2014-08-23 10.35.41

Chromecast is a first class video streamer

On Friday I saw this tweet:

tesco_chromecast

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:

2014-08-23 10.35.41

2014-08-23 10.36.06
It does require power, but thankfully it comes with a cable that can either be plugged into a TV’s USB port (which, thankfully, my TV has) or into a wall socket.    When connected, it looks like this:

(Apologies for the dust, my TV attracts dust like a cat to a fish pond.   I’m not that dirty, honest!)

ChromeCast_In_Use_PS

(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.

2014-08-23 19.03.39
The Netflix iOS interface is a little buggy – hence the rather precise timeline position, but nevertheless works very well.

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.

2014-08-22 07.00.50

A thoroughly modern breakfast

Okay, I don’t do breakfast quite like this everyday (with exception of the mocha – it’s a necessity), but I do read the newspapers and magazines on the iPad as a daily ritual.

2014-08-22 07.01.37
The Times tablet edition
 is one of the better efforts from the Murdoch stable.  It’s also great value for money – I have an annual subscription to Find My Past which will help me with my research into family history.  There are regular competitions to win holidays (alas, I am not yet a winner), free eBooks, cinema screenings, two-for-one cinema tickets and a lot more.

The Guardian & The Observer offers a more liberal view of the news, a great counterpoint to the The Times more conservative values.  it doesn’t attempt to compete with The Times+ offers and freebies, but nevertheless I still consider it good value for money.

Radio Times tablet edition is a bit of a mixed bag.  Unlike its native iPad cousin, Radio Times Discover TV, the Radio Times tablet edition is a glorified PDF with navigation links to other areas of the magazine and external articles.  On an iPad mini, the article text is very small and one must resort to pinch/zoom (which is an enormous PITA) to avoid eyestrain when reading articles and getting a closer look at TV listings.  It badly needs work – primarily to improve text readability. Also unlike its cousin, it can’t connect to the Sky+ app to set-up recording on Sky+/Sky+ HD boxes.  Until the recent Doctor Who special edition, the tablet edition had a massively annoying “feature” whereby the clickable links would flash purple every time you changed page.

IMG_0725

Sky doesn’t prioritise HD movies on Sky+HD box because..

.. they take longer to download.

I kid you not!  Despite paying Sky an extra £5 a month specifically to receive HD movies, this is the single most ridiculous thing I’ve come across this week.

sky_doh

As a former production systems administrator  and systems engineer for, let’s see now, a BAFTA, Emmy, AND Academy winning company (one for each company I’ve worked for), I like to think I know about something pushing high definition video about the ‘nets.  Especially as I’ve worked on two Sky original productions which – yes – were in HD.

The problem with the Sky+HD user interface is that the Sky Movies On Demand featured films only offers SD versions by default (even the latest blockbusters).  To get HD, you’ll need to select the HD section and then either search using the remote control or you have to scroll endless pages until you come across a movie you like.

The Showcase function of the Sky+HD box does a better job, but Sky really need to bring everything in-line.  Offer the user (in Settings) whether or not they prefer HD content by default.  It would save an enormous amount of hassle.

I realise that not all content is in HD, but for when it is, let’s make the most of it, eh?

%d bloggers like this: