This review was originally written in May 2014 shortly after the Chromecast became available in the UK. I’ve updated it with the benefit of a years use and the extra features added by Google and other App makers.
So what is a Chromecast? At first sight, it looks to be a USB memory stick but actually has an HDMI connector. It plugs into your TV and into your TV’s USB socket for power (or wall socket if you don’t have one on your TV) and then joins your local wifi network. From then you use a companion device to control it and ‘cast’ content to it.
This could be a PC, smartphone or a tablet and apps and programs need to be cast enabled to allow them to be used. At the moment this is over 100 apps including critically an updated iPlayer, Chrome, YouTube, Netflix and for those who stream local content Plex. Unfortunately, there are some big names missing from that including ITV and Channel 4 and Amazon’s Prime Instant Video. It can also mirror a Chrome tab from your PC allowing you to put whatever is on your PC on your TV and do a full screen mirroring, although this is experimental. Finally, it is possible to stream content such as your home videos directly from your phone with an app like Allcast or from your PC via the browser.
Included In The Box (omit if not sure)
- Chromecast streaming stick
- Quick start guide
- HDMI extender
- USB cable
- Wall charger
Connectivity: USB 2.0
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4 ) capable Channels 1-12
The Chromecast plugs into an HDMI port and is powered via USB. This USB can be plugged into the TV if your TV has a spare port (most modern TV’s have one) or can be plugged into the wall via the provided wall charger.
A good wifi signal is required – there is no option or way to plug into a wired ethernet. The wifi needs to be 2.4GHz rather than 5GHz and cannot be used using channels 13 or 14 as the device cannot recognise these. This issue is because these channels are not used in the US and Google has chosen to make the device US-centric rather than international.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
Visually the Chromecast is just a small black stick with a bulge on one end. Once you have it plugged in you will never need to physically see it again.
In use the device is capable of 1080p quality depending on the material being streamed to it and will dynamically adapt to lower quality depending on the speed of the wifi and internet connection. It seems to do this reasonably well, although has gotten confused a few times when repeatedly paused and played.
The default ‘Homescreen’ when content is not being streamed to the device cycles through a series of landscape pictures and displays the devices’s name and which wifi network it is attached to.
Audio & Accessibility
There is no audio element to the physical device and no optical audio output. This means that you cannot connect it up to an external surround sound system but are restricted to using the HDMI audio. This will not be a problem for most people but it is something to be aware of if you are an audiophile.
The sync application used to setup the Chromecast has no audio element built in, but will work with your operating systems built-in text to speech systems.
There is one exception to the lack of audio involved in the setup – you will not notice it but your dog might. The initial pairing and wifi setup can now be done via very high-frequency sound from your phone and to the Chromecast and vice versa. As the user this will be transparent.
Input and Touch
Once the Chromecast has been fitted behind your TV it t is totally controlled via other devices such as tablets, smartphones or your PC or Mac. This means that it is potentially extremely accessible if you are able to use any of these devices.
Applications that can make use of the Chromecast are standardised adding a ‘Cast’ button to all relevant screens. Find the content you wish to view on your device, hit the cast button and instead of playing on the device it will play on the TV. After almost a year and a half of the Chromecast being available a very good proportion of apps have the Cast button and functionality and those that do not – I’m looking at you Amazon – have left it out to avoid it competing with their own products.
Ease of Use
The device does need a little setting up but this is essentially just getting it on your wifi network and giving it a name. Note that this is done via either an Android or iOS app so if you do not have access to either of these you will have a problem.
In my use over the last year, I have had to reset it three or four times when it seemed to forget the wifi network but although somewhat annoying that only took five minutes. I’ve also taken it on the road with me, attached it to my mifi and then streamed content I had on a hard disk to a hotel TV.
In use, the Chromecast is usually easy to control, although this is dependent on how the individual app makers have implemented it.
The biggest issue that I have had is the controlling device being attached to the wrong wifi network (or none at all) leaving me unable to get a response.
The beauty of the Chromecast is its simplicity and low cost. It does not attempt to provide you with a front-end or complicated abilities but leaves that to your device. This means that if you can use the controlling device you can use the Chromecast. In more extreme cases it would be possible to cast using a switch system or a sip/puff system and a PC making it probably the most accessible media streamer available. If you are already using a media box such as a Roku or AppleTV there probably is not a need to replace it, but if not the Chromecast is probably the best option available on the market.
After a years use the Chromecast is still by far the most heavily used streaming device in our household. Google has added new features every few months and supported it well and most importantly it has been accepted by most online video services and apps. There are more competitors on the market by this point in 2015 but the combination of very low cost and simplicity still makes the Chromecast the one to beat and none have quite managed it yet. If you’ve not already got one recommended.
The Chromecast was released in March 2014 and is compatible with PC, Android, Mac, and iOS.