I’ve had Chromecast for a few days now and it really has me thinking about the potential of this device. I think the magic really lies in the fact that Google is letting developers “have at it.” Unlike Google TV, which never really evolved, I believe Chromecast is different, and it will evolve quickly.
Setup is pretty easy. Although Google has left the USB power cord out of most press pictures, it’s still a very compact device. Just pop it into your TV’s HDMI port and download a setup app called Chromecast to your phone or tablet. Chromecast (the device) at first broadcasts it’s own private WiFi network so your phone can find it. Once they are linked, your phone then “passes on” your home network’s WiFi credentials so Chromecast can take off on the internet on it’s own. From there on out, although it seems like your phone is directly communicating with the Chromecast, commands are really making their way from your handset to the back of your TV via the internet.
This can be an issue at times. A typical remote control talks directly to a device. But in this case Chromecast is at the mercy of your WiFi network and internet connection. For instance, one of the first videos I played was a previous purchase of Transformers saved in my Google Play Movies account.
It started playing beautifully in HD on my TV screen, but then for some reason the connection between Chromecast and my phone was lost.
Suddenly I couldn’t control the movie – it just kept playing as I tried to reconnect the two devices. I couldn’t stop or pause the movie until the two devices “saw” each other again.
Still, it’s this online syncing that also lets you press play on one device, like your phone, and pause on another, like your tablet. It’s not all that new – Apple TV and Roku have remote apps that work in the same way. I think the difference here is that it feels like you are actually “slinging” content from your phone since you are selecting the content to play from your phone and then it shows up on your screen. On Apple TV and Roku, the remote functions to select items on-screen.
I still can’t get over the potential of this device. The possibilities are basically unlimited. Since everything is happening on the backend, the Phone-to-Chromecast connection is super basic. In fact, I bet someone could come up with a way to “text” a URL to Chromecast and have it automatically pull up and play the associated video. Your phone isn’t doing the heavy lifting – it’s just a proxy.
Apple TV is all about apps on your iPad doing the work and sending the video to your TV screen, or apps on the actual Apple TV device, which have been few and far between, and very slow to roll out.
Apps can’t just “get” on Apple TV. There is no app store for that. Apple just surprises us when it feels like adding something new. It’s just the way they roll.
Google, and Android, is much more open. There’s no approval process keeping things from happening fast.
If I’m Sirius XM, there’s nothing keeping me from enabling Chromecast today – my app just needs to let Chromecast know the URL where to pull the streaming music from. Simple.
Let’s say Aereo really wanted to shake things up – they could have an app that’s Chromecast enabled. You select the channel you want to watch on your phone and boom, it’s displayed on your TV screen in HD glory. Again, this is so simple since Aereo doesn’t even need to build an app that streams video to your phone – it’s just an app that’s sending a URL command to Chromecast. Chromecast is actually pulling the video stream and displaying it on TV.
What if I’m a cable channel? I just make a secure HD stream available, plus an app that tells Chromecast how to pull up the stream. Again, super simple.
This paradigm shift is pretty important. You aren’t mirroring what’s happening on your tablet or phone, you are commanding from your tablet or phone.
I foresee Android apps that aggregate streaming web video links of TV stations, radio stations and live webcasts you can easily select from your phone and view on your TV through Chromecast.
Most of what I’ve mentioned above is somewhat possible with Roku or Apple TV, but other than the usual suspects, it’s been tough to see any innovation on those devices when it comes to pay services.
Chromecast is inherently simpler since I don’t need to build a separate on-screen TV app. In the end it’s just a conduit for streaming video, sort of like a cable box tuning in channels. Except these channels are coming from the internet.
The other side to all of this is that even if no one wants to cooperate with Google and Chromecast enable their services, anyone can “roll their own” with the Chrome Cast Extension.
I’ve already successfully tested it with Hulu, and it works like a charm. Apple fans will say this is already possible with a MacBook, Apple TV and screen mirroring. But there are two key differences here.
First, it only requires the desktop Chrome browser, so you are not limited to just one platform. Second, you can “cast” the contents of just a single Chrome tab to your TV and are free to continue using another tab or your computer to do something else, like word processing.
The hitch here is that if you want to watch full screen video it will take over your entire computer screen and you won’t be able to do anything else.
I double checked with Google, and when you are “casting” a tab, your computer is actually doing the heavy lifting and sending a video stream of the screen contents to your TV screen.
Combine the two ways Google is enabling customers to use Chromecast and that is what truly makes it have major game changing potential. Media companies are being forced to notice this new way of consuming content, and Google knows it.