Live Channels on Android TV

"How do I watch ..." is probably the most frequent question from someone who's looking to become a cord-cutter. (Or from someone who's suddenly found themselves in the home of a cord-cutter, but that's another thing for another time.

And it's a fair question. Between the obvious schisms of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — and the newer introduction of live streaming TV from the likes of DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue and others — there are more places to watch more things than ever before.

The Live Channels app lets live streams from multiple sources live under a single guide.

One advantage of cable and satellite is that it was all right there in one place — in that little box that you were being gouged charged for the pleasure of using every month. It was simple. One box. One remote. One guide.

It was simple, but quite often more expensive than it needed to be. (Which, of course, is what brings us all together on this site in the first place.)

Once we ditch the cable box, things get a little messy again, with separate apps for damned near everything. But one sorely underrated (and underutilize) solution can be found on Android TV.

The "Live Channels" app on Android TV is exactly what it sounds like. It's live channels.

The question, though, is what kind of live channels are we talking about. If you have a TV that uses Android TV for its operating system, Live Channels is where you'll find your broadcast channels should and antenna be plugged into the TV tuner. That's obvious enough.

But Live Channels also is part of a TV input framework. That is, other applications can take their live content and pipe it through the Live Channels application.

A prime example of this is HDHomerun. You'll need the app installed on Android TV, and you'll still need to run a channel scan like normal. But once that's done, all of your over-the-air channels will be available in the Live Channels app, alongside anything else that also uses the TV input service framework.

What's better about that than just using the HDHomerun app? For one, "Live Channels" is far more intuitive than "HDHomerun." Plop an Android TV novice in front of the UI and there's a pretty good chance they'll figure out what "Live Channels" is long before "HDHomerun." It's just cleaner.

Too few apps take advantage of Live Channels. But then again — why would they?

The question then becomes which third-party apps take advantage of Android TV's Live Channels interface. The answer is "Too few." (And there's a pretty good chance you've never heard of the ones that do.) Google Play Movies & Music uses it as a preview channel, which is kind of cool. The only other service I've used that uses Live Channels is PlutoTV.

Why don't more apps use Live Channels? Incentives. Why would an app developer go to the trouble to have you install their app, only to not actually use some other to get the content. Where's the incentive there?

And there's no stronger incentive than advertising. PlayStation Vue has a bit of display advertising within its live guide. (Often promotions to other things to watch on PlayStation Vue.) Why would it give that up just to pipe its live channels into Live Channels?

What can we, as users, do about this? Probably not much, unfortunately. We can lobby the app developers all we want. (And we should.) But there's just not enough incentive for employing the TV input framework. And that's a shame.

Because it's one hell of a handy feature on Android TV.