In case you have been under a rock for the last 2 years, Google’s Chromecast dongle is a little HDMI dongle that plugs in directly to your television or AV amplifier. It’s main function is to act as a “dumb receiver” for many internet streaming services. It has no user interface to speak of and you can only configure it via it’s web portal or mobile apps.
Why would you want one of these? It’s actually a question I asked myself. Many would say it can be an impulse purchase due to it’s low entry point (the device is about $35 US / £30 UK) but even being a tech geek I didn’t rush out to buy one myself. I have a very robust media entertainment system at home based around the wonderful XBMC so what would the Chromecast do for me?
I finally picked one up for one main reason: Netflix. Yes, Netflix is on almost everything these days, everything except XBMC (yes, it can be done with a lot of caveats!). I have had Netflix since it launched in the UK and watched it via an app on my Blu-Ray player downstairs and a WDTV media player upstairs but I have become increasingly frustrated with the performance of these apps. As these devices are pretty much no longer supported, app updates are few and far between and sometimes it can be a struggle to get Netflix to even run.
Enter the Chromecast, a device that I can push media to pretty much like I can do with XBMC. I already use an Android app called Yatse which is an XBMC remote with some fantastic features that gives it the ability to “push” media to XBMC such as Youtube and other media streams. The android Netflix app is great and very easy to navigate and search for content. Linking it to Chromecast gives me the ability to push the tv show or movie to my TV just as easily as Yatse does with XBMC. The side effect of this I am watching a lot more Netflix these days!
If you don’t have a robust entertainment system already then the Chromecast will be even more useful to you. You can also push Youtube, photos, video from your device and there are plenty of 3rd party apps with Chromecast support. My favourite podcatcher app, Pocket Casts, pushes my podcasts to the device seamlessly, BBC iPlayer in the UK is much quicker than the built in apps in a lot of appliances and my American friends get Hulu Plus and HBO Go.
No matter which tech ecosystem you prefer, your Chromecast works with it. There are iOS apps, Android, Windows, Linux, Mac and of course the Chromebook. Performance is great and I’ve had no issues streaming from Netflix, BBC, Youtube etc. The only issue I ran into was when I tried to watch a live hangouts stream via Youtube, the video would hang and go unresponsive. I’m guessing this is because the video was uncompressed and not optimised cointaining a high bitrate and the Chromecast couldn’t cope with it.
In future posts I will catalogue tweaks and tips I have used to make the device even more useful.