The Streaming Advisor looks at The Hot Device In the Streaming World
Today we are reviewing the Google Chromecast. The Google Chromecast is a simple and elegant streaming receiver priced at $35.00 and available at Best Buy and online retailers Amazon.com and the Google Play Store. While the device has some definite limitations It has received strong media buzz after its release for a number of reasons. We will explore both its strengths and weaknesses bellow.
What Does It Do?
The Chromecast has two primary functions. It can be paired with a smartphone or tablet in order to send the signals for Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, HBO GO and Google Play media to a TV. Its other primary function is that it can mirror tabs a using Google’s Chrome browser via a laptop or desktop computer. The Chromecast does not allow that same functionality via the mobile version of the chrome browser found on Android devices. For those who have both a mobile device and a laptop there is a lot to be done with this space smart dongle.
Easy Set Up
Setting up the Chromecast is done in minutes. Before plugging the Chromecast in to an HDMI port the free Chromecast app must be added to a smartphone. The Chromecast can be powered via a USB connection on the television set if one is available or by its USB plug adaptor. Once this is done launch the app and it will prompt you through the short set up process.
Less Is More
The Chromecast has often been incorrectly categorized as a set top device like the Apple TV or Roku line of products. This is not the case. While a typical set top device is not large or cumbersome they take up about as much surface area as a stack of coasters and sit next to a TV or on an entertainment center. The Chromecast is a dongle, which is a small piece of equipment that is about the size of a thumb/flash drive. It is designed to plug in to an HDMI port on an HD television and depending on where your HDMI ports are can be hidden from view completely. Set top devices also have to be connected to a television via an HDMI cord, the Chromecast on the other hand already has its HDMI connecter designed into its 2 inch construction providing a clutter free way to add new functionality to any HD TV.
Only HD Compatible
Because the Chromecast requires an HDMI port to connect to a TV this means that the device can not be used on any television without one. This means those without an HDTV are out of luck. Any modern HDTV will have at least one HDMI port. If you have none open it might be worth it to buy an HDMI splitter. Because it has become the standard for video and audio delivery each HDMI port is worth its weight in gold.
Bring your own Apps
The Chromecast has no preinstalled apps. Purchasing the dongle will not automatically provide a portal to Netflix, Pandora or any of the well-known sources for streaming content. Anything that is seen via the Chromecast must be sent via a mobile device or computer using the Chrome Browser. Think of the Chromecast like an antenna for receiving internet content and your computer or mobile device like the broadcaster. Without a local affiliate to produce and beam out the 5:00 news there would be nothing to tune in to whether you use cable, rabbit ears or even the new flat antennas that are all the rage. This is one of the major differences between the Chromecast and the popular set top boxes which come preloaded with video and audio streaming apps.
No Remote Control
The Chromecast does not ship with a remote of any kind. The device utilizes mobile devices and laptops for all of its control functions. Once the mobile device is casting to the dongle all of the normal control features are available on the smart phone or tablet screen including play, pause, volume etc. When using a laptop it is easier to use a TV remote for volume functions. Unfortunately if a household does not have such devices available the Chromecast is functionally useless.
Using A Mobile Device As A Remote
Yes this function is listed as a weakness for the device. But for those who do have a smart phone or tablet it is a convenience. It means there is one less controller to keep up with. Most people keep better track of their cell phones than anything else that they own. Apple and Roku along with other set top device makers figured this out a long time ago and released free mobile apps to control their devices even though they also do ship with remotes. It also may allow for the device to be sold at its price point because there is so little hardware. The difference here is that there is no app to launch because the device morphs into the control mechanism only when a compatible program is launched.
Chrome Browser Mirroring
The term mirroring in the context of computers and mobile technology means that what you see on your computer screen is what you will see on your TV. In order to use a laptop for mirroring with a Chromecast you must download the latest version of the Google Chrome browser and add the “cast” extension. Once this is set up you are ready to watch Internet content from a computer on television. In the case of the Chromecast for instance whatever your computer accesses via the Chrome browser will be seen on the TV screen. If you navigate to the National Geographic website or IMDB your TV will display the full site minus the URL bar at the top. Some websites have their video content formatted so that it pops out in another box for viewing. This poses a problem that can occur when mirroring with Chrome. While this is not a common feature it does occur. Chromecast is unable to mirror video content on sites that operate in that manner. The good news is some of the most popular websites for streaming including Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go are fully capable of supporting the Chromecast through its Chrome browser. This is a plus for Hulu fans because it means that the Chromecast allows users to watch Hulu on their televisions without the need to sign up for Hulu’s pay service “Hulu Plus”. Of all the devices and services on the market the Chromecast is the easiest one to use in order to view the Hulu website on a TV. The a laptop casting with Chromecast can also mirror full episodes of CBS television shows via CBS.com. There is currently no CBS video app available on any device so again this is a coup for Chromecast and its mirroring. Important note, if a website has a video window that can be maximized to fit your computer screen it will be reflected on your television screen too. This is especially helpful when viewing video on news sites. For the record the videos from the CNN and Fox News websites can be viewed via Chromecast mirroring but MSNBC uses a pop out window for video content and therefore cannot be seen on the TV screen. A notable website that is not compatible with Chromecast mirroring is the popular Watch ESPN website. While the Chromecast can display the website, its video feed appears in a pop out box that can be seen on a computer but cannot be seen on the television.
Great For Traveling
If you like to access your Netflix queue while on the road whether it is to relax after a business trip or let the kids wind down at the end of a long day the Chromecast is a handy item to have on a road trip. Simply access your hotels wireless network or even use a phone as a hotspot, if this is an option and view away.
Inexpensive Compared To Other Devices
Part of the popularity of the Chromecast is its price tag. For households with an HDTV, a mobile device and a laptop computer already on hand the Chromecast can add a great deal of functionality to a living room.
Does the price tag of the Chromecast make up for its lack of native apps? If someone has the necessary hardware to access their favorite apps and websites the overall performance of the device can make it a worthwhile purchase. This product is a step in the right direction for Google and may be the first popularly adopted method for mirroring computer content to a television. After many failed attempts to license full set top devices Google has captured the imagination of the public with The Google Chromecast.
- Apple “Airplay” And Chromecast “Casting” (thestreamingadvisor.com)
- Google Drive may be getting Chromecast functionality (androidcommunity.com)
- Chromecast Adds Hulu Plus (thestreamingadvisor.com)