When Google announced Chromecast a couple months ago, Hulu Plus didn’t get a mention, but now it’s the first new app addition to the $35 streaming dongle.
Chromecast users who subscribe to Hulu Plus–an $8 per month service–can now use Hulu’s Android and iPad apps to send videos to the television. Support for the iPhone is coming soon.
If you’re unfamiliar with Chromecast, it’s a small device that plugs into your television, and lets your phone, tablet or PC become the remote control. You just select a video as if you were watching it on your mobile device, then press a little button to send it to your television. Hulu Plus is a streaming video service jointly owned by Fox, Disney and NBC Universal, and offers full TV episodes and movies from those networks and others.
Granted, if you have a laptop or desktop running Chrome, you don’t need to pay for Hulu Plus to watch full episodes on Chromecast. All you have to do is install the Google Cast browser extension, and you can beam any open tab to the big screen–including the free version of Hulu.com.
But using the free web version has its downsides. When you beam a browser tab, the data flows through your wireless router to the Chromecast. This consumes power on your laptop or desktop, and it’s prone to lag and quality issues. On my network, I have to drop the resolution to 480p just to make videos watchable.
When you send a video to Chromecast through Hulu Plus’ mobile apps, Chromecast pulls the video straight from the internet. Your phone or tablet provides the instructions, but isn’t sending any video itself. You’re free to use other apps while your TV plays the video, and there’s no drain on your device’s battery. It’s a better experience overall.
Besides Hulu Plus, the only other apps that support Chromecast are YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV, and the latter two aren’t available for iOS. Google said in July that Pandora support is on the way, but neither company will give a timetable. (Pandora sent the following statement: “We are looking forward to bringing personalized radio to Chromecast users and will be sure to keep you posted.”)
Other apps are supposedly on the way, including Vimeo, Vevo, Twitch.tv and Songza. But most app makers aren’t allowed to add Chromecast support until Google releases the final version of its developer tools, and there’s no word on when that’s going to happen. Hulu Plus appears to be an exception to the rules.
Even without other apps, I’m happy with Chromecast so far. I’ve been watching a lot more YouTube on the television, because it’s so easy to select little bits of stand-up comedy or other interesting videos to watch, and when I want to watch something on Netflix, Chromecast is now the fastest way to make it happen. The fact that Chromecast automatically turns on your TV and switches to the appropriate input adds a lot of convenience.
My feeling is that as more people watch TV with a phone or tablet in their hands, Chromecast will make a lot of sense. But it’s still an incomplete solution without a wider range of apps. Hulu Plus is a major addition if you’re willing to pay for it.