I’m the last person that needed a Google Chromecast. I have no shortage of devices in my home that can stream content. Between a PS3, Xbox 360, PC, 2 tablets and 2 smartphones, my Netflix and Hulu viewing needs were pretty much set. So why do I find myself now using the Chromecast exclusively for all my streaming needs?
My video streaming device of choice is my PS3. Between myself, my wife, and my kids my PS3 is basically on all day. At any given moment I’m either playing a game, or the TV is on in the background while my wife futzes around the house, or my daughter is watching her 5,000,000th episode of Caillou and Bubble Guppies (for the record, I do not just plop my kids in the front of the TV all day….just to clear that up).
I live in a pretty warm area, and as many of you may know, a few hours of usage can turn any PS3 or Xbox 360 into a pretty gnarly heating element. These things get HOT, and I was noticing crashes more and more often on both devices. Not looking forward to either of my consoles dying, I invested in a Chromecast to see what the fuss was all about.
For those that are unfamiliar, the Google Chromecast is a $35 dongle that connects to your TV’s HDMI input and streams content from your phone, tablet, or Chrome tabs on a PC (all via local wifi). It does not stream directly from your mobile device (like what AirPlay does); rather it uses your device to establish a connection to the cloud and streams directly from the cloud. What this means is even when you are streaming a Netflix movie through the phone and Chromecast, your phone can still be used for whatever you want. You can easily stream The Avengers, minimize Netflix, and continue farting around on Facebook or answer a phone call. It’s really quite amazing.
The Chromecast comes with the dongle itself, a USB cord, and a power adapter. If your TV has a USB port, then all you need to do is plug the Chromecast into an available HDMI port, an available USB port, and you’re all set. The device will draw power from the TV via the USB cord. If you don’t have a USB port on your TV (which is my current situation), then you’ll need to plug the Chromecast into an outlet via the power adapter. It’s not that big of a deal, but it does add some extra clutter to a device that suggests its use is as simple as a one piece plug and play.
All that’s left to do is to connect your Chromecast to your local wifi network, and you’re good to go. You don’t ever need to touch the device again, and don’t even worry about turning it on or off. From this point on, any control is handled by your phone, tablet, or computer.
The new Google Chromecast dongle is pictured on an electronic screen as it is announced during a Google event at Dogpatch Studio in San Francisco
When you fire up a supported app on your phone, for instance Netflix, you will notice a new icon in the app that allows you to Cast playback to the Chromecast. Simply press that icon, select your Chromecast from the list that pops up, find a movie or TV show to watch, and press play. Then grab your popcorn and beer(s) and relax. Done. Your phone/tablet is now a remote control for whatever app you are currently streaming to the Chromecast.
Granted, the experience isn’t as magical as it would seem when you first use the Chromecast. Only a handful of apps are currently supported (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Youtube, Play Music, and Play Movies). One can only assume that more apps are in the works, so maybe someday down the road we can also use Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, MLB.TV, etc. There is, however, a workaround to any missing apps you might want to use, though the quality of this workaround really depends on the strength of your wifi connection and what type of computer you are using.
Since you can Cast any open Chrome browser tab (simply install the Google Cast extension to the browser) to your TV, you can theoretically play a video from something like HBO GO on your computer and Cast it to your Chromecast. While this sounds like a great plan on paper, in practice it rarely works that well. Yes, you can easily Cast to your TV using this method, but since a number of plugins aren’t supported, the process is very hit or miss. Add to that the fact that when you DO get a successful Cast the video quality is usually poor and choppy, and you’ve got yourself a frustrating situation. To be fair, however, Tab Casting is listed as a beta feature, so here’s hoping it will get ironed out in the near future. And just in case you were wondering, you can play locally stored videos and pictures via Tab Casting by simply typing in the file’s path into the URL field.
So who is the Chromecast targeted towards? Obviously for those that use something like a Roku or have a smart TV, the Chromecast is going to be pretty much useless, especially with the tiny number of currently supported apps. It won’t ever replace something like a Roku, which currently supports tons of different apps. Even if you have a video game console or a blu ray player with streaming support, you’re probably better off just keeping what you have. Even though I had a specific and unique situation on my hands, I probably didn’t NEED a Chromecast. However, if you have none of the above mentioned devices and wanted to be able to stream Netflix or Hulu from your phone to your TV, then the Chromecast is for you.
But consider this: the Chromecast is only $35. That’s cheaper than most Nintendo 3DS games. That’s cheaper than taking your family out to dinner at Chili’s. That’s cheaper than a year of PS Plus. At $35, I don’t even care that I have a bunch of other devices that will accomplish the exact same job. The simplicity and convenience of simply opening an app on your phone and having it play directly on the TV is awesome. After the initial setup, there is nothing else you need to do. Heck, there isn’t even a device to turn on (other than the TV itself). Convenience is worth a pretty hefty premium to me, and $35 for convenience of this level is why I am giving the Chromecast a glowing endorsement. It’s not perfect, but it can be down the road.
more info: amazon.com/chromecast