Last week, Cody spotted a change in the Google Home app for Chromecasts: the Backdrop feature was renamed to Ambient Mode. However, at the time, there was nothing functionally different. That is changing now, as the completely overhauled Ambient Mode settings have started to show up for some of us.

Ambient Mode organizes the settings in a new way. First, you have your different sources grouped into three categories: Photo frame, Art gallery, and Experimental. Then, you have the rest of the customization settings.

Left: Backdrop. Right: Ambient Mode.

You can only select one source category at a time, now, so there's no mixing of your photo albums with art photos like you could do before. That's a bit of a step back, but if you don't change your settings, you may still see all your existing photo sources together (for now).

Based on our anecdotal observation, the Google Photos option displays your most recent albums to choose from. As for the other two, the art gallery has four different categories, and the experimental sources are Facebook and Flickr. The latter also show a low-bandwidth mode that only displays images already stored in your Chromecast to reduce data usage.


Three photo sources: Photo frame, Art gallery, and Experimental.

You may notice that one source is missing compared to earlier: Play Newsstand, aka Google News. Google tells us that it's fine tuning the feature and has temporarily removed it. However, if you already had it enabled and you don't tinker with your settings, you may still get your news photos (for now).

You may still see your News, even if you have the new Ambient mode.

Other settings include a new interface for the weather temperature picker with an added option to select both units. There are more granular slideshow speed options (previously: slow, normal, fast) that go from ten seconds to ten minutes. And finally there are two new settings. One lets you hide or show the time; the other can display the owner and album name on your personal photos, or not.

New customization settings for Ambient mode.

Google says the switch to the Ambient mode name is a "nod to how technology, particularly in the home, is becoming interconnected." My personal take is that this same Ambient mode will likely land in some form on the upcoming Smart Displays with Assistant, and we may later have other sources of information, such as the current state of our security system, cameras, and other smart home devices.

Overall, the changes are slightly toward the better, even though the limitation to one general category of photos is a bit of a letdown for those who preferred to have multiple sources mixed together. If you don't see the changes yet, be patient. This new interface is still rolling out to all Chromecasts and Chromecast built-in devices (ie. Android TVs).

  • Thanks:
  • Liam Clifford