Impressions on Google's Chromecast

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast

I received my Google Chromecast just a couple of days before a weeklong trip to Las Vegas for a conference. My first impression is that a lot of thought went into this pocketable streaming device. The quality and design of the packaging rivals anything you might see out of Cupertino. And the build quality of the gadget is pretty nice, too.

For those who don't know, the Chromecast is a $35 Google product; it's an HDMI dongle that plugs directly into an HD television or monitor and streams content directly from the Internet. It has a small USB port on the back where the power cord plugs in. Once it's connected to WiFi, it receives instructions on what to display from a Mac, PC, iPhone, or Android on the network. The feature set is small and it's pretty simple to setup and use. This is a purpose-built device.

Setup on a home network is a snap. Within just a few minutes, I got the Chromecast configured and ready. The television displayed the setup instructions, which are essentially foolproof. On a computer, open the web browser and visit www.google.com/chromecast/setup, download and install the setup utility, then let the utility figure out the wireless settings and prepare the Chromecast for you. Or download the Chromecast app for Android or iOS and set it up from a mobile phone or tablet. Google has done a great job with ease of use.

Using the Chromecast on a hotel or enterprise network, however, is not easy. The size of Chromecast makes it seem to be the perfect travel companion, however that isn't the case. Many hotels and enterprises have security measures or ecommerce solutions in place that will thwart the simple sharing that home networks allow. In fact, if a network requires any sort of webpage login form to sign on, the Chromecast will be unable to join it. Only a personal hotspot, which relies on cellular data, or fancy Internet connection sharing can salvage your Internet television experience when traveling.

So, what can the Chromecast do? It does what the name implies, it broadcasts — or 'casts — the content of a Chrome browser tab from a Mac or PC to a television to which the Chromecast is connected. It can also receive images, video, and sound from Chromecast-enabled apps on iPhones, iPads, or Androids. At launch, the list of these apps was small and only included Youtube, Netflix, and the Play Store. Today, the list also includes HBO GO, Hulu Plus, and Pandora. The really interesting bit is that app developers can add Chromecast integration to their apps. What remains to be seen is how many apps will become Chromecast-enabled. It's easy to imagine a world where virtually every mobile app can stream itself to a large screen.

What can't the Chromecast do? The Chromecast cannot communicate with 5 GHz networks. It can't handle screen mirroring, which means apps will have to become Chromecast-enabled before they will be able to appear on HD TVs. It won't stream Amazon Instant video. It cannot draw power from an HDMI port, which isn't supported by the HDMI spec. And although the device includes 'casting from a computer's Chrome web browser, "Chrome" 'casting from an iPhone or Android isn't possible at this time.

What do I think? I like it a lot. The idea is great. And while it doesn't do as much as an Apple TV or Roku, it's only $35. And it's so small that taking it to another room or over to a friend's house for movie watching is almost effortless.

If you have Netflix, Hulu Plus, or HBO, an extra $35, and aren't averse to using Google services, you'll find it a valuable buy.