Google's Chromecast: It's like Apple TV, but for everyone

With a lower price and easier setup, Google's Chromecast brings internet-streamed TV to the masses.

If you’ve found that using a PC or game console to stream Netflix or Youtube on your TV to be cumbersome, then Google’s Chromecast is for you. It’s also for you if your wife, husband, roommate or anyone constantly calls you demanding tech support - “I just want to watch normal TV.” And if you have never tried to watch internet-streamed content on your TV and want to start, Chromecast’s ease of installation and simplicity of operation should not be overlooked.

Chromecast stands out because Google learned from its mistakes when building the Nexus Q, which announced in June of 2012 but never delivered on its promises. Google VP, Mario Queiroz could not have stated the case more clearly.

The Chromecast (below) looks like a thumb drive that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of the television and is powered from either a USB port or separate power supply. It’s that simple. Plug it in and turn on the television and Chromecast leads the user through the setup from a PC or Mac. It takes about three minutes. First setup asks to confirm the correct Chromecast is being configured, because there may be more than one in homes with multiple televisions. Next, the Wi-Fi ID and password is requested, and then setup is complete. If the Youtube and Netflix apps on the user’s Andoid or iOS device are up to date, the user can start playing videos.

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From this point, it’s less complicated than using Uber to call for a ride. The user finds what he or she wants to watch in the app and then clicks an icon and the video is presented on the television. In most cases, if the television is off, the Chromecast will turn on the television and switch to the correct HDMI port.

After the video is selected, it is streamed directly to the Chromecast-connected television and the mobile device is freed for browsing and apps.

There is a Chrome browser extension available for viewing video that is not associated with an app, giving users more viewing options. I checked and the BBC iPlayer, MLB.TV, Spotify and HBO GO all support the Chrome browser. It should be noted none of these were tested, and the Chromecast Chrome extension (extensions are what Google calls browser plug-in apps) is still a beta version. If a streamed service does not have an associated app, it can most likely still be viewed full-screen from a notebook or mobile Chrome Browser.

Streamed TV services that are only available to be viewed on an app can be modified by developers to work with Google TV. Google has previewed an SDK, and it appears straight forward to modify an iOS or Android app for display through Chromecast.

The most striking difference compared to Apple TV, other than the fact that it is one third of the price, is that it works for Mac and iOS users and does not exclude PC and Android users. It will be interesting to see how long it will take Chromecast to catch up to the 10 million or so Apple TVs that have shipped.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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