Google’s newest gadget, the Chromecast, is kind of a big deal despite it coming in such a small package.
It debuted just over a week ago but has already sold out at Amazon and Best Buy. The thing is so popular, that the Netflix deal for three free months was shut down pretty quickly.
Reviews for the Chromecast are popping up everywhere, so instead of giving you a typical rundown, I’d like to just share five things you should know before you commit to buying the $35 gizmo.
5. It needs an external power supply
It’s interesting, but a lot of people are being colored surprised that the Google Chromecast needs to be plugged into a power source in order to work. The package comes with a micro-USB cable and AC adapter, but it’s not necessary to plug the Chromcast into a wall outlet in order to give it some juice.
For instance, there are reports on the web of people using their HDMI ports to charge their Chromecasts. I’ve not been able to confirm this personally, but newer HDMI inputs output a little bit of voltage that is apparently enough to keep the Chromecast churning. This completely eliminates the need for cables.
If that doesn’t work for you, and plugging into a wall outlet isn’t feng shui enough or doable for you, then take a note from the picture above and simply plug the USB into an empty USB port on your television. It’s a clean solution since you’ll be able to hide the cable easy enough.
4. It’s portable, and that’s awesome
One of the biggest reasons I bought a Google Chromecast is so I can take it to my parents’ when I house sit for them. Or to a friend’s for a movie night. Or to my bedroom when I’m ready to go to bed but not ready to stop my movie. All you need is a solid wireless network and you’re off and running.
My wife and I cut the cable cord about four years ago and have not regretted it one bit. We spend $16 a month on Netflix and Hulu Plus subscriptions, and we’re Amazon Prime subscribers (which allows use Amazon Instant Video). And, when I'm at my parents, I can use their HBO Go account for that content as well. All of it does a wonderful job replacing the archaic cable service.
So, when I do house sit for my parents, I sit there wishing there was something good on television (they still do the cable thing), and wishing I could watch Netflix or Hulu Plus on their televisions. Sure, I could accomplish that with some adapters and cables so I can connect my laptop to the television, but Google Chromecast makes it much less cumbersome and cluttered.
3. Using the Google Cast feature in the Chrome browser can be disappointing
Another big reason I bought the Google Chromecast was so I could beam video from ABC, NBC, Comedy Central and HBO Go onto the television.
And it sort of works, which is a bit disappointing.
My wife and I tested the device at our house and at my parents', to see if there'd be a difference in quality due to varying Internet speeds. Both homes have strong connections, and our download and upload speeds are pretty great. However, when attempting to view content from a source that doesn’t have Cast built in, there’s a lag and degradation of video quality.
My wife and I tested out HBO Go first, since we’re big “Game of Thrones” fans and wanted to revisit the oh-so-awesome Red Wedding scene. To our dismay, the scene didn’t play smoothly via Cast, and it was pretty much unwatchable. The audio was about a second ahead of the video, and the video quality — although in HD on our computer — was horrible on the television. We tested out other videos on HBO Go and the other aforementioned networks and all had the same issues.
Another thing of note is that video players using Microsoft Silverlight or Apple QuickTime don’t support the Chromecast tech, as confirmed by Google.
Still, this isn’t a deal breaker. Considering Hulu just announced they’re coming to Chromecast and HBO is wanting in on the game, too, it’s only a matter of time until we see updated versions of both services giving full support to the Chromecast community. Vimeo and Redbox Instant also hopped on board shortly after the gadget’s debut, so that’s awesome.
2. It’s not limited to just streaming video
But don’t let the previous entry bother you too much, because Chromecast isn’t limited to just streaming video.
Anything you can put into the Chrome browser can be Cast onto a television screen. This includes Web sites, photos, documents and more. You can even show your computer’s desktop and use of programs through it. Though there is some lag when doing this, it’s not as noticeable if you’re showing static images like photos or a slideshow presentation. You could even Cast video games onto the television though, when I tried it, lag persisted. It did do well with Facebook’s Words With Friends app, though, but I attribute WWF’s static nature.
This could be a big thing for those in the business and education sectors, and it’s something Google should advertise as Chromecast grows into its own.
The best thing about the Chromecast that isn’t video related is that it can be plugged into an audio receiver and used as an audio streaming device (it just has to be set up through a television first). You can stream music using the Chrome browser with sites like Grooveshark, Spotify and the like. Or, you can use Google’s Play Music app to stream from your various devices. While it’s no Apple AirPlay, it can get the job done.
1. It’s completely worth it
At the end of the day, the Chromecast is only $35. If you were lucky enough to get in on the Netflix deal (which is a $24 value), then the cost of the dongle was only $11 plus tax and shipping.
One way my wife and I have used it is to quickly show YouTube videos or to play music using our Android devices’ Google Play Music app. Since the Chromecast stays plugged in to our tele, we can quickly beam video from our phones to the television instead of using our PS3 (we’d have to turn on the PS3, wait for it to boot up, then log onto YouTube, then search for the video, and finally get to play it). We’ve also used it for Netflix and YouTube, and it works as advertised.
Worth it? I’d say so, a hundred times yes. The number of uses the Chromecast has makes it great for so many things.