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Thursday, July 25, 2013

With New Device, Google Tries Again on Internet TV

SAN FRANCISCO - Google is trying again to tackle the television.

On Wednesday, the company introduced Chromecast, a $35, two-inch stick that plugs into TVs and enables people to watch online video, listen to music and see images from laptops, tablets or phones on the TV screen - and to use their other devices as a remote control.

“We are closing the gap between TV and mobile devices,” said Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president for Chrome and Android, in an interview after a news conference in San Francisco. Nearly half of all peak Internet traffic in North America comes from YouTube and Netflix, he said, and people want to be able to watch those videos on the big screen.

Chromecast, unlike other gadgets that play online media on TVs, works with laptops, tablets and phones from companies other than Google, so iPhone loyalists, or people with both Android and Apple devices, can use it.

“We will not force you to have the same operating system on all your devices,” said Mario Queiroz, a Google vice president who leads development of Google's TV products.

Tech companies, including Google, Apple and Amazon.com, often try to lock in customers by offering media accessible only through their services or devices. Still, Google can take its open arms philosophy only so far. As of now, Chromecast shows media from Google's own properties, YouTube and Play, as well as Netflix. Technology called Google Cast enables any software developer to program its mobile apps to work on TVs. Google said apps from others, including Pandora, would be coming soon.

But noticeably absent are several of the most popular streaming services: Apple iTunes, Amazon.com and Hulu.

Mr. Pichai said that Google was talking to many partners and hoped that Hulu and Amazon.com services would be added. Apple is unlikely to join Google's party.

“Historically, iTunes works only on Apple devices, so they have a different approach,” he said.

Chromecast, similar to Apple AirPlay, also enables people to mirror Web sites visible in their browser on their TV screen. So users could watch videos or look at photos on the big screen, and they could theoretically watch TV shows accessible online, as on HBO Go. But expect pushback. Mr. Pichai said that media companies had the ability to block their content from Chromecast, which major broadcast networks did with Google TV.

For consumers, Chromecast is hardly the final stop on the road to Internet-connected TVs that allow users to watch whatever they want whenever they want on any device they want. Instead, it is one more offering in an already fractured market. Tech companies have been trying many experiments to merge TV and the Internet, and in the process get a share of TV viewing and advertising.

Google has tried again and again to get onto TVs, but with little success. Google TV has been underwhelming. (It runs on Android, one of Google's two operating systems. Chromecast runs on a stripped-down version of Chrome, its other operating system.) The Nexus Q, for streaming from Android devices, was dead on arrival.

Chromecast, though, could pave the way for Google's grander TV plans. It is negotiating with TV channels for an Internet cable service, in which people would be able to access cable channels in a Web browser, according to people briefed on the talks. So Chromecast may be the first step in what Google hopes will be a cable alternative.

On the hardware side, Google is trying to do away with the annoying jumble of cords and clunky boxes that accompany most TVs. Chromecast plugs into an HDMI port on a TV, connects to power through a USB cord, and uses Wi-Fi. At $35, it is well below the price of other streaming media devices. Mr. Pichai said it was profitable for Google and retailers.

For services connected to Chromecast, like YouTube and Netflix, viewers see a small symbol to click to broadcast to TV. Chromecast pulls the video from the cloud. The laptop, tablet or phone is the remote control.

A version of this article appeared in print on 07/25/2013, on page B2 of the NewYork edition with the headline: With New Device, Google Tries Again on Internet TV.