Access to more video services than Apple TV
No remote control
A very different beast to the Apple TV, Google’s tiny streaming media stick brings a wealth of internet video services to your television.
The Chromecast isn’t your typical set-top box, it’s simply a dongle that plugs into the HDMI input on your television. It draws power via a micro-USB port, connected to either your television’s USB port or the supplied AC adaptor. There’s no Ethernet port; instead it joins your home Wi-Fi network (802.11n, 2.4 GHz only).
Unlike the Apple TV, there’s no remote control in the box. The Chromecast is useless unless you have a computer, smartphone or tablet to stream video from. Compatible iOS apps display the Chromecast icon, similar to Apple’s AirPlay streaming ecosystem. For now Australians can watch YouTube, Google Play, EzyFlix, Quickflix, Plex and Foxtel Presto on the Chromecast, with the ABC’s iView on the way.
If you’re looking for an easy way to sneak into Netflix, the Chromecast is more troublesome than an Apple TV. It’s easy to change the DNS settings on an Apple TV to trick Netflix, but with a Chromecast you need to change them in your modem/router. You also need to edit your IP routing tables to block access to Google’s DNS servers, a feature that some modem/routers don’t support.
The Chromecast’s lack of a remote control means that viewers always need a computer or iGadget at hand, which is frustrating if you don’t want to hand over a device just so that children can watch internet video on the television.
The Chromecast’s strength is it provides access to third-party video services, especially subscription content. The Apple TV is an entertainment wasteland for Australians once you look beyond YouTube and the Apple ecosystem. Quickflix is aiming to be the first Aussie service on the Apple TV, hopefully by the end of the year, but third-party services are lining up to embrace the Chromecast.
You may argue that AirPlay streaming from iGadgets makes up for the Apple TV’s lack of third-party content, but this solution falls short when it comes to picture quality. AirPlay streaming is deliberately disabled in many iOS apps. Even if you use screen mirroring to send video from your iGadget to your television via the Apple TV, you’re only watching mobile-quality video on a big screen.
The Chromecast’s special trick is that it can stream video directly from the internet rather than using a smartphone or tablet as the middleman. For example, once you use the Netflix app on your iPhone to send video to the Chromecast, the Chromecast creates a direct link to the Netflix servers to pull down TV-quality video. It looks much better than if you’d sent mobile-quality video to the Apple TV via AirPlay. At this point, you can use your iGadget for other tasks, with the Netflix app running in the background as a remote control.
This improved quality is most noticeable on Netflix, because it delivers high-definition video and 5.1-channel surround sound to the Chromecast. The difference is much less striking with standard-definition Australian services like Presto or Quickflix, although Quickflix is preparing to offer HD video.
The Chromecast also supports screen mirroring, but only from Android devices at this stage. iGadget owners can mirror their screen to the Apple TV, which does a better job than the Chromecast with graphics-intensive apps such as Real Racing 3. You can also stream Chrome browser tabs to the Chromecast from your Mac or PC.
If you’re an Android owner secretly jealous of the AirPlay ecosystem, then Google’s Chromecast is the lounge room companion you’ve been waiting for. But even the Apple faithful may appreciate the Chromecast’s ability to bring non-Apple content to the big screen.