Liz Gannes

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Sundar Pichai on the Difference Between Chromecast and Google TV (Interview)

Sundar Pichai

Google has two operating systems: Chrome and Android. And now it has two living-room devices: Chromecast and Google TV.

There’s a good reason for that, argued Sundar Pichai, Google’s SVP of Android, Chrome and Apps, in an interview after the event.

In fact, Pichai took over control of the Google TV project in March of this year. It had previously been the domain of YouTube head Salar Kamangar, but it was internally seen as better aligned with Android and Android partner relationships, sources said.

(Pichai, who has a reputation for being good at managing partnershipsgained a bunch of power at Google at that time, adding all of Andy Rubin’s Android on top of his previous domain of Chrome and Apps.)

So why two different devices? The new Chromecast dongle will be a sort of lightweight way to stream video on a television. Google TV, you probably already know about — though you probably don’t own as it’s not super popular. Soon, “it will be a full-fledged Android for television,” Pichai said, noting that he expects to announce many more partners at CES early next year.

The Chromecast costs $35 and has just 256k 512 megabytes of memory. But that doesn’t mean it streams low-quality video; the default resolution is the industry-standard 1080p.

The new Google Chromecast

Where Google TV can provide “an immersive experience” that’s appropriate for gaming, Chromecast will have too much latency for gaming, Pichai explained.

So why make a new device that doesn’t do as much? To try to popularize the activity of watching Internet TV on a real living-room TV, said Pichai.

“It is shocking how much video is consumed on phones, tablets and laptops, but the TV usage just breaks off,” he said. (During prepared remarks, Pichai cited Sandvine data showing that YouTube and Netflix account for an estimated 49.4 percent share of all peak downstream Internet traffic in the U.S.)

“Whereas TV is the most-used device at home, by far. People watch 4.5 hours of television per household in the U.S. So there is this gap, and you have to figure out a way to converge it.” But simplicity is key, he said. “We should never set up expensive boxes and call someone to say how do I connect all this?”

Google’s “Cast” protocol, which adds streaming options to apps while they are running on devices using the same Wi-Fi network as a Chromecast dongle, allows for playing video with no installation needed.

A Vizio Co-Star, one of the devices integrated with Google TV

“Effectively, the Chromecast is a Web media player,” Pichai said. “Once you say, ‘Play this YouTube video or Netflix video,’ it is actually pinging YouTube or Netflix over Wi-Fi, going through the Internet backbone, and they are just sending it like they would send it to a browser.”

Internally, Pichai said, his team calls this process “flinging” content. Flinging is intended for video and music apps, and outside developers are welcome to build in support for it.

Chromecast will also support a second behavior: “Mirroring” Web pages, though that will be in beta for the next few months. With mirroring, whatever you do on your phone, tablet or computer is synced up with the display on your TV. That way you can pull content from any website, not just supported apps — though you’ll draw down the battery on the device that’s being mirrored. My colleague Peter Kafka suspects that some TV companies will not be pleased.

These features aren’t limited to the Chromecast device, Pichai said. Google TV will also support Google Cast, Pichai said today.

Google’s two-pronged approach actually parallels competitors like Roku, which offers both boxes and streaming sticks for certain TVs. However, where Google might have an advantage on the works-like-a-browser front, Roku is ahead on the content deals. In addition to Netflix and YouTube, it has Amazon, Hulu, HBO Go and other channels. Chromecast doesn’t yet.

“I fully expect more partners to join us, because it makes a lot of sense for their content to be seen on the television,” Pichai said.

Correction, July 29: This article incorrectly reported the amount of memory that the Chromecast has; the correct number is 512MB.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik