The tech giants have long been battling for control of our living rooms, and it’s surprising to some extent that one product has not yet emerged with a significant share of the market.
In the Nexus Player, Google thinks it’s finally found a product in which it can smuggle itself into your living room, supplying Netflix streams to your TV along with Android games and more.
It’s a busy market place that Google is tackling here, and recent history is littered with failed attempts from all kinds of companies. Media boxes were once the obsession of hard drive manufacturers like WD, now it’s tech giants like Google and Apple.
What is the Nexus Player?
Have you heard? The DVD player is dead. The Blu-ray player is dead too. Physical media – its days are numbered and its influence on technology trends is certainly weakening. The Nexus Player is the latest candidate to stake a claim on this post-disc world.
It’s a puck-shaped device that plugs into your TV via HDMI and it’s small – measuring just 120x120x 20mm. It’s dinkier than a DVD, though substantially thicker.
Forgoing any kind of physical media playback, it’s designed exclusively to stream and download video and music from both the internet and your own home network. So it’s a Netflix player then – right?
Right, but it’s also so much more than that. Nexus Player runs a brand new TV-optimised version of Android 5.0 (Lollipop) which means it’ll eventually be compatible with a huge assortment of Android apps in the Google Play store. So once developers have gotten to grips with it, it could yield some very interesting applications.
The key use to start with, though, aside from streaming music and movies, is gaming. The box is manufactured for Google by Asus, which is also making an optional gamepad. And with 8GB of internal storage, there’s space to download games for playing on your TV.
Google says that when it’s time to hop on the bus to work, you’ll be able to continue your game where you left off on your smartphone.
Nexus Player specs
Asus has built the 235g Nexus Player on top of a 1.8GHz quad core Intel Atom chip so it’s got plenty of grunt for a hockey puck, and there’s a separate graphics chip to power games and HD video in the shape of an Imagination PowerVR Series 6 GPU.
A total of 8GB flash storage is supplied for downloading apps and games, while 1GB of memory should be plenty to keep the Android 5.0 OS ticking over smoothly.
Internet connection comes at top speed by virtue of an 802.11ac 2×2 (MIMO) chip so a robust connection to your router should be no issue at all, and it’ll be capable of making the best of any superfast broadband pipes you may or may not have access to.
The box ships with a remote control with a built-in microphone for voice search. Voice search was one of the only genuinely useful features in the few Google TV products that made it to market, and allows you to search the internet, the Play Store or anything else simply by talking into the remote.
Two AA batteries are supplied to juice up said remote, which connects to the Nexus Player itself using a Bluetooth connection. The Nexus Player is fully versed in Bluetooth 4.1
You’ll also be supplied with a quick start guide and a power adapter. Note, that means no HDMI cable so you’ll need to use one of your existing ones or pick up a new one from elsewhere.
What else can the Nexus Player do?
While the Nexus Player runs on Lollipop, the Android TV skin is designed especially for use on a big screen and to be explored using the remote control.
On the homescreen you’ll have instant access to all of the Google Play content you may have purchased, as well as any apps and games you’ve bought.
Google will supply you with a mix of personalised recommendations – movies to download, apps to try, games to play – and place them as icons on your homescreen. Google knows you better than you know yourself, after all.
And as you might expect, the Nexus Player also has all the functionality of Google’s other media streamer, the Chromecast. That means any content you have on your phone can be instantly beamed in the direction of the Nexus Player and subsequently your TV using the familiar cast button.
This feature will be particulalrly useful for anyone who doesn’t have a smart TV with MirrorCast features, and will allow you to use your phone as a remote control when watching with compatible apps like YouTube and Netflix.
The Nexus Player experience doesn’t stop when you switch your TV off, either. The box requires you to be signed in to your Google Account, and that means that your stuff will be automatically synced between the Nexus Player and your other Android devices.
The upshot being that if you start a movie on the player, you can pick up where you left off on your phone, tablet or browser and visa versa.
The voice control is probably worth another mention, too. Because it not only allows you to search as you normally would with Google but it’s also contextually aware – which means you can say simply ‘Netflix’ into the remote and the box will launch the Netflix app.
You could also say “The Big Lebowski” and The Dude will be on your screen faster than Jackie Treehorn can fix one hell of a Caucasian.
Is the Nexus Player a games console?
The Nexus Player is and isn’t a console, depending on how you look at it. Certainly, the Nexus Player doesn’t have the chops to run 3D games on the same scale as the PS4 or Xbox One. But it can certainly handle any game currently on the Play Store and likely anything that’ll come out in the next few years.
What’s more, it’ll make use of your TV’s big screen so your games will look more visually impressive straight away. There’s also the possibility that the Nexus Player could stream games over the web like OnLive or PlayStation Now – but if that ever happens it won’t be any time soon.
1. Gamepad sold separately
The device isn’t a console, but you will be able to buy the aforementioned gamepad separately if you so wish. If you do, you’ll be able to play games with full HD graphics, and even play multiplayer online.
2. Games will sync between devices
Games will all sync up between your devices too, so any progress you make on any of your Android devices will be registered on any other. So no replaying levels or losing save games.
3. The ecosystem needs time
How successful it becomes as a gaming entity will depend on how many people use it for this purpose. The more gamepads Google sells, the more devs will to focus on Android TV as a viable gaming platform.
Can I play my own content on Nexus Player?
You sure can. With apps such as the fantastic Plex, you’ll be able to stream music, videos and images from your home computer or any of your others compatible devices to your Nexus Player over your home network.
What is the Nexus Player release date?
The device is available to pre-order in North America from October 17th but the exact Nexus Player release date is currently unknown.
Other territories will have to wait a little while for news, but as with most Google products, it shouldn’t be too long. We’d imagine it would be available in all major territories before Christmas.
How much does the Nexus Player cost?
Google didn’t announced the Nexus Player price but the internet’s best guess puts it at $99 – the same price as an Apple TV. We’ll bring you the confirmed price as soon as we have it.
It has to be said, Google’s scatter gun approach to the living room hasn’t paid off for it in the past. The problem could be that the financial rewards for succeeding in this area isn’t huge – Apple refers to the Apple TV as a ‘hobby’ for that reason. So maybe Google’s been dipping its toe in without fully committing.
But there’s reason to believe, though, that in the Nexus Player Google might finally have gotten it right. We’ve seen there’s an appetite for the ‘smartification’ of older TVs, and the Nexus Player looks like a genuinely useful option, offering all the benefits of the Chromecast, all the features of the Roku but also a lot more. We’ll bring you a review as soon as we can, but until then we reckon you can pencil this one on to your Christmas list.