Chromecast is the first media player I know of that has no remote control and no hardware buttons (except for a reset button, but that doesn’t really count. It’s – literally – a plugin for your TV that adds “Google”. Unlike other media players and Smart TVs, it does not have its own interface. Your Android or iOS device is used to browse media and control playback.
Chromecast hasn’t been released outside the US, and it’s been sold out for a while now. So when I stumbled across an opportunity to buy one today, right here in the Netherlands, I jumped at the chance. There are a couple of downsides to using the device here right now, but I’ll get to that later.
This is as easy as it gets. Plug the dongle into a free HDMI port on your TV and hook up the power adapter (either to a USB port or the supplied adapter). It’s all software from there on in.
If you’re in Europe like me, I recommend using a laptop to configure the Chromecast. The browser-based setup tool warned me that I was using an unsupported OS, but ran just fine on Ubuntu. I misspelled my wifi password and had to factory reset the dongle, but if you’re a better typer, the procedure is super-easy.
From a mobile device, the setup requires an app, but that app is not available in the Play store for non-US users. Here’s a tutorial on how to get it anyway. I recommend getting the app, as it offers the most info on the device should you ever need to troubleshoot.
Besides the slightly more complicated setup from mobile, the main disadvantage of using Chromecast in The Netherlands right now is that two of the three main content services don’t work. The Play store does not sell video yet, and Netflix still hasn’t launched. That leaves YouTube and Tab casting.
More supporting apps are coming, but for now there’s simply very little to “cast”. YouTube does work very well. Simply touch the Chromecast button in the YouTube app and the video will play on your TV. Your phone or tablet becomes the remote, until someone else casts something or you break the connection manually.
Tab casting is an interesting feature that allows you to cast a tab from your Chrome desktop browser to your TV. It works fine for text and images, but the connection doesn’t update the screen often enough to watch video. For me, the main significance of tab casting is that it shows the potential of this little dongle. Google is quite obviously planning great things for Chromecast. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hangouts support soon, as well as full screen mirroring.
My TV is now ready for whatever Google is planning in the war to take over the living room. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can compete against, Apple, Microsoft, Sony and others with only $35 worth of hardware. The future’s bright, probably because of all the chrome.