Google Chromecast: Australian Review

There's always something that you've seen on the Internet that you want to show your friends; there's always some video or music on your Android phone that deserves a wider audience. Google Chromecast easily and simply enables that -- it doesn't do much more, but it doesn't need to.

What Is It?

Chromecast, to the uninitiated, looks just like any run-of-the-mill HDMI screen-sharing dongle -- and it is, in some small way. This little device wouldn't be worth a second look if it didn't have Google's brand and Google's software behind it. Chromecast is Google's way to get YouTube videos directly from your smartphone onto your TV, tabs from any Chrome browser onto your big screen, or music from Google Play Music playing on your TV's stereo system.

The idea behind Chromecast is simple enough -- it's a Wi-Fi dongle that shows Internet content on your TV. The opportunities that it opens up are much wider and more nuanced, though, so it's blinkered to just write off Google's $49 streamer as a dumb Android screen-sharing stick. The fact that it's so cheap, I think, is actually making people think it's less powerful than it actually is.

Chromecast only uses your PC or phone or tablet as an intermediary between the dongle itself and the Internet; that's why you have to connect it to your home Wi-Fi during the setup procedure. With a straight shot to the Internet, 'casting' content to the Chromecast dongle basically only provides a pointer -- cast a YouTube video from a Chrome tab or from the YouTube Android or iOS app, and the Chromecast talks straight to YouTube's servers and puts together the video in a tailor-made on-screen interface. Cast some audio from Google Play Music and you can control playback on your device, but you can also switch off the phone and playback will continue.

Because Chromecast works in this way, it's a lot smarter than any 'Smart TV' dongle that you might buy off eBay or from an electronics manufacturer without the might of Google. A screen-sharing dongle like Netgear's Push2TV may be even better at some tasks, as it directly mirrors your phone's display, but this approach also hampers it in providing a tailored and more direct-to-'net experience.

What Is It Good At?

When it comes to actually watching or listening to content that you're casting, the Chromecast couldn't be easier to use. Once you have it set up, which is pretty simple, there's no impediment to using it -- none. Want to cast a Chrome tab? Click a button. Want to cast content from an Android (or some iOS) app? Just find the little Cast icon, click it, select your Chromecast, and sit back.

Even if you only use the Chromecast for throwing a quick YouTube video onto the big screen -- and that's something I've been doing a lot of -- the Chromecast pays for itself a thousand times over. Let me explain in a little more detail -- I have a 50-inch Pioneer plasma from circa 2009, devoid of any Smarts whatsoever. I also have an Oppo Blu-ray player, which is pretty damn good as far as standalone Web-connected devices go -- but its remote control is hell for navigating the inbuilt YouTube app. With Chromecast, as long as I have the Oppo on the right input, I can tap a few buttons from my PC or Galaxy S5 and have a YouTube video on screen in seconds. And it plays quickly, at 720p HD, and I can control it from my phone if I want to.

In a perfect world, every media app on my phone could cast straight to my TV -- unfortunately that's not the case, but more on that later. The ones that do work so simply and seamlessly that it's difficult to find fault with them, and it's difficult to find fault with the way that Chromecast deals with them.

The setup procedure for Chromecast couldn't be simpler if you've set up a Google account or Android phone in the past. There are a few steps, and there are a few caveats along the way, but by and large the setup steps are easy to follow and explain themselves as you're undertaking them. Once you've plugged the Chromecast into a spare HDMI port in your TV or home theatre receiver -- I used my Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, which has a front HDMI port -- and connected the dongle's USB power, the easiest setup comes from downloading and running the Android app.

The setup procedure is simple. Open the app, let it automatically detect any Chromecast in your immediate vicinity, then make sure it's the right one by confirming the code that it displays on your TV. From that point, you'll have to associate the Chromecast dongle with your infrastructure Wi-Fi network -- home Wi-Fi is obviously fine, as is any other basic password-protected Wi-Fi, but you can't use it on any wireless that you have to sign into with a username and password like the kind you subscribe to in a hotel or at Maccas. Once you've got the Chromecast up and running, it checks for any mandatory updates, and you're ready to go.

From that point, the Chromecast app itself on your Android phone is primarily for housekeeping. You can check up on any Chromecast dongle on your home Wi-Fi, find apps that support the service, and change things like names and Wi-Fi associations, but for the most part it's a one-shot deal. It's easy enough to install, use, then uninstall once you don't need it any more.

What Is It Not Good At?

Not including optional MHL in the Chromecast dongle must have been a price consideration -- you can't expect too much for $49 -- but the USB cable sticking out of the rear of the dongle looks messy, and you'll have to have a spare USB port on your TV or receiver handy if you don't want to use the bundled USB wall power adapter. MHL would have given the Chromecast a little more control over automatically switching inputs and powering on your TV, too -- this kind of more granular device interaction is included in the MHL standard but not regular HDMI.

Chromecast relies on app developers to update their code to add in a Cast button and include support for the Chromecast standard -- without this, it's dead in the water. When you have big names using the service, it's absolutely excellent; using the Netflix app on Android, or a Netflix tab in Google Chrome on a laptop, to easily select a movie or TV show episode and then cast it onto the big screen and have it play there is almost about as easy as it could be. When you go into an app that doesn't support casting, it's a disappointment.

This isn't a failing of the Chromecast, but it does impede its use somewhat. Internationally, companies have had a year to develop for Chromecast and add support for the standard into their services. In Australia, the relatively recent launch has sent big names like Foxtel Go and Quickflix and the various catch-up TV services like iView and SBS On Demand scrambling; it'll be some time 'til the Australian Chromecast app library is as extensive as it is in the States.

One small thing that I'd add to the Chromecast 2, as backward-looking as it is, is some form of physical control. Even having a set of play/stop/skip buttons in the Chromecast app would be great, but a couple of touch-sensitive points on the device or a small remote control would actually be pretty useful -- there were a few times where I was watching some streaming anime or a long YouTube clip and closed the tab, losing the ability to control it.

Should You Buy It?

Do you have an empty HDMI port in your TV and a spare USB port for power? Do you have an Android phone, do you like YouTube, or do you use Chrome? Then yes, of course you should buy the Chromecast. Even if it sits dormant for most of its life, the utter simplicity of switching your TV to the right input and casting a YouTube video makes the Chromecast so worth its $49 asking price -- and that's before you do anything else with it.

After a series of good-but-not-great streaming sticks and screen-sharing TVs and dongles, the Chromecast is, by virtue of its simplicity and thanks in no small measure to Google's massive library of services and apps, brilliant. I'm keeping this one, and buying another.


Comments

    Can I stream movies I might have on my PC/laptop?

      Yes you can. Either through an app that works through Chrome, or share the folder on your PC and use an app on your phone.

      If you start the stream on the PC, you can control it from the phone and vice versa.

      Last edited 03/06/14 1:46 pm

        So can I cast catch up TV from any PC browser, not just chrome? My Smart TV clearly doesn't support the flash player version Seven is using as when I launch the video on the TV it crashes the browser.

        Yes. Just use Plex. It's super simple and works perfectly.

      You *can*, but you're not really meant to. You can open content -- those movies -- in a Chrome tab then cast that tab to the Chromecast, but it's a bit of a hacky workaround and I didn't want to explicitly mention it as a feature.

        Still its a feature that most people visiting a tech site like Giz would be interested in. If I wanted to cast YouTube videos to my dumb TV, I would just use my PS3 which I connect over wifi and can use my Android phone to control and play vids as well. While the concept isnt for me (unless it can stream my movies from my PC to my TV without a hell load of arsing around) it may be great for those without a device that cant already do this or if their device does it poorly.

        What are you talking about?

        Have you used a Chromecast for more than 5 minutes?
        There is an Android App on the Play Store that does it, and another App in the Chrome Web Store that does this.

        No hacky hacky anything. My mother figured it out all on her own, surely it cant be that hard.

        Last edited 03/06/14 3:33 pm

          So you don't name the App? What is it?

            VideoStream... among many, many others.

            Plex is a really good one too, I have it setup for the entire house

              I second this. Plex is an AMAZING app for chromecasting movies. You can even use your phone to pick which video from your pc you want to cast. It is the reason i have nought one chromecast per tv. Interface is not as good as say xbmc but it does an awesome job sorting your video library

          Maybe your mum is smarter than you think - maybe she is super smart, and only tells your what you need to hear, maybe she's a secret agent with a very particular set of skills that she has acquired over a very long career and this kind of low level hacking is like knitting to her...

        If i wish to watch any videos etc stored on my mobile ,on my TV....how does the chromecast operate? Does my mobile upload my video and then the chromecast downloads it from the internet or simply my mobile "sends" the video without actually using the internet

      Yes - there is a Chrome Extension called "VideoStream" that enabled you to select just about any media and stream it to the ChromeCast - it doesnt even play locally - just on the ChromeCast.
      Gives you volume control as well as a slider to skip through content.

        Yes. VideoStream.
        This is the one you can stream from PC or NAS. If you start the stream you can control it from Chrome, or Android. and the other way around if you start on PC you can use your phone to control it.

        this reply needs more upvotes, works as advertised, should pave the future

      Yes you can and it's quite easy. The two best options to look at are Plex (Free) and Videostream (Free). Plex is Media Server software you can throw on your computer, once your setup you can stream direct to your Chromecast from your PC. If you're willing to shell out $5 for their mobile app, you can launch media stored on your PC/Mac from your phone and play on Chromecast. Videostream is a Chrome Extension/App that does a similar thing in a less elegant way where you select a file from your computer to play on your Chromecast. Both of these solutions are much nicer than just launching in your browser and casting a tab.

      Last edited 03/06/14 2:06 pm

      I've had chromecast for almost a full year.. it was tricky at first.. but now AMAZING.
      You need Plex on your phone and plex on your laptop where you keep your media.. all on the same wifi.. then you just use the plex app to play all you content which is automatically beautifully organized from your laptop as you torrent away - ITS THE BEST SOLUTION EVER !

      A friend of mine uses Plex to do this. works like a charm

      I use Plex. You get it on your phone. D/L it on your PC. Link all your media folders to it on your PC. It automatically optimizes the library, d/l's all media info (thumbnails, year, covers, actors, if you're into it, even the theme music for series' etc), then you just stream it from your couch, android phone in hand. It's amazing.

    I bought it on the weekend, and it's great watching HD Youtube videos on the big screen. I was however extremely disappointed to find out that Chrome Mobile isn't supported, only the desktop version. Here's hoping they fix that soon.

      its in the beta right now, no word on official release, but you can get the latest beta of chrome for mobile and start using it now, of course it wont be smooth and will have bugs being beta and all, its coming though

    The only Issue I have with mine is NetFlix support - It appears that the ChromeCast has its DNS hard-coded to the Google ones (understandably..)
    I have my router set to use Unblock-US to enable NetFlix anywhere in the house, but the ChromeCast ignores it.

    Apparently the way around is to create a static route that points 8.8.8.8 to 0.0.0.0 and then the ChromeCast will be forced to use the DHCP ones.

    I haven't tested this yet, but it sounds like it might be an answer.

      That's interesting. I use UnoDNS / UnoTelly with a Dynamo IP (set to the US) and it works out of the box...

        I use UnblockUS DNS, and static route 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 to a subnet mask of 225.225.225.225 on the router.

        Chromecast is hard coded to use 8.8.8.8/4.4 so the router needs to be setup with the above static route.

          I do the same. Works perfectly.

          Also - it's worth mentioning that the Chromecast will switch on your TV and switch inputs for you. The author seems to suggest this is not possible without MHL but it will work with any ANynet enabled TV. The Chromecast will need to get it's power from the AC adapter though as obv won't be able to tiurn on the tV if it is relying on the TV being on for USB power.

          This means that you can get away without any remotes other than your phone as you can also control volume from the phone.

            Seconded. It will turn on the TV and switch to its HDMI input provided your TV has HDMI-CEC or the manufacturer version of it like Sony ANYNet

            Yeah I plugged mine in and it changed to its input almost immediately. I haven't seen how to control TV volume from the phone though?

              Turn the volume up on the TV and most apps have their own volume control to turn it down, although it's a little laggy takes about a second to change the volume.

          Too complicated I think. Most of ordinary users just need a simple way likes plug and play. Is there any simpler way?

          Last edited 07/07/14 1:11 pm

    there were a few times where I was watching some streaming anime or a long YouTube clip and closed the tab, losing the ability to control it.
    Oh good thats not just me then

    brought a chrome cast a couple days after it came out, loving it so far, plex serves my fresh media and solidexplorer access my mediashare hdd for archived media, had a wdtv before this and the cc is light years better

      Yeah, it's a bit weird. I was expecting the Chromecast app to have playback controls when I checked it out, and was a little mystified when it didn't.

    Plex server has made my purchase of the Chromecast well worth it (granted the Android remote cost $5 ish but works great)

    Thinking about getting one of these for PLEX, hard to resist at less than $50.

      Plex is the only thing I bought one for, and it does this job perfectly.

    I'm really enjoying this little device, but the one complaint i've got with it is that it seems to interfere (a lot) with normal TV reception. Have to unplug it from power/usb each time I want to watch TV

      Do you have a spare USB port on the TV to remove the need for a second power supply?

        Yeah Matthew, I did that. Doesn't matter whether using the USB port on the TV or the provided power adapter, it still interferes with the TV signal. I've an LG & a Samsung - happens on both

        Thanks for the suggestion tho

          It's a bit strange, perhaps the WIFI is interfering. Probably the only thing you could do is use quad shielded RF cable from your RF input to your antennas wall socket to eliminate/reduce interference...

          Edit: Just found on various forums other people having the same issue. It's due to the 2.4ghz signals causing the interference. Whether quad shield will fix it I'm not sure, as it may be leaking into the set through the back, though those tuners are (usually) sealed in a cage, the most likely point of entry is a poor quality RF cable (As a TV tech, I would 100% always recommend to use quad shield).... That'd be the first thing I do.

          Other people are recommending using HDMI extenders to move the device as far away from the TV as possible...

          Last edited 04/06/14 4:27 pm

            How about 5Ghz WiFi, assuming the Chromecast supports 5Ghz?

    Your conclusion reads as if these only work if you have an android. There are apps that support chromecast on iOS as well.

    Mine came with AC power instead of USB power. I don;t know if there was a special one I was supposed to buy, as I just grabbed one.

    Very happy with it, but losing control of a video on browser close shouldn't be a thing.

      You'll find it's a USB power adapter. Unplug from the adapter and it's a USB cable. The main reason I wanted a chrome cast was to reduce the number of dangling cables for my 2yo twins to seeing off. They've already broken several HDMI cables.

    Is this thing worth getting if i don't have an android device / Chromebook?

      Works very well with the Chrome browser.

      Works with the Chrome browser and iOS

    Riddle me this: I'm running a HTPC with a Plex media server, which is normally connected to a crappy old 22" monitor (with only the 1 HDMI input) for most of my media viewing.

    Would utilising that single HDMI input for a Chromecast be a feasible alternative, still allowing me to stream my media from Plex while also enabling the other streaming advantages (like Google Music, Spotify, etc.)?

      Yes it will work just like that, provided monitor has speakers as the Chromecast doesn't have a separate audio output.

      Last edited 03/06/14 4:42 pm

        Monitor has a stereo jack out, which it turns out does the job marvellously. Went out and bought one on the spot - cheers @dre_

    Grabbed a Chromecast and took it home not expecting much. Bought it for plex as a really cheap plex client and an alternative to a raspberry pi.

    Expecting to be disappointed, I threw a 45GB uncompressed 1080p rip of The Avengers at it and set it to the final battle. This has always been my stress test as the bit rate exceeds 40mbit on the original source.

    IT PLAYED IT PERFECTLY WITH 5.1 AUDIO. This is impressive. 802.11ac WiFi network with beamforming granted but the Chomecast does all of it over 802.11n on 2.4GHz!

    Might grab a second one to keep with me at all times, it takes about 3 minutes to setup then just factory reset it back to stock when you're leaving. Going to a family or friend's house and instantly watching your tv shows on their big screen is now possible!

    Last edited 03/06/14 4:24 pm

    Does anyone know if the NRL 2014 App on Android can use the Chromecast?

    I pay for a subscription to watch NRL games and would love to be able to watch them on my big screen or projector.

      I'm preety sure the NRL app wont allow this. Just use a vpn to connect through Romania for example and then Livestream.com all NRL games for free (apart from the vpn cost). Do that in a chrome tab and then cast it to the dongle.

      Nah it doesn't.

      Although I think there might be apps that mirror your entire screen onto the Chromecast and other from the Chrome browser

      Last edited 03/06/14 6:08 pm

      Yeah I've signed up to the Digital Pass but the NRL is doing all it can to prevent you watching it on your TV. They won't even let their video be played fullscreen on a laptop/desktop. I've just been straight tab casting the games and zooming the browser in to about 200% to get it as close to fullscreen as possible. Quality is still not that great but you can see whats going on. Cheer on those Mighty Dragons...

    Where can we buy a Chromecast in Australia? Are stores stocking it?

      I know JB have them. Prob Dick Smith too.

    I've got a full HTPC built on a zbox nano and with XBMC it's brilliant 95% of the time... but I think I'm going to buy one of these solely because YouTube on XBMC is so very, very shitty.

    (and google decided to be dicks and broke airplay support from the ios YT app - so, in theory, I'm paying them for their dickery)

    Last edited 03/06/14 6:19 pm

    Not sure how nobody has mention this but the Youtube queuing from android and ios devices is the main reason I've used one. We regularly get up to 10-15 people having a few beverages and each of us with either android or ios devices on us. As long as we're on the same network we can all open up youtube on our own phones/tablets, find a video and add it to the queue to be played or check out the queue to see what's coming up. It makes for a great diverstiy in music and everyone can play whatever they want. Of course if no one likes the selection, anyone can also just skip it to the next one. Best $50 party accessory I've bought in a while.

    Hi all,

    Hopefully the brains trust here can help me out with my Chromecast issue. I've been able to get the setup happening up until I put in my network password. The dongle tries to connect but eventually times out and tells me that there is no internet connection. I have a static ip based network so I am thinking it is this that is stopping my chromecast from completing its setup.

    Surely I'm not the only person with one of these things trying to set it up in a static ip network.

    Any advice would be fantastic as I'm currently out if ideas.

    Thanks
    Craig

      Enable dhcp temporarily to do the setup and then configure a static IP later (if cc actually lets you, I don't know.)

      Buy really, having to manually assign an address is living in the dark ages. You can provide a permanent address via dhcp for particular devices if you want.

      You need to use DHCP and then reserve the allocated IP address to CCs MAC address to keep it static.

      Cant actually tell the CC what IP address to use, needs to use DHCP.

      Thanks for the info everyone. I'll give it a try a hopefully have something running shortly.

      @grantguest, not sure why manually assigning static ip is thought of as dark ages. This way I can provide parental controls and restrict access times to known devices throughout the house without having said controls cover every device. If there is an easier way without just assigning the router to be a constant dhcp server then I'm all ears.

        Because it's archaic. Setting IP addresses manually on servers and network devices makes total sense, but end user devices and sundry devices like set top boxes, are all heading towards the "appliance" category - that is, one would expect them to Just Work when you plug them in.

        It's easy to allocate permanent addresses via DHCP for devices that need them, and like many others, I do this already for our laptops, tablets, printer and media player. Everything else can get a dynamic IP because the IP address of the device doesn't matter.

        I have mine all "statically" assigned so I know which device is which.. laptops in one group.. ipads in another desktops in another range. I also have DHCP set for the last few addresses in the class C scope so I know which ones are guests to the network.. everything else is statically assigned using its MAC address. Helps me identify intruders too.. not that I really expect them.

    For anyone with a Synology NAS, the DS Video app for Android and the Video Station app for the NAS itself support streaming locally to Chromecast. Unfortunately not all Synology NASes support transcoding, so some formats won't work natively.

    Can't say I'm loving the idea of having to have my laptop or phone in order to actually do stuff other than use it as a remote control. I think I will wait until there is better, broader native app support.

    We already have the ability to push YouTube videos and music to xbmc, so that in itself isn't enough to grab us.

    If I want to watch a YouTube video on a big screen I just watch it on a computer with a big screen, I have one already - Why do I need to buy a HDMI wireless interface to connect my phone to my TV? If I'm watching something on my phone and I want someone else to see it - I just pass them my phone. If you have a wireless network and the equipment required for ChromeCast (sans the ChromeCast device) you have everything you need already, spending money on adding an additional step to the process seems like a time and money waster.

      So, basically, this is useless because you either
      a) have no friends with whom you might to watch youtube videos with, or
      b)if you do, you are a socially awkward shutin who watches a video on their phone and ignores other people, then hands them the phone to do the same.

      Well done.

      Last edited 04/06/14 10:21 am

        a) I don't watch a lot of YouTube movies, fullstop. I go fishing and camping a lot. Plus I have three boys who have enough YouTube movies they want me to watch that my demanding friends can go and get stuffed. Also, no YouTube in DayZ.
        b)Refer to above.

        Additionally - What do you do when you want someone to view a YouTube clip you have seen? Go buy a $50 dongle to plug into a TV?

          So, shockingly... it's clearly a product not aimed at you. And therefore a waste of time and money for everyone.

          Additionally - I push it from my pc to xbmc. Or use the browser on my htpc. Both of which are a lot clunkier than this.

      Why do you have a remote for your TV when it has perfectly good buttons on the side?

        Why even have a TV when you have perfectly good paper and crayons?! Just make a flipbook of the latest GoT ep.

      You have a computer with a 55" screen?! Wow!!

    Would this scenario work:

    1st phone with music/video on it and create a WiFi hotspot.

    Tether 2nd phone to control Chromecast.

    ?

      You can do it all with just one phone.

        Oh cool. I was under the guise that there needed to be a middle man. Everyone talks about using a PC/NAS for storage and phone/tablet for control. Since my phone can store 80GB it seems like a viable option.

        EDIT: Miracast is better for what I'm thinking of.

        Last edited 04/06/14 1:33 pm

          Most people would store their media on PC or NAS, but you can stream direct from your phone using VideoStream which will also stream from PC or NAS with the same app.

            Thinking of an option where If I was going to a friends house/party I could just plug this device in and run a playlist from my phone and skip to next song easy etc.

            For my home network cabled is the only way to go for me. For now..

              If you can connect to their WiFi then it's good.
              Not sure if it works off a phone hotspot

    I have it plugged into the back of my xbox one, using it to stream media from a NAS as well as Google movies / music. Works really well, turns the xbox one into a true home entertainment centre.

    support for 5.8GHz WiFi would be a better option for streaming

    Is the Chromecast useful for watching the commercial networks' catch-up services - at the moment I am connecting my laptop to the TV with a HDMI cable, with the TV functioning as a dual display, and opening them in a browser, but wondering if Chromecast offers an improvement on that arrangement via my iPhone. I am totally not tech inclined so can't figure it out from anything I have read!

      You can wirelessly send a Chrome browser tab from your laptop to your TV via Chromecast, which simply eliminates the need for your HDMI cable.

      From your iPhone, it will depend if the browser and/or app supports Chromecast.

      Hi Kat,

      Currently none of the catch up apps support chromecast yet, but they say it is coming. What you can do however with a chromecast is cast a chrome tab from your computer to the chromecast and watch your catch up shows that way. You can continue using your laptop and watch your show on your tv. All you need is a chromecat, google chrome on your laptop and the chromecast plugin from the chrome store to stream. You can even display your entire laptop display wirelessly using this method as well. As i said, app support for 7plus etc is scheduled. Hope this helps.

    I have two CC set up in two rooms.
    There's one thing I don't understand: when I set it up for the first time (for both CC) from my laptop and named my CC to something like "MyCC-Room1" , my laptop connection to wireless internet was disconnected, and it started to search connection NOT to my wi-fi network but to "MyCC-Room1" wireless network (which doesn't exist). I had to stop it and reconnect to my home wi-fi manually.
    Does anyone know why?

      Chromecast sets itself up as a wireless hotspot when it's first being set up, as it doesn't know which wireless network to use, and there's no way to configure it without the network. You basically need to connect to it directly (via wifi) to tell it which wireless network to use.

      This is totally normal.

      Once Chromecast has been set up, as long as it can connect to your network it will no longer act as a wireless hotspot.

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