The Google Chromecast Revolution
When Google announced the Chromecast wireless streaming device it rocked the tech industry. For just $35 shipped, the Google Chromecast will turn any 'dumb' HDTV into a 'smart' TV that is capable of streaming media from Netflix and YouTube. You can also send entire tabs from the Chrome browser on Macs and PCs, which means you can basically put any site or service on TV with just the click of a button. This tiny little HDMI dongle offers a painless way to wirelessly transfer your favorite content from your phone, tablet or laptop straight to your TV. The best part is that not only does it work on your Android tablets and smartphones, but it also works on the Apple iPhone, iPad and even PCs!
Sure, Roku already has a Chromecast-like streaming dongle called the Roku Streaming Stick, but while it has more apps it is more costly at $83.99 shipped. Clearly Roku missed an opportunity as the Google Chromecast is the talk around town and the $35 price point doesn't have anyone complaining that it is too expensive. It was also nice that Google also included a code for three months of Netflix, which essentially brought the price down to just $11 by the time you factor in the Netflix savings.
Inside the retail packaging you'll instantly see the directions and there are just three simple steps to get started. You just need to plug the HDMI dongle into an HDTV, switch to that HDMI input and then go to www.google.com/chromecast/setup to begin the setup process to connect it to your existing local wireless (Wi-Fi) network. Besides plugging in the Chromecast the first time, you shouldn't ever need to touch it again. Everything else from this point on is controlled with your computer, smartphone, or tablet. There's no normal remote control or need to connect directly to the Chromecast.
Underneath the Chromecast you'll find the accessory bundle.
Besides the Chromecast itself, you get a micro-USB-to-USB cable, a USB power adapter for a wall outlet, and an a HDMI extender. The HDMI extender can be very useful if the Chromecast is a little too thick to fit against other HDMI devices or the casing of your HDTV housing.
The Chromecast looks like a USB flash drive and is only 72(L) x 35(W) x 12(H) mm in size with a weight of 34 grams. At one end of the you’ll find a gold plated HDMI 1.4 connector and at the other end a micro-USB port, a reset button, and a white status indicator LED.
We didn't feel comfortable cracking the Chromecast open, but features an AzureWave combo Wi-Fi controller, low-power Marvell 'Armada' DE3005 SoC, paired to 512MB of low-voltage RAM and 4GB of flash memory. The most interesting thing inside is the AzureWare chip as it is said to support 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and FM radio! Could a future firmware update enable Bluetooth and FM radio features? It should be noted that the Chromecast supports 2.4Ghz 802.11 b/g/n wireless support, so don't go thinking this 1080p device will connect to your 5GHz band when you go to set it up for the first time. Rumor on the street is that the cost of the license to access the 5GHz band would have pushed the price of the Chromecast into the $40+ range, so this was likely due to keep costs down.
Installing the Google Chromecast onto your HDTV is very easy as you just need to plug it into an open HDMI and USB port. Despite the fact that both HDMI and USB ports carry current, the Google Chromecast needs both power sources as it pulls more power than either one can deliver individually. HDMI 1.4 can only push 50mA, which isn't much power to begin with when you consider all that is inside the Chromecast.
If you don't happen to have an available USB port on your TV you can use the included power adapter and plug the USB cable into the wall adapter. As you can see from the image above, we connected our Chromecast to the side HDMI input on our Philips TV since there was a USB port directly below it. We were able to tuck the wires behind the HDTV so that none were visible from the front.
Setting Up The Chromecast and Usage Thoughts
The most common usage scenario for the Chromecast will be from your smartphone or tablet, so we setup our Chromecast on the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. Chromecast is compatible with WiFi-enabled Android 2.3+ smartphones and tablets; iOS 6.0+ iPhones, iPads, and iPods; Chrome for Mac and Chrome for Windows; and Chromebook Pixel. The entire setup process is really easy and it took us just five minutes to setup our Chromecast while taking screen captures of each step and taking out time. You can see the majority of the steps in the image gallery below.
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Once Google Chromecast is setup you are nearly ready to start beaming things to your HDTV!
Now you need to download or open the three apps that support the device. Right now the Chromecast is compatible with just YouTube, Netflix and Google Play Music & Movies on mobile devices. Google says that many more apps are in the works, but that is it for now. We'd love to see things like HBO GO, Hulu, Pandora and MyCast supported right now, but hopefully they are coming sooner rather than later. For $35 these three starting apps are a great start, but if there was a weak point for the Chromecast it would be lack of available apps.
We were able to open up the YouTube app and find a video that we wanted to show some friends over at our house. By just touching the cast button located on the upper-right corner of the app and waiting a few seconds, we had the video automatically playing on the TV. We even had the ability to control the volume of the TV from the volume button on our phone. The best part of this is that our HDTV was turned on to the input with HD cable from our Charter Cable service before we 'cast' the video from our phone. Chromecast was able to switch inputs on the HDTV with no interaction on our end! You also don't have to worry about your data plan as you aren't actually streaming from your mobile device. When you are 'Chromecasting' it tells the HDMI dongle that is running the Android OS to connect to your home network to stream the online data from the internet. This means you can multitask, take calls or anything else you desire on your mobile device without having to worry about connection issues or running up your data plan.
After using the Chromecast for a bit we did start to see some limitations. For example we wanted to show off some pictures that we took on our smartphone from a recent trip. The Chromecast sharing button is on the images, but you can't beam them from a smartphone or tablet as it isn't allowed. Laptops have it a bit better as you can install the Google Cast extension on Chrome to wirelessly mirror any open tab on your laptop or desktop PC to your TV. This means you aren't really app limited, but you have to be on your laptop or desktop PC to do that. We want to see that functionality for smartphones and tablets!
At the end of the day we found the Google Chromecast to be super easy to install and begin using. You are looking at no more than ten minutes from start to finish and you don't need to have geek skills either! At first you'll be amazed by it, but after the novelty wears off, you'll begin to see where improvements could be had.
Final Thoughts and Conclusions:
The Google Chromecast solves the problem on how to stream data to your TV wirelessly. It also happens to be very affordable and super easy to setup. If you have ever wanted the ability to share multimedia content from your mobile device to your large flat panel HDTV, this is the perfect device to get your feet wet. It is app limited right now, but at $35 shipped it is a very cost-effective wireless solution for those that yet to have something like this for their HDTV.
If you are a heavy Netflix and YouTube movie watcher you'll find the Chromecast is the perfect companion for your smartphone or tablet. If you want to do more than that you'll need to use a laptop or desktop PC to take advantage of the mirroring offered by the Chromecast. This is the real sweet spot for the Chromecast as you aren't app limited! Google promises more apps are on the way and we have no reason to doubt that.
Legit Bottom Line: The Google Chromecast is one of the most exciting $35 pieces of hardware that we have seen in recent years. It is no wonder they are selling off store shelves and we can see this being a popular gift item this holiday season.