Depending on how you count them, the Nexus Player is either Google's fourth or fifth attempt at conquering the living room. First there was the Google TV. That flopped. Then the Nexus Q. That flopped so hard it didn't even launch. Then there was the second-generation Google TV — also a failure. Finally, last year, Google launched the Chromecast. At $35, the device was a sleeper hit, especially for cord cutters. See also: Hands on with the Google Nexus 6: Android goes big Perhaps emboldened by the success of the Chromecast, Google has decided to try for broader living-room aspirations with the Nexus Player, the first set-top box running Android TV. So what is the Nexus Player? It's a Chromecast crossed with a Fire TV. That is, it's a set-top box crossed with a Chromecast dongle that also plays Android games. Looks great on the big screen The first thing you'll notice about the Nexus Player is that the user interface looks terrific. It's slick and fully optimized for a TV. It's a significant upgrade over Google's previous Google TV efforts. The Android TV main screen. The main dashboard shows off content blocks and recommendations. This includes programs in your Google Play library, YouTube recommendations and programs available in other apps. Below the content block are icons that provide easy access to direct apps for services, including Google Play Movies & TV, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Songza. You can also quickly access games compatible with the included remote or the optional $40 wireless game controller. You can install additional apps on the device, though for now the selection is pretty limited. The voice search is solid but it's held back by one massive limitation: it only surfaces content from the Google Play and YouTube ecosystems. So if I say, "Watch Scandal," my Hulu and Netflix results don't come up. On the Fire TV, Amazon has a whole voice search API that it is slowly but surely integrating with other third-party services. The feature is still a gimmick, but at least with Amazon, it works with more than one content source. As a result, the search features are really only good for users that want to browse content to purchase from Google Play. When it comes to Music playback, you can listen to tracks already in your Google Music library, but you can't actually buy new songs or albums from the Nexus Player itself. That's frustrating because otherwise, the Google Music playback experience is topnotch. Google Music on the Nexus Player Google Music on the Nexus Player Image: Google Running other apps Netflix and Hulu Plus run identically on the Nexus Player as they do on the Fire TV. That's because it's just the Android versions of those apps upscaled to TV resolution. The experience is quite good, but be aware that it isn't going to be as beautifully optimized for a 10-foot experience as Google's own apps. I still tend to prefer the Netflix and Hulu experience on Roku. Nexus Player Hulu Hulu Plus on the Nexus Player The third-party library of apps available for the Nexus Player at the time of this writing, is fairly anemic. As a media player, you'll still get access to significantly more content on a set-top box from Amazon or Roku. Roku, we should note, just added Google Play Movies & TV support, making it the broadest content ecosystem available. This isn't to say the Nexus Player and Android TV ecosystems won't expand; since the devices is based on Android, it means that in theory any app that can run on an Android tablet should be available on the Nexus Player. It's just a matter of actually getting those apps installed. Games Google's other big feature with the Nexus Player are games. Right now, there are only a limited selection of games that actually work on the device, either with the included remote or the optional $39.99 wireless controller. Game quality is quite good. We played Badland and Riptide GP2 and both played great. Riptide GP2 has near-console level graphics and frame rates never seemed off. The game controller itself looks and feels like a cheap Xbox 360 knock-off. The controls work fine, but don't expect to get the kind of precise timing you'd expect on a console.
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