Google Chromecast: TV’s next little thing
Last week, Google released Chromecast, an HDMI dongle that promises to turn your “dumb” TV into a slightly smarter one. With a price tag of just $35, the device is sold out everywhere, and its bundled 3-month Netflix subscription has been halted, due to overwhelming demand. So what’s this little device causing all this ruckus?
Looking like an oversized car key, Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of most TVs enabling wireless “casting” of Netflix, GooglePlay and YouTube content from your mobile device or laptop or PC or you can mirror the content of a tab in Google’s Chrome browser. Why is this so much better than just a copy of what’s on your computer screen? Simple - you can start a tab mirroring onto the TV and then continue to use other tabs on your computer without affecting what’s viewed on the TV screen. Nice. And using the Chromecast apps on Netflix, YouTube or GooglePlay is even better. Instead of streaming through your computer or mobile device, it plays these selections directly from the cloud. And did we mention the $35 price? Now you can see why this has been flying off the shelves.
Setup is quite easy. It does need power, which can come from the HDMI port, but the dongle also has a USB connection to grab power from a spare port on your TV or use an extension cord to power it like a typical USB device. It comes with 2GB of built-in storage and Bluetooth/FM/802.11 b/g/n WiFi radio connectivity. Download the Chromecast app (google.com/chromecast/setup) which will open a setup page, connect the device to your WiFi network at home and you’re ready to start streaming, excuse me, “casting” in just minutes. It comes with a short HDMI extension cable in case the ports on your TV are too close to allow the slightly-chubby Chromecast to fit into a slot. Setup is so easy that you can quickly move the dongle from TV to TV within your home, or even take it for use in hotels on the road. Its max resolution is 1080p, but this is obviously controlled by your WiFi bandwidth.
Why is this device any better, different or more exciting than Roku, PLAir, or AppleTV? Well, obviously, the price is one thing. Plus, it’s compatibility with many formats besides the Apple iOS is appealing. In addition, Google released an SDK so we can expect the Chromecast app to appear in many more platforms besides Netflix and YouTube, with Hulu Plus and HBOGo most likely coming soon.Unlike the Roku Stick, it doesn’t use an MHL-capable HDMI port on the TV, so it’s more versatile. It does not come with a remote, which can be a plus or a negative. You control playback on your mobile or computer, so one less remote cluttering the coffee table, but you will have to stop what you’re doing on your phone to pause playback. Its functionality is very similar to the PLAir, but did we mention the $35 pricetag? Given the Google legacy, expect more app support and development than PLAir could hope for.
Chromecast doesn’t claim to support local media playback at the moment, but with certain formats, you can simply type in the address of the media on the Chrome address bar and it will play. This is another thing that will probably be updated as more developers get their hands on this device.
It should be noted that the system requirements for mirroring are quite high. Currently, the Chromebook Pixel is the only Chrome OS that is officially supported. Windows machines need to be running at least a second generation Core i5 at 2GHz or higher for HD, and at least a Core i3 for 480p mirroring.
For less than most people pay for a month of cable, the Google Chromecast is an interesting option for streaming TV. It’s obviously cheaper than a new smart TV. Is this another device that’s going to bring around the demise of broadcast TV? Or is this simply one way that entertainment is getting away from the smartphone and back to the home theater?