Android TV is a smart TV platform from Google.
It was announced in June 2014 and with Android 5.0 Lollipop, Android TV is now fully launched and marching into our lives.
Android TV is the successor to Google TV, the company's previous stab at a big screen platform. You can pretty much forget that Google TV ever existed: the doors have been closed on it, and app developers encouraged to move over to Android TV instead.
Google's aim with Android 5.0 Lollipop was to create a more cohesive Android. It's designed for parity across different devices; we've seen Lollipop smartphones and Lollipop Android Wear devices. We've seen Android TV and Android Auto cars will soon be roaring in.
What does Android TV do?
Simply put, Android TV is designed to bring the sorts of things you enjoy on your phone to your TV.
That doesn't mean you'll be taking calls through your TV or trawling through emails, but it's about ease of navigation, access to entertainment and simple interactivity. It's about making your TV smart and doing it with an interface that's recognisable and easy to use.
It offers voice controls - a staple of Google properties these days - as well as giving you controls across other devices, like your Android phone and Android Wear watch. The card-based interface behaves in a familiar way, making it easier to do the things you want to do without a convoluted menu system.
Those essential entertainment apps will be available and there's the opportunity for Android's app developers to adapt apps for the big screen experience. That can be anything from information services like weather, through to gaming. Android TV will let you quickly customise your TV's content to suit you.
For a TV manufacturer it presents a distinct advantage: why design your own smart TV platform, when Google has already done it? Why develop your own apps, when the community will be developing for Android TV anyway? Why have your own app store when apps will be available through Google Play?
For Google it offers a distinct advantage too: it puts Android on the big screen in your house, provides another avenue to serve you its content as well as expanding what is already a big Android community.
What about Chromecast?
Chromecast has undeniably been a hit: it's everywhere, it's simple and it's cheap (£30). Google still has casting firmly in its sights and nothing has changed in that regard. Google even announced embedded Google Cast for Audio at CES 2015, which you could crudely see as Android speakers.
Android TV supports the same system of Google Cast that Chromecast does, so you'll be able to send content from your phone (such as that Netflix video you're watching, or Deezer tune) to your Android TV.
If you have Android TV, you won't need a separate Chromecast dongle. However, as Google Cast advancements continue, Chromecast is still perfect for that second or third TV you might have and with Android TV using the same system, both are likely to benefit moving forward with wider support.
Android TV is like Chromecast embedded and evolved, and we can't help feeling that Chromecast is the key that has unlocked the Android TV gates.
How can I get Android TV?
If you're planning to buy a new TV in 2015 and looking at the latest and greatest models from those companies, you'll probably be looking at an Android TV. They'll start appearing in stores in the coming months.
Android TV made its debut on the Nexus Player. Announced in October 2014, this is Google's homegrown effort, a $99 console you could connect to an existing TV to bring the smart Android TV functions to it. As is known for Nexus devices, often it's a chance for early adopters and developers to play before other third-parties get involved.
At CES 2015, Razer has announced the Forge TV, a set-top box that makes your TV into and Android TV and comes with some Razer gaming action too thanks to Razer Cortex: Stream, it's PC game streaming software. This is likely to be how Android TV develops: you can expect third-parties to add elements beyond the core offering.
What are the alternatives?
Android TV isn't the only smart TV platform vying for your attention. In 2014 LG turned to WebOS for its TV interface on its top TVs and the results were excellent. WebOS 2.0 will be appearing on its 2015 TVs.
The difference here is that LG and Samsung are (more or less) in control of the platforms they are using, but we can't be sure how much influence Google retains over Android TV once it's in the hands of a company like Sony. Equally, the same logic applies to Panasonic - we can't be certain what will come from Panasonic and what will come from Mozilla.
Eitherway, if you're after a new television, the interfaces you're now presented with should now be faster, smoother and better supported than before. Importantly they're about interaction and put the user experience first, which wasn't always the case in the past.
Android TV is likely to gain a strong foothold, but interestingly, TV manufacturers are moving your TV to web-compliant, familiar, platforms that are more like your smartphone or tablet than your TV of old.
Will you get different apps on different Android TVs?