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Google Chromecast Review: Yes, It's Worth Every Penny
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Date: Aug 09, 2013
Section:Gadgets
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introducing Google Chromecast

Google announced its Chromecast media streaming device last week and immediately caused quite a stir amongst technology enthusiasts. Not only was the Chromecast seemingly easy to use, but its low $35 price point made it attainable by virtually anyone. It didn’t hurt that Google was throwing in a three month trial of Netflix with the device as well, but that deal was suspended almost as soon as it was announced due to overwhelmingly high demand.

The Google Chromecast is a simple device to understand. It is basically a small HDMI dongle that physically plugs into an HDTV (or other display) and wirelessly connects to a local Wi-Fi network.

Once installed and connected to the LAN, the Chromecast gives users the ability to stream or cast content to the attached screen from any Android or iOS-based mobile device or a PC/Mac running the Chrome browser, after installing a requisite plug-in.


The Google Chromecast - Available at Amazon for $35

The Chromecast device itself looks much like a USB flash drive. At one end of the you’ll find an HDMI connector and at the other end a micro-USB port, a reset button, and a status indicator LED. Other than that though, there’s not much to see on the outside, save for its logo and other markings.

Internally, the Chromecast features a Wi-Fi controller and low-power Marvell SoC, paired to 512MB of RAM and 2GB of flash memory. The device runs what is essentially a specialized version of Android that leverages some of the multimedia streaming and playback technologies first introduced with Google TV, but its outward facing interface looks nothing like either. In fact, after setting up and configuring the Chromecast, all you’ll really see are some wallpapers while the device is idle. All content is sent to the Chromecast from a secondary device (i.e. your smartphone, tablet, or PC).


The Chromecast Accessory Bundle

When you open up your Google Chromecast for the first time, you’ll find the device itself in the box, along with a micro-USB cable, a power adapter, and an HDMI extension dongle. There are some instructions imprinted on the box, but the installation and setup are so easy for the Chromecast, we doubt you’ll need them.

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Setting Up Chromecast

Setting up and configuring the Google Chromecast requires only a few simple steps. First, the device must be plugged into an available HDMI input on you HDTV and then the micro-USB power cable must be connected to the Chromecast. As we mentioned on the previous page, Google includes a power adapter with the device, but most modern HDTVs will have a USB port that can be used in lieu of the adapter to power the Chromecast. Though there were some reports to the contrary, the Chromecast CAN NOT be powered directly from an HDMI 1.4 port. The micro-USB power cable must be plugged in to supply the necessary juice.


The Chromecast Cycles Through Some Wallpapers While Idle, Waiting For Content

When the Chromecast is plugged in for the first time, it broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal that’s discoverable by a mobile device running the Chromecast app or a PC running the Chrome browser with the Google Cast extension installed. The Chromecast will also post up some identifiable information on the screen its connected to. To complete the setup, all you have to do is enter the Chromecast’s identifier into the mobile app (or access a particular URL), have it scan for your wireless network, and then enter any necessary passwords for the network. Once Chromecast is connected to the local WiFi network, setup is done.

 
Chromecast In The Youtube App

Sending content from a mobile device to the Chromecast couldn’t be any easier. Assuming you’ve got the Chromecast app installed, all you have to do is access some content within a compatible app and tap the cast button. As of this writing, Chromecast is compatible with YouTube, Netflix and Google Play Music & Movies on mobile devices, but many more apps are in the works, like Hulu, Pandora etc. You can see the cast button at the upper-right corner of the screen captures above.

Sending content from a PC is somewhat different than a mobile device. On a PC or Mac running the Google Chrome browser, users must install the Google Cast extension, available in the Chrome store. Once Google cast is installed, users will be able to cast entire browser tabs up to their TV (the Chromecast icon is at the upper-right corner of the browser window), provided the PC or Mac is connected to the same local network.

The Google Cast app also placed a cast icon in supported players, like YouTube for example. PC users have the flexibility to cast the whole browser tab, or just the content available in the player. Should you be browsing YouTube and click the cast button in a particular video’s player, just that video will be sent up to your big screen.

When casting an entire browser tab up to the TV, the host PC handles the encoding and streaming, so some CPU resources are used. The performance impact is minimal, however, even when using the highest quality settings. On a Core i7-3960X, we witnessed spikes in CPU utilization of under 10% typically.
 

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Our time with the Google Chromecast was mostly trouble-free. The Chromecast app for Android devices installed in seconds and sending YouTube videos up to the Chromecast “just worked”. Once the Chromecast is configured, all that’s required to send videos up to the TV is the tap of a button. The same held true using the Google Cast extension for Chrome. Sending content from a browser window requires nothing more than a couple of clicks. Image quality was also quite good, depending on the quality of the source material, of course.

It was during the installation and setup of the Chromecast in only one environment that we had any issues. Connecting the device directly to a Netgear R6300 router at a distance of about 15 feet worked properly. Connecting to an ASUS RT-AC66U router through a couple of walls at a distance of about 30 feet also worked properly from the get go. Trying to connect the Chromecast to an older Linksys WRT-310N router or to a Hawking Range Extender (which was paired to the same router) at distances of about 20 – 40 feet, however, did not function properly. We were not able to establish a reliable connection to fully configure the device, even after multiple attempts. This is probably an isolated problem, but something we thought we should point out nonetheless.

The bottom line is that the Google Chromecast is absolutely awesome for the money. If you want the ability to quickly and easily share multimedia content from your mobile device or PC to a big screen TV, spending the $35 for a Chromecast is a no brainer. It’s not a very powerful device and certainly can’t compete with more expensive media streamers or HTPCs, in terms of flexibility or functionality, but for under 40 bucks, who cares?

  • Simple Setup
  • Cheap
  • Good Image Quality
  • Few Supported Apps At The Moment
  • Minimal Features



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