Google ChromeCast Review: $35 Apple TV Alternative
The Google ChromeCast is a small device that plugs into the HDMI port to bring webpages, YouTube, Netflix and more to a HDTV.
The $35 ChromeCast connects to WiFi to turn any HDTV into a smart TV. Users “cast” to the ChromeCast with an iPhone, Android, Mac or Windows device to put web content on a HDTV. While there are a variety of users, the big draw is watching Netflix, rented Google Play movies and YouTube on the big screen.
A beta lets users put a Chrome tab on the screen, which makes sharing photos, Hulu and web presentations on a screen or projector simple.
At first glance the ChromeCast looks a lot like an Apple TV competitor, which is a natural comparison, but this cheap device is more of an Apple TV alternative than a true competitor. While the Apple TV delivers apps and services on the device, the ChromeCast relies on smartphones and tablets for playing movies and music.
With this in mind, the Google ChromeCast is an easy and affordable way to put Netflix on a bedroom TV or to get the main HDTV connected to the Internet if there isn’t already a console or other connected device.
In my case the ChromeCast puts Netflix and Google Play movie rentals on the bedroom HDTV where I don’t have a console. I could also see this device in place in my parent’s living room where they currently don’t have a connected device, or a desire to spend a lot of money to add the Internet to their HDTV.
Google ChromeCast Unboxing & Tour
The ChromeCast is affordable at $35, and surprisingly Google includes everything the user needs to get going inside the box. The ChromeCast dongle may not fit every HDTV port, so Google includes a small HDMI extender that it says will also help WiFi reception.
The package also includes a USB cord for power, which can plug into the USB port on most HDTVs and a small plug that can connect it to an outlet, which Google recommends.
The short video below shows a Google ChromeCast unboxing, tour and size comparison. The device is incredibly small for what it can do.
Setting up the Google ChromeCast is easy to do from a phone, tablet or computer. Navigate to the specific address shown on-screen, enter the WiFi password and get ready to use the device.
It took me about 5 minutes to set up the Google ChromeCast using the new Nexus 7 tablet using the ChromeCast app.
The latest versions of YouTube and Netflix on Android, iPhone and iPad support ChromeCast, and will include a small “cast” option when on the same network as the ChromeCast. Chrome browser users on the Mac and Windows can download the Google Cast plugin to put a tab on the screen.
Google ChromeCast In Action
Using the ChromeCast is as easy as setting it up. Open up one of the apps that is supported and tap the “cast” button to put the movie, music or TV show on your HDTV. While using ChromeCast to stream on a HDTV, users can switch to other apps on the phone, delivering the same second-screen experience many users currently enjoy.
If I need to leave, another device on the network can takeover the stream to continue showing the Netflix movie or YouTube video.
The video below shows Google ChromeCast in action, streaming Netflix and YouTube to my bedroom TV. Streaming performance will vary based on WiFi connectivity, but during my test I didn’t run into any issues with performance while streaming from a tablet.
While using the Google Cast plugin to stream from a MacBook Air to the ChromeCast performance varied. I was able to stream Hulu from my browser playing full screen on the notebook and on the TV. Performance was good, but there was a delay to start from buffering.
I was also able to show photos from a shared Photo Stream from Chrome on my browser to the HDTV. This worked well, and while casting a tab it is possible to switch to other tabs without interrupting the stream as long as it is not full screen.
The biggest drawback of the ChromeCast is there is no way to show photos and videos taken on the iPhone or Android device to the ChromeCast directly.
The absence of this feature on iOS is understandable, as Apple would rather sell you an Apple TV which lets users do this. It is odd that the Gallery on Android devices will not let users show off their own photos and videos. There is currently no way to stream a game to the HDTV.
Is the Google ChromeCast Worth It?
The ChromeCast is a great device at $35. While the ChromeCast does not deliver all the same features as the Apple TV and there are a multitude of connected consoles and boxes, the ChromeCast is a great alternative.
This is a good first streaming device for users who want to bring the internet to their living room without the need to buy a console, a connected Blu-Ray player or the $99 Apple TV. It is also a nice device to put in a bedroom or second TV room, where there is no room or need for a bigger device with more options.