I was curious about the Google Chromecast, a tiny media streaming accessory for one’s TV. At $35 USD it’s an inexpensive device compared to other streaming devices and, at that price, I knew it wouldn’t bring on a case of buyer’s regret if I didn’t like it. I ordered one and a few weeks later it showed up at my door. I already have several devices in my house that are used for streaming media; this had set a frame of reference for me about what’s involved in setting up a new streaming device. The setup process for the Chromecast bypassed several of the steps that I had been expecting; in fact, the process was so simple, I’d be comfortable with letting my parents set up the device on their own. The first impressions were delightful.
The inner cover of the Chromecast has the instructions listed in three steps.
From having setup my Apple TVs, Xboxes, Roku, and several other devices for streaming I expected Step 3 to expand to a multi-step process of entering account names, passwords, or going through some authorization website to enter some code that was displayed on the screen. The device doesn’t have a remote. I knew that it could be controlled with a mobile device so I also expected a pairing process that would allow the mobile device to be used for text entry. This isn’t what the experience was like at all. Navigating to the step-3 URL on an android tablet took me to the Android Marketplace page for the Chromecast application. Once it was installed it discovered the Chromecast and gave me a yes/no prompt on whether a code displayed on the TV was the same as the code being displayed on my tablet. After affirming the tablet prompted me to select a Wi-Fi access point and enter the encryption key. Setup was complete.
Initially I thought I had missed a step or that something might have gone wrong and I wasn’t prompted for the other information that I needed to enter. Streaming device setup hasn’t been this easy on other devices that I’ve used. I started Netflix on my tablet and it displayed a new button that had not been there before; an icon that looked like a screen combined with part of the icon for Wi-Fi. I pressed the button and started to play a video. When my TV started displaying an episode of Arrested Development I got my confirmation that setup had actually completed successfully. I started the music application on the tablet and the same new icon was present. I started to play a song and pressed the button and the TV was playing the music. Cool! It worked! I picked up my sister’s phone to see if anything were necessary to allow it to work with the Chromecast. Nothing needed to be done, it was already displaying the streaming buttons.
The Chromecast also allows mirroring of the contents of the Chrome browser if the Chromecast extension has been installed from the web store. It only renders up to 720 lines of resolution. If the browser is larger than this the view on the television will be scaled down. There’s a slight delay between an update of the contents of the browser and that update being reflected on the television. The delay is small enough to ignore during general sharing. I tried to use the extension to share the contents of another site (Hulu) and found that this doesn’t work. Trying to share a a video this way crashed the extension.
The initial experience was great, and that’s important. After playing with it some more I did come across a few stumbling blocks. The device is made to stream content that is coming from an online account, not from music that one has on their own network. I already have most of my music uploaded into my Google account. But if there was a song that was both in my online account and saved on the device (for those occasions when I have no network connection) the song won’t play. For more reliable song play it was necessary to eject the memory card containing my music.
The Chromecast has it’s own place among the other streaming devices. The other streaming devices I use are capable of streaming from more sources than the Chromecast does (Hulu, Amazon Video, content shared on my home network) but the Chromecast concentrates on a smaller set of use cases that I think will fit the needs of most. Comparing the Chromecast to some of the other stream devices is like comparing a multi-tool to a knife. Yes, one has more potential uses. But sometimes you only need a knife.
Costing a third to one-tenth of the other streaming solutions available and the small form factor make the device a good solution for adding streaming capabilities to all of the TVs in a house or for taking a movie to a friend’s house to watch. I’ve ordered a few more as gifts to friends and family that don’t currently have any devices for streaming to the TV. It won’t replace my other streaming devices because they offer access to some other services that I use. But the device is here to stay.