We recently tested the Google Chromecast product in the SoundVision demo room. It caught our eye as an alternative to the Apple TV product for our Android/non-Apple clientele. Now that I am getting used to it, it is a pretty cool product for the price.
For $35 you get the Chromecast dongle (stick) which is similar to an over sized memory stick with an HDMI plug at one end and a mini-USB receptacle at the other. The HDMI plugs into the TV while the USB is used for power via the included cable. If no USB socket is available, the unit ships with a USB wall adaptor.
The USB is used solely for powering the Google Chromecast. All communications is done through the wireless network. After loading the Chromecast app on my Android phone, I was able to create a temporary connection directly to the Chromecast to configure the wireless settings.
The first thing that struck me was that the Chromecast does not hold any of its own apps, it relies solely on apps installed on your mobile device; there are a limited number of Chromecast compatible apps. Netfix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and HBO GO are probably the most notable video streaming services but it also offers Pandora and Songza on the music side. Music and movies are also available from Google via their Play Music and Play Movies apps (these are similar to what Apple does with iTunes).
From a user interface standpoint, the nature of Chromecast product throws an extra step or two into the process. First the Chromecast app must be launched on the mobile device, then the content app (Nextflix, Pandora, etc.) must be launched. Once the content app is open, a new Chromcast icon will appear on the app. Select the icon and then chose the Chromecast you want the content to be viewed through and there you have it.
Of course this is all done through the wireless network (there is no hardwired option) so you must have a robust network with good wifi signal at the Chromcast dongle location. The nice thing is that once you have pushed content from the app on your mobile device to Chromecast, the mobile device is a controller only. No need to worry if your mobile device runs out of battery or loses wifi, Chromecast keeps playing. SoundVision has a good wireless network and I was impressed with the video quality.
Most modern electronics have a means of accessing on-line streaming services. I can access a variety of movie and music streaming services from my TV, Blu-ray/DVD player, Apple TV, etc. One of the features I was really looking for was a way of pushing pictures from an Android mobile device to the TV in the conference room. Chromecast can do this but it requires the purchase of the full version of an app called Avia ( $2.99). Once I had the app loaded and connected to the network, the app automatically searched for and found the Chromecast. It also found the TV and a few other devices. Turns out I didn’t even need Chromecast to send pictures to the TV. But what about just sending content from Android devices through the Apple TV?
As it turns out there is a free Android app that can send pictures and videos stored on the Android mobile device through the Apple TV. The ZappoTV app is an AppleTV airplay media player app that is worth downloading.
SoundVision’s stance is that Chromecast is Google’s attempt to chase Apple on their Android platform. They are a few generations back, lack Apple’s ease of use, and are lacking in content.