Last week, Google announced their new Chromecast device.
It’s an interesting device, because it’s not quite a Roku or Apple TV – rather, it’s a sling player device that streams content to your TV from your PC, tablet or mobile phone. It seems more like a direct competitor with Apple’s AirPlay instead of any of these other media streaming devices.
I decided to jump on the bandwagon to see what all the noise was about. For an investment of $35 – it was kind of a no-brainer. With a promotion that included 3 months of Netflix, which I already pay for, the price of the hardware comes out to be $11. That’s enough to get any early adopter on board.
Out of the box, the Chromecast isn’t anything fancy. It looks like a USB drive, but instead of a USB input, there is an HDMI input. You can plug it in to any available HDMI port on your TV set. The downside to what is otherwise a compact design is the fact that you still need an external power source. The product ships with a micro-USB cable and a power adapter. You can plug it in to the adapter or to an available USB port. I plugged the device into the back of my receiver since it has HDMI switching, and there were USB ports available on the back – so setup for me was dead simple. I also looked at the back of my TV, and there were available ports as well, so again, installing the device is so easy a monkey could do it.
The initial setup was intuitive. When you switch on your TV to the correct input, you are presented with a guide screen that walks you through the setup process. You will need your computer or phone in order to continue with setup. It literally took less than 5 minutes to get the device up and running. The only step that seemed odd was that you disconnect from your wireless network and then connect to the Chromecast, which broadcasts it’s own wi-fi network. Once you connect, it asks you which wireless network in your home you want to connect to. Once you select the network, you need to disconnect from the Chromecast and switch back to your home network. It should be noted that the Chromecast will only work with devices on the same wireless network – so no streaming from your phone through your carrier’s data plan.
Once setup is complete, you have a couple different options depending on which devices you own. Being an iOS user, my options were limited on my iPad and iPhone to YouTube and Netflix streaming. There is a new icon in the app that you must click on to stream to Chromecast. It’s similar to AirPlay, and if you’re familiar with how that works, you’re basically doing the same thing. I’m sure there will be more apps supported in the future since Google has made a SDK for iOS app developers.
I can’t speak as to what changes have been made on Android devices, simply because I didn’t have one to test on, but my understanding is that it is very similar. I would assume that there would eventually be native playback within the media player so you can stream videos from your device. I know that Google Play is one of the supported apps on Android, so I’m sure any movies, shows or music you have downloaded will be able to be streamed to the device. I’m sure you’ll see more app support for Android before iOS.
As for the PC/Mac interface – it’s pretty slick. In Chrome, you have a button that allows you to broadcast whatever tab you have selected to your television. The first time I did it, it was a bit laggy. I’m chalking this up to the fact that my PC is on the opposite side of my house on the second floor and the Chromecast is downstairs. On the second try – the streaming was much better and I was able to play back Hulu, Amazon Prime and even Spotify. Basically – anything you can do within the browser, you can stream to the TV. That’s why this is a killer app – neither Roku or Apple TV have this TV/Browser interface which literally brings the web to your TV. It should be noted that Chromecast in Chrome is still in beta, which means that you will more than likely encounter some issues.
So, what are my impressions?
Honestly, there are a million devices out there that stream Netflix and YouTube videos – so in that regard, this is no different than any of those devices. Where it excels is at streaming content through Chrome, and that’s what really sets this one apart from the rest. For $35 – it’s enough to get you set up with video streaming if you already don’t have a device that does this. If you are an early adopter, this is a must-have gadget.
However, for your average home user, particularly if you have an iOS device, you’ll probably see little benefit to adding this to your setup. It’s cool, but until there is broader app support, you won’t really be doing anything you can’t already do.
Overall, I’d give this product a 4/5 – it’s a solid piece of hardware, easy to set up and brings the web to your tv – something others have tried to do but failed.