By: HDTV Professor
Google’s Chromecast launched back in 2013 and, with every generation, just keeps getting incrementally better. Starting at $29.99, this plug-and-play streaming device is a solid companion for anyone who wants to stream music, movies, television, and games from their mobile devices to their TV. Over the years, Chromecast has also developed and optimized seamless WiFi connectivity, 1080p support and a plethora of apps to extend its impressive capability.
When it comes to setup, the HDMI dongle plugs directly into your TV and using the Chromecast app on your mobile device (doesn’t ship with a remote), simply find your home’s network and you’re all set. All told, it’s one of our top recommended plug-in devices for folks who want to stream at home, on vacation, and basically anywhere else you have an internet connection. Read on for all the details…
In its infancy, the Chromecast didn’t offer much outside major streaming apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and movies you downloaded from the Google Play store. Now, it’s a whole different ball game.
First, there are plenty more video apps you can use to cast to the TV. CBS, FOX, HGTV, and HBO GO all have their own in-house developed apps, fully compatible with the Chromecast. WatchESPN is one of the more popular apps, but you do have to have a cable/satellite provider to get anything on ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN3 is up for grabs though, if you enjoy watching niche sports (soccer, cricket, crossfit, etc). You’ll also get access to Twitch, Watch Disney, Watch ABC, MTV, TED, and Showtime Anytime. We could go on and list all the major streaming apps, but check out the Chromecast apps page to get an idea of everything offered.
Music is another big draw for Chromecast. Pandora, iHeart Radio, and NPR One are all top-ranking choices in the streaming category. Musixmatch and Rdio are newer to the game, though kind of experimental and do require you to input more information about what you like. They both have a ton of potential though.
One thing Chromecast does better now than at its release is stream media from your mobile devices that you transferred there. Let’s say you put a movie from your computer onto your SIM card. Apps like Real Player and Avia now give you the option to stream those movies with almost zero buffering or lag. If you’ve uploaded a video to YouTube, you can also do it that way as well.
There’s not much to it when it comes to hooking up your Chromecast. Almost the size of a USB thumb drive, the Chromecast just plugs into your HDMI port. This contrasts with Apple TV or Roku, which have separate boxes and use different ports for audio. With only the power cable, it’s nice to minimize things.
The unit is black, designed to fit in with your TV. If you have a mounted television, inserting the Chromecast could give you some trouble.
Powering the devices has two options: you can either plug it directly into the wall outlet using the five-foot micro-USB and power adapter, or you can plug the other end of the USB-to-USB cable into your television. Most newer TVs have USB ports, so this is usually the easiest option.
Visiting Chromecast’s getting-started website on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, allows you to get the device setup on your network. On Android (another Google property), you can also download an app which will run through the setup and get things working in under three minutes.
Apple’s iOS requires you to switch to a WIFi network created by the Chromecast and then you can assign it to join your home’s network. It’s still easy, but more of a hassle than it should be.
Once you’re up and running, fire up the Chromecast app you’ll see a cast button that’s usually in the right hand corner of the screen. Whether you have a PC, Android or Apple device, the icon is universal.
Tapping the cast button will bring up a “Connect to device” prompt screen and you should see your named Chromecast on the list. Just choose it and you’ll see your video spring up on the screen. From this point on your device becomes the remote, letting you pause, play, control volume, or switch videos.
Shows from Netflix or similar apps broadcast on 1080p quality and the sound is impressively robust (most home theater setups sync perfectly well). In most our tests, out-of-sync issues were extremely rare, but if you’re on a poor or spotty internet connection, the quality will noticeably suffer. If you ever run into app issues, exiting the app and starting up again can save you a lot of hassle, though we didn’t run into those issues while testing the device.
Chromecast also acts as a second screen if you’re on your computer. You can cast the screen to the TV and then use your other computer to catch up on emails or see what’s happening on Twitter. It should be noted that the device is only limited to Chrome and won’t work on anything outside of a Google-owned browser.
Chromecast could arguably be the best streaming device on the market. At only $30, this mobile HDMI dongle can literally fit in your pocket and go anywhere with you. It may not have the remote and box that ship with other streaming products, but the point here is to turn your phone or tablet into your functional remote. This will bleed the battery on your device and if you must have your separate boxes and remotes, the Chromecast probably isn’t for you.
Videos stream at 1080p now and you have access to a whole library of applications. From movies to games, the Chromecast is an inexpensive tool for accessing the true power of your television.