Google Chromecast streams internet video to your TV (Video)

Google’s Chromecast is a $35 device that lets you stream internet videos to your television. Just plug it into your TV, fire up a video you want to watch on your phone, tablet, or PC, tap a button and the video pops up on your television.

At least that’s the theory. But how does the Chromecast perform in practice?

A lot better than you might expect for a $35 device. Not everything works exactly the way you might want it to, but the Chromecast is a surprisingly powerful, versatile device that doesn’t cost a lot of money — especially when you consider that customers get 3 free months of access to Netflix when they buy a Chromecast. Since that’s a $24 value, it’s kind of like you’re only paying $11 plus taxes and shipping costs for the hardware.

Update: Google has ended the Netflix promotion, due to overwhelming demand.

I ordered a Chromecast for myself yesterday, but while I’m waiting for it to arrive, Google was kind of enough to loan me a demo unit to test.

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The Chromecast is a 2 inch device that you can plug into your TV. It has a Marvell processor and connects to the internet with its built-in 802.11b/g/n WiFi receiver. Once it’s hooked up, you can start watching videos on your TV just by firing up the YouTube or Netflix apps on your Android or iOS phone or tablet, or any supported website in the Chrome browser on your Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome OS device.

There’s also a beta feature that lets you send the contents of any Chrome browser tab to your TV, whether the website officially supports Chromecast or not. The results can be a little hit or miss, but this feature opens the door for Chromecast to become the only internet TV device you need, since it basically opens anything you can access on the web on your television screen.

Google’s Chromecast is the first device to support the new Google Cast technology. But the $35 standalone box might be just the first of many devices to use Google Cast. Eventually you may be able to buy TVs, Blu-ray players, or other devices that have the technology baked right in, allowing you to stream internet content to your TV without a separate device.

Setup couldn’t be much simpler. You open the box, take out the Chromecast and stick it into the HDMI port on your TV.

The Chromecast comes with a USB cable and power adapter to supply power to the device. If your TV has a USB port you can do without the adapter, but since the Chromecast doesn’t support MHL, it can’t draw power from the HDMI port on your TV.

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Adjust your TV settings so that you’re viewing input from that HDMI port and in a few seconds a screen will pop up telling you the name of your Chromecast device and a URL to visit to download a setup app on your computer.

That URL, by the way, is https://cast.google.com/chromecast/setup.

You can also download an Android app on your phone or tablet to complete the setup process. It’ll search for a Chromecast on your network and walk you through the process. Once installed, you can use the app to check to make sure your Chromecast device is online.

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Using the PC app, you’ll be prompted to download and run the installer, which basically asks you to enter the password to your wireless network, scans to detect your device, and lets you rename it. The process is finished in seconds.

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That’s it. Now that the Chromecast is set up, you can start beaming videos to your TV.

Chromecast is running a simple version of Chrome OS, and when you send a video from your phone or tablet, what’s actually happening is you’re sending a command to the device so that it can grab content directly from the internet.

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In other words, you’re not actually streaming videos from your phone to the Chromecast. You’re telling it which video to start playing, and then using your phone as a remote control.

That means once a video starts playing, you can exit the app and check your email, surf the web, or just put your phone down while the video continues to play.

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Supported apps at launch include YouTube, Google Play Movies, Netflix, and Pandora. Google has also released developer tools which means we could see support for additional apps soon.

When an app supports Google Cast and detects a supported device on your network, you’ll see a little icon in the video window that looks like a TV with a few little curved lines in the corner. Tap it, and you’ll have the option to watch a video on your Android or iOS device or send it to the Chromecast.

Once a video starts playing, it seems to be up to developers to decide exactly what happens next. While both the YouTube and Netflix apps let you pause, play, or move around on a timeline, the YouTube app shows a freeze-frame from the video on your phone while the movie plays on your TV.

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Netflix, on the other hand, shows cover art for the movie or TV show.

But Chromecast doesn’t just work with mobile devices. You can also install the Google Cast extension for the Chrome web browser on a Windows, Mac, Linux, or Chrome OS device to use your PC as a TV remote control — or to send content from your PC straight to the TV.

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Once installed, you can browse the web and any time you see a video with the little Google Cast icon, you can click on it for the option of sending a video to your TV. It’ll show up right in the video box, next to the icons that normally let you maximize or otherwise embiggen a video.

After a video starts playing, you can close the browser tab and go about your business. You can even turn off your computer. But if you want to control video playback, you may want to leave the browser tab open since you can use the on-screen controls for YouTube or other video sites to control playback.

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You can also tap the Google Cast icon in your Chrome toolbar to bring up a menu that lets you play, pause, mute, or stop.

There’s also a “Cast this tab” button which is one of the most intriguing features of Google Cast right now. The feature’s still in beta, but when you hit “Cast this tab,” it’ll send the contents of your browser window directly to the Chromecast over your WiFi network.

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Cast this tab doesn’t pull down video straight from the internet. Instead it beams whatever’s on your PC to your TV. That can include videos, games, photos, or other content — although I wouldn’t recommend using this for gaming, since there’s a little lag.

What you can do is stream content from sites that may not officially support Google Cast.

For instance, you can visit Hulu.com, cast the browser tab, and maximize a video to watch it full-screen on your TV. Normally you need to pay $7.99 for a Hulu Plus subscription if you want to stream Hulu content to a TV, but now you can do it for free… at least until Hulu starts blocking Chromecast.

This doesn’t work on every site — Amazon Instant Video didn’t work when I tested it, and your results will probably vary from site to site. And to be honest, the Hulu playback was a little choppy at times.

But the feature’s still in beta. Performance could improve as Google works out the kinks, and since Chromecast runs a version of Google Chrome OS, I suspect it’ll download software updates silently and automatically install them when you reboot the device.

Cast this tab uses the WebRTC protocol to basically share your browser screen with the browser on the Chromecast device. Your PC encodes the page as a video and sends it on its way. This is pretty resource intensive, which helps account for the lag – and the inability to run at all on some older computers. Certain web technologies, such as Silverlight, aren’t supported at all.

Another fun thing to do with Cast this Tab is stream videos from your local storage. All you need to do is drag and drop a video into your Chrome web browse, and a video player will open up. Hit the Cast this Tab button, and that video starts playing on your TV.

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Not all video formats are supported, but I tried this with an H.264 video recording and it worked beautifully.

Keep in mind that if you’re streaming the contents of a browser tab to your TV, you need to make sure not to close that window. You can just leave it open in the background while you use your PC to do other things, but if you close that window or turn off your computer, video playback will stop.

Unfortunately there’s no equivalent trick for streaming local content from a mobile device — at least not yet.

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For example, you can use the Google Play Music app on an Android phone or tablet to stream music to your TV using a Chromecast device.

But if you try to using the same app to stream music stored on your device, an error message will tell you that side-loaded content isn’t supported.

Summary

Google’s Chromecast is fast, cheap, easy to use, and effective. It takes seconds or minutes to set up, lets you stream video from Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, and even Hulu to your TV. And you can even use it as a way to send videos from your hard drive to your TV.

There are more versatile ways to turn your TV into a smart TV. But the Chromecast is simpler and easier to use and setup than an Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee Box, Roku, or any other device I’ve seen. That’s because it has no user interface to speak of — you control video playback pretty much the same way as you do on a phone, tablet, or PC, because those devices are your remote controls.

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For about the same price as a Chromecast, you could probably pick up a cheap Android mini PC like the MK802. But those devices take longer to boot, require you to navigate through the Android user interface to find and launch the apps and videos your looking for, and generally take longer to start a video.

If you want to play Angry Birds on your TV, the Chromecast won’t help you. And if you want to stream Amazon Instant Video, you’ll probably want to wait until Amazon releases its own set-top-box (or buy a device like a Roku which currently supports Amazon).

But after spending a little time with the Chromecast, I’m pleasantly surprised at just how well it does what it’s supposed to do: it brings internet video to your TV.

  • http://oakleafblog.blogspot.com Roger Jennings

    Scalpers are offering a couple of Chromecasts on Amazon.com for US$92. Amazon, apparently, has run out of them. I’m expecting my $35 Chromecast via 1-day shipping today. Check out my http://android-minipc.azurewebsites.net/index.php/2013/07/android-media-player-tv-boxes/#Chromecast post.

    • rafael duarte

      I don’t see the big deal with this toy. android mini pc or those HDMI stick can do same thing no as fast like brad says, but let me tell you something that google forget about us we like watch tv and the same time use our tablet or phone multicasting.
      Some new HDMI stick like ATV130 from geniatech has more port and came powered in the same HDMI port, like Dell project offelia.
      So google is married with armada chip instead use more powered chip
      But we like toys and this one for$35 it’s a deal, but remember about the nexus tablet you has to wait and we want the product now.
      Everything over wifi we has to trust the router and the provider and how powered its your device as a client.
      No Bluetooth
      No port for storage

      • http://oakleafblog.blogspot.com Roger Jennings

        The price is right and the Chromecast has the simple video streaming features most consumers want: 1080p to the HDTV.
        Gadgeteers who seek higher end features can buy a quad-core Tronsmart MK908 or equivalent for double the price. Dell’s Project Ophelia is simply a relabeled MiniPC with a couple of free Dell Android apps pre-installed with a $30 surcharge over a no-name device.

  • nards barley

    Alas, If I only streamed internet video.

    • nicknowsky

      It plays movies and video files…Mp4 movies

    • djfourmoney

      You mean there’s nothing on the internet that interest you? I find that amazing…

  • nicknowsky

    This might be the dongle to get….forget all those cheap Android TV drives…this is Google certified and it’s plug and play….they’re selling like hot cakes…I’m ordering one..it’s perfect

    • NeedName

      Far from perfect. This is pretty much an internet only streaming device. Not even in the same ballpark as gTv, Android TV sticks, not to mention an HTPC. Actually hilarious when you think about it. Google wants us to use this because we can use our “devices” and not learn anything else — why not just use the device directly?

      And local files play at 720p max. Not to mention being then tied to the browser for a remote.

      I honestly don’t get the point of this thing other than, “it’s for the brain dead crowd because they can’t figure out any of the multitude of devices that do more and/or are so cheap that they can’t/won’t pay more than $50.”

      My HTPC is safe!

      • djfourmoney

        I get your point.

  • emmecinque

    I don’t see any evidence on the Google site that this is actually supported on Linux, contrary to what’s in the article. A Google support matrix explicitly says it’s *not* supported on Windows XP and Linux, in fact.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      I tested the Google Cast extension on a notebook running Chrome 28 in Lubuntu 12.10, and it worked just fine. Chromium didn’t work when I tried it though.

      • emmecinque

        Hmm … maybe it’s just the streaming stuff (which I guess makes sense for Netflix-like content). Not “makes sense” like it actually makes sense, but it is understandable given current reality.

  • mike

    Raspberry pi, xbmc, and my TV remote do the same job, but probably not as fast as the chromecast.

    • djfourmoney

      Not sure what your point was… Raspberry Pi was out of stock the majority of the time, now that those who wanted it, have it, its back in stock and then some…. XBMC works okay but only if that’s the only thing you use. I use it strictly to watch YouTube content full screen and the eye candy created for my TV Shows and Movies.

      That said, I can’t watch mature content such as the Dirty Pair series on Manga’s channel.

      The ESPN3 app by Blue Cop has been updated to match the update that ESPN did to its web site.

      Linux is too dependant on users to solve issues and update software as needed.

  • http://shavenwarthog.livejournal.com/ shavenwarthog

    thanks for the descriptive video. That “play local media” trick really makes it for me — thanks!

  • Conception

    Brad, will this cast files from a BB PlayBook (like the PC C drive casting)? I realize the PlayBook isn’t exactly full on Android nor run Chrome browser and what have you, but it would be interesting to know if it somehow could interface with the Playbook. Thanks and good article up above!

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Out of the box I can’t think of any way you’d get that working today — but theoretically someone could develop a PlayBook OS app that supports the Google Cast protocol. Since the SDK is only available for Android or iOS right now, I imagine the easiest way would be by developing an Android app porting it to PlayBook OS.

      • Conception

        I see. Thank you for replying. Well I was wondering because the PlayBook is wi-fi capable and has the file:///accounts/1000/shared/documents type folder structure which may or may not be able to be used. Or sharing via File and Wi-Fi sharing through a computer network. Also, OrigamiBrowser has the ability to spoof it’s user agent to Chrome. So these are possible avenues. It may be a wild goose chase too…

        It would be sweet if an app dev could come up with something down the road a bit…

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Yeah, but that feature only works on a PC if you’re running the Chrome web browser with the Google Cast extension installed.

      • Conception

        Ah, so it’s the extension that’s needed (and or the Chrome browser). Thanks for clarifying that.

  • Rafael Formisano

    Brad if I buy 2, do I get 3 free month of Netflix for each?

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Actually, at this point you don’t get any free Netflix. Google just canceled the deal due to overwhelming demand.

  • anncoultersadamsapple

    This is the best review of the Chromecast I’ve seen yet. And there are a lot out there. A lot of bad info, too. Thanks for this.

  • Daniel Andersson

    Does casting photos from an android phone/tablet work? Do I have to put the photos on google+ first perhaps?

  • scionic

    When I try this on Chromium on my Ubuntu 13.04 . https://cast.google.com/chromecast/setup says “We recommend you set up your Chromecast from another device. You may be able to setup Chromecast from this device but your OS is not fully supported”. There is a “Try it anyway” link though that attempts to walk you through the process .. I will post back the results when I get my device (hopefully later today)

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      If that doesn’t work, try visiting http://www.google.com/chrome in your browser and you should get an option to download a .deb file that will let you install Chrome (not Chromium) on your Ubuntu system.

      While I didn’t setup Chromecast using a Linux computer, I found that after it was already setup, I was able to use Chrome to stream browser tabs to my TV, but not Chromium.

      That may not help with the setup app though.

      • jeff_albertson

        i checked their device’s support page. and it doesnt say anywhere that it supports Linux.

        and this guys tested it on Fedora and confirms it:

        http://betanews.com/2013/07/26/google-chromecast-greatness-in-its-infancy-review/

        just because Google uses Linux profusely and has things like Summer of Code, people think right away that Google will do right by Linux users but at best there will be a PRspeak about how they are looking into adding Linux support in the future….
        heard that before.

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        You can also setup a chromecast using an android app if you happen to have an android phone or tablet handy.

    • http://harrelsonagency.com/ Sam Harrelson

      Set my Chromecast up with an Ubuntu 13.04 laptop last night and everything worked fine (after skipping the “we recommend another device” part).

      Tabs etc play great over the Google Cast extension in Chrome on this Ubuntu laptop as well.

  • scratchbaker

    Didn’t work worth squat on XP SP3. Set up once and knocked out the audio on my Audioengine W1 device. After that, despite 5 factory resets, it never set up again. I returned it to Amazon in 24 hours. I’m not upgrading my OS for this device.

  • Tony

    Why not just plug a HDMI cable into the TV from the laptop – these gadgets do not make any sense to me.

    • http://harrelsonagency.com/ Sam Harrelson

      You’d rather plug an HDMI into a TV and have it run to a laptop or desktop that you need to position close enough to your computer rather than have a small and dedicated (and cheap) device that does that sort of streaming and more? That makes no sense.

  • Ahana

    When try to do this on Windos Vista OS (laptop) using URL https://cast.google.com/chromecast/setup it says “We recommend you set up your Chromecast from another device. You may be able to setup Chromecast from this device but your OS is not fully supported”. There is a “Try it anyway” link”. On clicking the “Try it Anyways” link, it shows the next screen with ”
    Alrighty, do you see this screen on your TV?”, which I am not able to see on my TV screen, what they display on laptop screen. If I click on “Uh, No” button given on the same screen, it takes me to the chromecast installation process. The chromecast is working fine with my phone & tablet but not with laptop. Can anyone help???