One of the more interesting things about the modern technological age is that the vast majority of us are carrying Internet-connected computers around on our persons at all times.
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That being the case, though – why is it necessary to buy a full piece of streaming hardware like a Roku, something with its own interface and the overhead that requires, when you’re carrying these devices on your person anyway?
That’s the reasoning behind Google Chromecast. The idea is that you can just plug this $35 dongle into any television with an HDMI port and you can just sling content from a compatible mobile device to the screen over WiFi. Let’s see how that works in practice.
Google Chromecast – Image Quality
Let’s start with the nitty-gritty here.
Any HD wireless streaming video implementation is going to involve compression to get the signal to fit in the available bandwidth; some mathematical level of quality loss is inevitable, even if it’s not noticeable to the human eye.
Chromecast doesn’t produce pristine video, per se, but it’s pretty impressive given that it’s pulling 1080p videos down over a WiFi connection.
Netflix streams will gain a little bit of artifacting in the process of streaming to the Chromecast dongle when compared to a dedicated streaming box with a wired connection, but they’re still very clear and watchable.
There are a handful of streaming video implementations that produce better results, but they use lower resolutions, expensive dedicated hardware, or both; Chromecast does a great job with any Android/iOS device or laptop with Chrome installed that you throw at it.
The other side of this coin is consistency.
Video needs to have a constant framerate; it doesn’t matter how good individual frames look if everything is stuttering and staggering. Video is movement; video is motion.
Chromecast has no problems in this department; once you’ve got a video underway, everything is silky smooth barring sudden disruptions to the WiFi network.
Google Chromecast – User Experience
The Chromecast hardware itself is able to do what it does so cheaply because it’s so barebones.
It just streams video.
This isn’t in the sense that other devices “just stream video”; the Chromecast dongle exclusively handles the task of pulling the video out of the cloud and putting it on the screen.
Most of what goes on on the user interface side happens on the device you’re using to control it.
When you’re using a supported app like Netflix or Youtube, you select the video you want to watch just like normal on your device, and then you hit the button to stream it to the Chromecast dongle; it’s seamless and simple.
Right now, though, this does create a problem with support for Chromecast. Frankly, there isn’t enough of it. Chromecast doesn’t stream video from the phone; the phone acts as a remote and as a separate computing unit for handling the user interface, but Chromecast has to have some level of software support for a streaming service before it can make use of it.
Right now, your options are fairly limited in that respect; you can use Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Play Music.
These all work quite well, but it’s not the largest slate out there, to say the least.
You also have the ability to sling the contents of a Chrome browser tab to the TV, but that won’t let you get around
These limits, for the most part; the work of rendering the page is, for the most part, done on the device connected to Chromecast, but there’s still enough dongle-side processing that plugins won’t display audio or video in most cases.
Still, Chromecast is young, and while support is a problem
What’s there works great. HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, and a sizable number of other companies already have Google Chromecast support in the works, and those should start to hit as soon as the Chromecast SDK sees its production release.
These problems are growing pains, and they’ll resolve themselves.
Google Chromecast is a great little piece of equipment.
There are some issues with software support at the current time, but it also released only a short time ago; there’s every reason to believe that these will clear up by year’s end.
At $35, it’s a very interesting solution for a portable way to stream video to any television you encounter.