In yesterday’s post, we showed you guys the entire setup process involved in getting Chromecast up and running on your television. With that finally out of the way, we can now get to the fun stuff. Here is our walkthrough covering everything Chromecast does, so you can decide with total confidence if it’s really worth your $35.
What Chromecast does
In the olden days, getting video from your Android device to your television was anything but user friendly. You can argue that plugging a micro HDMI cable into your device was easy, but was it convenient? Obviously not, because nobody ever did it. Ever. There was just something about keeping your device a few feet away while tethered to your television that rendered it 100% useless while watching media. But Google found a better way, a wireless way.
Okay, so really, we’re talking about a better wireless way. Once again, solutions like Miracast sounded great in theory, but only mirrored the display from your Android device to the television. Beside a lack of support for all devices and the need for more expensive hardware to establish a connection, once again your device was delegated to a single task making it a dedicated streaming device while watching video and nothing else.
With Chromecast, you simply plug the dongle into your tv and provide it with some power via the supplied USB, and you’re ready to view the wide range of video/music content from the web directly from the tiny unit itself. This is different from the other methods in that Chromecast actually handles all the streaming, leaving the Android device free to check emails, browse the web, or make a phone call — all without interrupting the video streaming through the Chromecast to your TV.
Using Chromecast with your Android device
In order to use Chromecast from your Android device, first you’ll need an app that supports it. Currently, there are only 3 video apps in the Google Play Store that support Chromecast: Netflix, YouTube, and Play Movies (with more on the way). For listening to music, Google Play Music is also an option (with support for Pandora, Spotify, and all the others hopefully coming down the line). As you can see, this limits Chromecasting from your Android device to only these few apps which, let’s face it, is extremely limited at this point.
Whereas Chromecasting using Netflix and Google Play Movies is pretty straightforward; your Android devices act as the remote while the video streams on the Chromecast and displays it on your television. It’s the YouTube app that is a lot more fun. With the YouTube app, multiple devices signed into your WiFi network can connect with the Chromecast, creating video playlists from the vast sea of video content available on YouTube. Anyone can jump in and interrupt a video with another one, skip ahead, rewind, pause, or even add a video to the queue.
Other than those four methods, that’s pretty much the extent of how you can use your mobile device to interact with Chromecast. (Did we mention Chromecast works with iOS?) But that’s not all the little dongle is capable of…
Using Chromecast with your computer
Now, for even more functionality, you can also Chromecast from your desktop/laptop computer. I would even say that ideally, this is the best way to get the most out of Chromecast. Here’s how it works: just like your Android device, there are a handful of video sites that allow you to “Google Cast” videos to your Chromecast in full HD 1080p, while keeping the computer free for other tasks (and without interrupting the full screen video).
Again, the same benefits apply here. Your computer isn’t the one doing the full HD streaming, the Chromecast is. This means your ultrabook stays cool, and battery life isn’t affected. Keep in mind that the same pitfalls when Chromecasting with your Android device also present. With only a small number of sites supporting Chromecast, chances are you’ll be hard pressed to find many videos with the Chromecast button in the corner. But don’t worry, there is another way…
Chrome tab mirroring
While not the most ideal solution, you can also mirror anything from an open Chrome tab on your computer to Chromecast. This can be used as a workaround for a lack of supported Android apps, or sites that don’t currently support Chromecast. There is also an “experimental option” for casting your entire computer display, but results are mixed (mine would crash after a few seconds). Using this method, you can watch and/or listen to just about anything from the web, on your television (NBC, Hulu Plus, Live Leaks, or even more ummmm… adult sites).
While casting a tab to the Chromecast, it’s possible to open a new tab and check Facebook while keeping the old tab displayed and running on your television. This can be handy for music or even videos that you don’t care about watching full screen. But when it comes to full screen video, you won’t be able to use your computer for anything else (lest you kill full screen video and ruin the party).
Another thing to keep in mind when casting a browser tab is that your computer will be doing all the heavy lifting, streaming not only video from the internet, but casting the image from your computer to the Chromecast. It’s because of this, casting a tab to your television is limited to only 720p (but there’s an option for high-quality 720p, for wireless routers that can handle it). Still, lack of 1080p is a bummer and the reason why tab casting is a quick and dirty “hack.”
Cast locally stored videos to your television
This was one of the most pressing questions I’ve been hearing after the Chromecast announcement: Can the Chromecast stream videos from a computer hard drive, to the television? The answer is… yes. Well, sorta. Some locally stored video files (those from your computer’s hard drive) can also be cast to the television using a Chrome tab, but not all of them.
This is done by simply dragging and dropping a video file directly into a new Chrome tab, then press the Google Cast extension button to beam it to your television. It’s a nice workaround, but there are some disadvantages. First, it seems only MP4’s play nice, while .mov has no audio and .wmv is unpredictable. Second, as we mentioned before, a casted Chrome tab is only displayed at 720p, so your vast collection of ripped 1080p Blu-ray movies might not look as crystal clear as you remember.
Again, another workaround is by using the experimental feature of screencasting your entire computer display and playing a video using your computer’s native video player. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this feature running more than a few seconds before it crashed. Here’s to hoping they continue working on this and fix it in the very near future. Having full desktop screencasting would give Chromecast the edge it needs to put the final nails in Apple TV’s coffin.
While it’s true there are a plethora of ways to get video content from the web onto your television (Roku, PS3, Xbox 360, Apple TV, etc.), none of them can even come close to the Chromecast’s insanely low $35 entry fee. To be fair, set top boxes like the Roku and Apple TV do offer more apps and services such as Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, but this is an area we expect to change in the near future.
As so often is the case with Google products, it seems Chromecast’s real value lays in its potential to be amazing, but even in its currently limited state, there’s no denying it offers a whole lotta bang for the buck. I will not only purchase one, but also be gifting several to friends and family. Who knows, in time, maybe they can finally ditch the cable box. You can buy the Chromecast from local retailers like Best Buy or via the Google Play Store link below for $35.
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