Google Chromecast media streamer
Google's media streamer is a little prone to crashes, but when it works, it delivers a blockbuster experience
- Small, simple, cheap
- Needs power over USB (no MHL)
Google’s newest wireless gadget, the Chromecast dongle, promises to bridge the gap between the small screen of your mobile device and the big screen of your TV. It’s cheap, simple, and doesn’t include another layer of unnecessary services for you to sign up to.
Price$ 35.00 (AUD)
Google's new Chromecast device wants to make it dead-simple to play Internet video on your TV, using a huge range of phones, tablets, and laptops as your controller.
The experience is like using AirPlay to beam content from an iOS device to an Apple TV. Tap the Chromecast button on your phone or tablet, and poof--the video starts playing on your TV. But unlike AirPlay, Chromecast isn't streaming the content from your device itself, but rather straight from the Internet, at the highest resolution available. That means you can still use your device to multitask without interrupting the video. In fact, it works like the Plair, only more reliably and for less money.
These are early days for the Chromecast, and not all of its features worked quite as effortlessly in our office as they did for Google in the company's Wednesday demo. But considering the impulse-buy price of $35, Chromecast is still a worthy purchase--especially since it includes three months of Netflix streaming, a $24 value.
The Chromecast is a small HDMI dongle that plugs into any available HDMI port on your HDTV. But because HDMI doesn't provide any power, the Chromecast needs constant power from a USB port as well. That can be a USB port on your TV if it has one. If no port is available, you'll need to connect the included USB cable to the bundled power adapter and find a place to plug it in.
After you've inserted and powered the dongle, Chromecast directs you to visit a URL on an approved device to finish setup. But when I fired up the Chrome browser on an iPhone 5 to do just that, I was greeted by an error message directing me to use an Android phone, or the Chrome browser on a Mac or Windows laptop. So, while you can use iOS devices to control your Chromecast, your initial setup requires other hardware.
I tried again from a Nexus 4 running Android 4.2, and the URL directed me to grab the Chromecast app on the Play Store. That app automatically detected the Chromecast device and let me name it and add it to my Wi-Fi network. So far, so good. Now the Chromecast was viewable by my iPhone and Mac as well as my Android phone and tablet.
Uh-oh, it's (not) magic
Google's demo started with the TV off, and when product manager Rishi Chandra sent a video to Chromecast by tapping the friendly Chromecast button in the YouTube app for Android, the TV obediently flicked to life. "Chromecast is turning on my TV, switching it to the right input, and now playing YouTube in HD on the TV," he boasted, but that trick didn't work at the TechHive office.
I thought maybe this was because I had plugged Chromecast into the TV's USB port, and it wasn't getting power with the TV off. Not so, apparently. When I plugged Chromecast's power adapter into the wall instead, the TV-on trick still didn't work. The YouTube app for Android saw the Chromecast and let me cast to it, but I had to turn the TV on myself (like a caveman!) and select the proper input to see the already playing video.
While a video is playing, you control it with your device the same way you would if it was playing on that device--meaning, I could mash the volume buttons on my Android phone and see a volume indicator on my TV. If you max out that volume slider, you see a message telling you that if you still need it louder, you'll have to turn up your TV itself. So while you can control playback from your phone or tablet, plan on keeping your TV remote handy too.
But aside from those niggles--and some intermittent crashing back to the "ready to cast" screen, which might be the result of an overcrowded Wi-Fi network here at the office, the other features in Google's demo worked as advertised.
Playing videos from the YouTube apps on Android and iOS was a cinch--just tap the Chromecast button, and select the Chromecast device. YouTube even lets you add additional videos to the TV queue--an obvious "Add to TV queue" pops up on the Android app when you browse to another video, and the same option appears on iOS, but it's slightly hidden under the Share menu.
The Chromecast button appears in Netflix for iOS and Android too, and works like a charm. Once a video is playing, you can put your phone or tablet to sleep to save battery life, and still pause the playback from the lock screen, or pick up the controls from another device on the same Wi-Fi network.
The Play Music and Play Movies & TV apps on Android are also supported and let you cast content you've bought or rented from the Play Store. I was unable to play the Yeezus album that I'd sideloaded in to Play Music, and volume control lagged a little and worked only when I was in those apps. I could put the phone in sleep mode and get forward/back and play/pause controls on the lock screen, but the volume controls didn't work there either.
Chromecast can also display content from a tab in Google Chrome on a Mac, Windows machine, or Chromebook Pixel, although that particular feature is still in beta. Once I downloaded the Google Cast app for Chrome, the Chromecast button appeared in my browser's upper-right corner, next to the URL bar. Casting a tab worked, although the playback lagged behind what was shown in the browser, and I was unable to adjust the volume with my Mac's volume buttons.
Still, I successfully played videos from Vimeo, Hulu Plus, and BravoTV.com. Chromecast strips out the view of your desktop and the browser's menu bar to focus on the content itself, which is a nice touch. I still had to go full-screen on my Mac to get a full-screen view on the TV, which meant I couldn't do other things on my Mac, unless I pressed Command-H to hide the Chrome app, or parked some other Mac apps in another Desktop space. Closing the tab on the Mac halts the playback on the TV.
As expected with anything marked beta, the tab-casting feature crashed a few times. Playback would freeze, attempt to buffer, and eventually return to the Chromecast's "ready to cast" start screen--once with a sheepish error message that said just "Brain freeze."
Still, with an SDK to let more developers add in-app support, a low price, and cross-platform compatibility, the Chromecast has a lot going for it.
Join the newsletter!
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Huawei P30 Pro review: A photography powerhouse that leans into and elevates its natural strengths
- 2 HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen): Full, in-depth review
- 3 Dell G5 review: Easy to live with
- 4 D-Link Omna 180 Cam HD DSH-C310 review
- 5 Ring Video Doorbell review
Latest News Articles
- Telstra launch Australia's first 5G hotspot
- It looks like Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will be Australia's first 5G smartphone
- Huawei devices disappear from Microsoft Store and Best Buy, but remain on Amazon, Newegg
- Microsoft's Windows 10 May 2019 Update is live—here's how to get it
- Firefox 67 arrives with faster performance and enhanced Private Browsing features
PCW Evaluation Team
As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.
The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.
This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.
Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications
I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)
It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!
- Google Pixel 3a review: Less is more
- Huawei P30 Pro: Australian review
- Samsung Galaxy S10 review: Messy decisions mar smart evolutions
- Which flagship TV is best? Sony 4K HDR Bravia 2016 versus LG 4K HDR OLED 2016
- 10 Blu-ray movies / Best looking Blu-ray movies