Google just announced their new Chromecast device, a very small stick thing that plugs into your TV and allows you to play videos or music on your TV. It costs $35, and if you're a Netflix subscriber you'll get credited three months free, bringing the price essentially down to $11, so people are very excited about it.
So here's how Chromecast works: you start streaming a video on your phone, tablet or computer's browser. If it is a particular kind of video--for example a Netflix video--there will be a little button you can press. Hit that button and you'll get a little popup saying "would you like to play this on your TV?" (I'm paraphrasing here). Say yes and your TV will start playing that video instead of your phone/tablet/browser. Your TV is blank throughout this whole process, until you say "yes"--you do all your searching and browsing and selecting on some other gadget. This process doesn't really have a name, as far as I know, so I'm going to call it "slinging." It's different than streaming; the Netflix app on your phone streams Netflix videos, but Chromecast lets you sling those videos to your TV. You can sling the stream, see? For example, AirPlay, which you can use on the Apple TV, is a slinging feature.
In our haste to crown a gadget the king of its category simply because it's the newest member of that category, we sometimes forget about the humble, older gadgets that might still be the better fit for most customers.
The interesting thing about the Chromecast is that it isolates a single feature found in some other streaming TV products, eliminates everything else, and cuts the price and size down. Apple TV has a Chromecast in it, essentially, but the Chromecast eliminates 90 percent of what the Apple TV can do and cuts the price by two-thirds. Google thinks that one feature, the slinging feature, is enough to carry its product.
Google isn't necessarily wrong; the idea is that you can offload lots of the stuff you'd normally do with a remote while looking at the TV to your phone. Instead of click-click browsing on your TV, you just browse on your phone. Instead of having to support yet another version of apps like Netflix and Youtube for the TV, Google can just say screw it, use the ones on your phone. This makes sense!
But there are lots of obstacles to adoption. The first and maybe most important is that this is very simply not how most people are used to watching things on their TVs. Apple TV and Roku and Xbox are familiar because they're not really that far removed from the way we've been watching TV for decades before the internet came along. Apps are really just channels; in fact, Roku calls its apps "channels." Pick up the remote, click over to the channel you want, click over to the show or movie you want, play. It takes very little learning.
The concept of slinging, in which you play content on your phone before magically beaming it via Wi-Fi to a stick plugged into your TV--that's at least one alien new step that most people haven't messed around with, and alien new steps are always major barriers to mainstream adoption.
Another major problem is that I simply do not trust Google to develop the Chromecast in the way it needs to be developed for its vision to succeed. It's confusing at the moment! You can sling content to the Chromecast with any of several devices--iPhone, Android phone, laptop running the Chrome browser--but they can't all play all types of videos. Right now, the Chromecast only supports Netflix and Youtube through all of those. If you sling content to the Chromecast with an Android phone or tablet, you can use the music and video app that plays stuff you've got on your phone (for example, a TV show you've bought and downloaded from the Google Play store, or an album you've synced onto your phone from your computer). With a computer using the Chrome browser, Google says you can sling "any video content," be it Hulu, HBO Go, or something else entirely. Assuming that's true--which is a big assumption, given the wildly divergent types of video players and security for those video players on the web--it requires that people control their TVs with their computers. People generally do not like doing this, otherwise we'd all just plug our computers directly into our TVs.
If that sounds confusing, I've sort of proved my point. This is confusing!
Google also has a spectacularly lousy history of supporting its TV products; if you can actually remember what the Google TV and Nexus Q even were, I'd be surprised, and if you own either, I'd assume you're also a professional gadget reviewer who received a free one from Google. Google says they're releasing an SDK (software developer's kit) so that the developers who make video apps like Hulu and HBO Go can make their iPhone and Android apps work with the Chromecast--but will they? I wouldn't put my money on it, even if it's a pretty small amount of money.
And that also completely ignores the pleasure of navigating a pretty interface on a TV. Apple TV and even Roku, lately, have turned their interfaces into something pretty special. Browsing through one of these devices shows huge movie posters and album art; metadata like directors, actors, and plot synopses; and beautiful animations. Compare that to the Chromecast experience: pick up your phone and scroll through a tiny app. Why use your giant TV if you're not going to use it to its fullest? And imagine the awkwardness of browsing and selecting a title if you're not alone. What do you do, read out the titles to your guests as you scroll through on your phone? Does everyone crowd around you? Do you just take control like a living-room despot?
The main draw of the Chromecast is its price, which is admittedly absurdly cheap. But, um, the Roku HD, which has a lovely interface, universal search, and support for hundreds of apps, costs $50 on Amazon. It doesn't have a slinging feature like Chromecast or Apple TV's Airplay, that's true, but it does have Plex, which sucks up all of the videos on any computer in your house and organizes them by category and title, pulling in all that delicious metadata from online databases so you can browse by cover art.
The Apple TV costs $95 on Amazon--a lot more money, sure. But you get a lot more for your money (great interface, stellar hardware, support for the enormously popular Apple store, the combination of apps and a slinging feature), and it's also important to remember that these gadgets can help you get rid of cable entirely. An Apple TV costs about as much as one month's worth of cable. Suck it up, guys. It's not that expensive.
This isn't to say that I'm not excited by Chromecast; I think slinging is exceptionally cool, and I think it's great that this hardware so cheap and small. But I don't necessarily think that a device that does exclusively slinging, no matter how cheap it is, is a viable option for most people. It's best as part of a larger whole.
That larger whole will come, soon enough. It's a fun thought experiment to make a sort of frankengadget out of all of the devices; I want the Roku's ease of use and depth of content, the Apple TV's speed and beautiful interface, the Chromecast's device-agnostic beaming capabilities, the Boxee's live TV addition, and, hell, while I'm at it, I want the sports content from good old cable TV. And I want it for $100. Soon enough someone'll do this. But if you're going to cut the cord, you need more features to make up, not fewer.
90 percent of what the AppleTV can do? It's just a bunch of apps right? If developers latch on to this and enable their apps to work with the interface, chromecasting can easily start doing way more than and AppleTV or Roku.
The way I see it, I don't think Google is trying to make the Chromecast the ONLY gadget you use for your viewing pleasure. I think it is intended (judging by the price and the features) to simply give those who want the "sling" feature a way to get it without having to buy a whole new TV or Console. I own both Roku and Logitech Review (Google TV) and I would probably still buy this gadget because it allows me to show what I have on my phone or tablet sort of spur-of-the-moment. By making the device so cheap, it allows people like me to buy it even if we don't think we're going to be using it every day.
Also, I don't know which phone you have, but I like my phone (Samsung Galaxy S3) and I do almost everything with it. I don't use my laptop much anymore, and my desktop is pretty much only gathering dust. There have been many times when I see something originally on my phone (e.g. a movie trailer, a youtube video) and then I wanted to show someone else on the big screen. It is still a pain to hunt down that particular video using Google TV, and almost impossible using Roku (try typing down the title of a video in Roku).
Most TVs today have the ability to stream Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu out of the box. Where is the need for a dongle to do the exact same thing?
GoogleTV makes sense because it takes over as the UI for the TV. With no local streaming, this product feels like crippleware.
The definition of local streaming is changing. Some of the newer local streaming devices can be (software) upgradable to support this stick.
I fully intend on buying one of these. I've never been a huge fan of streaming videos from my computer to my TV, but for $35 ($11 after the Netflix savings) is certainly worth it for the odd time I do want to watch a movie on a TV rather than my PC.
Western Digital Multimedia player device, ....... Hello?!
Which WD product is $35?
Pretty much all I do is stream content from my tablet to my TV. I currently do this via the DoubleTwist app for Android and stream it to my Xbox. I'm one of those people who doesn't have money to spend a lot on a TV so I just have a basic TV that doesn't have built in apps. For 35$ this seems like it will make streaming way less painful for me.
.... I just connected my TV to my computer with a splitter. I just use the TV like a second (giant) monitor. no need for a fancy gadget.
and since the computer has its regular monitor; my wife can watch her tv shows, and i can surf the web or vice versa.
just one of us needs to wear headphones ... lol
gave 3 rokus away and went to LG blurays .
just works better and never re-buffers like roku did.
and the picture is so much better
You hit it on the head, this is not a "Stand alone" system thats goal is to replace appletv, i think this is a perfect device with a awesome price, i think the author of this article might be a bit of a Apple fanboy with all thje poo pooing of this. that or hes just not that imaginative...
Yup, electronics with time just gets better in quality and cheaper in price. I have a Western Digital Multi Media player and really enjoy all the options of its apps and all the wide variety of different media formats it allows to to network to my TV. At the time I bought mine was $79. Which yes is more than $35, of course, but it does a lot more too. I am sure WD will come out with better devices in the future too.
For $35 this would be great to have in a carry on bag. Hotel room TV's have a USB port, and I wouldn't be limited to their $16 movies on demand, or reruns.
I completely agree with this article.
I think the people who buy this are overestimating its capabilities. It will disappoint them tremendously.
Yes its cheap, but cheap is not the only consideration in most cases.
I have nothing against WD. They make good products; I use/like their products. As for the price comparison, there are competitively priced products and then there are products that are extremely cheap yet can provide amazing functionality. WD makes competitively priced products. On the other hand devices like Chromecast of Raspberry Pi are outclassing every other devices both in price and feature set they offer. I take offence with the word crippleware; Chromecast is not a crippleware, it is made on a platform where a huge number of developers are working, it is only a matter of time that app/web developers will enable their products to be compatible with Chromecast. I have a feeling that local media streaming server making companies like WD will enable their streaming server devices to work with Google Chromecast; that will be in their best interest.
I get the feeling this is just a MK802 but I'll try it hoping I can root it or use it some way. In the end I suspect it will end up at Goodwill along with other junk.
I think the article is misleading about the capabilities of chromecast. I went through the chromecast details. The the device can in fact stream popular services like netflix, youtube on its own. But the you only control it from some other device. once the video starts you can shut down your device. Where the device doesn't have an app for a service you can (with limitations) stream from other devices. I am debating between this and some no-brand android stick kind of device. But at this price point and brand support this is definitely an interesting option.
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I saw the teardown on ifixit. It is a neat little device. It made me think of an Rpi with XBMC. I wonder if one of the longer term plans are have 'Chromecast' Apps which will sell content. Too bad HDMI ports do have power like USB ports. That USB power line is another outlet. Google appears to be trying to help out American high Tech again. I saw Micron Flash and DRAM in it. Micron is still headquartered in the US and actually manufactures a percentage of its chips in the US.
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this article is a horrible analysis of the chromecast. first of all comparing it to the apple tv is stupid. the apple tv is like the chromecast only until you realize that you can only stream your apple products to your tv. and as far as apps go what people are missing is that not only is the chromecast more than capable of catching up to roku in this category because remember, roku once started with very few apps just like every other set top box. but the chromecast doesnt even need those apps to easily beat both apple tv and roku in the amount of things it can do, all it needs is the chrome browser on your computer and then you can do everything on the internet without any restrictions or having to wait for any apps to become available. not only that but through chrome on your computer it can sling your entire desktop to the tv and do anything you can do on your desktop. also the tab slinging is in beta and the desktop slinging is experimental so once these two services are perfected then it is likely that they will be added to the chrome app for mobile devices. and even without tab slinging and desktop slinging going for it, it is only a matter of time until the apps build up and catch up to roku and apple tv.
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