The Chromecast is Google’s attempt to add smart features to TVs which, otherwise, may not have them. Costing just £30, it’s been in the US since last summer but was only made available in the UK this week.
In non-technical terms, what does this do for you? Well, right now, it lets you view YouTube, Netflix, Google Play and iPlayer videos on your TV, along with listening to Google Play Music and podcasts via Pocket Casts. You can also view any website too – all of this via your PC, Mac, phone or tablet. More and more capabilities will come along in due course, expanding what you can do.
Supplied in a small but sturdy box, a plastic section inside holds the device itself with everything else stored neatly underneath. For some reason the dongle comes with plastic strips taped to its edge (as if the hard plastic insert isn’t enough) and the assorted cables come in their own bags as well. It draws back some its environmental credentials, though, with all the instructions printed on the inside of the box. As well as the dongle you get a long USB cable (with a velcro tie), mains charger (this is a simple, low-powered USB mains adapter) and a short HDMI extension cable.
Using the Chromecast is simplicity itself – plug the dongle into a spare HDMI port and connect the USB cable between the dongle and a USB port on your TV (if your TV doesn’t have one then you can use the supplied mains adapter). Tune your TV to the HDMI that you plugged it into and the Chromecast will come on.
Tip: If you have a BT Home Hub then ensure you follow these instructions.
At this point you need to head to a browser and follow the instructions displayed on-screen. You will be prompted to download some software to your computer which will configure your Chromecast for the first time – mainly setting up the WiFi. The device will probably also update to the latest firmware after this. Once all done you will find that the Chromecast boots to a simple desktop screen (with regularly changing wallpapers) with your WiFi details in the bottom left and the time in the bottom right.
You’ll notice that the box doesn’t contain a remote control. All apps are run remotely – either via a Chrome browser or a mobile device (apps for both Android and iOS are available) – and therefore controlled by them. So, for example, you browse to YouTube within your Chrome browser. Videos should now have a new icon on them, indicating that you can “cast them”. Clicking on this will let you choose to watch the video on the website or on your Chromecast device – select the former and the video will now appear on your TV. Click the controls within YouTube to pause, rewind, etc. The same can be done from your Android device. In all cases only certain sites/apps work (i.e. those that have been updated to work with Chromecast).
Compatible websites include YouTube, Google Play and Netflix. Apps include the aforementioned plus BBC iPlayer and Pocket Casts. As time goes on more sites and apps should become available. There is even an app for the Chrome browser that will let you cast the current browser window to your TV.
Streaming quality is dependant on your bandwidth – full HD will be displayed if the bandwidth allows it. All streaming is performed from the Chromecast itself and not your mobile device – you simply use the latter to control what the device plays.
There is competition out there in the UK market – Sky’s NowTV box, in particular, which costs just £10. This is a re-badged and stripped down Roku box – there are lots of apps available but Sky is selling this to try and push you towards their premium services. For video rental, there is only Sky’s own store and this doesn’t even offer HD content.
You can buy the Chromecast from Google Play, Currys and Amazon.
At just £30 it’s worth taking a risk with it, even though it’s new to the market. It’s easier to add apps to the market than, say, NowTV so in time we should hopefully see a lot more content becoming available. It’s a simple idea but powerful and I’m really looking forward to see what Chromecast offers in the future.