What’s Google Chromecast?

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Google Chromecast is itty-bitty, pretty much the same size as your typical USB flash drive.

You may have been hearing or reading a lot about something called Google Chromecast lately, and wondered what it was and why all the geeks seem so excited about it.

 

Google Chromecast Streams Content From The Internet To Your TV

Google Chromecast is a little thingie called a “dongle” that plugs into the HDMI port of your TV (assuming your TV has an HDMI port) to allow “streaming” of internet content to your TV from some other device that’s running the Chromecast app. As it says in the product description on Amazon:

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Chromecast is the easy way to enjoy online video and anything from the web on your TV. Plug it into any HDTV and control it with your existing smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Send your favorites from Google Play, YouTube, Netflix, and Chrome to your TV with the press of a button. No more huddling around small screens and tiny speakers. Chromecast automatically updates to work with a growing number of apps.

• Stream online video, music and more to your TV using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop
• Supports Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, as well as select web content through Chrome browser
• Works with Android, iOS, Chrome for Mac, and Chrome for Windows

– – – – –

Essentially, the intention of this thing is that when you’re viewing some kind of internet content or content from your personal media files on your small-screen device, the Chromecast app can redirect that content to your HD TV’s larger screen for a better-quality viewing experience.

Sounds great, right? Especially when you consider that the Chromecast device only costs about $35 (as of this writing) and the accompanying app is free. But not so fast there, Buckaroo…

 

At $58 (as of this writing), the Roku HD runs about $23 higher than the Chromecast. But it’s also more versatile and easier to set up. It can’t put your Google Chrome browser window up on your TV screen like the Chromecast can, but that’s not something I’ve ever actually wanted to do anyway.

What the Chromecast CAN’T Do

Notice that I specified “internet content” and “personal media files” in the paragraph above. Also notice that Google’s own product description specifies “select web content” (emphasis mine).

That means your iTunes-purchased videos are out, your Amazon Instant Videos are out, and pretty much any DRM-protected content other than what you’ve purchased from the Google Play store is also not going to work with this setup. FYI, most purchased content has DRM.

Chromecast also cannot increase the quality of the video you send to it from your devices, and most of the free video content you can find online (e.g., on YouTube) is not optimized for viewing on a screen any larger than a laptop. You may have noticed that very often, when you go to full screen mode while viewing a YouTube video, the quality of the image takes a nosedive. Now imagine blowing that same image up to the size of your HD TV screen. Not a pretty sight, is it?

So unless you’ve got a lot of non-DRM, HD-quality videos in your computer’s personal media library, don’t have any other way to watch Netflix videos on your TV, or have a burning desire to view the Google Chrome browser or mostly out-of-focus YouTube videos on your TV screen, this device isn’t quite the inexpensive miracle it may seem at first glance.

 

Chromecast Is Not Exactly Plug And Play

This thing has an average Amazon review rating of 4/5 stars and many of the 5-star reviews specifically cite ease of setup as part of the reason for their recommendation of the product. But most people who even know this device exists are pretty tech-savvy, the type of people who regularly read tech news and are always anxiously awaiting the release of the next big thing. Your idea of “easy” setup may be a far cry from theirs. For example, one reviewer says:

Setup is very quick and painless, you plug it into your tv and power it by usb, you turn your tv to the hdmi it’s plugged into, then you use your laptop/phone to set it up, it tells you exactly what to do.

I’m thinking that since this is a site geared to people who are not tech-savvy, this description stopped sounding “easy” to many of you right about the time you got to the part where the reviewer said “power it by usb”. In a different customer review (also a 5-starrer), the reviewer stated his Wi-Fi network didn’t initially “see” the Chromecast device, but once he’d reset his router all was well. I found numerous instances of this same situation. If you don’t know how to reset your router, or have any jitters about doing so, you’ll be stuck if this same thing happens to you.

At $95 (as of this writing), AppleTV costs considerably more than either the Chromecast or the Roku, but it’s the only streaming box (as of this writing) that will allow you to stream content you’ve purchased from iTunes to your TV.

I’ve read numerous articles about this device on tech sites, and while setup would be very easy for the people who write those articles, it’s not going to be easy for anyone who’s at all intimidated working with their home wi-fi network (e.g., connecting a new printer, resetting the router, et cetera). It’s also not going to be easy for anyone who’s not comfortable switching among their TV’s input sources (e.g., HDMI, PC, Blu-ray player, cable or satellite input, etc.)..

 

So Why Is Everyone So Excited About Chromecast?

Google has been very forthright in calling the Chromecast a work in progress. For tech-savvy types, many of whom believe the ‘net is well on its way to becoming the primary delivery channel for informational and entertainment content, the Chromecast is a big step in the right direction. Google has stated they’re actively working on further development of the Chromecast device and app, and that new types of content will shortly be added to the current (pretty short) list of supported content types.

That’s as may be, but if you’ve already got an internet-enabled TV, or you have a streaming box like a Roku or AppleTV and don’t have any desire to watch (mostly) fuzzy YouTube videos on your HD TV screen or see the Google Chrome browser window on your HD TV screen, the Chromecast doesn’t have anything new to offer you at the present time.

Also, Amazon is developing its own streaming box with a rumored pre-holiday release date, and that’s the device I’m most anxiously awaiting because most of my digital video library consists of Amazon Instant Videos and I expect Amazon will be building some Instant-Video exclusive features into their box to pull buyers away from Chromecast, Roku, AppleTV and other competing devices.

 

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One Comment

  1. Comment by Terri Bynum:

    Hello there. As a 46-year-old non-tech-savvy Mom, I had to comment on this so that I can ask you to keep doing what you do ~ your advice, knowledge, & feedback are invaluable to people like me. 🙂