Today Google launched their chromecast device in the UK. I’ve been wanting one of these since they launched in the US in July 2013. I was tempted to import one when they first came out but I ended up waiting and as it was released today I popped down to Currys and bought one.
Upon getting the device out of the box the first thing I noticed was the weight. Honestly I expected something plastic and light feeling but I was pleasantly surprised to find it has a lovely matt finish, feels really solidly built and has a nice weight to it, one that makes it feel quite premium. Obviously as this will be plugged into a TV 100% of the time aesthetics are not an important feature but Google have done well here with the design and made it look and feel very nice indeed.
On with the set-up, currently at home I use Plex Media Server to run all my media at home. Plex works with my PC, phone, tablet, and PS3 quite nicely. It also now fully supports chromecast so in buying this I was quite hopeful of a nice simple way to stream all my media to my TV (the PS3 works well enough but isn’t fantastic in terms of interface). Additionally my android podcast manager works with chromecast too now so I am looking forward to being able to use that to stream my video podcasts onto a bigger screen.
Once out of the box it really was as simple as plugging the device into the TV and a USB port (or plug socket if you don’t have a USB port) and changing the channel. The first thing you will see is the Get started screen which tells you to go to http://www.chromecast.com/setup page. You can go to this page from a laptop, tablet or phone and it will direct to the appropriate app store. From there I downloaded the chromecast app for android to my phone and upon opening the app it discovered the chromecast device and said it needed setting up. The phone then made an ad-hoc wireless connection with the chromecast and asked you to input the password for your WiFi.
After doing that I assume it sends the connection details to the chromecast and instructs it to connect to the WiFi network and wait for communication from the phone, when mine did this I got the “connecting” screen (see gallery below) and at that point my phone had some trouble connecting back to my home WiFi network. I believe this to be the fault of my ISP supplied broadband router which appears to be a bit temperamental when it comes to disconnecting and reconnecting. The chromecast meanwhile just sat on the “connecting” screen and after a couple of retries on the app on the phone it eventually established a connection over my home WiFi connection to the chromecast.
After that it instantly went to an updating screen. downloaded the latest firmware for the device and installed it, the process took a couple of minutes in total and once complete and the device had rebooted it presented me with the “Ready To Stream” screen. The chromecast app on my phone offered me a button to learn more about chromecast but that was all so I closed the app and loaded up the Android YouTube app, instantly it told me I now had a chromecast button and so after searching for some appropriate content I pressed the cast button. It asked me which device I wanted to cast to (from a list of one) and after selecting that device the TV started playing the video. It really is as simple as that, use any of the supported apps and you will find a cast button which allows you to stream the content. From a PC you can stream an entire webpage too so pages such as Vimeo which do not yet have a dedicated app for chromecast can be streamed direct to the device from a web browser.
For me the biggest thing was the Plex integration, the Plex Android app is already very good and that continues to work in the same way, now there is simply a button to send the content to the chromecast instead of playing it on the phone. This makes watching local media very easy on a TV, however there is one caveat, the local media needs to be on a server device such as Plex (or other media servers as support grows). Currently there is no way (that I have found) of streaming media stored directly on a phone or tablet to the chromecast. The same goes with music, use Google Play Music to stream songs from their online catalogue and you are fine, but try to stream an MP3 that is stored on the phone and it says it cannot stream side-loaded content. The same went for my podcast manager (Beyond Pod), while it downloads the video podcasts to my phone and stores them, if I choose to cast an episode to my chromecast it is actually streaming the content from the originating site, not from the video stored on the phone. While that is not a major problem it is one that I think needs addressing in due course. The Google Movies app it should be noted worked very nicely too but again a downloaded movie can’t be streamed it just streams it over the internet.
Other things I noticed about the chromecast, once connected to a WiFi network, anyone can use the chromecast app to stream something to that device without any sort of permission or authentication (barring the authentication of the WiFi network). I can see why that has its advantages but I feel that there should be some way to make the device private to a person, for example, I now have the device setup in my bedroom on one of my computer monitors which means I can easily watch YouTube or a movie from my bed, however should one of my two house mates be so inclined they could simply load the chromecast app and send whatever content they want to my device in my room mid movie and I am powerless to stop that. There are ways around this by fiddling around with the wireless network and such but those ways wouldn’t really be possible to the average user with an average broadband router (we have a secondary ASUS RT-N16 which would offer a simple solution to make the chromecast private).
Secondly the content seems to have to stream through the sending device, so using iPlayer to watch say, an episode of Top Gear I can see that the data is going through the phone and then to the chromecast. It does not simply send the URL of the media to be streamed and leave the chromecast to do it, the phone downloads the content and then sends it on to the chromecast. I can do other things on the phone I can even play a game, or just switch the screen off and put the phone down but there is always an app running and sending/receiving data. This obviously will have an effect on battery life, though in the few hours testing I have done I was surprised how little it seemed to affect it.
Lastly for the moment, the device does not seem to have a standby setting, after a time of inactivity it regresses to a slideshow of photos with the time in the bottom right corner, however I would like it to power off after a further period, as it is plugged into my PC monitor (which I appreciate is not specifically what the device is designed to be plugged into) to have the slideshow going round means my monitor never enters standby mode. If the chromecast had a standby mode this would resolve that issue, but again the chromecast is designed to be attached to a TV with a remote that means it can just be switched off when needed.
Overall, for £30 it is a fantastic device, it works simply and effectively and as more and more apps come online and as the firmware gets updated to support more and more things this device will continue to be a little cracker. Even if you just want to watch Netflix, YouTube or iPlayer on your TV for that price you won’t find a better solution and dare I say for triple the price you won’t find a better solution.
I’ll be back in a week or so once I have used it a bit more to update this page with further thoughts.