NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Google (GOOG) has been trying to get a foothold in the growing streaming TV business for a number of years. Early attempts at challenging Apple (AAPL) TV, Roku and other similar offerings failed miserably, but last year's introduction of the wildly successful Chromecast finally opened the door. The the new $99 Nexus Player is Google's best attempt to try and take market share away from Apple, Roku, Amazon (AMZN) and others in the streaming media space.
In addition to being able to stream TV, movies and music, the Asus-manufactured Nexus Player is also a gaming console, with dozens of titles already available from the Google's store. To get the most out of those games, you'll probably need to buy the $40 Gamepad.
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As for the actual device, don't think of bringing an unboxed Nexus Player to an ice rink, as it looks a lot like a hockey puck. The Nexus Player is small, round, black and flat. It's 4.72 inches round by less than an inch thick and weighs slightly more than 8 ounces.
Powering the puck is a sophisticated 1.8 GHz, quad-core Intel (INTC) Atom processor tied to a 2D/3D Power VR Series 6 graphics system from Britain's Imagination Technologies. There's 1GB of RAM and only 8GB of storage, which could limit the ultimate number of games you can keep in your device. Internet connections are handled only via Wi-fi (802.11ac) because there's no Ethernet port. 1080p video and digital audio output is via HDMI although there's no HDMI cable in the box.
The Nexus Player comes with a very simple remote control that's different than others out there. It connects to the console via Bluetooth (4.1) instead of the usual infrared, line-of-sight technology. That means you can better hide the console than with other, similar devices. If you prefer, there's also an Android app to help handle those chores from a smartphone or tablet and it works with with Android, iOS, Mac, Windows and Chromebook devices.
It comes with all of the Google apps you would expect including Play, Music, Movies, TV, Games and, of course, YouTube. There's also the usual Netflix (NFLX) , Hulu Plus, iHeartRadio, Pandora (P) , Vevo and lots more. But, because the Android TV platform is still in its infancy there are many apps (for instance, Time Warner Cable's (TWC) offering) which you might find on some other platforms but aren't yet available for these new devices.
The Nexus Players enters the arena with lots of competition. In addition to the aforementioned Apple TV and Roku, there's also Amazon's (AMZN) Fire TV. The Nexus Player sells for $99, as do the Fire TV, Apple TV and the Roku 3.
Just like Amazon's Fire TV box, the Nexus Player's best feature is voice search. Both devices handle audio requests for information remarkably well.
The Roku 3 ( reviewed here) provides some serious competition. For essentially the same price as the Nexus, Roku has a better-tested platform offering more than 1,800 channels of audio and video programming in the United States. The Roku 3's remote also works as motion controller for gaming, with no separate device necessary. There's also an earphone jack on the side of the remote allowing you to listen to the Roku 3's audio output from across the room, which makes for a neat touch.
But, Nexus Player's biggest competition may come from less expensive devices such as Amazon's $39 Fire TV stick ( review) and Roku's $50 Streaming Stick. Both devices deliver a lot of bang-for-the-buck and, at half the price of their big brothers, create an easy impulse stocking stuffer purchase this time of year.
Overall, we found the Nexus Player to be worthy of your attention right now with lots of promise for the future. Video and audio output looked and sounded great and that's exactly what you want from a device like this. But, at this point in time, the Roku 3 may have an edge over all the other products mentioned. Unless, of course, you're fully invested in the Google universe of products. If that's the case, Player could be exactly what you've been waiting for.
Overall score: 7.9/10
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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