Google’s Chromecast has been available for some time now in both North America and the UK but I’ve only recently, over the past couple of months, taken the plunge and purchased Google’s £30 HDMI dongle for myself. I’m pretty new to the set-top-box party and in I come with something that couldn’t quite be considered as such, but what I use it for is more than suitable. Google’s Chromecast is a streaming device which requires you to think differently, much like Google’s Chromebooks and hopefully in this review I’ll help you understand what I mean.
Google’s Chromecast is surprisingly tiny. I knew it was small, but I didn’t know how small it was until I opened the box. A little larger than your standard USB stick, the Chromecast slots nicely in the HDMI port of your TV and gives you access to various streaming services via your smartphone or computer. This is something you need to know before getting a Chromecast. This device isn’t necessarily a set-top-box, it’s more of a device that allows you to stream content from other devices. It doesn’t come with a remote, nor does it come with anything installed on it. All of the power is literally in your hands.
Google have a habit of requiring people to think a little differently, their Chromebooks aren’t quite laptops that you’re used to, with most of their content stored online and their inability to install programs normally, you’re required to change the way you use the web with a Chromebook. The same goes for the Chromecast, you can’t just turn your TV on and begin browsing Netflix, you have to do all of that on your smartphone or tablet beforehand, and then instruct the app to ‘cast’ to your Chromecast.
To put it simply, you need a smartphone or tablet in order to use the Chromecast. If you’re expecting to plug it in and start browsing Netflix, you’re going to be up shit creek without a paddle as the Chromecast just blankly displays its “connect a device” screen.
Getting set up is more-than simple enough.
You first plug in the Chromecast to your TV’s HDMI port and then you need to plug the device’s microUSB cable either into your TV’s USB port (if it has one) or use the included 5-foot cable and adaptor to plug it into the mains. From here it’s all on screen as you tap on the Chromecast app on your smartphone, or visit the getting started webpage to download some software then installation and configuration proceeds from there.
Both the device and the app displays clear instructions on what you have to do next, and installation is complete within a few minutes depending on if your Chromecast needs updating.
Once you’re set up you’re met with the Chromecast’s idle display as it waits for you to choose something to stream. There’s no icons on the screen for you to select, no other on screen prompts, just a randomised landscape background, an on-screen clock, and the name you’ve given to your Chromecast. It’s now up to you to decide what to do next.
If you’re an owner of an Android device you’ll immediately begin to notice some changes on your smartphone or tablet. Google Play Music will have a new rectangular icon with a little WiFi symbol in the corner, as will Netflix, and YouTube. What this new icon does is allow you to begin, or to continue listening to music or watching your film or YouTube clip on your Chromecast. Just tap the icon and a few seconds later it’ll be on your TV screen. Right now there’s only around twenty-something apps that are compatible with the Chromecast in North America, even less if you’re from the UK, and even less if you own an iPhone, but some streaming capabilities are still there.
As for streaming from your desktop, as long as you have Chrome installed, you’ll be okay. Thanks to a Chrome extension streaming from your desktop, laptop, or Chromebook has never been easier. You can mirror a web page, or easily launch a YouTube video from your PC onto the Chromecast, and for those apps that aren’t yet compatible, you can use those too, but streaming may be close to impossible due to the fact that so many different network tasks will be happening at the same time, and isn’t really advised.
The lack of apps is probably one of the main downsides to the Chromecast, but the device is yet to roll out globally and we’re still waiting for BBC and ITV to add their apps to the compatibility list, so there’s still a lot of room for the Chromecast to grow. There’s also a handful of other apps such as All Cast which allow you to stream almost any media from your smartphone or tablet to the Chromecast.
In terms of performance the Chromecast does really well streaming both from Android, iOS and Chrome. There’s often little to no delay or buffering and everything we’ve played through the Chromecast has done so without a hitch. As for power consumption, the USB adaptor that comes with the Chromecast doesn’t put out enough power to charge your smartphone so you can be safe in the knowledge that leaving the Chromecast on, poised, and ready to go won’t rack up your electric bill.
Now this next point is both a good and a bad point all rolled into one. The Chromecast is easily forgettable. And by that I mean that it’s both discreet enough hidden behind your TV to be left powered on until you need it, but at the same time, it’s easy to forget you have such a multifunctional device jammed in the back of your TV. With streaming services becoming even more popular it’s often difficult to remember that little device behind your TV when your TiVo box or Xbox One is sitting there much prouder on your TV unit screaming “watch Netflix on me!!”
For those with massive TVs that have a huge home cinema system wedged in every corner of the room, unless your surround sound system works via your TV, you’ll have to find another way to get your Chromecast to work with your sound bar or surround sound system. Our current TV may be big, but it doesn’t have the SPDI/F input that our sound bar requires so we have to re-route the audio through our TiVo box or our Xbox One depending on what we’re using at the time, so if we were to plug the Chromecast into the TV we wouldn’t be able to hear the sound through the sound bar.
This is thankfully where the Xbox One and it’s HDMI-in input comes in. If we didn’t have that however, we’d unfortunately have to put up with using the TV’s built-in speakers rather than our expensive sound-bar.
In terms of pricing, you can easily forget about all of the little problems this tiny device has at the moment, thanks to it’s budget price of £30. That’s all it costs to turn your plain old HDMI TV into something much, much smarter. Sure the Chromecast is reliant on your smartphone to tell it what to do, but look at it this way, for £30 Google are utilise something most people own as a remote in order to make the device much cheaper.
With Google only making the Chromecast SDK available earlier this year developers are still implementing the cast feature into their apps. Right now the Chromecast is still growing and has a long road ahead of it if it wants to compete against the already established Apple TV and the Roku. Thankfully the price-point may be enough to entice people to take the plunge.
You can purchase the Chromecast from Argos, and other electrical stores for as little as £30.