When a new version of Android launches, it’s usually a big deal, at least when it comes to phones. That’s not the case with Android TV as version 12 has now officially launched but it doesn’t matter to anyone but developers since the only device that it’s available on is the ADT-3 Developer Kit. Google’s own flagship Andoird TV device, the 2020 Chromecast, is still running Android TV 10 with no indication that it will be updated. Similarly, the newest Amazon Fire TVs are based on Android 9 and have also shown no indication of being updated.
The underlying version of Android on streaming devices really doesn’t make much of a difference to the overall experience, which is why most streaming device manufacturers skipped upgrading to Android 11 or even Android 10, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do the same for Android 12. The majority of Fire TV devices in the wild are using an OS that is based on Android 5.1, a version that is 5 years old, and it makes very little difference compared to newer OS versions.
This is because there really isn’t much that can be added, on an OS level, to significantly improve a streaming device. The short list of what’s new in Android TV 12 is fairly insignificant and some of the new features have already been added long ago by device manufacturers like Amazon and Nvidia, such as refresh rate switching.
The primary benefit of a streaming device being on a newer OS version is avoiding the scenarios where streaming apps and services draw arbitrary lines for support. For example, Netflix only supports Dolby Atmos on devices running Fire OS 7, despite other services supporting Dolby Atmos just fine on older OS versions, and NBC Sports stupidly block Fire OS 5 devices from accessing certain streams.
Google’s overview of what’s new in Android TV 12:
- Media: Avoid motion judder during playback using refresh rate switching
- Media: Certified API-accuracy for reporting display modes, HDR formats and surround sound formats
- User Interface: Background blurs using RenderEffect and in WindowManager
- User Interface: 4K UI support
- User Interface: Accessibility settings for font sizes
- Privacy & Security: Microphone and camera indicators
- Privacy & Security: Microphone and camera toggles
- Privacy & Security: Device attestation via Android KeyStore API
- HDMI & Tuner: Support for HDMI CEC 2.0
- HDMI & Tuner: Tuner HAL 1.1 with DTMB support and performance improvements
- HDMI & Tuner: Better protection model with Tuner Service