Last week Google released a HDMI dongle called Chromecast, a week later the entire tech fraternity are still talking about it – so what is it and why is it so important?
Basically Chromecast is Google’s answer to Apple’s Airplay, but with a few added bells and whistles. Designed to be cheap (just $35), and simple to use: all you have to do is plug a Chromecast into your HDTV and you can watch content from a range of apps on your TV. As well as that you can also send tabs from Google’s Chrome web browser and beam them onto your TV, whilst using your device – whether it’s a phone, tablet, or computer – as the controller.
To get it going is fairly simple: plug the dongle into a HDMI port, then you need to either plug the dongle into a power source, or alternatively you can power the device via a spare USB port you might have on your TV. Once you’ve done that you need to download the Chrome Extension, then the Chromecast setup app and then, finally, connect the dongle to your home Wi-Fi network.
Once setup is complete you can start sending content from your device of choice to your TV. When you hit the Cast button in a supported app, the Chromecast directly connects to the Internet and streams the video itself, rather than streaming the content from the device. At the moment the only apps that have a cast button are Youtube, Netflix, Google’s various Play media apps.
If you have a smart TV, media player or games console, all of this functionality might not seem like that much of a revelation. But what you’re actually paying $35 for is the ability to simply put content from your laptop, PC, phone or tablet onto you TV. And when it works, it works really well.
With the Chrome Extension you can load your favourite video content and beam it to your HDTV at the press of a button, then you can use your device as the controller. Google says the tab casting feature is still beta, and it kinda shows. High quality video playback isn’t perfect, with dropped frames and audio lag often ruining playback at times, and if you’re computer has seen better days then you might notice lag between controller and screen.
What have our fellow critics had to say about Chromecast?
“Could a small, plastic stick really deliver the type of functionality that so many other companies have failed to fully implement and utlilise? […] Once you select the Cast button in either app, Chromecast will play the video files while your device becomes the remote control. Since Chromecast is doing all the work, you can play with your device while watching TV. This means you can open and close apps and switch between tabs without disrupting your video. This also means you can switch platforms. For instance, when casting Netflix on Android, you could switch to iOS and continue managing your Netflix without a hiccup. To manage the currently streaming video, such as hitting rewind or pause, you have to use the original app (ie, Netflix, YouTube, etc) from which you “casted” the video. Google could easily circumvent this hassle by implementing playback buttons to Chromecast set-up app.” – Pocket-Lint
“The Chromecast basically offers two ways to get content onto your TV: from apps that support it directly, or by “Casting” content from the Chrome browser. […] It works well, for the most part. We had a couple of glitches at times, but 720p video streamed cleanly and there’s the option for 480p or 1080p depending on what headroom your network has. Switching between Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play takes a couple of seconds, no more frustrating than regular source-jumping on your TV.” – Slashgear
“Chromecast provides a much-needed low-cost means for migrating towards streaming services that immediately renders most of the recent advances in Smart TVs obsolete. […] The fact that Chromecast communicates directly with the cloud server means that once I load up a video, I can continue using my phone or tablet for other stuff without disrupting the movie. I can also queue up additional media directly to the TV so my mobile device doesn’t burn through its battery pushing the data from Netflix’s servers to the TV.” – Gizmodo
If you’re looking for a wireless solution to get your content from device to TV then Google’s Chromecast is a no-brainer for the price. Cinephiles would argue that the quality will never beat a traditional HDMI, and while that might true that’s not the point. Chromecast is all about convenience, and if Google can gets enough app developers onboard it could be a watershed moment for Google and it’s plans for the future of the TV, which so far haven’t exactly been all that great.