Today, Google announced Android 5.0 (code-named Lollipop) and a whole host of Google Nexus-branded devices: the Surface-rival Nexus 9 tablet, the Nexus 6 phablet, and the Nexus Player. They're all interesting products in their own way, but the important device for the purposes of USgamer is the last one. The Nexus Player is Google's Android TV-powered set top box for your television.
The Nexus Player looks pretty much like the Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, or any other competitor in the space, with the exception of the fact that it's a flat cylinder instead of a box. The device was made by Google in collaboration with ASUS and sports a 1.8GHz quad-core, Intel Atom, PowerVR Series 6 graphics chip, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, HDMI-out, and WiFi-only internet connectivity. Like the Fire TV, the Nexus Player comes with a Bluetooth 4.1 Remote that also acts as the micro-console's voice microphone for Google Now search. The basic package will set you back $99 and there's a separately-sold controller for gaming.
If 8 GB seems slight that's because Google expects you to stream most of your content to the Nexus Player. Whereas the Fire TV was trading heavily on Amazon services like Instant Video, Google is hoping that you're all-in on the Google Play app, music, and video services. Since Google's Android runs on a ton of smartphones and tablets out there, there's apps ready to go for Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Pandora, Dramafever, and more. The Nexus Player also Google Cast Ready, meaning you can stream content from Android devices, iOS devices, Chromebooks, Macs, or Windows PCs.
Direct access to the Google Play Store means you can download Android games on that meager 8 Gb of storage space. Those games can be played on the device if you have a controller handy; the ASUS-branded official gamepad will cost another $39, but I'd imagine any Bluetooth gamepad could be connected to the system.
One interesting feature of the entire device is the inclusion of that 64-bit enabled Intel Atom CPU. Intel has tried for years to get Android smartphone and tablet manufacturers to use Intel processors over their entrenched ARM rivals. This marks their first major foot in the door. Intel seems pretty excited for the inclusion and the company is playing up the fact that it's working with Google on 64-bit support for Android. Developers working with Android 5.0 can already test 64-apps with Intel tools.
The problem is we've been here before, ladies and gentlemen. The Ouya and the FireTV both tied to mine this ground and neither was successful. This isn't even Google's first go-around: the company tried unsuccessfully to become a part of the TV market with the Google TV software platform. The strategy this time has Google bringing the full weight of near-Android to bear and Google isn't alone with the Nexus Player; Android TV devices are coming from Razer, LG, Sharp, and Sony. And Google is positioning it - like Amazon did with the FireTV - as a gaming device.
"It's also a first-of-its-kind Android gaming device," wrote Android boss and Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai. "With Nexus Player you can play Android games on your HDTV with a gamepad, then keep playing on your phone while you're on the road."
I admit, as an Android user, I'm intrigued by the idea of a vanilla Android device I can hook to my television full-time. I'm just not seeing the ground-swell of users who are looking for such a device to stream videos and music or play games on their televisions. Positioning an Android micro-console as a game device has been tried before, the Player won't even benefit from a pack-in controller, which makes the entire idea a non-starter. If anything, I'm predicting more of a desire for the productivity-strong Nexus 9 and Nexus 6 devices.
There is hope for the Nexus Player though. The closer Android TV is to native Android, the more likely this device will find traction in enthusiast circles. The greater the likelihood of the Nexus Player running stock Android apps, the better I expect the device to ultimately do. That's the play I'd make, at least to get some traction for the Nexus Player. There's a whole host of consumers who will pay $99 for a stock Android set-top box. Google just has to deliver on that idea.