Google’s thrown down its gauntlet in another attempt to break into your living room. The search giant recently released Chromecast, a streaming media device that works with your computer, smartphones, tablets and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Designed to compete with Apple and Roku, Chromecast has a low profile and costs $35. It’s an attractive option compared to other streaming media devices, but is it mind-blowing tech or just another toy for your living room?
Google Chromecast doesn’t work in quite the same way that other streaming media players do. Instead of having apps and integrated services on the device itself, it uses your existing tablet, smartphone, or Chrome Web browser to send compatible media to Chromecast. It’s currently compatible with Netflix, YouTube, Chrome, Pandora and Google Play. The Chrome extension also allows videos from unsupported sites to be sent to the device.
Google somehow managed to keep news of the Chromecast from leaking before its announcement, which was made immediately before it released Chromecast to the public. The device’s low price point is a major advantage, as even the lowest-end Roku costs approximately $50 and Apple TV’s price is $99. If nothing else, the inclusion of Chromecast to the streaming world will be the catalyst for some price drops.
Tech Crunch praises the easy installation, as all you need to do is plug Chromecast into your television’s HDMI port, connect it to power and use the Chromecast app to connect it to your wireless network. The Chrome browser extension also allows you to “cast” a specific browser tab, or your entire screen, to the device. Like other streaming media devices, Chromecast is used with streaming media services to help offset the costs of cable television, which starts out at $29.99 a month, according to www.satellitetv.net.
Chromecast is an exciting piece of tech, but it does have some flaws. The model is different from the traditional TV apps that other devices use, so there’s a mental hurdle required to get used to using a second device to control the television. It’s nice to not have yet another box in your living room, however. And app support is rather limited at launch. While you can cast your computer screen for services not currently supported by Chromecast, the video quality suffers in unsupported applications like Hulu. This problem also occurs when playing your own, local content.
Google Chromecast is a solid device currently, but perhaps the most interesting part about it is what it can become in the future. The technology behind Chromecast has the potential to bring endless possibilities into the living room. The receiver app in the dongle runs on Chrome OS, so everything supported through that platform could theoretically be rendered in Chromecast.
The flexibility of the device’s technology and the fact that it doesn’t have hard-coded apps gives it expandability beyond what a Blu-ray player, Roku or other streaming media player has to offer. Developers have the option to create Chromecast compatibility without Google intervention, making it a platform that’s as attractive to developers as it is to consumers. It might not be much more than a streaming media player today, but as the months go by, it could end up being a truly innovative piece of hardware.