Google’s low-cost but clever little device is a no-fuss solution for streaming (almost) anything.
If you’ve ever found content on the internet and wanted to view it immediately on a big screen in the comfort of your living room, Google’s Chromecast dongle may be the device for you. It’s small, unobtrusive, and so long as you have a spare HDMI port and a USB power supply, they you’re good to go.
What is it?
It’s easier to start by saying what Chromecast isn’t. The Chromecast is not a content discovery device, you won’t find yourself flicking through films and TV shows on your TV, looking for something to watch. What Chromecast does is allow other devices in your home to grab content from a variety of sources including YouTube, Google Play, and of course, Netflix, and then direct a high quality stream from the internet to your TV via the Chromecast. If it sounds complicated, take it from us, it’s a lot more intuitive than it appears.
Google’s Chromecast is not a pretty device — but then, it’s not meant to ever be seen. Resembling a bulbous, slightly oversized memory stick, Chromecast is designed to be tucked away in the HDMI port behind your TV, and once installed, it’s unlikely you’ll ever look at it again.
Externally, the Chromecast has a small LED (to let you know that it’s working), a reset button, and a micro USB port. This is for power supply only and cannot be used to transfer data directly.
As a pure streaming device, the Chromecast is almost a blank slate unless media is being passed through it. There’s a selection of pretty landscapes and the words, “Ready to cast”, but otherwise there is zero functionality.
There is also no remote, as what is shown on screen is controlled directly from devices on the local network. However, recent software updates have allowed users to control Chromecast playback from an HDMI-CEC enabled device via remote.
The first thing you need to consider is that the Chromecast is not a standalone device — you will need either a computer, a smartphone, or a tablet to operate it. This works in two different modes, but can create problems later on (see performance). The first mode — and the one we anticipate most people using — is simply streaming content from the internet. All of Google’s services, such as Play Music, Play Movies, and YouTube are supported, as are most of the major Australian streaming services. Netflix, Stan, Foxtel Now, and many more are fully compatible. There are literally hundreds of apps with Chromecast support, which you’ll spot right away thanks to the familiar TV icon in the corner of the app’s screen.
Using Chromecast as an internet streaming device involves using one of your companion devices to start playing the content you wish to view, and then locating this icon and tapping it to choose the device to send to. Content is not streamed from your companion device to the Chromecast. Once a film or TV show has started playing, it is streamed direct from the website to the Chromecast itself, leaving your tablet, PC or smartphone free to perform other tasks.
The second mode is as a local media streamer. Chromecast apps — available for Android, Chrome OS, Windows, and IOS, can send your photos, videos, and music from anywhere on your network, directly to your TV, and there is a beta feature in the software which allows whatever is currently being shown on your desktop to be mirrored on the big screen.
Provided that you have reasonably modern entertainment hardware in your house, setting up the Chromecast is, in most cases, a very simple procedure, handled entirely by companion devices. However, there are a couple of caveats. The Chromecast is known not to play nicely with Apple routers, and there are some complicated fixes detailed on the Apple Airplay support pages. Also, please be aware that this is a WiFi only, HDMI device — if you’re still using ethernet cables or SCART plugs, Chromecast will not work on your setup (if you need Ethernet connectivity, the Chromecast Ultra comes with it supplied in the box, and an adapter is available for other Chromecasts).
Chromecast does one job, and one job only. Its only function is to stream content from the internet and your local network onto your HDMI enabled TV. It doesn’t store local content, it doesn’t have a TV tuner — it’s a device designed primarily to work with subscription services — and those which have taken the necessary steps to ensure that their offerings work with Chromecast have integrated well. This means, of course, that Google is not responsible for any of the interfaces with which you will interact while using Chromecast, so the quality and ease of use is dependent entirely on your provider.
In addition to the major players, many other channels, such as ErosNow, Red Bull TV, and Viewster have Chromecast enabled on their apps. Internet based “adult only” tube channels are prohibited from using the Chromecast API.
As the Chromecast stream is controlled by any internet enabled device on your local wireless network, there is no longer any need to worry about losing the remote, however once a show has been started by one device, it can only be controlled by that device. This doesn’t seem like a problem until you consider that many streaming services can be set up to autoplay and that the person who actually owns the device may actually leave the house — leaving you with no little choice but to continue watching the Peppa Pig marathon they started. If this is the case, then your only option is to reach behind the TV and hit the reset button to retake control.
The desktop streaming option is dripping with potential and doubtless teachers and other professionals will be considering the possibilities already. Be aware though, this relies on your companion device to render and cast the video, so the results may be sub-par.
This review was written for the original release of the Chromecast — a device that looks like a very chunky USB stick, but which actually plugs into an HDMI port to stream video wirelessly from your home network. Google has since revised the Chromecast design to make it a larger disc-style device that otherwise has the same functionality — so if you value simplicity and space, search out one of these “classic” Chromecasts, as they’re still out there (and very cheap if you can find one!). The latest version of the Chromecast is also a disc-shaped device called the Chromecast Ultra, which we review in detail here. Chromecast functionality is also built into many smart TVs (such as Sony’s), Android-based streaming devices, and even AV Receivers.
Chromecast is one of the most unusual services available and relies on your PC, smartphone, or tablet for control. It’s a novel idea, and it lets you stream your own local content, as well as Google’s Play Store offerings, and streaming TV shows and movies via your subscription services. There are a few minor niggles, and not every streaming service is on board, but on the whole, this is the best device of its type — and at $49, is well worth a try.