Streaming video with Google's new Chromecast

September 2013

Yet another cool gadget is on its way to my mailbox. For a mere $35 I'm getting a small device about the size of a USB flash drive that plugs into the back of my TV in order to stream Internet video to my TV. How cool is that?

Yes, I know. We've been there before. I've raved about how cool it was to connect a computer to my TV to stream Internet video, how great Google TV and devices such as Roku were, how cool it is to use an Apple TV set-top box, how convenient it is to stream video from my iPad to my TV using an Apple TV and AirPlay, and how hip it is to put an Android interface on my TV via the $45 Mini-PC.

But this time it's different. Really. I mean, Chromecast is way cool. And did I mention it's only $35?

You've got the Internet at home, and a nice big HDTV. The grail is to somehow get all the great streaming video that's online onto your TV. There's a lot out there, including numerous on-demand movie rental services such as Amazon, Vudu, and Netflix, often with HD options. And major networks make much of their primetime content available. Plus, there are a gazillion videos and a small selection of movies on YouTube, as well as many other video-sharing sites such as Vimeo. Sports fanatics can feed their addiction for hours on end via services such as MLB.com.

So you have lots of choices. But which device should you go with in order to get your TV connected? There are three considerations: content, cost, and convenience.

You can likely get the widest range of content simply by using a cable to connect a computer to your TV, essentially using the TV as an external monitor. But that's not the most cost-effective, and a somewhat cumbersome solution.

The inexpensive Mini-PC gives you the Android interface on your TV, which entails having access to much of the Internet. But using a mouse and external keyboard to access content isn't ideal.

The best method of control is, in my opinion, a touch screen like that of a smartphone and tablet. And that's what Chromecast gives you.

Just announced in July and available in August, Chromecast connects to an HDMI port on your TV. It can be powered either via a cord to an electrical outlet or into a spare USB port on your TV.

Once set up (which is said to be simple and only take 5 minutes), you can use your smartphone or tablet to send streaming video to your TV. Essentially you're using your device to search for, select, and control playback of streaming video. The video isn't actually streaming from your device but directly from your wireless router. Your device is just queuing and controlling it. And if your phone or tablet has Siri or other voice recognition, you can order up a movie just by speaking.

You can also use a Mac or PC to do the same thing, though in this case the content is indeed actually streaming from your computer. Your TV and computer need to be on the same wireless network in your home, but don't need to be in the same room. Using the Chrome web browser, you can stream any web site to your TV.

The neatest part is an experimental feature that lets you wirelessly use your TV as an external monitor for your computer — not just web pages but anything on your computer except for audio.

So what's the catch? Initially the content is limited. If you're using a phone or tablet to communicate with Chromecast, you're limited to Netflix, YouTube, and the catalog of movies and videos on Google Play (Google's media and app store). However, over a dozen companies, including Vimeo, Hulu Plus, and Redbox Instant, will be available soon.

Another limitation is that you can't stream movies or TV shows that are already on your phone or tablet.

If you're streaming video from your Mac or PC to your HDTV via Chromecast, you're only limited by what can be viewed in Google's free Chrome web browser. Meaning that just about all Internet content is available (except apparently videos in Apple's QuickTime format). You'll need a fast Internet connection and a fairly modern computer for it to work smoothly.

Think how handy Chromecast will be not only at home but also when you're traveling. You just plug it into the HDTV in your hotel room. How cool is that?

This Month's Hot Tips

Find a list of over 500 free classic streaming movies at www.openculture.com/freemoviesonline. Over 1,000 public domain movies can be found at www.publicdomaintorrents.info.

© 2013 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen