Chromecast: Streaming the Internet to your TV

By Seth Heringer – Google held a press conference on Wednesday and unexpectedly announced a new media streaming device: Chromecast. Google has an unsuccessful history in the field with the Nexus Q, infamous for being overpriced and underperforming. The company showed it was listening to the criticism by releasing an impressive device for only $35.

How it works

Chromecast allows an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet (computers also work if they use the Chrome browser) to serve as a remote control for Internet content streaming to a television. It does so by serving as a wireless access point connected to an HDMI port on a television that connects to a local network and streams content directly from the Internet. This means that content isn’t coming from a connected device but directly from the Internet. The screenshot above shows the Chromecast button on the YouTube app on a Galaxy S3. Pressing it prompts the Chromecast to stream the video directly from the Internet but controlled by the connected device.

Current marketplace

The Chromecast is entering a market already saturated with streaming devices. The $99 Apple TV can do everything Chromecast can do, in addition to mirroring the connected device allowing it to play local content. Currently the Chromecast can only view media already on the Internet. The Chromecast, although at the moment lacking compatible apps, (only Netflix, Google Play and YouTube are working at launch) stacks up much better against set-top boxes like those offered by Roku, Xbox and PlayStation. If it can get content partners, it should have the same streaming functionality as those devices at a much lower price.

The experience and uses

So who is this device for? Priced at $35, it is for almost everyone with a mobile device. Since it works with both iOS and Android, even its basic functionality of streaming YouTube and Netflix on a big screen will make this device worthwhile for many. You can even create a YouTube queue on a connected device while a video is being played on the television. Getting one for every TV will allow the user to switch the streaming to different screens as they move around the house. As Google adds even more content partners, the device will get even more useful. Users heavily invested in iTunes or who need to stream local content such as pictures or videos will want to pass. But most people already have their pictures uploaded to a site like Flickr. Such sites can be streamed to the television with a computer by using the Chrome browser and its new Google cast extension.

The Chromecast isn’t a perfect device. It can only stream online content, (seethis article for a loophole). It needs to be connected to a quality router and have a strong wireless signal. The Chrome extension is still in beta and its performance is flaky at times. It currently only works with three apps. But for all of these problems, the product has all the necessary features and a price point that positions it to be revolutionary. And with everything moving to thecloud, Google has come up with a winning strategy here.

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