, so Chromecast can’t deliver its videos, which include a relatively large collection of 4K and HDR TV shows and movies.

In the past we’ve preferred Roku devices to Chromecast because they do support Amazon, and also offer an actual remote that we find more convenient to use than a phone. Roku’s least expensive player with 4K and HDR is the $100 Premiere+, and we look forward to comparing it to Chromecast Ultra as soon as we get our hands on review samples.

In the meantime, our review of the current Chromecast and the accompanying video (below) have some more details about how the device works.



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Is Google's Pixel a historic Android moment? Time will tell – CNET


It’s difficult to tell when you’re standing in the midst of a landmark moment in history.

Few guessed, for instance, that in 2008 when Google debuted the G1, the first phone to run Android, the mobile software would end up transforming the wireless world. It didn’t help that when Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went up on stage, they did so wearing rollerblades.

Page and Brin are probably laughing their inline skates off today, nearly nine out of every 10 phones sold run on Android.

Google took its best shot at making history again on Tuesday. The company introduced the Pixel and Pixel XL, which represent the first time it will offer superphones in the same weight class — complete with the full backing of Google, a lofty price tag and an exclusive partnership with Verizon Wireless — as Apple’s iPhone franchise. At long last, Google’s new phones give us the showdown between two of the world’s most powerful tech titans.

The phones, which will start at $650 for the Pixel and $770 for the Pixel XL, are the closest things we’ve ever seen to a Google Phone. More than any other phone the company has put out in the past, the Pixels call upon the search giant’s brand power as one of the most well-known corporate names in the world. The line of phones is officially called “Pixel, a phone by Google,” and each handset has the company’s signature G emblazoned on the back.

History or hype?

Another one of the company’s key executives already sparked the history talk, suggesting in a tweet last month that we would look back at this event with the same reverence as the original launch of Android.

“We announced the 1st version of Android 8 years ago today,” wrote Hiroshi Lockheimer, who heads up Android. “I have a feeling 8 years from now we’ll be talking about Oct 4, 2016.”

Google has traditionally launched phones through its Nexus program, in which the search giant handles the software and other manufacturers, including LG, Huawei and Samsung, build the hardware. (The Nexus brand doesn’t seem to be dead yet. Rumors of future Nexus devices have begun to crop up.)

With Pixel, Google has again teamed up with another company to manufacture the hardware. This time, it’s HTC. The Taiwanese phone maker seems to be the go-to when a tech giant wants to put its stamp on phones. The company made the HTC First, Facebook’s ill-fated attempt to turn its social network into a quasi-operating system for phones.

Or perhaps Google is just a fan of history; HTC made the G1 too.

It’s still about Google Assistant

The history chatter may have extended to Google’s focus on artificial intelligence. In fact, Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the first 10 minutes of the event talking about that topic.

“We’re moving from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world,” he said.

Google Assistant, a digital helper that uses artificial intelligence to help you search for stuff like news or driving directions, or turning on the lights in your house, is the marquee feature for both the Pixel phones and the Google Home smart home hub, which it first announced at Google’s I/O developer conference in May.

“It’s a great example of hardware and software come together beautifully,” said Brian Rakowski, software manager for Pixel.

During the Google Home presentation, the company spent a majority of the time showing off Assistant’s “knowledge graph” capability, supplying both information from its database, as well as snippets from other sources like Wikipedia.

“Finally, you have an assistant who can bring the knowledge of Google just by asking for it,” said Rishi Chandra, a vice president at Google.

Google isn’t alone in its artificial intelligence ambitions. Microsoft has long pushed its Cortana assistant, and Amazon has steadily gotten its Alexa helper into homes through its Echo speakers (the $50 second-gen Amazon Echo Dot just debuted). And, of course, there’s Apple’s Siri, which kicked off the assistant craze back in 2011.

Tripling down on the home

Beyond Google Home, the search giant also unveiled a new version of its Chromecast streaming stick and a new smart Wi-Fi router.

Chromecast Ultra, is an update to its streaming stick that can now take advantage of sharper 4K resolution. But the new Chromecast, which costs $69 — double the price of the old one — comes at a time when Roku and Amazon just fired their own volleys in the streaming battle. Roku’s cheapest option, the Express stick, costs just $30. Amazon’s $40 Fire TV Stick comes with a remote able to respond to voice commands.

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The Chromecast Ultra costs $69.

Google

Google also showed off its latest attempt at a Wi-Fi router, called, simply, Google Wi-Fi. The company first entered the router fray last August with a product called the OnHub, touted as a router for the smart-home age. The idea behind it was simple: make a router that’s not an ugly box, so you won’t hide it in a corner somewhere that obstructs the Wi-Fi signal.

Google Wi-Fi was developed by the same team behind OnHub, and designed in-house without a third-party manufacturing brand. The company envisions you buying multiple Google Wi-Fi devices to expand coverage in the home. One unit costs $129, while a three-pack costs $299. Preorders begin in November, with the product shipping the following month.

Bringing VR to the masses

Google also unveiled Daydream View, a virtual-reality headset that will run on the Daydream VR platform first unveiled at its May developer conference. It represents a step up from the cheap $15 Cardboard VR viewers that the company has given away at previous conferences.

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Google’s Daydream View headset is its take on the VR headset.

James Martin/CNET

The original intent of the cheap Cardboard viewer was to get the technology into the hands of more people. But today’s announcement is an acknowledgement that the company needs a more polished experience.

The $79 View, which is available in November, is meant to serve as a road map for other companies looking to build their own VR headset. Companies such as Samsung and Alcatel OneTouch have already built their own units, but they typically only work with their own phones. Daydream View offers a more open approach, letting you use any Android phone that is compatible with the Daydream platform (naturally, Pixel is the first).

Google is hoping that history repeats itself and the company sets the pace in the new areas of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.



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