It’s only slightly bigger than a USB thumb drive and it’s almost one-third the price of an AppleTV. Google Chromecast does a few things very well and could change the way you watch streaming content.
Here are some first impressions after a test run of the new device.
It looks like a USB thumb drive. Just two inches long with a metal HDMI port protruding from one side, the Google Chromecast is a simple device. On the other side you’ll find a hidden button and a microUSB port (the same as most Android smartphones). There’s no remote, the dongle is it. Plug the HDMI into your HDTV, plug power into the micro-USB port using either a USB port on your TV or the (included) external USB power supply.
Once the Chromecast powers on, an image pops up on your TV prompting you to head to the Google Chromecast website on your computer. From there you’ll download a small piece of software that walks you through the 2-3 minute process of connecting Chromecast to your home network. You can also download the Chromecast Android app if you’re working without a home PC. It’s simple. Anyone can handle this setup.
Once setup, everything happens on your smartphone, tablet or PC. The Chromecast doesn’t actually do anything on its own. There is no menu on your TV, no icons and no onscreen apps.
Load up the Google Play music app and you’ll notice a Chromecast icon in the upper right hand corner. Tap the icon and it’ll connect to the Chromecast and stream all of your music straight to your TV instead of through your smartphone speakers. The display is elegant, showing album art along with the song title, album title and a progress bar. You can add new songs to your playlist and they’ll be cued up to play next on your TV. Once again, simplicity is paramount here and Google nailed that.
Video works much the same. Load up a video clip in the Google Play app, tap the Chromecast icon on your smartphone or tablet and voila, the video streams to your TV. The quality looks great and streaming worked flawless on my cable internet connection. Same rules apply here as with any streaming service, bad internet connection = bad streaming quality.
One of the first apps that is compatible with Chromecast out of the gate is Netflix. This is a huge one. Netflix is the king of TV and movie streaming. Sending video to Chromecast is as simple on Netflix as it is in the Google Play app. Tap the button and it switches from your phone to your TV.
Simply put, duh! YouTube is Google’s baby and a launch of a product without support for YouTube would be silly. Streaming YouTube clips via Chromecast is simple and works great. The quality will depend on the quality of the clip itself and we all know YouTube has plenty of horrible-looking video clips. On the other hand, professional 720p YouTube videos look awesome on the big screen.
In addition to the obvious video and music streaming, Chromecast also has a beta feature that lets you stream a tab from your web browser to your television. Watching a cool video on a webpage and want to show it to family and friends? Just click the Chromecast button in the upper right hand corner of the Google Chrome web browser. It works with any webpage including video, pictures, text, etc. As I mentioned, it’s a beta feature and it shows. In my tests it was a bit jerky and lagged behind. Your PC processor, network speed and other factors will be a big issue with this feature. Your personal experience may differ.
The interesting thing about Chromecast is that it’s not always streaming the music or video from your device itself. Instead, it redirects the stream to your TV. This means, once you switch the stream over to Chromecast, you are free to do anything else on your smartphone or tablet. You can come back to the app and control the stream anytime you like but you don’t have to keep the app up to keep the stream up on your TV. This means it doesn’t drain your battery as much as you might think and you don’t have to miss those precious e-mails and text messages because you’re using Chromecast to watch a movie. Cool!
$35! It’s $35! Did I mention it’s only $35!?! There is no question that the price is the killer feature here. Chromecast doesn’t do as much as AppleTV, Roku or the long list of other set-top boxes but it’s also a fraction of the cost. It streams content from your device to your TV. That’s it. It does it well and without any confusion.
Simplicity doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. Video looks good and music sounds great.
Setting up Chromecast is super simple. All you need to know is how to download a program on your PC and run it and your wireless network password. Expect it to take 5 minutes or less.
Chromecast won’t be the all inclusive TV app box that some people want it to be. It doesn’t run apps and it doesn’t have a remote. It’s an extension of your smartphone, tablet or PC.
There are only a few apps that support Chromecast at launch including Google Play, Google Chrome, Netflix and Youtube. Expect this to grow quickly but for now you’ll be restricted to those few. Google promises a Chromcast app for the iPhone and iPad but as of July 25th, that hasn’t lauched yet. Google is giving any developer access to make their app compatible with Chromecast so don’t be surprised to see this list grow fast. Pandora has already signed on to support Chromecast. For now though, there are 4 apps.
Another issue for me is that I’m not 100 percent sold on using my phone as the remote. Sometimes, I love the simplicity of a simple remote that doesn’t require me to unlock it, switch over to a certain app and then figure out how to pause, stop or resume what I was watching or listening to. Obviously not including a physical remote helps keep the price down but I would love to see a separate accessory remote that would let me do simple tasks without having to find my smartphone or tablet.
I really don’t like using the term “gamechanger” but in this case, it may fit. After multiple failed attempts (GoogleTV, Google Nexus Q) Google seems to have struck the magic formula of price, functionality and simplicity. You can bet the teams at AppleTV and Roku are in a boardroom right now trying to figure out how they should respond to Chromecast. Google is, once again, making waves.
Kirk Yuhnke is a total geek but also the anchor for Fox31 Good Day Colorado weekdays from 5am - 9am. You can also find him geeking out on Facebook (facebook.com/kirkyuhnke) and Twitter (twitter.com/kirkyuhnke).