Keeping it simple, stupid
It took me a while to actually bother buying a Google Chromecast. At £30 it’s not exactly expensive, but I honestly struggled thinking what benefit it actually had over my existing setup.
After all, I’m in a home where every room has at least one screen, and each screen has at least one device behind it capable of playing back media. Why exactly do I need a Chromecast?
The answer is in the Chromecasts simplicity. It doesn’t try to be anything other than a receiver for videos, photos and music from a partner device. It doesn’t have a flashy user interface with yet another remote control, it doesn’t offer you the ability to check the weather or how your stocks are doing, it doesn’t allow you to browse the web. And that’s exactly why it works so well.
For those not aware, the Google Chromecast is a “dongle” that connects into a free HDMI port on your TV or monitor. It’s powered by a fairly typical Micro-USB power supply, and other than a few bits of paperwork, that’s all you get for your £30.
The whole premise of the Chromecast is that it’s quite simply a method of streaming media from an existing device, like a tablet or smartphone, to your big screen TV. As such, the setup is pretty simple; plug it in, turn it on, install the companion app on your mobile device, and then sit back while it configures itself to your home network and downloads the latest updates from Google.
Once it’s done you’ll probably be left thinking “well, now what”. Google at least give you a URL to look at, which details which existing apps for mobile devices support streaming to Chromecast.
Popular apps like Youtube, Netflix, Plex and others all support streaming to Chromecast, it’s just a case of selecting the output device from the apps interface. Anyone who’s used Bluetooth pairing or streamed media via uPnP will be familiar with this, but even if you’re not it won’t take you more than a few seconds to get to grips with it.
There’s also limited support for streaming from a PC or laptop, via an extension for Google’s Chrome web browser. Unfortunately, it’s not as polished or reliable as support from mobile devices, but I’ll get to that.
When it comes to performance, I’ve found the Chromecast to be a breath of fresh air after weeks of struggling to set up our new home network having just moved. To coin a phrase from one of Google’s competitors “it just works”. Seriously, we were up and running in seconds, and streaming even full HD content has been an absolute breeze from both YouTube and Plex on an iPad.
Other reviews online have commented that wireless signal strength has been bad, with poor video playback being the result, particularly when streaming from a PC or laptop. All I can say is that in my particular experience I’ve not had any issues. As I type this I’m watching a 1080p BluRay rip of Marvel’s Avengers without any issue.
I’ve also found the Chromecast to be very responsive to requests from multiple devices, which is great for the impatient amongst us, but I can see leading to some arguments in busy homes. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there’s any facility to bar others from interrupting your streaming with theirs, which is a shame. A “lock out” facility would be a great improvement, particularly if you’re in a home with multiple Chromecasts where others are likely accidentally stream to the wrong unit.
Personally, I think the Chromecast is a great companion device to a household which already contains at least one smartphone or tablet, which is the majority of homes in the UK these days. By not forcing the device to do too much, Google has hit the nail right on the head. Most people don’t want another system to fathom out and another remote control on their coffee table, they just want a way to get the content from their tablet or phone on to their TV.
Chromecast does this exceptionally well. In fact, I’m off to Amazon to order two more to replace a Raspberry Pi and Android TV stick connected to other TV’s in the apartment.
If you live in a connected home, with all of your media stored on a central NAS, then definitely consider adding a Chromecast to the mix. Before you do, check that the mobile apps you use are able to stream directly to it. Synology’s suite of mobile apps for their NAS devices work well, as does Plex and YouTube.