Google today announced a new Internet-to-television device called Chromecast, a well-developed area of technology that doesn't really need another gizmo. With Apple TV, Roku and Boxee all providing solutions to turn a regular old HDTV into an Internet-capable TV, you might be thinking that the Chromecast is an also-ran before it's even been released.
Yet Chromecast, as it's called, has the techies all giddy. A few of them said they already went on over to the Play store and bought one — before Google had even finished up its event. The general upshot of the stick is that it ports the television on your computer or smartphone — like Netflix, or YouTube — to your television. A lot of devices can already do this for you. So what makes this thing any different or better than all the others?
- It's dirt cheap. The stick only costs $35. Roku's similar dongle-type streamer retails for $100. There's a huge mental difference between $100 and $35. It's easy to splurge on something that costs less than an Urban Outfitters shirt. In addition, Netflix users — new and existing — get three months of the streaming service free, essentially paying for most of the stick. (Three months of streaming costs, at minimum $24.)
- It's teeny tiny. Most of these magic TV things come in box form. This is just a stick that goes into an HDMI port. There's also zero set-up. It just plugs in, you hook it up to your Wi-Fi and you tap a small button in compatible apps or the Chrome browser, and like magic it pushes that stuff to your TV.
- It Has More Content Than Meets the Eye. The official Google partnerships don't amount to more than, say, Roku has on its box. The stick officially works with YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play Movies and TV. But there's a secret trick for getting all other web streaming services — like HBO GO (!) — from laptop to computer: Chrome tab projection. Per the demo, any tab open on the Chrome browser will play on the television. So, the HBO GO app might not work, but the desktop version will. Sure a computer connected by HDMI can do that, too. But this is a lot easier, smaller, and does a lot more (and again, no wires). Google has almost made available a software kit that will allow developers to add the functionality to their apps, meaning that, if the Chromecast catches on, you'll be able to beam video from any smartphone or tablet app directly to your television.
- It Works with a Lot of Phones. This works on both Android and iOS, meaning you can swap out phones or tablets or computers with different subscription services, or movies downloaded. It opens up a lot more content, and if you're making the switch from iOS to Android, you aren't stuck with a box that can't stream your smartphone content, like you would be with Apple TV.
- It Turns (Almost) Every TV into a Smart TV. Any television with an HDMI port — so probably not that old clunker you bought on Craigslist — turns into a "smart" TV, with your phone or tablet or laptop as the remote control, allowing you to play videos, control volume, or even turn on the TV.
The whole thing makes watching TV from your phone or computer seamless and at $35 people who watch a lot of streaming TV from Netflix have almost no reason to buy it. Without the Chrome tab projection thing the whole offering gets a little less enticing. But at least for now it looks like a more elegant way to connect HDMI to multiple devices by just plugging in.
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