Google introduced the Chromecast Ultra back in 2016 as a higher-end version of the standard Chromecast. For the launch price of $69, the Ultra offered faster WiFi speeds, 4K streaming support, and an Ethernet port on the power brick. It was good while it lasted, but now that Google has unveiled the new Chromecast with Google TV, it looks like the company is giving the Chromecast Ultra a fast farewell.
One of the conveniences of using a Chromecast or a Cast-enabled speaker or TV is the ability to control playback from any device in the house (if you want). Starting a song from your phone and stopping it from your tablet, or asking your partner or roommate to do so while you're wrist-deep into a new banana bread recipe, are possible because of the casting notification that surfaces on all devices connected to the same network. That notification is getting a small but awesome quality-of-life improvement now thanks to new track controls.
Google Meet, the company's Zoom competitor and successor to Hangouts, has gained plenty of new users and features over the past few months due to the pandemic. With everyone working and playing from home, video chatting is a necessity these days, and Meet might eventually become Google's sole option. Viewing conference calls on TVs and other Chromecast-enabled devices has only been possible by casting your entire phone screen or browser tab until now, but Google has now baked the functionality directly into the Meet interface.
Google's new Cast Connect library might sound a bit snore, but it should make casting to Android TV devices a whole lot better. With it, developers can do a few new things, but by far the most important is that it will allow hardware remotes to control 'casted playback, and apps can open Chromecast streams remotely into the same app on your Android TV.
In the streaming age, we've seen plenty of cable competitors pop up, including Philo. The service lets you livestream and record 61 channels for just $20 a month, including AMC, HGTV, and Comedy Central. Philo was only made available on most Android devices last year, and hasn't supported Chromecast at all — but that's about to change.
If you have a Chromecast, you probably know how convenient a device it is to watch your favorite content in a breeze. Although it's usually reliable, you occasionally need to reboot it, even if it's just after a software update. Unfortunately, that operation used to reset the volume's level to the maximum. Thankfully, Google just released an improvement that now makes the volume level persistent, even after rebooting the Chromecast.
Ambient Mode lets you choose what your Google screens — Android TVs, Chromecasts, and smart displays — show when they're idle; it's basically a slideshow screensaver. Google's started taking the opportunity to do a little subtle advertising for its Pixel phones: a new Captured on Pixel photo category is rolling out as an Ambient Mode option.
Last month an update to the built-in Chromecast app allowed some Android TV devices to be added to speaker groups before mysteriously disappearing a few days later. Well, after yet another update to this app, the feature is back once again.
Android TVs can finally be added to speaker groups — or, at least, they will be once the feature finishes rolling out more widely. First spotted over the weekend by the folks at Android TV Guide, the change allows at least some Android TV devices to be added to speaker groups in the Google Home app. And that's not the only change, you can also disable ongoing cast notifications for Android TV devices.