Google Chromecast Review | HDMI Streaming Media Stick
What is the Google Chromecast?
DVD case getting filled? Sick of hooking up your laptop to the TV to stream Netflix? The Google Chromecast may be your best option yet!
In today's world the media we consume is almost entirely streamed. My wife and I haven't bought a DVD in years, let alone a blu ray. From YouTube and Vimeo to Hulu and Netflix, pretty much everything we watch is readily available on the Internet. The problem these days is that if you want to watch any of this on your TV you have to shell out a thousand dollars for a Smart TV or pick up one of the alternative devices that make your current TV "smarter".
The Google Chromecast is one such device.
Unlike the more mainstream streaming devices like Apple TV and Roku the Google Chromecast is not a set box! Weighing no more than 34 grams, the Chromecast is a streaming stick (or dongle?) that you plug right into the back of your TV and use to stream from all your favorite services.
What it comes with
How it works...
With other streaming devices this section wouldn't be necessary since every person in this country is familiar with a remote control and how to use it but the Chromecast is different; it has no remote to speak of!
Sounds inefficient but it actually works out well in practice.
To begin you plug your Chromecast into an HDMI port and a power source (either directly into the TV or to a power outlet). Next you download the Chromecast app for your iPhone or Android phone. After you launch the app you use a 4 digit code to link the devices together and that's it. That's all the setup there is.
After that, just launch your trusty streaming apps and look for the casting button (pictured to the right) and your phone switches into remote control mode. After that you can binge watch to your hearts content!
Alternatively, you can head over Here to get the Google Chrome extension and use it to mirror whatever page you're viewing on your computer.
What I think is important to understanding the Google Chromecast is that it doesn't cast your phone/tablet's screen to your TV, it actually just launches it's own version of the app and streams it directly from your router. It cuts your device out of the process so you can be free to use it for anything else.
Must have apps!
The ability to cast/stream is great and all, but what use is it without some good apps that are compatible with the magic streaming stick? A full list of apps that work with the Google Chromecast is available Here.
But lets look at the obvious choices and a couple not so well known apps that really showcase the power of the Google Dongle.
1. Netflix and HuluPlus
Neither of these should be surprising. Even my not-so-tech friendly friends have been streaming Netflix for a few years and having the ability to cast all of that media to the screen is your obvious first choice. Hulu may not be as popular a Netflix but it has it's own pros like having new episodes and having some choice shows and movies not found on its competitor.
There are multiple different reasons people use YouTube. From playing music to watching podcasts all the way to viewing a live concert from halfway across the planet. So it should not come as a shock to let you know that YouTube is fully compatible with the Google Chromecast. It also opens up the ability to have a "YouTube Party". Any time someone comes over with a smartphone they can connect to your Chromecast and you can both add videos to the playlist queue. It makes it a really social environment when you can both control what is on the screen. Another idea is to have multiple DJs that can share control of the music and music videos while you and the rest of your friends dance the night away.
Of all the most obvious apps that almost HAVE to be compatible with the Google Dongle Pandora is for sure in the top 3. It isn't as interactive as far as the YouTube Party idea but being able to throw your music up onto the screen before you start to clean up the apartment is definitely a plus.
For all you podcast-listeners out there don't worry! Downcast has the ability to stream your downloaded podcasts so you can listen with your entire Bose surround sound system. It is a bit finicky though. Sometimes when you get part way through your podcast and decide to switch back to your device to listen with headphones it doesn't remember where you had listened to and just starts from the beginning. A bit of an annoyance but I'm sure they'll hammer it out in a future update.
The Real Hidden Gem; PLEX
Of all the things I've done with the Google Chromecast nothing compares to what Plex Media Server has allowed me to do.
First of all, Plex gives you a small download that lets you broadcast your local media and give you access to them from any computer connected to the internet. It automatically downloads meta data about your media, has the ability to recognize subtitle files and, best of all, can cast any of your media to your Google Chromecast!
Once you get your Plex Media Server set up you can watch anything you have synced up with it right on your browser. Can you guess the next step? You just hit your cast button and stream it straight from Chrome to the big screen! My wife and I do this regularly with digital movies and shows we've downloaded. This means that any video you download can be streamed straight to your living room for FREE! Roseanne, The Avengers even the Insanity Workout, whatever tickles your pickle.
Pros and Cons
- Cheap: $35 to make your TV smarter is definitely the cheapest on the market
- Portable: Take it wherever you want to stream!
- Updates: Google already has big plans for the Chromecast. Check out this LifeHacker article about the Google I/O
- No Remote: This could be considered a Pro by some people but as a person with an old iPhope 4 it becomes a problem. There is a lot of lag between choosing another episodes or even adjusting the volume. A physical remote would just make things eaier.
- No Windows Phone Support: Google right now has an official stance that Windows Phones/Tablets are not a viable market. They don't even see them as a user base and has no plans to go farther than their bare bones Google App. It makes my Windows Surface pretty sad.
- No Games: I've heard that some games have some sort of Casting abilities but the possibilities to stream your PC or App games seems like a natural next step. Perhaps a future update will address this?
Physical Remote, app
Voice Search, Physical Remote, app
Physical Remote, app
Through Chrome Browser
Through Kindle Fire HDX
How does it perform?
When the dust settles in the streaming media world the main thing that will really make the difference is the apps. What is compatible with the streaming device is what will dictate which device is best for you. The problem with using that as a guide is that everyone streaming content right now uses the same services. Whether its Netflix HuluPlus or Pandora you'll have your media no matter which device you choose.
The next factor to consider is either price or the possibilities of future applications. In this realm the Google Chromecast has almost cornered the market. It is the cheapest device available and Google has already released plans to further it's capabilities.
As a Google Chromecast user for almost a year now I can whole heartedly say that it is well worth the $35 price tag. Not only did it save me from having to buy a Smart TV or gaming console to stream my media, I only had to explain how to use it to my wife one time! If that doesn't speak to how easy to use the Chromecast is I don't know what will...
What about you? Have you used the Google Chromecast? What's your experience? Or do you have another device that you believe blows the Google Dongle out of water? Let me know in the comments below!