Chromecast: Stream Anything to Your TV for $35

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eHow Tech Blog

It’s no secret that the way we watch video has changed enormously in just the last few years. Great television shows like AMC’s Breaking Bad and Netflix’s Arrested Development are often binge-watched, with viewers gorging on multiple episodes consecutively on their laptops via streaming services like Netflix. And you can easily spend hours on YouTube if a friend sends you one cat video;  you think you’re committing two minutes of your life, and eventually find that you’ve been sucked into a vortex of Louis C.K. stand-up clips and talk show interviews. (Or maybe that’s just me). This is often as good of an entertainment experience as any, but can sometimes feel ridiculous if you’re hunched over a laptop or watching on your smartphone.

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Good news: Last week, binging became a lot more aesthetically pleasing thanks to a little something from Google. I’m talking about a tiny 2.8-inch long, $35 dongle called Chromecast. The gadget, which plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, connects to your Wi-Fi network and turns any of your devices — smartphone, tablet, or laptop — into a sort of remote control for streaming whatever video you wish to your television screen.

How does it work?

Setting up Chromecast only takes a couple of minutes. You simply insert the stick into your one of your TV’s HDMI ports and plug the power supply into a nearby outlet (or, if your TV has one, plug it into a USB port for power). And after installing the Chromecast app on your device, you’re ready to start watching.

Chromecast doesn’t work the way you’d expect, though. It isn’t streaming content from your laptop, phone, or tablet to the TV. Instead, if you use your phone to select, say, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Chromecast goes online and starts streaming it from the cloud. Your phone? It’s now a fancy remote, which you can use to play, pause, and rewind. If you want to, you can turn your phone off entirely and the show will continue playing through your Chromecast as if nothing has happened.

Streaming from Netflix and from Google’s own properties, like YouTube, is extremely easy: Those services have one-click buttons to “cast” to your TV. Chromecast is not yet compatible with many other streaming services, like iTunes, Amazon, or Hulu — on tablets or phones, that is. If you’re using a computer, you can stream anything you see in a Chrome browser tab to the Chromecast. That means you can play very nearly anything on your TV, from video to music and everything in between, as long as you can see it in your Chrome browser. That makes it pretty easy to work around the temporary dearth of apps that don’t already have the ability to cast built in.

The bottom line: for $35, Chromecast turns your ordinary HDTV into a “smart” TV, capable of streaming all manner of content from the Internet.

How is it different from an HDMI cable or Apple’s AirPlay?

What distinguishes Chromecast from other products (such as AppleTV’s AirPlay), is its ability to work with just about any device you own, from laptops to iOS and Android phones and tablets.

Can you really stream anything? Even Hulu?

For now, if you’re connecting to Chromecast with your computer, you can stream pretty much everything — even HBO Go and Hulu. Early reviewers, though, have complained that Hulu doesn’t stream as smoothly or consistently as they would like. Chromecast also streams music services such as Pandora and Spotify.

Can you travel with Chromecast?

While Chromecast was built to be portable, in practice it can’t really be used just anywhere. You can easily use it in different TV’s in your own home, and even some locales on the road. But Chromecast only works with networks which allow device to device communication. This means that many hotels are not going to be especially Chromecast-friendy unless you set up your own WI-Fi hotspot in your hotel room by connecting an inexpensive travel router to your laptop.

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