Chromecast –Watch On-line entertainment on your big screen TV

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Chromecast is a new device from Google, aimed at getting your on-line entertainment on to your living room TV (or any TV with an HDMI input). For video streaming, Chromecast may be similar to AppleTV and Roku devices, though I haven’t used either of these. Chromecast is an exciting device for both consumers and developers alike, because it offers a new, inexpensive ($35) and simple way to stream entertainment from a Website or a computer to your living room big screen HDTV. (By the way, a less elegant way to accomplish this is to connect your TV directly to your computer, via HDMI, and then go directly to the websites with the computer. This is not usually convenient because of the locations of the computer and TV and the cables and wires needed to set this up.)  Chromecast is small and it plugs directly into the back of your TV, keeping it completely out of sight.

Wikipedia adds: “Chromecast is a digital media streaming adapter developed by Google. The device, a 2.83 inch dongle, plays audio/video content on a high-definition television by streaming it via Wi-Fi from the Internet or local network. Users select the media to play on their television from the Google Chrome web browser on a personal computer or from a supported App on their mobile device.” 

Chromecast’s basic features are as follows:

  • 1080p output video resolution
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
  • USB powered
  • Compatible with Android and iOS devices

The minimum system requirements needed to take advantage of Chromecast are as follows:

  • HDTV with HDMI input
  • Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n network

For use with a Tablet or Smartphone:

  • Android OS 2.3 and higher
  • Apple OS iOS 6 and higher

For use with a computer:

  • Windows 7 and higher
  • Mac OS 10.7 and higher

Chromecast works with devices you already own, including Android and Apple tablets and smartphones. It also works with the Chrome Browser for Windows and Mac. A Browser, with the Chromecast extension, allows you to send the contents of a “Browser Tab” to your HDTV allowing you to experience photos, videos, and music on your HDTV. It turns any TV with an HDMI input into a smart TV, albeit only as smart as the Chromecast device

Chromecast allows you to view on-line entertainment on your living room HDTV; however, currently it seems to be limited to Netflix, Hulu plus (not Hulu), YouTube, Google Play TV & Movies, and Google Music.  Indications are that many others such as Pandora, HBO Go, Vimeo, and Redbox, are in the pipeline. You will need an account with any of the pay services, such as Netflix or Hulu plus (YouTube is free, so far).

Chromecast is packaged in a very neat, compact box. Included in the box are the Chromecast device (it looks like a flash memory device with an HDMI connector), an HDMI extension cable (for hard to reach HDMI connections), a micro-USB to USB cable (to supply power to the device), a power supply adapter (if a convenient USB port is not available), and a tiny 14 page product information pamphlet. The “Getting Started” directions are printed on the inside of a swing-out cover and are clear and simple. Chromecast plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, while the power is supplied by connecting the devices micro-USB port to a USB port, on the TV (if available), or to the external power supply that plugs into ac power (recommended). Because Chromecast accomplishes its magic using your Local Area Network, aka Wi-Fi, you will need to enter the password to your Wi-Fi network during the setup process. The Setup, in a nutshell, is simply, Plug the device into your TV, Connect it to your Wi-Fi, and let it do its thing. The setup is really easy to do and it took only a few minutes, although the TV screen did go dark for a few tense moments while the Chromecast was rebooting leaving an uneasy feeling until the “ready to cast” screen appeared. Once Chromecast was “ready to cast”, streaming from an Android tablet or the Chrome browser was easily accomplished.

(Note: It is a good idea to follow Google’s directions to download the Setup App on to your mobile device first. With this done, setup was very easy.)

Google’s uses the term “cast” to indicate streaming. The “cast” icon appears in the tablet App or in the Chrome browser in order to enable “cast”ing to the Chromecast device. The “cast” icon is a rectangle with a symbol in the lower left corner that looks like a Wi-Fi symbol.   

Using a tablet, the Chromecast App is used in conjunction with YouTube (or other Chromecast enabled App, such as Netflix). After you start YouTube (or Netflix) on the tablet, touch the “cast” icon towards the top of the screen. A window will open to allow selection of the tablet display or the Chromecast device (that has been discovered). Select the Chromecast device and the YouTube video will be shown on the HDTV hosting the Chromecast device. The tablet acts as a controller to direct the video/audio from the source to the Chromecast device for use on the TV. Could it be any easier?  (Return to this window to return YouTube back to the tablet display.)

Google has set up a website at https://support.google.com/chromecast/ for product information and it includes some very good directions for using Chromecast. This site is a very good Help resource for getting started with, using, or just learning about Comcast’s capabilities.

Google has indicated that YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu Plus are just the beginning. Many others have voiced their support, and many independent developers have started to develop Apps for this new device. It’s only a matter of time before Chromecast has many new uses.

By Phil Sorrentino, Past President, Sarasota PCUG, Florida

December 2013 issue, PC Monitor

www.spcug.org