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QUICKVIEW: Google Chromecast Media Streamer - a European Perspective
Posted by Arne Hess - on Monday, 05.08.13 - 13:36:14 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 16827x
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Two weeks ago, during its Press Breakfast, Google announced its - until then totally unknown - Google Chromecast. A so called "media streamer" which plugs into the HDMI port of a HDTV (or monitor) and allows to stream content from the Internet to the big screen. While a PC, Mac, Android smartphone/tablet or iPhone/iPad is used to control the Chromecast, in general the content itself is then directly received from the respective Internet services like YouTube, Netflix or Google Play. The only exception is the screen mirroring option of Google's Chrome browser on Windows PCs or Mac OS computers. When the Chromecast was announced, I ordered it the same night from the U.S. but delivery took a little bit longer - unfortunately.

The Google Chromecast, which was on sale - before it sold out - for US$ 35 only, is a small HDMI stick which comes in a small and simple box. In addition to the Chromecast itself, Google also added a HDMI extension, a USB to micro USB cable and a USB power adapter, as known from smartphones. That's it, everything else required for the setup is downloaded straight from the Internet.

After the Chromecast is plugged-into the HDMI port of a HDTV or monitor, it needs to get powerd from the USB cable; either from a USB port of the HDTV or through the included power adapter. I can't confirm reports from the Internet that the USB cable isn't always necessary. I've tested the Chromecast with a LG MHL-certified monitor which works fine with all MHL enabled smartphones but unfortunately the stick isn't taking the power from the MHL HDMI port.

After the Chromecast is plugged-in and powered, the setup software needs to be downloaded from the Internet. At the moment, the stick is powered, it broadcasts its WiFi SSID. At the moment, Google Chromecast only supports 2.4 GHz WiFi b/g/n; 5 GHz WiFi n networks are unfortunately not supported. After the setup software is installed, it's scanning for the Chromecast SSID (therefore the used PC or Mac needs to have WiFi enabled) and connects to the stick afterwards. From that point, the setup software guides through the whole process and it's pretty straight forward.

From now, the Chromecast is able to receive commands from all supported devices in the same network.

As initially said, this can be either a Windows PC Or Mac, with Google Chrome and the Chrome browser Cast extension, or Android smartphones/tablets or iPhones/iPads. While only certain Android/iOS apps support casting, like for instance YouTube, Google Play Music and Google Play Movies, the Cast extension for Google Chrome allows to mirror web browser tabs. This means that virtually everything, which can be shown on Google Chrome, can be streamed to Google Chromecast and watched on a HDTV or monitor.

This can be a plain web browser window, a catch-up stream from a broadcaster and even the::unwired's SlingPlayer RT is working fine! However, mirrored tabs are only displayed at a maximum resolution of 720p not at 1080p. Natively supported services like Netflix on the other hand are able to stream up to 1080p.

Final Conclusion

The biggest benefit of the Google Chromecast is its price. Google has done everything right pricing it at US$ 35 only which makes the purchase a now-brainer. No wonder that the Chromecast sold out the night it was annouced. But is it worth the 35 bucks? Well, somehow it is. It's inexpensive and therefore you can't be wrong with it, if you like to stream your smartphone and PC content to big screens and the supported services cover all Google services, which are also available in Europe. The better services, like Netflix, aren't available all over Europe but it doesn't matter since you are able to cast most of your local content through Google Chrome. If you plan to use Chromecast with your Android or iOS device only, you are limited to the supported services as mentioned above, even if the developer community has already started to extend support. The officially supported services and features are somewhat narrowed. For instance it's not possible to push photos or videos from your device to your big screen TV, as you can do it with Google TV, HTC Media Link HD or Miracast. That's somehow too limited since this is one of the very useful cases you might want to use a media streamer for. But that's not what Google had in mind with the Chromecast. It looked for an inexpensive solution to bring catch-up and on-demand TV to big screen living room devices, after both - Google TV and the Nexus Q - (virtually) flopped. But it's somehow irritating that Google isn't allowing to push on the device stored content to the Chromecast, especially after Google just introduced Miracast support with Android 4.2.2.

Therefore, if you don't expect too much from the Chromecast and plan to use it for what it was officially designed, it's a great little media streamer. If you want more, it shouldn't be your first choice. Not as long as the community hasn't found hacks, tweaks and enhancements. For me it's nevertheless a handy little HDMI streamer which is pretty useful while travelling; even if I have to use my laptop to perform most of the the streaming tasks I plan to do.

Cheers ~ Arne

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