I’m living in an age where every manufacturer is advertising a ‘Smart TV’. Some of them show photos. Some of them have Skype. Some of them let you wave your hands or scream and they obey your every word. However these so-called ‘smart’ TVs often come with a not-so-smart price tag, so for the rest of the universe, a regular old LCD/LED TV is more than enough. But what do you do in those scenarios when you’re sitting on your couch, watching yet another hilarious cat video on your phone or tablet, and wishing that you could be watching the same video on your TV instead? Well your problems are solved thanks to those genius minds at Google. Enter the Google Chromecast.
When the Chromecast was first announced, what took people by surprise was not what it could do, but how much it was priced at. For a mere $35, you could get a device that would allow you to effortlessly stream content from your phone or tablet to your swanky TV without the hassle of cables. The tiny 3-inch dongle may not look like much when you first unbox it, but Google promises that with an increasing app support, the Chromecast will be a must-buy.
In the box you get the Chromecast dongle, a little extension cable for connecting to hard-to-reach HDMI ports, a micro-USB cable, and a power adapter. Yes, a power adapter – the Chromecast needs to be plugged in to a wall socket or a compatible USB port on your TV. Once you’ve connected it to a free HDMI port on your TV, setup is quite simple. You can download the Google Chromecast app from the Google Play store or directly on your PC. I have to mention that Google Chromecast wasn’t available for download in the UAE app store, so I had to switch to a US account to get it installed. Once installed, the app searches for nearby Chromecast devices to connect to, and then lets you set up the device with a name and also connects it to your Wi-fi network. Once that’s done, you’re then free to connect to it via your device or PC.
Getting content to stream via the Chromecast is so far limited to only three apps – YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play. Both Netflix and Google Play aren’t available to non-US accounts, so I decided to check out YouTube instead. Once you’ve loaded up a video, you simply tap the ‘cast’ icon on your phone or tablet to immediately send the video to the Chromecast and being playing. You can then use your device as a remote control, or to browse other videos or content. This is because Chromecast directly pulls the video from the Internet, rather than trying to stream it from your device.
And that’s pretty much where the line stops. I tried to view some videos on Google Play, but they refused to load for some reason. You can ‘throw’ any other apps to Chromecast, nor can you view content such as videos or photos on your device. This strikes the Chromecast as somewhat pointless – it would be niceto flip through a photo gallery on a larger screen or watch videos recorded using our device on a TV, but sadly there’s no support just yet.
You can also download the Chromecast app on your PC, and if you install the extension in your Chrome browser, you can share any open tab with Chromecast to make it appear on your TV. This is a mixed blessing, since it means you can blow up other streaming websites and content in full screen. But sadly the quality of the streamed content isn’t so great, because Chrome encodes your screen, sends it to the Chromecast, which then decodes it onto your TV. This not only results in lag, but also a drop in video quality which is a shame. Even 1080p clips didn’t look very great when streamed from my laptop, which was a real let-down. However in hindsight, you can drag almost any video from your laptop onto your Chrome browser to have it show up directly on your TV.
So is the Chromecast of any use? Well at the moment the lack of supporting apps might make the Chromecast seem a bit useless, but Google have promised that more apps are on the way. YouTube streaming is by far the best thing about the Chromecast, and the ability to share Chrome tabs is a neat gimmick. But save from these two features, there’s precious little that the Chromecast can do at the moment, so you might want to wait a while before picking it up, even if it is going for next to peanuts.
Our Google Chromecast review unit was kindly provided by the folks over at ALSHOP.com