Google Chromecast has been one of the most popular gadgets in the market today. You must have heard about it a lot from your friends and family, but do you really know what it is? If you are interested in finding out everything about the Google Chromecast, this is the review for you.
Google is constantly trying to raise its bars to take over the living room televisions and fails every time. After its first attempt in 2010 with Google TV followed by Nexus Q in 2012, we all thought Google might take a break and will not come up with any media streaming or entertaining device soon. But we were proved wrong.
Back in July, Google announced Chromecast – a dongle shaped digital media player that plays audio/video content on a HDTV by streaming it from the cloud. Chromecast lets you stream from YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV and third-party apps as well. Along with this it can also extend your computer display and turn your HDTV into a gigantic Chrome browser with the help of a Chrome browser extension.
Learning from the mistakes made previously Google has noted two things. First is, the consumer does not want a big hole in his pocket when investing in a not-so-mainstream living room device. Secondly, even if he gets one it should be hassle free, easy to setup and use. Something that is minimal and can add up to the living room’s beauty.
Google corrects both these mistakes by launching a dongle sized streamer – Chromecast at a jaw-dropping price tag of $35 and making it real easy to setup.
What is Google Chromecast?
The Chromecast is a media streaming dongle that lets you stream content from the internet to your television set. Yes, it’s a dongle, but don’t get it wrong. It is not a USB dongle rather a HDMI dongle that fits right into the HDMI port at the back of your HDTV.
What sets it apart from other media streamers is its ability to do the work. Generally these media streamers are medium sized box having lots of ports at the back and pre-installed with various internet applications. Chromecast provides the same features, but all in a small-sized dongle, wondering how?
Chromecast does not have a built in user-interface or apps like other media streaming device. It acts as an interface between the TV and the remote controller. A cell phone, tablet or a computer acts as a remote control that controls the Chromecast. The cell phone does not stream videos directly to the TV. It just guides the Chromecast which video it should stream from the Internet.
Chromecast contains the Marvell 88DE3005 system on a chip which is capable of hardware decoding of VP8 and H.264 codecs. AzureWave NH–387 Wi-Fi adapter handles radio communication which supports 802.11b/g/n (2.4 GHz). Chromecast has a 512 MB of Micron DDR3L RAM and 2 GB of flash storage.
Out of the box
On un-boxing the Chromecast you’ll get the dongle, HDMI extender, 5-feet microUSB to USB cable and a USB power adapter.
The Chromecast dongle comes with a male HDMI connector and fits directly into the HDMI port of the TV. The HDMI extender is provided if the dongle doesn’t fit behind the television because of the overcrowded cables. This extender also fixes the Wi-Fi reception problem faced by the Chromecast. If you’re facing any connectivity or reception problem with Wi-Fi, Google recommends you to plug the dongle into HDMI extender instead of directly connecting it to TV. But I’ll recommend you to use the dongle with HDMI extender all the time.
Plugging in the dongle into the TV is not everything. HDMI just acts as an connection interface between the dongle and HDTV. Alongside the HDMI connection Chromecast requires additional power to work. This is one of the drawbacks I have found so far. This additional power is provided from the microUSB port located at the other end of the dongle. Powering the dongle is easy if there is an USB port provided on the television (all the modern television sets have it). However, if the HDTV is old then the 5-feet microUSB to USB cable needs to be connected with the power adapter plugged into the power source. This is complicated at times.
Some users have reported issues after powering the dongle from the USB’s located on the television set. That’s why it is always recommended to use the power adapter.
The power cable is the only cable that users will have to deal with, else dongle itself is everything. Unlike other media streamers where HDMIs and other cables come and go in between the TV and the streaming box. Chromecast can easily reside on the rear side of the television without letting anyone know. It fitting it for the first time can be annoying if the TV is wall mounted and the HDMI port is not easily accessible.
Chromecast dongle measures 72mm x 35mm x 12mm. It looks like an oversized USB flash drive or a data card and weights 34 grams. Dimension wise none of its competitor products even come closer and this is why anyone might fall in love with it at the first sight.
Once the Chromecast is connected to the HDTV and powered on its time to set it up. Setting up the Chromecast is really easy, just follow Google’s guide and setup is literally done in 2 minutes. After doing the connections user will have to download the Chromecast app on their phone, tablet or computer.
On the HDTV select the HDMI interface and you’ll see ‘Set me up’ screen. After you see it, launch the Chromecast app installed on your mobile, tablet or computer and follow the prompts. The app is readily available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. Using the standard browser method on a computer to set the device is easy and simple as compared to the app method.
Phone and tablet users will have to disconnect from the home Wi-Fi network and connect their device directly to the Chromecast and then enter a 4-digit code to set it up for the first time. The Wi-Fi needs to be connected and disconnected for a couple of times to establish the connection, but overall it’s easy to set up. The other drawback of Google Chromecast that I found was it is only compatible with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band and not with the 5GHz one, and this may irk you at times.
Google Chromecast works like Magic! It doesn’t work like other media streaming devices and is the only one of its kind. It’s a small Android computer that can connect to the Internet and play video files on your HDTV. It doesn’t rely on your smartphone, tablet or computer for streaming; instead it streams the content off the web itself. The remote is to command and control the Chromecast to stream the right video. How does this work?
Turning your device into a remote control doesn’t mean you have to install any special kind of app for this. All the popular apps are built-in with support for Chromecast within themselves. There is a ‘Cast’ button that is built into some apps; they are YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies & TV.
Find whatever you want to watch and tap the ‘Cast’ button, it will guide the Chromecast to stream for the corresponding video from the internet. Chromecast will no longer rely on your device and you’re free to use your device for anything. This benefits over AirPlay for Apple devices as where you cannot exit the app once the streaming starts.
Google Chromecast is made with minimum software on its board and everything is controlled from the remote. There I find some more drawbacks. Once the video starts streaming it continues to play till the end. Since there is no software built into Chromecast there is no immediate way control the playback of the video. Play, pause, rewind and mute can be controlled only through the respective app.
Another feature that needs to be added into the Chromecast is the device verification. Right now anyone passing by can cast a video as long as he is connected to the same Wi-Fi network. The only security provided to Chromecast is by the secure Wi-Fi network. In addition to this, Google should add another security layer to avoid unwanted casting.
Along with video streaming from YouTube, Netflix and on-demand Internet streaming media, Chromecast can stream content from the Chrome browser on HDTV. All you need is an additional plug-in installed into the Chrome browser on your computer. Chromecast can act as a second screen that runs Google Chrome so that you can carry on with some other work on your computer.
Don’t be mistaken that you can use Chromecast as a second screen for any application running on your computer. It only supports Google Chrome and that’s why you can only use the extended display as a huge browsing screen. AirPlay from Apple is the winner here as it is a system-wide application that lets you mirror or extend the entire system running on your Mac.
Also, Chromecast is deprived of one vital feature that is a way to show mouse cursor on the extended display – it’s missing on the TV. As everything is handled wirelessly there is considerable lag while using as extended screen. Such a two-second lag is fond for AirPlay for Apple devices as well.
On comparing Chromecast with Apple TV we were more inclined towards the Chromecast. Reason? Firstly, Chromecast is a dongle size device that offers nearly similar features as Apple TV and everything is handled under 3-inches. Apple TV on the other hand is large in size and requires cables running to HDTV. Comparing the cost, Chromecast is priced at $35 where as Apple TV is priced at $99. As said already, people think about the price when it comes to a not so needed investment. Chromecast has multiple platform support that includes – iOS, Android, Windows and Mac. On the other hand, Apple TV only supports iOS and Mac devices, but with deep integration.
At the time of the release, the only apps available were YouTube and Netflix from iOS, Android and Chrome Web apps, and Android exclusive apps Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV. Lots of app developers are adding support for Chromecast for each and every app. Unlike AirPlay, which is system-wide feature integrated into the operating system.
To be compatible with Chromecast the app needs to be developed individually on each platform with a ‘Cast’ button. So streaming services compatibility with Chromecast is platform independent. So some services may have support to Chromecast from Android and not from iOS or vice versa.
At this moment only YouTube, Netflix and HBO Go is compatible with Chromecast from all the three platforms. Hulu Plus, Pandora Radio and Google Play Music are compatible from Android and iOS. In addition to these we will able to see some more services in future that includes – AOL On, Bitcasa, Blip, Devour, Fandor, Post TV, Redbox Instant, Revision3, Simple.TV, Songza, Tonido Home Cloud, Twitch.tv, VEVO, Vimeo and Zattoo.
An Android application named ‘AllCast’ that provided support to stream locally stored audio and video on the device, but a software update to Chromecast withdrawn this support.
You can still stream audio and video stored locally on your computer by using Chrome (if they’re supported by the browser). Just drag and drop the media files into the browser window and let it cast to the HDTV. I tried this, but didn’t find it up to my expectations as it crippled the video quality and maybe that’s this plug-in is still in beta stage.
The streaming is done at the maximum resolution of 720p; there is an option to choose between 720p and 480p depending upon the bandwidth you have. There is an “Audio Mode” in the browser menu that lowers the video frame-rate. This mode will come handy if you’re listening to music online or locally into browser.
Google Chromecast uses HDMI CEC standard. HDMI CEC is a feature designed to allow the user to command and control numerous (upto 15) devices that are connected through HDMI, by using the same remote control.
Google Chromecast uses this standard and can automatically turn on the HDMI-CEC supported TV and also change the HDMI input from your mobile device.
This feature will make it easier for you to turn on the TV from the mobile device itself without hunting for the misplaced remote control. But your TV needs to be HDMI CEC certified; most modern televisions have this certification, but if you have a old television you’re out of luck.
One will not buy this $35 device to stream content from YouTube or Netflix as these services are already available on most of the devices. So the only primary use of Google Chromecast is for making your HDTV into a gigantic second screen for your computer and enhance productivity.
If you are into on-demand video streaming services and want them in easy, clean and affordable way Chromecast is must buy. But Chromecast is just evolved and that’s why it lacks apps support. It is reported that developers are already working to make their apps compatible with Chromecast and that’s easy as all they have to do is add the Chromecast support to their existing mobile app.
Chromecast will be provided support for more streaming services in coming months and it will be much better then. By then we expect Google to work on the beta version of Google Chrome plug-in for Chromecast and provide enhanced streaming support.
Considering the stability and features Apple TV is anytime better than Google Chromecast. If you were a Mac user I would highly recommend an Apple TV to mirror or extend your display. AirPlay technology is stable and also provides more features than Chromecast, but it will cost much more than a Chromecast.
If you were a Windows user and wanted a cheap and affordable way to extend display wirelessly, I would recommend Chromecast. It’s cheap and reliable.