Google ChromeCast is a small dongle device which plugs into your television's HDMI port and powers itself, either via a USB port or the supplied cable and plug.
Unlike other digital media players the ChromeCast has no remote control nor an interface, but instead everything is controlled either through an app using your smartphone or tablet, or through the Google Chrome web browser. Android, Apple, Chrome OS and Windows devices are supported.
ChromeCast is now in its second generation, which includes a new disc-shaped design and support for 5 GHz Wi-Fi over the original. ChromeCast sells for around £30, though you should be able to pick one up for around £25 if you shop around. The can also buy a 4K version, which retails at £69.00.
ChromeCast main appeal is that you can stream many of your favourite TV services, such as YouTube, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All4. Though there is currently no support for Channel 5's OnDemand service, My5.
Setting up the Device
I don't own a smartphone, or at least one that can run or support the latest apps, so my setup consists solely to my Windows laptop. Setup is surprisingly simple. Plug the device into any HDMI port on your TV, power it up using either a USB port on your TV, or plug it into the mains using the supplied cable and plug.
Next step is to use the Chrome web browser, and visit google.com/chromecast/setup/. Enter your Wi-Fi details, confirm that it's connected, and then you're good to go.
Casting Contents to Your TV
As mentioned earlier, ChromeCast has no remote control or any kind of interface. It just displays a pretty screensaver and the local time. To control the device, you will need a compatible smartphone, tablet or PC with the Chrome web browser installed.
It's a strange choice, and am sure a lot of people who purchase the ChromeCast are left bamboozled, but once you learn to use your smartphone or laptop (as in my case) the process is quite simple.
To cast contents from your Windows PC, simply use the Chrome web browser which can be downloaded for free, head over to any supported website, such as YouTube and then select the cast option and the video should start playing on your TV, without using your PCs resources. You can then control the video from the web browser or by clicking on the cast icon in the browser toolbar.
Not every single video sharing website supports ChromeCast, in fact, the vast majority don't, but that doesn't mean you can't cast videos from your device to your TV. You can play almost any video in the Chrome web browser and have it mirrored to your TV. This however is labour intensive on your PC, and Google recommends an Intel i5 (or equivalent) processor for it to run smoothly. This also applies to smartphones or tablets.
I have a seventh generation Intel i5 laptop and mirroring works okay, but is far from brilliant. Biggest problems it drains the battery quickly and increases fan noise. If you also use your PC while mirroring contents, you'll find that every time you do something, such as opening a website or program, there's a little blip or skip in the video your mirroring to your TV. If you're running a intensive program, such as video editing, mirroring will not work at all.
Away from Internet contents you can also via the Chrome browser mirror your entire PC desktop to your ChromeCast device. This is handy if you need to show photos or videos on your computer to the TV screen.
There are numerous third-party extensions which you can add either to the Chrome browser or your PC. Two of my favourite which vastly improve the usability of ChromeCast are CastBuddy and Videostream.
CastBuddy is a light extension which you can add to the Chrome Web browser and detects video URLs with the option to send them straight to ChromeCast. This means you can essentially let ChromeCast do all the hard work and do what you like with your PC, including turning it off. Sadly not all video sharing website support this, but hundreds do.
Videostream comes in both a free and paid version. The free version works great and allows you to stream videos stored on your PC straight to your ChromeCast. Videostream will run in the background but doesn't use a lot of PC resources, thus saving your battery.
Google's ChromeCast is a good and cheap option if you want to turn a standard TV into a smart TV, or if your smart TV no longer supports the latest streaming apps. But not everybody will like the fact that you have to use either a smartphone or the Chrome web browser on your PC to control it.
ChromeCast biggest strength is not what it officially supports, but whether you're prepared to experiment. If you know where to look on the Internet, you can cast the latest blockbuster movies, TV shows, and even sport straight to your TV, free of charge.
The ChromeCast isn't for everybody and there are probably better options if you just want a standard streaming services, but if like me you and love using your PC while having something great to watch in the background, the ChromeCast is worth every penny.
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