Chromecast Is a Cord Cutter’s Dream for $35, and I Want More

The Chromecast's main purpose is to reduce the amount of time between wanting to watch a video on Netflix or YouTube and actually doing it.

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Jared Newman for TIME

Every night, it’s the same situation. My wife and I are on the couch, TV off, immersed in our respective computing devices, when she breaks the silence: “Let’s watch something.”

From there, it’s a process. I look for the Xbox 360 controller and twiddle my thumbs while it boots, or if it’s out of reach, maybe I get up and turn on our media PC instead. I return to my comfy seat and fumble with one remote or another, none of them really ideal for shuffling through vast menus of video content. By the time we’re actually watching something, 10 minutes have passed.

This is the life of a cord cutter. We save insane amounts of money every month by not subscribing to cable TV, but the alternative of watching Internet video sometimes feels like a chore. I’m really hoping Chromecast is the solution.

Chromecast is a $35 dongle that plugs into an HDMI slot on your television (see our video overview here), and its main purpose is to reduce the amount of time between wanting to watch a video on Netflix or YouTube and actually doing it.

cast1

Netflix

The big assumption with Chromecast is that when you’re on the couch, you already have a phone or tablet in your hands. Instead of reaching for a remote, all you have to do is open your Netflix or YouTube app, find the video you want to watch, and press a little “Cast” button to send the video to your television.

Chromecast is supposed to handle the rest. Over Wi-Fi, your phone tells the dongle what to watch. The dongle automatically turns on your television, switches to the appropriate input and begins streaming the video you’ve chosen.

It’s a subtle but important distinction from AirPlay, the method Apple uses to beam videos to an Apple TV. With AirPlay, the video gets streamed directly from your iOS device or Mac. Chromecast streams straight from the Internet; your phone or tablet merely sends the instructions to the dongle. Because the phone or tablet isn’t actively sending data the entire time with Chromecast, you’re not wasting battery life, and you’re free to do other things on your phone or tablet while the video plays on your TV. (Correction: AirPlay does allow you to stream certain video apps in the background, but it’s up to app developers to support this feature.)

cast2

Netflix

Chromecast has another big advantage: It supports Android as well as iOS devices. I bounce between both platforms, so the fact that AirPlay only works with Apple products was the main thing holding me back from Apple TV.

In my experience, Chromecast isn’t quite as magical as Google makes it seem. While setting up the device, I got an error message saying I needed to tinker with my router settings to get the Wi-Fi connection working. But then I just tried to connect again, and everything worked.

One other nitpick: The dongle itself connects through HDMI, but it’s powered by USB, and not all TVs have powered USB jacks on them. If your TV has a “service” USB port, it won’t work. The only other option is to plug the dongle into a wall outlet, which detracts from its overall slickness.

I also had to adjust my television’s settings to get Chromecast to automatically turn on my TV and switch inputs. As GigaOM’s Janko Roettgers explains, Chromecast uses a little-known technology called HDMI-CEC to control your television, but every TV maker refers to this technology differently. To get the controls working on my Sharp TV, I had to find the “Aquos Link” menu and toggle the setting for “Auto Power On.”

chromecastcast

Jared Newman for TIME

After getting those issues straightened out, Chromecast worked flawlessly. When you open Netflix or YouTube on an iOS or Android device, the app recognizes that there’s a Chromecast in the house, and presents the option to send videos to your television. You can start controlling Chromecast playback on one phone, then switch to another and pick up the controls from there.

Depending on your situation, this may not be ideal. Letting any phone or tablet control Chromecast could lead to a power struggle in your living room. And if you have a lot of people over, choosing a video on your phone might not be as fun as letting everyone see their options on the big screen. But even then, Chromecast could still be great for those moments when you suddenly want to share a YouTube video with everyone in the room.

The bigger drawback for Chromecast is that it only works with a handful of apps: YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music and Google Play Video. Pandora support is coming soon, and other developers are free to add Chromecast support to their apps, but it’s too early to assume that the Chromecast ecosystem is going to boom.

chromecastchrome

Google

Chromecast also lets you send any browser tab to the big screen from Chrome on a Windows PC, Mac or Chromebook. But right now, Google’s calling this a beta feature, and it’s easy to see why. In my experience on both a Chromebook and a powerful Windows desktop, streaming video regularly fell out of sync with the audio. And unlike the video streaming from a phone or tablet, you must leave the current tab open for it to stream on the television. That puts a strain on your computer’s battery life and prevents you from doing other things at the same time. The Chrome-based streaming is a fine feature for viewing online photos or other static web pages, but I would not recommend getting a Chromecast for the sole purpose of sending video from a laptop to your television.

Those issues haven’t prevented me from buying a Chromecast for myself. (The one I’m using now is on loan from Google.) Netflix streaming alone accounts for the vast majority of my video-watching at home, and $35 is well worth the convenience of being able to select and watch videos faster than I have before. If more developers end up supporting Chromecast, it’ll just be icing.

On that note, some critics see the lack of a dedicated remote and TV interface as a problem for Chromecast. I see it as an opportunity. It allows app developers to support Chromecast without the extra work of creating separate television apps, which they largely haven’t done for the perpetually-flailing Google TV. And as someone who gave up clunky cable remotes a long time ago, I’m ready for those button-laden monstrosities to be replaced by phones and tablets. Chromecast is the first device that envisions the touch screen as your primary remote control. It probably won’t be the last.

26 comments
Slappy
Slappy

Apple TV is by far the best to have for your AV system at home. Best selling device and huge content available.

Appledystopia
Appledystopia

Another correction -- AirPlay works for Windows, Linux and Android (with DoubleTwist). In every article I have read, everyone claims AirPlay only works on Apple products. It's actually a widely accepted standard. Even A/V receivers made by Yamaha, Pioneer, Marantz, and many others feature AirPlay support.

Appledystopia
Appledystopia

One correction -- when you beam a video to Apple TV, it is often streamed directly from the service, if possible. If the video is a local file on the device, it is streamed from the device. Apple TV is often discretely passed the URL and starts loading. This is because the format is different (HDTV vs. iPhone or iPad display).

I think Chromecast is a pretty cool device. It doesn't do as much as other devices, but does enough for most people. The price can't be beat.

bigred
bigred

Yup, I already have all that with my PC and a HDTV with built-in Wii, so I don't get what's so hot about Chromecast.  And what's really funny is the writer complaining about having to actually drag his butt off the couch and turn on his TV or wait for his XBox to boot up.  Jeez. Go make coffee or something, it'll be ready when ya come back!

GammaRayBurst
GammaRayBurst

Ive been using Sony web tv for two years now.

 its always on,  interfaces perfectly with my entertainment system, has a 3d Blu ray player, and uses the Android operating system with the google Chrome browser.


Ive found that its far superior to most smart tv's .

 It's much more responsive, has more memory and can use Usb memory sticks for expansion , upgradable O.S, and you can select plenty of widgets for shortcuts.

WayneSeamon
WayneSeamon

the wiiu already does all of that and is like a tab so why spend more money on a dongle its just funny


Steven Cedrone
Steven Cedrone

If you have an Apple TV, get the $10 program Air Parrot and stream your computer screen to your TV on PC or MAC. It's cheap and works great!

john.borgen
john.borgen

Great article! I think the developers will come. I think support for other casting options will be around the corner. Or maybe I'm just really, really hoping that's the case.

I'm looking forward to getting mine, whenever it ships, and seeing how much fun the family has with this thing.

slick1ru2
slick1ru2

You can do it for FREE on a smart TV or DLNA compatible device. Its called Twonky Beam. You DL the app to your phone and can beam to any DLNA device on your network. I was having such fun beaming videos to my brother-in-laws XBox 360 and my Panasonic GT50 that my wife and daughter were watching. They had no idea what was happening as I was sending hilarious videos to their TVs. Ic an also beam to my Roku player. The downside is some sites you want to beam from have a phone app and direct you to dl that so it won't work. But for many websites like YouTube, works great.

mistarobotics
mistarobotics

Since I am in the Android ecosystem I will definitely be getting this! 

Fofer
Fofer

The USB "service" port on some TV's will, in fact, provide power to the Chromecast.  According to Andy Ihnatko's review:

"But Chromecast still needs to draw external USB power; it can’t pull it from the HDMI port. Which is why a micro-USB cable and power adapter are inside the box. Damn. But What’s this on the back of my 2007 Samsung? Why, it’s a USB connector, marked “Service.” I gave it a try. Bingo! Chromecast’s white power light started blinking."

http://www.chicagogrid.com/reviews/tech/google-chromecast/?utm_source=twitter

Chuck Mace
Chuck Mace

I don't get this... just hook up your laptop to your hdmi and you have the internet at your fingertips with all its video capabilities/possibilities... So tell me why is this such a big deal?

RobertWasserman
RobertWasserman

cool but plenty of cable cutters don't want a pricey smartphone plan, either.  my wdtv live doesn't turn on the tv, but it DOES have  a direct connection to my wifi with no need to "cast" anything at all.  AND it streams my "saved media" collection directly from a dedicated hard drive, so i don't even have to have my computer turned on.

PaulAndrews
PaulAndrews

I think the writer has not explored products in the market and the review is more one sided. I can simply mirror my Macbook pro onto the apple TV. What else do you need?

The biggest advantage is the ITunes store where I can download the content I want including Music, Movies, Documentaries ....

This google gadget is about providing just connectivity where is the content pls...I think 10000 Chinese companies will soon reproduce this google product at ease but will fizz out soon due to lack of content.

DerekBolander
DerekBolander

The writer’s comment about Apple TV isn't entirely correct. While AirPlay can send video from iOS devices, this is not the primary method of watching video with Apple TV. Rather, you can access YouTube and NetFlix directly from the device. Further, you can also access tour iTunes Store music, TV shows, and movies. Further, you can access Hulu, MLB, HBO and other networks. Further, you'll be able to use iTunes Radio. You can also access all your photos from you computers or iOS devices from Apple TV. And it comes with a remote.

This Google gadget will do well initially and then quickly be forgotten. It's the Google way.

Appledystopia
Appledystopia

@bigred Wow. It takes that long for XBox to boot up? What is it with Microsoft and obscenely long boot-up times?!?

john.borgen
john.borgen

@slick1ru2 I tried Twonky...it doesn't work. Free is great but only if the product works as advertised.

john.borgen
john.borgen

@PaulAndrews I think it's going to revolutionize the way a lot of people watch TV, throw parties and socialize. I can see my family sitting around the TV tossing their favorite YouTube video at this thing and having a great time laughing (or groaning) at yet another cat video.

I'm glad I've got mine on order. I'm anxiously awaiting it's arrival.

lowtech
lowtech

@DerekBolander apple fan for sure. :) I think the device is good and quite innovative. Apple tv is for apple device only. But this , IOS,android,windows it will work. And i think people should just accept that apple is not doing any new things now a days. iphone 5 for example has a very low specs compared to samsung s4 and iphone 5 is more expensive. Sad to say but true, before all other countries wants what is popular in the US that is why apple devices sell very well. But now with all the innovations around the world and with lots of other mobile OS (android,tizen,ubuntu) coming out, I think we might have to say that apple is dying. sad to hear for sure. But we just need to accept IT that is technology.  

RobertWasserman
RobertWasserman

@BullShannon  sure but as i said, with this device i don't need to have ANY other machine. if i want to stream stuff i OWN i need a hard drive running to pull from, but not for streaming.

(actually, for things i own i could use a flash drive instead of wifi, but that's not what the article is about.)

dr.pipe
dr.pipe

@lowtech @DerekBolander Actually you don't need to own a single apple device to use Apple TV.  The only thing you would miss would be using a phone/tablet as a remote.  I have no need of this, as I have programmed my AppleTV to respond to my primary TV remote anyway.  

As Derek said, you can stream Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBOgo, several other networks, radio, and content from Apple's Movie, TV show, and Music store directly from cloud.  You can stream video and music you already own from your computer, be it a PC or a Mac, as long as you have iTunes installed.  You can AirPlay (mirror the screen and audio from your computer to the TV) with a PC or a Mac using a program like AirParrot.

I think the Google device is great, as a very cheap way to get online content onto the TV, but it has basically no advantage over AppleTV besides price.

jwinstonsf
jwinstonsf

@newmanjb @dr.pipe @lowtech @DerekBolander Word. Have you ever tried searching Netflix for a movie or actor using your remote? Ug!

Its really only a matter of time before Hulu HBOgo, etc, release cast capable apps. There won't be any big negotiations with Google, just with the consumer when they download the app.

Music? Google play has my collection in the cloud, along with Instant Access.(Google's version of Spotify)

Everything is there, or soon to be there.

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@dr.pipe @lowtech @DerekBolander "The only thing you would miss would be using a phone/tablet as a remote."

But that's the best part. Writing a follow-up story focusing on this right now.