Chromecast Review: Now With Screen Mirroring

Reviews Sam Kieldsen 10:56, 10 Jul 2014

Google’s tiny video streamer brings Netflix, YouTube and more to your living room – but is it too limited?

Rating: 
4
Pros: 
Compact, Simple to set up and use, Affordable, Good picture quality where available
Cons: 
Requires companion device, Fairly limited in its current form
Verdict: 
If you don’t already have the ability to watch Netflix, YouTube or Google Play videos on your TV and want to, the Chromecast is an absolute steal for the price. Idiot-proof to set up and use, it performs well within its rather limited capabilities.

Google Chromecast is now available in the UK for £30. The HDTV dongle will be available via Google Play, Amazon, Curry’s & PC World. Initially launched in the US last year, Google has sold millions of units in its native country – but this is the first time Chromecast has been officially retailed outside the US. 

We knew it was coming, following leaks from various sources (Dixons, Curry’s, etc.) but we didn’t know when, exactly, it would be available or how much it would cost. We also weren’t sure on UK-specific launch partners, either; but we now know Chromecast will support BBC iPlayer and Netflix, as well as other “core” applications, at launch.

Google plans to greatly expand Chromecast’s partner base in the coming weeks and months, hence the device’s wider rollout.

“Digital video content is experiencing phenomenal growth and devices such as Google’s Chromecast are expected to accelerate this trend. Consumers are accessing more digital video content than ever before with sVoD services such as Netflix leading the way, up by 138% in volume sales year-on-year, and paid for digital video overall growing at an annual rate of 95%," said Fiona Keenan, strategic insight director at Kantar Worldpanel. 

Keenan added: “Google may now have the opportunity to push its Google Play service in a similar vein to Tesco’s move with its Blinkbox service and Hudl tablet. While iTunes is still the dominant force in Electronic sell-through digital video with three quarters of the market, Google Play is the third biggest retailer – an impressive position to hold.”

Google also opened up Chromecast’s SDK recently. So far 3,000 developers have pledged allegiance to the platform, so expect to see tons of cool new features and applications appearing very soon.

Chromecast works cross-platform, too: MacBook OS X, Windows, iOS and Android are all supported. All you need to do is hook the dongle up to your HDTV, configure it and then start casting. It’s really that simple, but for more information do check out our full Chromecast review.

"Chromecast is the easiest way to bring your favorite online movies, shows, music and more to the TV screen. It should be easy for people to watch the content they want wherever they are, and we're excited to bring the simplicity of Chromecast to international markets,” said Mario Queiroz, director of product management at Google.

Google Chromecast will do battle with the likes of Apple TV (£99) and the Roku 3 (£99). And given its uber inexpensive price tag of £30, we expect Google to shift quite a few units in the coming weeks and months.

 

Google Adds Screen Mirroring In Chromecast Update

At its Google I/O conference in June, the big G revealed it had plans to update Chromecast with proper screen mirroring from Android devices.

Today's excellent news is that this feature is now rolling out in an update to the Android Chromecast app. Previously Chromecast simply supported the casting feature built into third party apps and Google's own suite, but now you're able to cast a feed of whatever is on the screen of your Android device.

On many devices using the Chromecast app you will need to go into the app's navigation tray and select "Cast Screen", however, on Nexus devices there will be a Quick Settings option.

At present the list of compatible devices is somewhat limited, however. Supported devices include the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5, Galaxy Note 3, LG G Pro 2, LG G2, LG G3, and HTC One (M7). OF course, Google's whole range of Nexus devices is also supported.

Support for more handsets and tablets is on the way, according to Google. If you have a Chromecast and a a compatible device, upgrade to version 1.7 of the Chromecast app to take advantage of this new feature.

Google Chromecast review: Design

The Chromecast is a truly tiny device, weighing around 30g and looking a lot like a USB memory stick, albeit one with an HDMI connector at the end. This allows it to slot directly into the back of your TV (although there’s an extender cable inside the box if you want to place it elsewhere). 

It also requires a USB connection for power, and the cable can either slot into your TV’s port, should it have one (probably the tidiest option) or into the wall using the supplied AC adapter. It’s a shame the thing can’t draw its energy through the HDMI connection, as this would essentially make it a totally wireless product and cut down on the mass of cables collecting behind your TV. 

The Chromecast does not, however, require a wired Internet connection, as it connects to your home network and hence the web via b/g/n Wi-Fi.

There’s no supplied remote control, as part of the Chromecast’s design is that you use a companion device – a smartphone, tablet or computer – for choosing content to watch and controlling playback. Sound and video works, albeit with some lag and, for the latter, stuttering. To be fair to Google, the web-casting feature is still officially in beta mode, so there’s definite room for – and an expectation of – improvement in the near future.

Google Chromecast To Feature Ultrasonic Pairing

Google's now revealed it has figured out a way to pair the Chromecast with phones and tablets which aren't on the same Wi-Fi network via Ultrasonic sound waves.

The revelation follows Google's announcement at Google I/O, where it hinted at so-called "off-network" casting. The idea here is to make Chromecast more compatible with the social aspects of clustering around a TV with friends.

Your mates might not always have access to your Wi-Fi network, depending on how you run things, but with the Ultrasonic pairing they can still fling content from their phones and tablets to your TV screen without needing access.

The word comes courtesy of Gigaom, which reports: "Chromecast owners have to first allow support for nearby devices. After that, any user in the vicinity of a Chromecast can request from within any cast-enabled app.

"The Chromecast streaming stick then plays a unique ultrasonic sound through the TV’s loudspeakers. That sound won’t be audible by human ears, but a mobile device in the same room will be able to pick it up and pair with the TV. Alternatively there will also be a four-digit pin displayed on the TV screen, making it possible to manually pair both devices."

Best of all, this functionality doesn't require any new hardware - it's going to be added via a software update "in the coming weeks".

Google Chromecast review: Full Specs

Output: HDMI, CEC compatible
Max. Output Video Resolution: 1080p
Dimensions: 72(L) x 35(W) x 12(H) mm
Weight: 34 g
Wireless: 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Power: USB (Power adapter included)
Supported Operating Systems: Android 2.3 and higher, iOS® 6 and higher, Windows® 7 and higher, Mac OS® 10.7 and higher, Chrome OS (Chromebook Pixel, additional Chromebooks coming soon).

Google Chromecast review: User interface

Set-up could not be simpler. After getting the Chromecast connected to your Wi-Fi network (you do this using a smartphone or computer and follow on-screen instructions; it takes perhaps three or four minutes in total), it’s very much good to go.

To watch a video, you’ll need an iPhone, iPad, Android device or a computer running Windows, Mac OS or Chrome OS. So should you want to watch a film on Netflix, you’ll need bring up the Netflix app on your phone, or open Netflix in your Chrome web browser, choose whatever it is you want and then hit the “cast” icon that should now be on the screen. You’ll be asked which device you’d like the video cast to, and once you’ve selected the film will start playing on your TV. 

Google Chromecast Tips & Tricks

If you’ve got a Google Chromecast or you’re undecided whether to pick one up, there are a lot of features you probably didn’t know the Chromecast had. We’ve written a list of tips and tricks you can follow to get the most out of Google’s streaming dongle.

Did you know you can make your smartphone a TV remote itself? It allows you to connect a variety of consumer products up to the TV in question and that allows you to control exactly what you’re watching. No more losing the remote down the side of the sofa, instead you can just use a number of other different devices including your smartphone or your tablet.

We also discovered you can use a Chromecast in a hotel room, if it has a HDTV. This way you can avoid having to pay up for all those crazy priced pay-per-view channels and watch exactly what you want to.

There’s a load more tips and tricks available here plus instructions on how to turn your smartphone into a remote or use Chromecast in a hotel.

If you have a TV with CEC-compliant HDMI ports, the Chromecast will even turn on the TV and switch it to the correct input channel. 

Playback can then be controlled from the device that was used to select and start the video. It’s not a perfect system – there’s a slight delay from the moment you press something and the action taking place, and there’s also the possibility of you forgetting which device you used to start off playback, what with us having so many computers, phones and tablets in our houses these days – but it works well enough and keeps the price down.

To cast a web tab, you need to add an extension to Chrome. This results in a cast button appearing in the top right of the browser window. Hit this and the tab will appear on your TV.

Google has also added 10 new channels to Chromecast, bulking up the $35 HDTV dongle’s arsenal of shows substantially. As of December 10, you can now stream the following channels on Google’s uber affordable HDTV dongle: VEVO, Red Bull.TV, Songza, PostTV, Viki, Revision 3 and BeyondPod.

“Casting” – the art of beaming photos and videos from your phone/tablet to Chromecast – has also been made easier via the inclusion of Plex, RealPlayer Cloud and Avia. Not seeing these new features yet? Don’t worry, Google says they’ll all be live within the next few days (so by Dec 13th, latest). 

Google Chromecast review: Performance

Video playback supports up to 1080p quality, although this depends on the source material and the speed of your broadband: older YouTube videos at 240p will look pretty ropey and soft, while new Netflix material like Orange Is The New Black is gloriously sharp and clean.

If your broadband speed isn’t up to much, the Chromecast will use adaptive streaming to avoid buffering, and this can also result in softer, non-HD images (we never experienced this, but in theory it could happen).

5.1 Surround Sound is supported by Chromecast but without a dedicated audio output you’ll need a TV with a digital audio output of some kind to experience it.

Google Chromecast review: Services

Google teamed up with the BBC for the launch of Chromecast in the UK, confirming full support for the TV Corporation’s popular iPlayer application. As well as iPlayer, Chromecast features a raft of other services – all the Google ones, of course – as well as things like Real Player Cloud, a service that allows you to store videos in the cloud and then Cast them, via an app on your phone/tablet to a Chromecast-connected HDTV.

Roku Streaming Stick Just Spiced Things Up A LOT

We love our Chromecast. It’s cost-effective, easy to use and is now open to developers, which means lots of cool new features and apps will be popping up all the time. Out of the box you get Netflix, iPlayer and support for most of Google’s media services. Google also undercut every other player in the space, selling the dongle for just £30… So far, so good.

But now there’s a new sheriff in town. The Roku Streaming Stick costs more than Chromecast (£50) and works in a very similar manner; it’s a dongle to bang in the side of your HDTV. But where it really comes into its own is content – there’s over 700 to choose from, including mainstays like Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, Spotify and Sky Store. Seriously… the HDTV dongle just got VERY interesting. Check out our Roku Streaming Stick review, and let us know which dongle gets your vote in the comments.

Other notable new additions include: AllCast, Plex, Avia Media Management and, if you fancy a bit of old school gaming, Tic Tac Toe. The Chromecast SDK is now open to developers, meaning there’ll be plenty more applications and content on the way very soon. Bizarrely, both Channel 4 and ITV have said they have no immediate plans to support the service. For shame!

iOS VLC App To Receive Chromecast Support

VLC, the popular video player app that’ll play pretty much everything, will soon be adding Chromecast support to its iOS application. Once the update is live it’ll mean users of Apple’s iPhone and iPad can send content through to Chromecast.

Felix Paul Kuhne, Lead Developer on VLC for OS X and iOS confirmed the news while replying to a post in the official VLC forums. When asked about Chromecast-support in the company's iOS VLC app, Kuhne replied: “We are working on it!”

The only downside is there’s no word on when the iOS application will be getting updated with Chromecast abilities. Kuhne did add, however, that once the iOS application was out of the way, work would begin in on the Android version of VLC. We'll update as soon as we know more. 

And if you can't wait until then, you might want to check out...

VideoStream

VideoStream is a simple web-app that lets you stream any type of video, regardless of codec, straight from your PC to your Chromecast-connected HDTV. Once downloaded, the VideoStream extension is installed within Chrome, which means you don’t have to bother with additional software – this is all that’s required. VideoStream supports local video files stored on your PC and your home network, so you can leverage content from things like a connected NAS drive. There’s also a remote control app available via Google Play for free, so you don’t even need to open your PC once the app is running. 

Google Chromecast review: Conclusion

The Chromecast is, for the money, an incredibly tempting deal for anyone with Netflix, or a love for YouTube, and the inability to watch these on their TV. It’s easy to setup, even easier to use and we’ve found it reliable in our couple of weeks of using it. Web casting is a little spottier, but hopefully this will improve as it moves out of beta. 

If, however, you already own a smart TV, an Apple TV or one of many devices that already allow YouTube, Netflix and other video streaming, it’s hard to see the appeal of this little dongle. It’s likely to find its place in the home of late adopters rather than those who are well equipped with the most recent of tech products.

Specifications

Length 72mm
Width 35mm
Thickness 12mm
Weight 30g
Connectivity 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n
Video Resolution 1080p (Max. output)
UK Launch TBC

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