Google Chromecast Review

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Introduction and Hardware
Introduction

Those that sing the death of traditional media may be a bit premature, but there is no doubt that content delivery is changing. Non-traditional players are creating original content, most notably Netflix which has two of this year’s most talked about shows in House of Cards and Arrested Development. Microsoft is making a strong play to take over your family room with the Xbox One, a device that goes well beyond gaming. Roku might not yet be a household name, but their diminutive, affordable box is making it into more and more homes. Google has long seen this shift coming, and tried to get into the game with Google TV back in 2010, then again with last year’s Nexus Q. While those avenues has been all but a failure, Google is back with a newer, simpler and cheaper way to get content from your small screens to your big one: Chromecast. This tiny HDMI dongle will run you just $35, and promises a painless way to shift your favorite content from your phone, tablet or laptop right to your TV. The price is almost too good to be true, and the promises are almost too simple...can Chromecast deliver?

Hardware

There isn’t much to the Chromecast dongle. On one end of the stick is a gold HDMI connector, and on the other is a microUSB port for the power adapter, a reset button (hold for 25 seconds) and an LED indicator light. The Chromecast does need to be powered and even though HDMI 1.4 ports and ports supporting MHL are able to supply power, neither provide enough juice to feed the Chromecast. This means officially you’ll need the microUSB connector which is yet another wire behind your TV. If you’re lucky your TV has a USB port to plug into, otherwise you’ll need another free outlet as well.



Setup

Once everything is plugged in setup is very simple. You can accomplish the feat either with an app for your Android device, Mac or Windows PC, via a website on your iOS device or with a Chrome extension on Chrome OS. This will get the Chromecast connected to your Wi-Fi (5GHz networks need not apply) and quickly walk you through the authentication process. In all, from powering it on to cating our first video took only about 3 minutes.



Interface and Functionality

There is not much to the Chromecast interface beyond the initial setup. Though Google claims it is built off of Chrome OS, in reality it is a blend of Chrome and Android. None of that really matters to the end user though, since all you’ll see is a screen indicating the device is connected and waiting for you to send video to it.

One excellent feature is that the original content will continue to run no matter if you switch tabs or send the app to the background on your Android phone or tablet, allowing you to continue using your device while watching the content on the TV. Playback is controlled on the originating device, no clunky remote to deal with.

The best experience is with supported apps, which right now include Google Play Music, Movies and TV, YouTube and Netflix. Simply hit the cast button available online or via the app and the content is pushed to your TV, simple as that. Video quality was very good, quickly ramping up to HD and staying there which isn’t something we can say for Netflix on our Xbox or HTPC.


Though the list of supported apps is sparse now, both HBO and Hulu have confirmed that they are in active development to bring Google Cast (the streaming standard used by Chromecast) support to their apps. Check those two off the list and the Chromecast only needs to add Amazon Prime Video and Slingbox to cover most user’s streaming needs. Developers such as Koushik Dutta have already demoed streaming local files via Chromecast, which would make HTPCs all but obsolete. Though it is only a few weeks old, Chromecast is off to a very promising start.

The second half of the streaming equation is tab casting, which is officially still in beta. With the Google Cast Chrome extension simply press the cast button, choose where to cast to and the current tab will appear on your television. It works well for internet browsing, but not so well for streaming video. Some have reported better results, and performance is tied to the hardware and network you’re using, but with our Ivy Bridge i5 laptop with 8GB of RAM and AT&T’s 25Mbps home internet plan, video was still choppy and audio out of sync. Furthermore, not all streaming services are able to be casted; when we attempted to watch our Slingbox everything was fine on our laptop, but the casted tab’s video pane was empty despite the rest of the page rendering just fine. The beta tag is well deserved.


Once you understand how Chromecast works it makes sense why the tab casting experience is sub-par. If you’re using a supported service you initiate the stream from your device, but from there it is streamed directly from the internet to the Chromecast. When casting a tab the content is pushed from your computer and mirrored on the Chromecast. This mirroring is why we see lag, while the streamed content from official sources is smoother. So, while technically you’re not sending a YouTube video from your device to the Chromecast, the user experience makes it seem so since you initiate everything from your device. This seems so simple and intuitive, but cluttered interfaces and clunky remotes have plagued these efforts in the past. The beauty and genius of Chromecast is that you simply do everything as you would currently, then just hit a button to shift the content to your TV.

Conclusion

At Google’s recent brunch everyone was anticipating the new Nexus 7 and Android 4.3, but Google surprised everybody with Chromecast. It arguably stole the show, and rightfully so. Nothing against Asus’s latest Nexus (it’s wonderful, and makes a great companion), but a $35 device that streams YouTube and Netflix to your bedroom or hotel TV is virtually a no-brainer. With just a few more key content partners and well-made apps, Chromecast’s simplicity and price point should worry both small players like Roku as well as big ones like Microsoft. It appears that Google may have solved their TV problem in a big way with a little device.

Pros

  • Dead simple setup and interface
  • Great streaming quality with supported apps
  • The price makes it an impulse buy you won’t regret

Cons

  • Limited content partners at launch
  • Tab casting is not ready for primetime

PhoneArena Rating:

9.0

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