Chromecast: We get our SWEATY PAWS on Google's tiny telly pipe

Popping in the Chocolate Factory's two-incher

Can it do anything else?

Support is coming to more apps soon – Pandora was specifically mentioned at the launch event – but it's up to media services and app developers to build support into their apps. Chromecast isn't a generic screen-sharing device. It's actually a self-contained media player that can be controlled by an external device.

Screenshot of the Chromecast home screen

This is all the UI you get with Chromecast; the heavy lifting is done by your phone or other control device

What that means is that when you call up Netflix content on your fondleslab and hit the Cast button to send it to your TV, you're not streaming from your tablet to your TV. Instead, Chromecast sees which content you were watching on the tablet and starts streaming it from Netflix itself. You can keep using the tablet to search for more content, write emails, or play games – you can even put it on standby – and the content keeps playing on your TV until you switch to something else.

In practice, this method of controlling playback can be a little awkward, particularly when you want to pause or rewind a program. An old-fashioned remote control is a lot more straightforward.

On the whole, though, Chromecast seems to get the job done. It supports 802.11b/g/n but only on the 2.4GHz band, which could be a problem in some congested Wi-Fi environments. But in my tests with Netflix and YouTube it streamed reliably over 802.11g without any stuttering or visual artifacts.

And that's it. That's all it does. If you were hoping for a device that would let you stream the MKV files of TV shows that you downloaded from BitTorrent authorized sources to your TV, this isn't it. Chromecast can only stream content from the cloud. It can't stream anything that you've loaded directly onto the control device.

Screenshot of the Chrome browser with the Chromecast extension installed

Chromecast only works with apps designed for it. Just click the Cast icon and off to your TV the content goes

Even then, the number of content sources it supports is extremely limited. Chromecast can't stream videos from Amazon, Dailymotion, Hulu, or Vudu. It can't play movie trailers from Apple's site. It can't play music from Spotify. It can't play arbitrary podcasts or streams from TV or radio stations, such as the BBC. Someday it may be able to do all of these things, or it may not. We'll have to wait and see.

The Reg verdict

So is Chromecast worth buying? Even at $35, that depends. As one friend put it when I described Chromecast to her, "So it's for people who don't have Xboxes?"

Pretty much. Depending on your equipment, you may already have gear that can do what Chromecast does, and more. My LG 47LM8600 smart TV, for example, comes with apps for streaming from Netflix and YouTube – and Amazon, too – right out of the box. So does my Blu-Ray player.

My TV doesn't have an app for Google Play, but I was surprised to notice that when I went to stream Google Play content, my TV showed up in the device list, too, right below the Chromecast. That is, my smart TV can apparently already do what Chromecast does, all by itself. Who knew?2

On the other hand, most people have yet to spring for a smart TV, and even an Xbox 360 will set you back $200 in the US. If all you have is a dumb display that has HDMI input, $35 is quite a bargain for an upgrade that will give your set some of the most important features of internet-enabled smart TVs. If you were thinking of subscribing to Netflix and could use the three free months, all the better.1

Then again, I'm not sure Chromecast would be worth much more than $35, given its limited feature set. I expect it won't be long before the competition counters Google's move with new devices at similar price points.

And maybe that's the most significant thing about Chromecast, really. In years to come, we may look back on the launch of this little device as the moment that defined a new era, one in which TV and the internet are inextricably intertwined – not just for enthusiasts, early adopters, and people with money to burn, but for everybody. ®

Updates

1. We learned late on Thursday that the Chromecast launch has been so successful that Google has sold out of its Netflix promotion. Customers who placed their Chromecast preorders before 5:31pm Pacific time on Thursday will still receive their vouchers for three free months of Netflix. Customers who placed their orders later won't. 

2. In the review, I said that I was able to stream Google Play content from a tablet to my TV by pressing the Cast button even without the Chromecast plugged in. I was mistaken. That works for Netflix and YouTube on my set, but it doesn't work with Google Play. So even if you own a smart TV, Chromecast will still add Google Play capabilities to your set (unless, of course, your TV or set-top box includes Google TV, in which case you could stream from Google Play already).

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Chromecast: We get our SWEATY PAWS on Google's tiny telly pipe

Google's Chromecast is an easy-to-use, inexpensive means to add streaming media to HDMI-enabled TVs ... and not much else. It's a bargain at the price, but you may wish for more.
Price: $35 (UK and international pricing TBD) RRP