Friday, April 3, 2015

Chromecast Review

If you've been following my posts, you know that I have cut the cable. I'll never have Comcast again. But I did miss my movies, which prompted me to look for alternative solutions. Netflix is a good option, but, I will admit, I can be moody, and sometimes I just can't find what I want. Plus, you can't get current seasons of your favorite shows. Netflix's movie selection has historically been so so, but lately it has been pretty good.  

Enter Chromecast. A tiny device that allows you to stream content from the web to your TV. It turns any TV into a smart TV. 

There are actually a lot of devices that will allow you to access streaming content on the web. In fact, some TVs and Blu-Ray players actually come with apps built-in. And there are devices like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV that all offer similar features. However the two that seem to pack the most punch are Apple TV and Chromecast. 

Apple came out with it's product several years ago, they were the first to hit the market, allowing you to interface your TV with you Mac an iOS devices. But the catch is, you really have to have a Mac to get the full benefit. Apple TV turns your TV into a smart TV allowing you to utilize various apps to watch movies, TV shows and sports. In addition, Air Play allows you to play content from any of your iOS devices or Macs. 

Roku and Amazon Fire TV are very similar to each other and similar to Apple TV in some respects, however not all apps are available on each platform. In addition, Roku and Amazon offer limited ability to play local content from your PC, and none at all from your handheld device. Of course there are benefits and drawbacks to any choice.

Chromecast allows you to stream from apps just like the others, but it's interface is your handheld smart device:  be it iOS or Android. The apps are installed on you iPhone or Android phone for example, and when you open the app, a tiny icon appears at the top which you select to begin "casting." I don't fully understand the technology yet, but the iPhone simply sets up the connection with Chromecast, and then hands it off to your network:  it simply tells it where to play. The streaming comes directly from your wifi network allowing you to still utilize your device with full functionality. You can initiate a cast and then talk on the phone or surf the net while watching your program. These are all really great features but the two main features that sold me were the compatible apps, and the ability to cast a tab of Chrome from your PC.

When I was shopping, I noticed that all of them offered HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu, but only Chromecast offered SHO Anytime, Starz Play, Encore Play and Epix. Since I'm really a movie guy, this was a big benefit.

Casting a tab of Chrome....? Google offers a free extension to their browser Chrome that will allow you to cast a tab to your TV. That means you literally see whatever is on that tab, which is great for content that doesn't have an app you can cast from. And it offers a free app for your PC that allows you to cast your own video. The one thing that Chromecast doesn't come with is a remote (since you use your own device). This could be a drawback, even a deal breaker for some, but not for me. I'm fine with using my iPhone.

It's ironic that Chromecast offers the most and cost the least. At just $35, it undersells (and in my opinion outperforms) the competition.

So far this is the best $35 I have spent in years when it comes to entertainment. And I have only begun to scratch the surface. I have only downloaded a few apps and am only beginning to learn what kind of tips, tricks and hacks there are out there for Chromecast.