For the past several years, so called “Smart TVs” have been becoming increasingly popular. The combine basic TV functions with Internet-capability, letting users view content from the web without an external device (e.g., a video games console, a laptop, etc). Many users enjoy having Netflix or Amazon Instant Video available right from their interface, without having to boot up their Xbox or plug in their laptop. However, despite a few years of existence, Smart TV interfaces continue to be slow, annoying to use, and sometimes just absolutely un-intuitive. Additionally, many people have not upgraded since they got their first HDTV some years ago, before Smart TVs were a thing (nowadays sometimes called “dumb” TVs).
Enter Google Chromecast
The Chromecast is a dongle the size of a large USB stick which you plug into your TV’s HDMI port (one can buy an adapter for very old TVs that do not possess HDMI capability, but these are fiddly). It is powered via your standard USB cable, which can be plugged into the TV’s USB port or into the mains, with the provided power adapter. Once it is setup, an extremely straight-forward process, the user is free to “cast” videos, pictures and music to it. In short, using an iOS or Android device, or a computer with Chrome, the user directs the Chromecast to stream content.
Contrary to what some may think, you are not casting the YouTube video from the Internet to your phone to the Chromecast; the phone tells the Chromecast where to “pull” the content from, and it goes directly to the dongle.
Currently, several video/audio apps support the Chromecast. In addition to so-called first party apps owned by Google, such as Google Movies & TV, Google Music and YouTube, several video applications such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer are “castable”, as well as most Internet videos (provided they are in Flash or HTML5 formats). The user simply browses, for example, YouTube’s video selection, chooses the video they wish to watch, clicks the Cast icon that is visible in supported apps, then chooses the Chromecast to play it on. That is all it takes to have your videos playing on your TV.
Chromecast & Video Games
On top of video/audio content, game developers are starting to turn to Chromecast as a video games platform. Most recently the games company Hasbro released Monopoly for Android/iOS with Chromecast ability, among a few other games. Google made “Big Web Quiz”, a very fast and original trivia game for the Chromecast. Several independent developers have also made Chromecast games, such as CardCast, the “castable” version of Cards Against Humanity, or “Doodlecast”, similar to Pictionary.
It’s a perfect format for party games in the living room – each player has their own Android and/or iOS device (sorry Windows Phone users) with the app installed, and they connect to the game which is displayed on the TV with the Chromecast. For example, with the aforementioned Big Web Quiz, the questions are shown on screen, the users can tap the correct answer on their phones, and then the Chromecast displays who was correct and who wasn’t, and the current points.
Lastly, the Chromecast allows so called “tabcasting” and screencasting – users can use the TV with a Chromecast plugged in as an extra monitor, in essence. So, one can mirror their devices screen on the big screen, a useful feature for some. Be warned however that it requires a very powerful device, and not all mobile devices can screencast (to date, only some Android devices can, but no iOS devices).
Despite all its advantages, the Chromecast is not without issues. As it is a very small device (official dimensions are 2.83 × 1.38 × 0.47 in), it does not have that much power – it cannot play content above 1080p, which can be problematic as 4K seems to be increasing in popularity, nor above 30 frames per second – not an issue for most films/shows, but watching some content can feel “jerky”. Also, at present time it cannot play surround sound, so anything in 5.1 or 7.1 surround is converted to stereo. Lastly, and this is not an issue for most users, but it cannot connect to networks that require user logins (common in schools, hotels and businesses).
Overall the Chromecast is an amazing device for people without (or sometimes even with) Smart TVs, and for the low price of $35/£30, it’s a worthy purchase for those that wish to easily view Internet content on their TVs.