On Friday I saw this tweet:
As a big fan of video on demand, and having heard good things about Google’s Chromecast, I thought £18 wasn’t bad at all. But it turns out that all the online Tesco shopping I’ve done over the past few months has netted me enough points to buy the device outright with vouchers. So I ordered one.
It turned up the next day, and it’s a thing of beauty:
(Apologies for the dust, my TV attracts dust like a cat to a fish pond. I’m not that dirty, honest!)
(The headphone socket leads to wireless headphones – it’s the thing that allows me to drown out the neighbours DIY efforts – more about that on another blog post)
Configuring the Chromecast is a cinch. Downloading the Chromecast app for the iPhone or iPad guides you through connecting the device to your wireless network. It only supports 2.4Ghz wireless networks, but it shouldn’t prove too much of a problem given that most people’s routers are usually located near the TV anyway.
Chromecast is essentially a server running a cut-down version of Google’s Chrome browser (hence the name). It uses a protocol that’s been developed by both Netflix (hooray – pioneers of VoD technology) and Google themselves. But Google has added their own bits and bobs to make it more flexible.
Through a beta extension to the Google Chrome browser on Macs and Window machines, you can stream most types of video. YouTube is supported natively. But things get interesting when you use a native app such as Netflix, Blinkbox, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, etc under iOS (or Android).
A Chromecast icon appears in the app, you select it, and that starts the web application on the Chromecast device. From there, you select the program or film you want to watch and it streams directly from the Chromecast (your iOS/Android device is merely a client that essentially acts as a remote control). As such, one you’e started your programme, you can shut down the app, turn your phone or tablet off and it’ll still stream.
In practice, the Chromecast is wonderful. It’s so easy to use. And I find that using the native iOS apps for BBC iPlayer, Blinkbox (iPad only unfortunately – Tesco should get around to making an iPhone version) and Netflix are incredibly intuitive. More so than the Roku with its remote control. Scrubbing within the Netflix app is displayed on the device rather than on the TV. You can go back 30 seconds as well. It’s really well implemented.
Watching YouTube videos on the TV has become hugely enjoytable. Any embedded YouTube video on a web page or via the YouTube web site can be streamed to the TV without fuss. This is so much easier than Apple TV.
The Chromecast has become my favourite streaming device. Native apps such as Netflix, iPlayer, Blinkbox and YouTube can stream up to 1080p resolution, whereas any other via the Chrome tab extension is currently limited to 720p.
1080p performance over wireless is second to none – there have been no problems whatsoever with streaming HD content through my Draytek 2860n Plus router with BT Infinity. HD is crisp and sharp as one would expect.
The Chromecast has pretty much made the Roku redundant. The only downside is that ITV, 4oD and Channel 5 have yet to support it. Amazon Prime Instant Video isn’t supported either. But then again, device support for Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK is incredibly poor outside of game consoles.
Only time will tell whether Amazon can be bothered to support Roku or Chromecast, but given that BSkyB has a stake in Roku, I’d strongly suspect Chromecast may get Amazon’s support first. But I’m not holding my breath. I figure that Amazon will release their Fire TV box in the UK before committing to other platforms – the same way that their Kindle device came out before the respective Kindle reader applications came out on other platforms. Time will tell.
Hopefully future versions of Chromecast will offer support for 802.11ac/5Ghz wireless to be able to handle higher definition video (along, obviously, with the relevant codecs). I’m hoping that more VoD developers will take advantage of Chromecast too. It really is a lovely little thing.
Note: at the time of writing, Tesco have ran out of stock of Chromecasts.