Chromecast Review: A Year Old And Still Very Much The Best
Google’s tiny video streamer brings Netflix, YouTube and more to your living room – but is it too limited?
Google’s Chromecast, believe it or not, is now one year old. Launched in the US in 2013, the dongle was an immediate success and sold out within days of going on sale. A lot of its success had to do with Google’s pricing – it cost just $30 – and the gizmo’s impressive capabilities, which turn any dumb HDTV into a web-connected “smart” TV.
As Chromecast snowballed, more and more publishers began to add support. And as more publishers added support, Chromecast’s popularity grew even more. The snowball effect rolled on and on and then, eventually, the dongle made its way over to the UK with BBC iPlayer support in tow.
Chromecast, along with things like the Roku Streaming Stick, represent an easy and cost effective means of turning an HDTV into a web-connected smart TV. Most of the reason why they’re so popular is because TV manufacturers, like their friends in the car industry, are far too slow when it comes to rolling out technology in their products.
SmartTVs, while widely available, are still something of a luxury for many, with prices ranging into thousands of pounds right down to the £600 mark. Eventually, all HDTVs will be smart, web-connected units. But until this fateful day arrives, those of us not willing to part with obscene amounts of money for an idiot box, can now, at least, bridge the gap with awesome solutions like Google’s Chromecast.
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.
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 review: Full Specs
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.
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
Apps, Apps, Apps!
Google’s Chromecast is gathering steam quickly. Developers are now sitting up, taking notice of the streaming dongle and working on apps specifically for the platform.
All the basics are included such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, but then there’s smaller apps which offer a completely different experience on your TV. Did you know you can play some games, simplistic ones at least, on your Chromecast?
We’ve collected a few of our favorite apps from the Chromecast into a helpful list so you can make the most out of the £30 streaming stick. Why not read our feature on the best Chromecast apps?
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 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.
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.
|Connectivity||2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n|
|Video Resolution||1080p (Max. output)|