Initial Thoughts on chromecast and the Killer Features “On” & “Movie Streaming”

August 1, 2013

in General Interest, media, Mobility, Smart Home

IMG_5730I received my “chromecast” and have begun testing. My observations so far below. Overall as a device has real promise and fails to live up to its launch claims relative to iOS. Netflix and YouTube are the only media sites that really work well. A killer feature is turning on the TV and just casting!

Here’s what I found. 

Getting Started: First I unboxed the device (more about that separately) looked at the little diagram and plugged it in to my 4 year old Samsung 1080p TV. I found the USB port and that was enough to power the chromecast HDMI dongle. The install instructions came up on the screen pointing me to https://google.com/chromecast/setup so I grabbed my iPad opened iOS Safari and began setting it up. I clicked the “blue button” setup with browser. During the process I got an error – Chromecast can’t connect to the internet – although in fact it was connected. Went back and forward a couple of times and then got the congratulations screen. NOTE – Google doesn’t suggest you change to Chrome, doesn’t have an “open” in Chrome app at the top of the safari page. There is nothing much here to tell an iOS user that it is not going to work in Safari. In a slight grey type it does say “iPhone and iPad setup app coming soon.” I totally missed that message on the initial install and with my iOS Chrome trail next. Note the box claims it will!

Which Chrome Browser Works? Second, I switched to iOS Chrome on iPad. I tried the setup again. Thinking I’d be able to chromecast this browser. Alas no. It’s not supported. I was a little incredulous at this point. I’d been sold on being able to push my Chrome Tabs to my TV. I switched to my iPhone only to discover the same thing. The iOS Chrome app doesn’t work with Chromecast and I don’t actually know when it will. This seems like a big miss on launch. While Google could be awaiting an upgrade approval from Apple I’m still surprised.

Success on OSX: So I opened my Macbook, fired up Chrome (not my everyday browser which is Safari) and went looking for the chromecast button. It wasn’t there. So I had to do some Googling. Fact is if I’d setup Chromecast using the setup link it would have had me download the Chrome App which is required to make it work.  So now with the app installed I get the very AirPlay like broadcast button in Chrome. Things are getting better!

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 3.00.33 PM

Testing YouTube and Netflix: I begin with YouTube.  I’m in Chrome on OSX and expect to be able to go and work other tabs in the background or use other programs while I’m Chromecasting a tab. I open a movie trailer. It mimics my screen and so I go to full screen for the movie trailer on my Mac. Great the movie is playing. Now I want to go to a different chrome tab on my Mac and read email. That seems to be impossible. While it looks like I have the same problem here with AirPlay mirroring the movie to the TV. I learn the fix with my Netfix experience and a  little broswer “notification”.  By clicking the Chromecast button on the video it all works better. Now I can access other Tabs or even programs.  Ah beautiful! It works more like I expected. I can choose my Netflix movie, start it playing on the TV and I can keep working on other things. That’s pretty cool. College students with TV’s will love this! With media that isn’t Chromecast compliant it is effectively mirrored rather than a separate screen.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 3.00.07 PMPrivacy and Chrome?: A separate observation. How does Chromecast work with “incognito”? Well it doesn’t unless you enable the app which is off by default. Which means using Chromecast in Incognito mode is unclear in terms of privacy.

Is ON the Killer Feature: There’s another neat feature. I found that Chromecasting would automatically change my TV source to Chromecast. At first it only worked when my TV was on. As I’d powered the dongle via the USB in the TV. Changing to the provided plug adapter and now Chromecast will launch my TV from standby. You will still need your remote to control volume (at least I do). This is cool and removes a real hassle and set of steps. By contrast to launch AirPlay i must make sure that the AppleTV isn’t sleeping, the TV is on and source selected. While I have little use for AirPlay in this mode as Netflix etc. is already on AppleTV (and it is integrated with my Samsung remote) I did find choosing a Netflix program on iOS and then ChromeCasting was quicker than firing up my AppleTV in number of steps.

Stream Already Downloaded Content: I used Chrome to open a some media files on the desktop. It is possible to stream movies via Chromecast to your TV. I had some trouble with .avi files (no sound transferred)  and no problems with .mp4. That is pretty cool for all the movie downloaders. It’s definitely an option Google didn’t talk about during their launch. This instantly makes Chromecast more attractive to many users. Note… you may have some issues with full screen mode. You may effectively have to full screen Chrome to play your movie – effectively mirroring it. However you can then use Safari or another program and keep on working.

Developers? Let’s see. I could see an iPhoto plug-in coming, similarly I expect Google will create some screen saving / photo type solution. The Chromecast is live screen does very little for me. Not sure if I can just start a channel in YouTube streaming. More experimenting required.

So where are we really with this device? 

1. If you have Netflix Streaming and no AppleTV then it is probably a no-brainer with an Android phone or Tablet. It’s pretty limited on iOS today.

2. If you are an iOS user with AppleTV you aren’t getting anything that will really change your life. The turn on feature is neat. AppleTV definitely should do this!

3. If you are Apple the company  then you must  fix “mirroring” so you can also do “Tab-casting” from iOS and OSX Safari. It should be easy to give AppleTV a Safari browser and copy the Chromecast experience.

4. Apple TV needs apps and a gaming functionality to now make it better than Chromecast. That’s where Apple potentially has a big advantage. Otherwise the $35 price point wins.

5. Google after fixing iOS Chrome we need more content. Hulu Plus, MBA etc. needs to work! (Well they work – in a mirrored way now and that takes me away from my other Chrome Tabs) I need to check battery life for launching off my iOS devices. I presume minimal vs AirPlay so will be testing this.

6. Hangouts. I’m curious to test Chromecast with some VoIP apps where the phone remains the mic and camera and the TV the picture and speaker. No time to even try exploring yet.

To conclude. This device makes a Chrome browser as a default much more interesting. It has the potential to make Google Apps on iOS more powerful. There are some constraints. It maxes out at 720p vs 1080P on AppleTV. Unlike AppleTV it has no separate optical out for music although you could connect a home theatre system to the TV and route sound that way (quality?). It’s not really a super portable device although some may think about using it that way.

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