Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, And Totally Worth It

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Two years ago the Google god in the sky gave unto us a $50 dollar media-streaming dongle, and lo, it was good. Pretty good anyway, and it got better with software updates, but it still has lagging tendencies. Well, it's 2015 baby, so what's the new Chromecast got? Less lag! And... that's pretty much it. But honestly, that might be enough.

What Is It?

It's an HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and lets you stream video and audio from hundreds of sources including Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and many others, including some games. It's also only $50 (we think, AU pricing is still yet to be confirmed). You control it via your phone, tablet, or computer, and yes it works with both Android and iOS.

The new version adds dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), which cuts down on lag and buffering. Basically, it's faster.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

It's a cute, little, 2-inch diameter plastic disc with a built-in HDMI cable. The original version looked like a large USB drive and had a rigid male HDMI connection at one end. That utilitarian approach made it so it didn't fit too nicely in some TVs. Google included a short adaptor cord with it, but this integrated design is way better. The back of the disc is magnetized, so the end of the HDMI cable will stick to it should you be...walking around? Waiving it in the air? I don't really know why you need it, but it's kind of cool.

On the blunt end of the disc (opposite the HDMI cable) is a micro USB port, which you'll need to have plugged in to power the device. The puck comes in three colours: Black, "Lemonade," and "Coral" which, fine. Sure. Whatever. But these things are going to be hidden behind 99 per cent of the TVs they're attached to so...

Using It

It's basically exactly like using the original Chromecast, except faster. You first connect it to your home wifi network (which you accomplish via the Chromecast app on your phone), and it only takes a couple minutes. From there, any of the apps/services you have that are Chromecast-enabled will have a little icon show up. You just tap it, and the video is beamed over to your TV. On your laptop, once you install the Chromecast extension in your browser, that same icon appears when you're watching YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc. It's simple enough that some of my less tech-savvy relatives got the hang of it within 20 minutes, which honestly really says a lot.

One thing that's new is the Chromecast app. Originally it was just for pairing devices but now it acts as a hub of sorts. It also leverages all of Google's search-smarts and becomes a fully functional and thoughtfully laid-out content hub.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Not only does it show you recommended content available to cast in the apps you have on your phone, but if you search for, say, Minority Report, it will let you choose whether you want the movie or the TV show. Pick which one you want, and then it will show you all of your options for watching. It will show you if it's free on Netflix, two bucks on Google Play, or available on an app you haven't yet installed. It's fast and very convenient.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

At the launch event I got to try gaming on the new Chromecast with the Mario Kart-esque Angry Birds Drive. We enabled multiplayer mode, created a game, joined, and then the TV became a split-screen race with our phones acting as a remote steering wheel (think Nintendo Wii's wheel). We were on a super congested network, and so framerates weren't as smooth as you'd hope, but the latency was low enough that I could steer through turns and around obstacles without a problem.

So while the new app is a big deal, it also works with the original version of Chromecast, so really, there's only one reason to consider upgrading: Speed. While it was impossible to do any standardised benchmarking because of network fluctuations, I can report anecdotally. After several days of testing on different wifi networks and using different services I can confidently state that the new Chromecast is quicker than the original. I wouldn't say it's like night and day, but I would say that it's definitely noticeable. You select a video, and it starts playing faster, plain and simple. Sometimes I'd say it was twice as quick, sometimes it was just a 20 per cent speed bump. But the main thing is it was definitely never slower.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

It's quicker than the old version and the new app is great. The built-in HDMI cable is a nice touch. Really, though, it just works really well, it's easy to use, however, Google still doesn't have a remote control for Chromecast, which makes it the only streamer I can think of that doesn't have one.

You have to use your phone, tablet, or computer, which can be a pain in the arse, especially if you have to enter a password first. Amazon Instant Video doesn't work with Chromecast, and while that's Amazon's fault not Google's, you still lose. Ditto iTunes, but I don't think anyone expected that, right?

The app still trips up here and there, especially when it passes you over to a third-party app like HBO Go (though that may be HBO's buggy Android app), and screen-casting websites from your PC can be hit or miss.

Chromecast (2015) Review: Smaller, Faster, and Still Totally Worth It

Should You Buy It?

If you don't already have a Chromecast, then yeah, you should. The new Chromecast is so cheap for a device as capable and simple to use as this. But if you already have the original, is it worth upgrading? I'd say that depends on how your current system is performing. If you're finding the lag and buffering annoying, then yes, it's is worth it. If your system seems to run pretty smoothly, then you probably don't need to bother.

Personally, I'm buying the new one and giving my old one to a friend. Win-win.

[Chromecast]

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Comments

    Available in Australia.... When?

      +1

      Although I have noticed the current chromecast has been updated to support AAC audio in 720/1080p HD video files that you... you know... acquired. So I'm very happy with my current chromecast.

      People who live in areas with loads of 2.4GHz hotspots around them, or who use chromecast in a workplace, will definitely want to upgrade, because microwave ovens, bluetooth speakers/watches, NFC tags, and so on don't use the 5GHz wifi band.

      If your router allows you to, and if you are in the same room as your chromecast and wifi router, you will want to give the 5GHz hotspot a different name on your router, so both your chromecast and your phone are on it. (if the current 2.4GHz-only chromecast has a lot of dropouts and buffering for you that is)

      Last edited 02/11/15 1:39 pm

        I don't have one yet, but I don't really want to buy an inferior product for pretty much the same money when the new one is out, just not in Australia, and ebay prices are ridiculous. Importing 3-4 brings them back around RRP, but then I'd have to find other people who want one to pool a purchase.

      Spoke to staff at JB Hi Fi who were absolutely clueless, the best deal online was for $66 including shipping http://www.bhphotovideo.com/find/cart.jsp

    Does this work with GetFlix?

      You would need to implement the normal workarounds for things like Hulu, BBC, etc which are detailed here:
      https://getflix.zendesk.com/hc/en-gb/articles/200686400-Chromecast

      This does have the side effect that netflix won't work anymore with any android devices you have. Any iOS/Apple/Windows devices are unaffected.

        Thanks.
        My android LG-G2 has a 1second audio lag with netflix anyway so no big loss. Fortunately my work phone is an iphone so I just use that when needed.

          I just use my fetch tv box, and change the netflix region to suit when needed.

          I have so much stuff to watch from other services, including free to air TV, that I just don't have the time to watch netflix anymore so i'm actually thinking about cancelling.

          BBC & Hulu get used A LOT for me.

    Silverlight.?

      From how Google describe it, you should be able to use all existing websites (even those with Silverlight players) without any issues.

    Got mine from the states, it's much faster all round and offers more crisp video over the added AC Wi-Fi antenna.

    Worth it if you're thinking of getting one.

    The back of the disc is magnetized, so the end of the HDMI cable will stick to it should you be…walking around? Waiving it in the air? I don’t really know why you need it, but it’s kind of cool.

    Sooooo - could that be for sticking to the back of your TV? - to stop it from flapping around? (for the neat freaks?)

      Nope, cause it's at the plug end, so once plugged in its useless, only good during shipping really. Have one of these plus two of the new audio ones as well as two of the old ones :)

    "Less lag! And… that’s pretty much it."

    So it's still only 720p? No where online have I seen the technical differences of these devices and it's fairly annoying.

    Also as has been stated before, Aussie release date when?

    Last edited 02/11/15 4:40 pm

      Don't know about the author, but I'm able to stream 1080p video with the Chromecast 2 over N and AC Wi-Fi.

      I'm guessing us Aussies will be waiting a while, I got a friend in the states to send me one.

        I send 1080p video to it no worries, it's the trouble that it only outputs 720p. I want to know if these new ones can actually output 1080p.

          I already said mine does, I tested it with local content on my NAS and YouTube.

      The chromecast original is capable of 1080p video.

      Guess it depends on where you live and how noisy 2.4GHz is for you. (it's very quiet in the suburb I live in, as there is more space between houses)

      Last edited 03/11/15 9:15 am

        I guess I probably should have been more clear, I meant output, not compatibility with videos.

          The chromecast relies on the receiving device to tell it over HDMI what resolution to use.

          When the chrome logo appears, it uses 480p, then once the chromecast backdrop (photo) appears it should jump to 720p.

          After that it will jump to 1080p if the TV tells chromecast it can accept 1080p.

          So the answer is it all depends on what device you are connected to, and if it is directly connected to your TV, the manufacturer and age of that TV. If you have your TV connected to a receiver for sound, try connecting the chromecast to the receiver's HDMI port, with a HDMI loopback to your TV, see if that helps.

          Older TV's might not handshake with chromecast correctly, which can result it staying in 720p, 480p or worse yet just giving the user a black screen.

          Last edited 04/11/15 10:02 am

    Why the whinge about no remote when a phone does everything a remote does and is far more convenient?

    It's just... I still think that thing is ugly as sin... what was wrong with the classy black dongle that didn't need double sided tape. Just a personal preference but I think ill stick with the original unit.

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