Chromecast

I had an Amazon gift certificate and was annoyed at running a cable between my tablet and my TV (first world problems!) so I decided to pick up Google’s Chromecast.  After playing with it for just a little while, I have to say, it’s pretty awesome.

What you need: A television with an extra HDMI input.

Optional: A USB port on the television.  This is used to power the Chromecast dongle, but it also comes with a standard plug adapter.  Though you’ll probably need an extension cord as well unless your outlet is within six feet.

Why Google is awesome: I was in love with the thing before I even plugged it in.  Why?  Because Google included a velcro cable tie with the USB cable so you can easily secure the excess cable.  It’s a small little detail, but can you name another company that does this?  Secure, neat cabling is very important and leave it to a company with server farms the size of a warehouse to realize that this extends to the home as well.

The device itself is a paltry $35.  This may be a limited time offer to increase demand.  Setup is a breeze.  The device itself is a tiny 3″ or so dongle that plugs into the HDMI port.  You attach the micro USB side of the cable to the dongle and the standard USB side to either your TV or power outlet and you’re ready to rock.  Set your TV input to the HDMI port your Chromecast is attached to and it’ll start up and look for a device attempting to talk to it through a WiFi connection.  I used my phone to set it up.  I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

Chromecast: Hello, I’m here!  There are so many WiFi connections here, won’t anyone come and talk to me?

My phone: Psst!  Hey, over here. I’ll talk to you.

Chromecast: Um, I hear you, but I can’t seem to talk to you.  It says I need a password.

My phone:  Oh yeah, that.  Here you go.

Chromecast: Why thank you.  Well, look at that, I am hopelessly out of date.  I’m just going to download an update and you come talk to me again when I’m done.  Bye.

My phone: Hello!  You’re done!  Let’s watch a movie.

Chromecast:  You got it buddy!

I’m sure I’m somewhat wrong with the handshake protocols, but my way sounds cooler than any dry technical information.

Then, it’s just a matter of launching a Chromecast capable app on your phone and telling it to send the output to the TV instead of your phone.  Having Netflix, I used that.  There is a Chromecast icon that you touch and then choose your Chromecast ID from a list if there happens to be more than one.  The video goes to the television and you can then use your phone as a remote control.  Easy peasy.  The video and sound quality is superb, though it will take a while to get to the full 1080p HD as the video buffers.

The remote control functionality is still a bit wonky on my Galaxy S4.  After only playing with it for a little while, I have found that sometimes it works just fine and sometimes my phone seems to lose the connection to the Chromecast thus losing the ability to pause the action even though the TV still plays the show just fine.

Amazon doesn’t have an app to use yet, but you can still stream their stuff using the Google Chrome browser with the Chromecast extension installed.  Setup is a bit of a pain since you have to make sure that Silverlight (what Amazon uses to stream videos) is disabled and then tell Amazon that you want to use the Flash player instead.  If you don’t do that, you don’t get sound.  Even with that, you still don’t get the high quality high definition like you do with apps that have native support for Chromecast.  Amazon promises to change that in the near future.

There are a bunch of other apps that currently support Chromecast, including HBO Go and Pandora with a bunch more promised in the future as the Chromecast development kit has just been released to the general public.  As far as I know, all smartphones and tablets can be used with Chromecast and your PC can as well but only using the Chrome browser as described above.

All in all, for just $35, the Google Chromecast is well worth the money if you want to stream Internet to your television.  It’s certainly more of an in between technology than a device of the future since we are quickly coming to the time when all televisions will be WiFi enabled.  But if you’re not in the market for a new television, this is a simple and cheap way to extend the lifetime of the television you currently own.

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