Google's newest gadget, the Chromecast, is kind of a big deal despite coming in such a small package. It also has a small price tag: A whopping $35.
Its goal is simple: To help you consume entertainment in a very simple way. All you have to do is plug the Chromecast into a vacant HDMI port on your television, give it some power via its USB cable, connect it to your wireless Internet network and decide how you want to use it. The entire process takes all of five minutes.
Once you're ready to roll, you can use your portable device (such as tablets and phones) or your computer to beam content to the Chromecast, which then displays it on your television.
For instance, say you have Netflix on your phone and decide the screen is too small to do the movie justice. Simply hit the Cast button on your phone, which is built into the Netflix app, and whatever you're watching will now be displayed on your big screen. Your phone then turns into a remote control for what you're watching. It's the same idea for the computer, too.
Some apps and sites, like YouTube and Netflix, already have the Cast technology built in. This allows you to have a more user-friendly and seamless experience. There aren't any video or audio quality hiccups when using these Cast-enabled apps and sites.
However, using Chromecast to beam video from websites like ABC, NBC, Comedy Central and HBO Go can be disappointing. Even if you have a strong Wi-Fi connection, if you attempt to view content from a source that doesn't have Cast built in, you will experience a degradation of video and audio quality.
My wife and I tested the Chromecast at our house and at my parents' house, to rule out the option of poor Wi-Fi. While at our house, we tested the aforementioned sites and got nothing but lag and out-of-sync audio. While at my parents', we tried watching an episode of “Game of Thrones” using their HBO Go account and experienced the same thing: lag, and choppy video and audio.
But that shouldn't be a deal breaker. The list of Cast-enabled apps and sites is growing by the day. YouTube, Netflix, Chrome and Google Play are chief among them. But shortly after its launch, the Chromecast became buddies with the likes of Redbox Instant and Vimeo, and Hulu and HBO Go cast-enabled apps are in the works.
The 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 websites, 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 noticeable if you're showing static images like photos or a PowerPoint presentation.
You can 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, which I attribute to the game's static Scrabble-like nature.
With this kind of use, the Chromecast has the makings to become a big thing for those in the business and education sectors, and it's something Google should advertise as Chromecast continues to grow.
One of the best things about the Chromecast is that it can be plugged into an audio receiver and used as an audio streaming device.
You can stream music using the Chrome browser with sites like Grooveshark and Spotify. Or you can use the Google Play Music app to stream from your various devices.
A huge perk about the Chromecast is its portability. If you're like me, you can take it to your parents' when you house sit for them. Or, you can take it to a friend's for a movie night. Or you can move it from your living room to your bedroom when you're ready to get under the sheets but not yet ready to stop watching that movie you have on.
At the end of the day, the Chromecast is only $35, which is a fraction of the cost when compared to similar set-top boxes like the Apple TV and Roku. It's also easier to use than either of those products.
The number of uses the Chromecast has makes it great for so many things, and the device's potential is pretty limitless right now.