Google has been offering a cheap media streaming device for TVs since 2013. The Chromecast costs $35, plugs into an HDMI port on your TV, and lets you use your phone, tablet, or computer as a remote control.
Now Google is launching two major updates to the Chromecast family. The user interface is still simple/nonexistent: you still use your mobile device to find music and videos to send your TV. But the new Chromecast has more powerful hardware, while the new Chromecast Audio is designed to do for speakers and audio what the original Chromecast did for TV and video.
Thew new Chromecast is a small circle with an integrated HDMI cable, allowing it to hang from the HDMI port on your TV instead of sticking out like the original.
Under the hood, the new model supports faster WiFi networks thanks to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11ac WiFi support. Despite some earlier reports, it appears that the new model supports 1080p content, but not Ultra HD 4K video.
Along with new hardware, Google has announced that even more content is coming to Chromecast. Showtime has announce plans to make all of its content available on Chromecast. NBA, NHL, and other sports leagues are bringing content to Chromecast. And Sling TV will bring live TV to Chromecast as well.
Not sure what apps work with Chromecast? Google is also updating the Chromecast mobile app to make it easier to discover content through a “what’s on” section that shows a list of compatible apps and movies, TV shows, or other content available.
A new search feature also lets you find programming from across different apps.
There’s also a new Device tab that offers playback controls so you can play, pause, or mute at any time, no matter what’s playing.
Google also says Chromecast-compatible apps will also start launching apps more quickly thanks to a new Fast Play feature that allows a Chromecast to automatically detect when you launch an app like Netflix, and begin loading it in the background, or to start downloading a small portion of the next episode of a TV show after you finish the first in order to minimize the amount of time you have to wait for content to load.
The 2nd-gen Chromecast device is available starting today for $35.
Chromecast Audio is a small dongle that you can plug into any speaker with a 3.5mm, RCA, or optical audio jack. Then fire up any audio app on your mobile device, hit the cast button, and audio starts playing on you speaker.
At first glance, you might wonder why you would want to use a Chromecast device to stream music from your phone when you could also use a Bluetooth receiver. The answer is that just like the original Chromecast, the audio version lets you use your phone as a remote… but music is actually streaming from the cloud.
That means you can start a Spotify playlist and listen to music that streams straight from the internet to the Chromecast. You can continue to use your phone to tap the play or pause buttons, but most of the time your phone isn’t doing anything at all, so your battery won’t drain quickly.
If you want to mirror audio from your mobile device or from a Chrome browser tab, you can though… and that will make it possible to stream local audio or stream music from sources that might not otherwise support Chromecast.
There’s also support for multi-room listening.
Like the Chromecast, Google’s new Chromecast Audio will be available starting today in 17 countries for $35.
The original Chromecast has been pretty successful: Google says it’s sold 20 million units since it first launched. The new model for TVs should offer all the same features, plus better WiFi performance. If you’re happy with the wireless performance of your existing unit, there’s probably not much reason to upgrade.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the new Chromecast Audio device is anywhere near as successful.