Google ChromecastDon’t try to be smarter than a smart device. That’s the main lesson I learned from an otherwise flawless first Google Chromecast experience.

Chromecast is Google’s new entry into a dizzying array of options to cut (or at least seriously fray) the cable television cord. And like many things Googley, it’s very different from most of its video-streaming predecessors: it’s smaller (about the size of a thumb drive, for those with fat thumbs), it’s cheaper (exactly $35.00), and it’s more limited (only three included video streaming service apps, to date).

But it also has an alluring second streaming capability that goes beyond included apps (which stream Netflix, YouTube and Google Play videos directly to an HDTV). If you use Chrome as your web browser, you can ‘cast any video or other media that plays in a web browser tab to the Chromecast device plugged into your TV, over your WiFi network.

The price made it a no-brainer for me to try. Thirty-five bucks is no typo, and early buyers received three months of Netflix free even if they were already subscribers (as I was; that Netflix promo has since ended). Doing the math of $35 – (3 months x $8) = $11 net cost plus tax, with also-free Amazon Prime shipping.

So I dove in. It took me less than 15 minutes to set up. And then another hour to troubleshoot my attempts to “improve” it.

Install says you what you should see on TV
Install says you what you should see on TV

Initial set up is straightforward. Take the fat-thumb device and plug it into an unused HDMI port on your TV; many modern models have several. Then plug the Chromecast, using an included cord, into either a USB port or an electrical plug for power (the wall outlet is preferred, and I relied on my TV’s power strip). Then, using a nearby laptop or smartphone, download the Chromecast app while connected to your WiFi network and follow the very clear instructions on both your TV and your laptop or phone screen.

Quickly, I tested Netflix and YouTube. Stellar. Avengers and cats streamed at what seemed to be 720p with good sound, directly from the cloud through the Chromecast to my TV (for included apps, Chromecast only uses the smartphone or laptop as an over-powered remote to select and control the video; it doesn’t route those video streams through your laptop or phone).

Then I downloaded the Google Cast extension for my laptop’s Chrome browser, opened a new tab and navigated to the ABC-TV site to select a Jimmy Kimmel clip. There was a noticeable lag between when the video appeared on my laptop to when it appeared on my television – acceptable, because I’m not going to be watching both screens simultaneously – but there was some stuttering in the browser ‘casted video and audio on the TV.

Uh oh
Uh oh

That’s when, as Lyle Lovett might sing, I made my first mistake. Allow me to fast forward to the end of the next hour to advise:

  • If you have multiple WiFi networks in your home, do your first troubleshooting on the network on which you installed the Chromecast. Do not rapidly switch between, say, two 2.4GHz and one 5GHz WiFi networks in a bid to improve the video because Chromecast is smart in a simple way. It will not be able to keep up with what network you are on, and you will lose all ability to change the Chromecast’s settings if it thinks you are no longer on the same WiFi network as it is. It will lead to much unplugging and replugging in of the Chromecast and annoyed looks from nearby family members who are trying to actually watch TV.
  • Plug in the laptop you used for set up to AC power before testing the Chrome browser ‘casting feature.  Many laptops go into power-saving mode when they’re running on battery power alone. If you’re not plugged in, it will cause you to think there is a Chrome browser ‘casting issue that leads to stuttering when in reality, your laptop is just too tired to go on. And it will ‘cast just fine once it feeds.
  • Consider buying a one-level home if you want to tinker during set up. Unless you consider tech support to be your fitness program, repeatedly running up and down stairs between a laptop, TV and WiFi router on different floors is exhausting.

Ultimately, Chrome browser video ‘casting worked great, displaying video at 720p from pretty much any website I could throw at it, all on the original WiFi network I’d tried. Once the laptop was plugged in, it made no difference that the laptop and WiFi router were on the other side of my townhouse a floor above.

The sweet sight of success
The sweet sight of success

I’ve since watched entire movies and long clips via Chromecast’s embedded apps and Chrome browser ‘casting. My scorecard?

Pros: Easy basic set up. Good video (and notably audio) quality. Welcome and rare ability to wirelessly throw video from a web browser directly to a TV. Easier to search for videos than using a regular TV remote with a smart TV’s apps or a DVR. When streaming from included Chromecast apps like Netflix, ability to continue using the “remote” (laptop or smartphone) for other functions, like checking email or texting. And did I mention it was cheap?

Cons: Only three embedded direct-streaming apps for video: Netflix, YouTube and Google Play (but may increase over time). Requires a strong, steady WiFi signal. Troubleshooting can be troublesome.

And it’s that last which illustrates the kind of device Chromecast represents. We are not just in what pundits proclaim as the Post-PC Era. We have moved into the Post-Nerd Era. It used to be cool new tech required a nerd willing to tinker to set devices up, so tech-lifestyle desiring geeks could bask in their bright-shiny glow.

Google’s Chromecast follows in Apple’s Jobs-ean footsteps. Chromecast is a device so advanced, yet so simple to set up and use, that anyone can be a geek without relying on a nerd. For good or ill, it’s now the device, not a techie, that knows what you want better than you do.

[Editor’s Note: Frank Catalano discussed Google Chromecast on the latest episode of the GeekWire radio show and podcast. On the other end of the spectrum, stay tuned for Todd Bishop’s review of the Comcast Xfinity X1 tuner on GeekWire later this week.]

Comments

  • Lawrence Lam

    So does Hulu work with this or not without having to pay for Hulu+?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      I was able to successfully stream clips from plain-vanilla Hulu to Chromecast through the Google Cast extension for the Chrome browser. I haven’t yet tried streaming a full Hulu TV show, though.

      • Noe

        When ypu use other websites through Google Cast, does the sound also paly on TV or does it stay on laptop.

        • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

          That’s a nice thing about Google Cast – it also automatically tosses the audio toward Chromecast. It does not play through your laptop if you ‘cast it.

  • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

    Frank, are you drawing a distinction between ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ in this piece? :)

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Good eye. Nerds tinker. Geeks admire. It’s a continuum, perhaps even a loop, and not either/or. But conflating the two is like saying that someone who can effortlessly drive a high-end car is identical to the person who can repair it. Let the flames (and not out of the tail pipe) begin.

      • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

        I’d LOVE to hear more on “nerds tinker, geeks admire.” A lot there…

        • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

          I feel a “You kids get off my tech!” rant coming on. Possible column soon….

  • tomen8r

    Comes with 4apps, not 3. Google music. Plus many other apps work as well . that will be explained in due time for common folk. I love this new tool. Have several.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Yes, it does stream music as well as video. A single Google Play service app came with my Chromecast, but for playback the Google site breaks it down as separate functionality for Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV (Android only, not iOS or browser). Google’s site promises a Pandora app “coming soon.”

  • Awayne

    Just for clarification, our church broadcasts each Sunday over the net. Will I be able to pull up their broadcast and transfer to my TV. I own a condo in Branson Mo and am thinking of cancelling my TV subscription and simply using three Chromecast devices for the three TV’s. Will I be able to watch normal network feeds?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      I’m not going to advise anyone at this point to consider Chromecast the definitive cord-cutting device. First, I haven’t (nor can I) try it with all browser-based video feeds. Second, it may be technically possible (though I’m not sure how) for some sites to block their video playback via the Google Cast extension. So for now, I consider it a supplement, not a replacement.

      • Awayne

        Thank you for your quick response. For my home I would not consider being without my normal cable TV but for my vacation home I’m considering it because we rarely watch TV when in Branson anyway and if I can get movies, etc. it will meet my needs. The kids will be able to watch their selected movies with this devise correct? Is ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX accessible as of now?

        • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

          For now, all you can count on is what runs from the embedded video apps plus what you can stream from a browser. It really is up to the individual to try to see if whether web ‘casting from Chrome will cover everything they currently watch. I don’t have a blanket answer and can only speak to my own experience.

          • Awayne

            One last question, will Chromecast work with the new Blackberry Z10? Or would you need an Android, Iphone, Lapton or I-pad?

          • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

            For that level of detail, I suggest checking the official Google Chromecast support pages https://support.google.com/chromecast/?hl=en#topic=3210038

          • Awayne

            Ok, Thanks for your reply.

          • Chris

            It works if you side load the Android Youtube app, but as of now no other aspect works with the Z10.

  • http://www.matthewshobe.com/ mshobe

    The big cord-cutting blocker for me is my addiction to live sports. Soccer, college football, postseason baseball – I guess until WatchESPN, MLB.tv, etc. _all_ work reliably without requiring an existing cable subscription, I’m screwed, Chromecast or not. That said, your review is spot-on. Very simple to complete although I had problems using the in-browser mobile web setup with my network; I have 3 access points broadcasting the same SSID (on discrete channels) and that seems to be too much for the device to handle – it’s unable to settle on one. But when I completed setup using the Android app? No problems at all. Very odd.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Seems set up from some devices is an ongoing work in progress. For example, iOS phone and tablet set up has to be done, for now, from the built-in web browser. Google promises an Apple App Store app is coming. https://support.google.com/chromecast/answer/3289383

      • http://www.matthewshobe.com/ mshobe

        Yep – I started on my iPad (in Chrome, ironically enough!) but gave up and switched to my Nexus 7 and the native app. That got me past the issues mentioned.

        • Sleahcim

          I did my entire setup on the iPad. First app used was YouTube. Worked flawlessly from the getgo.

  • Terry Martin

    “It will lead to much unplugging and replugging in of the Chromecast and annoyed looks from nearby family members who are trying to actually watch TV.”

    Dammit I’m improving our home media network. You can damn well watch Game of Thrones later.

  • Isa

    So I can watch any video/show/movie that I can find on my computer on my TV, as long as I’m using chrome to look up the videos? Like I could go to fox.com and stream a TV show … send it to chromecast … and watch my network TV shows for free? Does this work with DVDs as well?? For example, my parents do not have a DVD player, but have a computer with a disc drive. Could they put the dvd in the computer and cast it to the tv?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      The answer to the DVD question (and any similar video-which-has-to-run-in-dedicated-software question) is: no. The only video Chromecast will accept streamed from a computer through the Google Cast extension is video that runs inside a Chrome web browser window. DVD video usually runs in a dedicated media player application, outside of a web browser.

      And it’s not a matter of just using Chrome to look up the videos. They have to play/stream inside the Chrome browser. That’s key. So it should work for any Fox show that you stream from the Fox site, unless Fox has figured out a way to block its video from running in Chrome.

  • NatT96™

    Kinda want one, sold out on Amazon though.

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  • sarah

    Do I have to have wi fi to use chromecast and if so is it only for setup?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      You have to have WiFi to use Chromecast, as it uses your WiFi network to stream video, either from a laptop or other computer, or from the cloud directly to the Chromecast device. So no WiFi, no Chromecast.

  • JCB

    Hello Frank. John Cook is my son-in-law’s brother so tell him hi from Judy. I ran across your article doing some research on Chromecast. The answer to this question will gage my interest in the device and by the way, I am not very “technical”. My husband and I are avid fans of college basketball. We live stream our team’s games using Chrome to access the Atlantic 10 Conference website on a Windows 8.1 computer and WiDi with Netgear hardware to view it on our 1080p 55″ TV. The A-10 live video requires a subscription which we have. I have also downloaded A-10 Conf apps (only recently available) on my ipad and Android phone that I have not yet tested for video streaming. Is it possible to view the live stream via Chromecast and will it provide any benefit (quality) to WiDi? I realize the Chromecast dongle would probably be portable for use on any of our TVs. Thanks. Judy Boppe

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Hi Judy. The answer, I’m afraid, is the ever-popular tech-speak of, “it depends.” If the Atlantic 10 Conference website uses standard methods to stream video inside the Chrome web browser, Chromecast should allow you to ‘cast it over WiFi to a television to which the Chromecast is attached. But it seems you already have viewing the games on your TV from your computer covered and don’t need the Chromecast for that.

      Chromecast, unfortunately, does not support ‘casting video from inside individual apps to the Chromecast device (unless the app is already directly supported, like Netflix, Google Play, YouTube and now HBO Go, Hulu Plus and Pandora). ‘Casting only happens from inside a Chrome web browser, otherwise. So the Atlantic 10 Conference apps for iPad and Android likely won’t be ‘castable using Chromecast.

      I don’t think there would be any quality improvement using Chromecast. And yes, the Chromecast device is totally portable to any TV that can has an HDMI port it can plug into, and is on a WiFi network.

      And I suspect John knows you’re here. :)

  • fuaz

    does it have to be a chrome browser
    chrome on the kindle doesnt support flash
    ony dolphin browser or flashfox
    could i instead ust these browser to use chromecast

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Probably not. It requires an extension to Chrome to work, Google Cast. That’s why it’s “Chrome”cast.

      • gd chi BBC X

        What an extension

  • http://www.web-tasks.com/services/LocalSEO Local SEO

    Well “Big tech companies, such as Apple, Samsung and Sony have already joined
    the growing competition to shape the future of smart TV”, thats for sure great ost, thanks.

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