It’s been a long time coming. Google’s cheap-as-chips dongle came out early last year in the US, letting users stream services like Netflix to their televisions for a fraction of the cost of competitors Apple TV and Roku. Released today in the UK and costing £30, how does it hold up?
Well it’s a self-effacing affair. The tiny HDMI dongle (around the size of a lumberjack’s thumb) is designed to hide behind your television rather than under it. Power comes from a USB port if your TV has one (you might be surprised) or the wall if not.
After a simple process to connect it to your wifi network, it is easy to forget you own a Chromecast. There is no menu, no Google branded remote control. Instead everything is controlled directly by compatible apps on your phone (iOS or Android) and laptop (PC or Mac).
It all works through a process Google call ‘casting’, and which will be familiar to anyone who has used Apple’s AirPlay. While using a compatible app such as Netflix, a small icon will appear in the corner. Pressing this transfers the stream to your television screen, letting you watch House of Cards in comfort.
Interestingly(ish), the Chromecast will draw the episode directly from the Netflix servers rather than your phone. This means that the original device is free to do other things, or even be switched off. Apps like YouTube take advantage of this multitasking, letting many people add videos to one playlist: perfect for parties.
The hitch, as you may have noticed, is the apps. Unsurprisingly Google’s own products work brilliantly right out of the gate, but other companies will have to release updates to make it compatible. At launch, only BBC iPlayer and Netflix have the function built in: there’s no Amazon Prime Instant Video, 4oD, ITV Player etc etc etc.
New services should be announced imminently, but at the moment the Chromecast can’t offer the choice of its rivals. A workaround is to use the Google Chrome browser on your laptop, which allows you to project any open webpage on screen, but it’s a long way from the seamless experience Google are aiming for.
This isn’t a huge problem as individual providers are likely to be quick to update their own apps. Everything about Chromecast is geared for when the service is as ubiquitous and invisible as air, a time when flinging Netflix to your television is done with as little thought as changing the channel.
It might be worth delaying your purchase until the apps catch up, but Chromecast is the most convincing way to make your TV ‘smart’ thus far. It’s a quiet beginning, but this is something to shout about.