Google Chromecast media streamer (preview)

Throw videos or Web pages from your phone, tablet or PC to your TV for US$35

Over the years, Google has had a few attempts at bringing content from your Android phone or tablet to your TV — like the aborted Nexus Q, and the various incarnations of the Google TV.

Those products have largely fallen by the wayside, but the search-and-social giant has a new device in the works: the Chromecast dongle, which plugs into your TV, hooks into your Wi-Fi network, and waits to be controlled by whatever computer or smartphone or tablet you’re using.

Google Chromecast: Design

The Chromecast dongle is similar to other miniature ‘streaming sticks’ currently on the market — we often use the Roku variant, and there are countless Chinese clones available.

The Chromecast is a candybar-shaped device that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port, although it doesn’t draw power from the port and needs a cable running to one of the TV’s USB ports as well. This isn’t a big deal — we only know of one or two HDMI dongles that can run off the port’s own power (in a TV equipped with MHL), and they’re all significantly more expensive than the Chromecast.

Since it’s not meant to be visible whenever you’re watching TV, the design of the Chromecast dongle isn’t all that important, but it’s not particularly ugly — think of an oversized USB flash drive. For its US$35 price tag we think that it looks perfectly reasonable.

Key to the Chromecast’s design is its integrated Wi-Fi, which initially pairs directly with your phone or tablet or computer for the initial setup, then ties in to your proper Wi-Fi network to connect to the Internet. After that, it’ll lie in wait until triggered by whatever mobile device you so choose to use it with.

Google Chromecast: Usage

The big idea behind the Chromecast media streamer is that if you’re using an iOS or Android tablet or smartphone, or a PC or Mac running Google’s Chrome Web browser, you’ll be able to throw content from certain apps from your device onto the Chromecast stick — letting you select a YouTube video from the comfort of your couch and the convenience of your tablet, then pushing it to the big screen for more impressive or more communal viewing.

Netflix is a launch partner for Google on the Chromecast, with three months’ free subscription included in the US$35 price as another reason to buy. As you’d expect, the Netflix app will support the Chromecast’s functionality as soon as the device is released in the next couple of days, with the two other big drawcards being videos straight from YouTube and Web pages straight from the Chrome browser.

One slight stumbling block we can see is that the Chromecast has no way of turning your TV on remotely, so you’ll have to keep the remote control nearby nonetheless. It will be able to function in a low-power sleep state, though, and can wake itself whenever you throw a video or Web page to it.

The Chromecast dongle presents itself on your Wi-Fi network as a sort of second viewing screen, but there’s an important distinction to make here — when you tell the stick to stream a YouTube video or Netflix show, the Chromecast dongle contacts that website or data service directly, so your mobile device, likely running on valuable battery power, isn’t doing all the heavy lifting.

The Google Chromecast stick isn’t currently selling in Australia — the dongle is only available to US buyers at the moment, with a large part of the reason for that likely being the tie-in with Netflix. We’ll let you know when and if it comes Down Under. Even at $50 locally it’d make an attractive extra for anyone who uses a bit of Google on their Wi-Fi-enabled computer or mobile device.

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