We’ve seen signs that Android TV might step out of Chromecast’s shadow throughout the year. The software has been popping up on new devices, such as AirTV and Nvidia’s second-generation Shield TV, and enabling novel over-the-air DVR solutions like Tablo Engine and Plex. Even Google seemed to be giving more love to its lesser-known living-room platform, announcing plans to integrate Google Assistant and overhaul the Android TV interface.

But after installing Android 8.0 Oreo on a Nexus Player this week, I’m not sure an Android TV comeback is imminent. The new software is a mess on Google’s three-year-old streaming box, and it’s missing several features that Google showed off at its I/O developers conference in May. Meanwhile, there’s been little evidence of new streaming boxes to carry the platform forward, and it’s unclear if existing ones like the Shield will get upgraded to Oreo anytime soon.

Perhaps I’m expressing these concerns prematurely, and some big reveal is forthcoming with new Android TV hardware and improved software. Still, it’s hard to see how that happens with the state Android TV is in now.

Oreo on Android TV

On the surface, Android 8.0 Oreo is a major upgrade for Android TV. The home screen allows each app to have its own row, or “channel,” where it can recommend movies or shows to watch. Those apps can also feed into a “Watch Next” row for catching up on new episodes of previously watched programs. The layout is a nod to the grid-based guide you’d find on a cable box, and an attempt to make browsing through streaming apps much simpler.

But right now, Oreo on Android TV lacks several features that Google demonstrated a few months ago. The Watch Next row is empty, for instance, because shows aren’t populating the list automatically as they should, and attempts to add them manually result in a “Can’t add to Watch Next” error. Netflix’s previously announced home screen integration hasn’t arrived yet either—though the company tells me it’s still working on it—and video thumbnails aren’t appearing on channels like Google Play Movies & TV.

Jared Newman / TechHive

Attempts to fill the “Watch Next’ queue went nowhere.

Google Assistant is also a no-show, so you can’t launch directly into videos from Netflix or YouTube with voice commands, control smart-home devices, or access third-party voice skills. The search results screen is the same as it has been in previous versions of Android TV. (Google said in January that Assistant would arrive on Android TV—including older versions—in the “coming months,” which seems conveniently non-committal in hindsight.)

Even basic operation of Android 8.0 Oreo veers into unpleasantness on the Nexus Player. The device stutters and lags at every step, and flashes a blank screen every time I tap the remote after waking the device from standby. And when pressing the remote’s voice search button, the device consistently takes a few seconds to produce any response on the screen. Also, Sony’s Crackle—one of the earliest streaming apps to support Android TV—doesn’t even work. This is the stuff of beta software, not a major, publicly available upgrade.

googleassistantatv Google

Google Assistant will allow for launching videos by voice, whenever it arrives.

Pixel Player, where are you?

Judging Android 8.0 Oreo by its performance on a three-year-old streaming box might be harsh, but right now the Nexus Player is the only device that supports the new software. For developers who want to optimize their apps for Android 8.0, this is the experience they’re going to get.



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