Hands on with Chromecast

A few weeks back, Google finally made the Chromecast available in Canada, and that excited a whole lot of people.

It’s easy to understand why: for just $39, you could have a device which would plug into your TV’s HDMI port and allow you to stream content directly from your mobile device (either Android or iPhone) to your television. Compared to some of the competitive hardware designed to stream multimedia to the television, that was dirt cheap.

Of course, there was a catch: in order to stream content from your mobile to your Chromecast adapter, you needed to have apps with Chromecast compatibility.  Even as I write this (a number of weeks after Canadian launch, and even longer after the global launch), there are only a handful of apps that are capable of sending a signal directly to your TV.

Let’s back up just a bit. As I mentioned, the Chromecast plugs directly into a free HDMI port on your television. It requires secondary power, which you can pull from either a USB connector plugged into the wall, or from a USB jack on the back of the TV…if there is one.

Once connected, the Chromecast acts as a passive receiver, waiting for any streaming content from your mobile device, or from your computer. (Because you set it up on your home Wi-Fi network, it can also receive content directly from the Chrome browser on a desktop or a notebook.)

This is important when it comes to Chromecast: because it can only receive content from Chromecast-enabled apps, there are a limited number of things that you can actually stream wirelessly from your mobile (or your computer) directly to the TV.

The most compelling business case for Chromecast would be the ability to share your notebook’s screen directly to the TV, without having to fish around for the proper video dongle or HDMI cable. However, since the Chromecast will currently only pull a signal from the Chrome browser, you’re limited to items that can be run inside a browser…so unless your spreadsheet is cloud-based, you are probably out of luck.

On the mobile side of the equation, things are a bit more forgiving, as there are a number of apps with Chromecast support built right in. That includes Netflix, allowing you to stream your movies straight from your phone to your TV. You can also send content directly to your TV from YouTube, Vevo, Songza and Rdio.

Unfortunately, while you can ‘cast content using the built-in Google Play Movies app, that only means movies that you’ve purchased from the Google Play Store. Anything you’ve filmed yourself and then transferred to your Android phone … no such luck (at least for now).

At only $39, it’s hard to complain too much about these limitations, though of course it would be nice if future iterations of the Chromecast would function as a full-on mirror for any content you wanted to throw at it.

In the meantime, there are other options out there, but they have their quirks as well.

One that I’ve gotten hands on is Belkin’s Miracast Video Adapter, which allows you to stream anything and everything from your phone to your TV, using the Miracast adapter as a second display. The catch (and there always is one, isn’t there…?): you have to have a phone that’s Miracast-enabled…and there aren’t that many of them. If you’re interested, there’s a list of compatible devices at the Belkin site.

I managed to get the Belkin adapter up and running in conjunction with a Sony Xperia XL phone. Like the Chromecast, it plugs directly into an HDMI connector on the television, and requires a USB connector for additional power. It took a couple of tries to set up the Miracast adapter as secondary display on my phone, but once I did, I was able to mirror anything on my phone directly to the TV.

It’s not a particularly cheap option when you compare it to Chromecast: at $80, it’s twice the price of the Chromecast.  Still, if you have a compatible phone or tablet, it may be worth the extra investment simply for the ability to sent anything you want directly to your television.

For the rest of us with non-compatible devices, it may be worth holding off for the next generation of Chromecast, to see if it expands the amount of content that can be streamed wirelessly. Heck, with new apps adding Chromecast support, the current generation may even do the job … eventually. Until then, it may be little more than a curiosity … unless you’re a heavy Netflix user.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthershttp://www.globalhermit.com
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at butterscotch.com, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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