Watching Online Content on Your TV: Google Chromecast

Tech Test Lab Review

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Product: Google Chromecast
Price: $35
Rating: Recommend*

After several less than successful forays into the home entertainment space, Google might have just found itself finally with a winner with their new Chromecast. While not quite as fully featured a product as the Apple TV or Roku, the tiny $35 content streaming and mirroring device could be just the thing for those looking to add a little Netflix love to their not-so-smart TV...

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Installation
Getting Chromecast set up is fairly simple, except in cases where the TV is already wall mounted, as installation requires access to a HDTV set's open HDMI port. Otherwise, it's practically plug and play. In addition to the HDMI port, the Chromecast will also need power provided via a powered USB port or through the included AC power adapter. Once the device is plugged into each port, simply power on the TV, select the appropriate input, and then follow the on-screen instructions to start using Chromecast. 

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While the Chromecast does support content mirroring from a screen of Google's very own Chromebook Pixel laptop, strangely the Chromecast cannot be set up using this device. I opted instead to use my MacBook Pro to set up the Chromecast. The instructions are very simple and walk users through each step. Note: Chromecast currently only supports 2.4GHz networks

Once the installation is complete, users are now able to start casting content from various mobile devices using a compatible app. To start casting from Chrome from a Mac, PC or Chromebook Pixel, first download the free Google Cast extension.

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Casting Content
Currently mirroring content from a Chrome browser tab is only supported on the Mac, PC, and Chromebook Pixel, but Google hopes to roll out support for Chrome mirroring across more devices in the future. To mirror a Chrome tab, click on the extension in the browser, and voila, that's it. 

For mobile devices, iOS and Android, Chromecast support is limited to Google Play content, Netflix, and YouTube streams. (Note: if Chromecast is installed, but there isn't a button to cast to the TV from a mobile device, make sure the latest version is installed and each device is connected to the same wireless network). Once connected and casting from a mobile device with the selected apps, users can continue to use the same mobile device to control playback, although the volume is still managed by the TV controls.

The degree to which one can multi-task does depend upon the mobile device being used, but across iOS and Android once something is cast, a user can change apps at the same time while content is being cast, with the ability to pause, stop, rewind, and fastforward at any time. So for example, while Netflix is being cast from an iPad, the iPad becomes a Netflix remote, but access to Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, or any other app is still readily available and accessible without disrupting the streamed content.

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Features.
Where Chromecast really shines is with mirroring online content from the Chrome browser. It's easy to quick to set up and easy to do. Video and Flash content will depend on the strength of your network; during our testing period Chromecast threw up a few bandwidth warnings and paused during the cast. There were also a few delays here and there during video playback from sites other than YouTube and Netflix, but content playback performacne will differ from network to network. Almost anything you can throw into the Chrome browser can be played via Chromecast. And yes, this includes content from Hulu and Pandora. 

The features from a mobile device is unfortunately much more limited, as it is restricted to the small number of supported apps. What I found most handy is the ability to start up a cast from a tablet, while continuing to use the tablet for other tasks instead of it just becoming a mirror of my TV. 

And then there's the option to "hijack" a cast. For example, you're casting from one device and start a cast from another Chromecast compatible device, the first cast will stop and Chromecast will continue with the second device as a source. 

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Conclusion.
For $35 the Google Chromecast is an easy choice for those looking for a simple way to get Hulu content (not just what's approved for mobile devices) from a computer onto a TV. Does it have as many features as an Apple TV? No, but it's also not $99, and perhaps as important, the Chromecast is pleasantly OS agnostic, and will play nicely with both Macs and PCs.

Is this a solution for those who want to cut the cord? No, not really (or at least, not yet), as in its current iteration there's no channel surfing experience of options, and if you don't have an Android or iOS device, you're going to be restricted to mirroring from a Chrome browser tab. 

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Pros: Price, easy to use, Chrome browser tab mirroring, supports Macs & PCs, Android & iOS devices.

Cons: Does not mirror Chrome tabs from mobile, no way to restrict hijacking of casts, only mirrors from Chromebook Pixel (no support from other lower cost Chromebooks), currently only supported by a small number of apps on mobile devices.

Our Ratings:

Strong Recommend
Recommend*
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.

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