Second Generation Chromecast and Chromecast Audio Review

Google's Chromecast dongle was due for an update as its first generation was going on two years old. Although there are improvements, it’s still pretty much the same device but the dongle is now round. What is new is a device dedicated to streaming audio—the imaginatively named Chromecast Audio.

Google has also updated the Chromecast phone app—adding quick access to new and popular videos—and upgraded Chromecast hardware for faster streaming and processing. In the past year, Google has also added new services along with a number of software upgrades. All of this sounds pretty ho-hum except that Chromecast remains one handy and very popular streaming device.

The lightweight dongle is easier to connect to the TV that its predecessor and easier to take along when you travel. The flat-wire HDMI connector sprouting from it replaces the HDMI extension cable previously needed to fit the dongle in a crowded jack and it “sticks” (magnetically) to the dongle. Chances are you won't see the dongle hanging from the back of your TV but Google offers three colors nonetheless: yellow, black, and red (coral).

Back to that updated hardware: Chromecast supports dual-band 802.11 AC wireless connectivity. When paired with a fast router, this insures a smoother streaming experience with no delays or buffering. I can attest to that. As for taking advantage of the improved wireless capability on the road, few hotels have AC routers so it won't make difference in most cases.

The upgraded Chromecast phone app, which works with the first-generation dongle, is a welcome improvement. New and popular Netflix movies, videos on YouTube, and TV show episodes on Hulu are listed for quick, easy access. Clicking on a title and opens the app and compatible apps already loaded on your phone are displayed so you don’t have to search for the one you want. Very convenient. A new “Fast Play” feature also loads content as soon as a Chromecast-compatible app is opened so it’s ready to play.

Google has added streaming services, which makes Chromecast a viable alternative to cable or satellite TV. Between Showtime, HBO, Hulu, Sling TV, and CBS All Access, you have access to most network and cable TV channels. The Sling TV app for iPhone lets you browse channels while casting to the Chromecast. Other than one brief incident where the video stopped playing after an hour, I experienced no problems, although picture quality was not exceptional.

Other new additions include a Photo and Video Cast app that lets you stream single photos from your phone or cast slideshows that include music (requires $2.99 app upgrade).

Chromecast Audio
While compatible music apps can play to Chromecast when it's connected to your TV, Chromecast Audio is designed to stream music to any device or speaker that can accept a 3.5mm line-in. This means powered speakers, old bookshelf stereos, and car stereos with auxiliary jacks can now play Spotify, Deezer, Google Play, iHeart Radio, Slacker, and other music apps. I tried Chromecast Audio with my Sonos system and was able to stream to the whole house using a 3.5mm to RCA jack cable connected to my AV receiver. Sound quality was fine but this is not high-res streaming.

My first thought about the Chromecast Audio, was that I’d rather stream from my phone to a Bluetooth speaker. The problem with Bluetooth is that it also plays notification tones from your phone and needs to be stopped when you have to take a call. In contrast, Chromecast Audio only plays music from the app.

Final Thoughts
The second-generation Chromecast is a fine streaming device, but unless you’re upgrading to 802.11 AC router there's not much incentive to upgrade. If you have a speaker or stereo system through which you want to stream, Chromecast Audio will do a fine job. Either model is priced at $35, and can add instant streaming at home or on the road. It’s handy to have one around.

jnemesh's picture

I use the new Chromecast. I have it plugged into my TV, then go out of my TV's optical output to a Parasound ZDAC. Sound quality is EXCELLENT! The Chromecast Audio also supports optical output, but you need a 3.5mm to Toslink cable that is not included. I would bet money that if you had used such a cable when connecting it to your AVR, you would have had a much different impression of the sound quality!

Elwis74's picture

Fantastic little gadget! You're able to plug in the Chromecast straight into the AVR's HDMI input and power it with the usb line or with the wall adapter.