Chromecast: Thoughts and First Impressions

Posted on July 29, 2013

I got my Chromecast yesterday and, after playing with it for a bit, I have some thoughts and first impressions.

Thoughts

First, I think coverage of Chromecast is missing a key point: For many Android users (particularly for the Apple refugees among us), this little dongle removes a big thorn from our collective sides.

When Chromecast came out, the very first thing I did was unplug the Apple TV from my surround sound receiver and put the Chromecast in its place.

Why, as a Google and Android fan, do I have an Apple TV? Simple. As a cable-cutter, it was the easiest way to get movies delivered to my TV on demand. Even after I made the switch from Apple to Android, Google didn’t have a viable replacement for many years. Google TV was meant to enhance cable–something I, and probably other technologists, didn’t care about–instead of creating a streaming set-top box. Even after Google Play built its content offerings to the point it could rival iTunes, they still didn’t have a set-top box platform anyone was convinced would survive big-Google’s capriciousness. So I continued buying content from iTunes, living without a vertically-integrated experience or a single home for my digital possessions.

Chromecast changes that. Now I can finally buy and rent movies and shows on Google, and enjoy being able to see them on my computer, device, or home theater system, delivering on Play’s promise of “your content anywhere, any time,” and allowing me to leave the Apple’s walled garden altogether. I’m not sure journalists care but, as a user, this is a huge deal.

There are a lot of people talking about compatibility with Plex and other video streaming programs, but I think the sales reflect that Google successfully figured out the minimum viable product. I’d venture to guess the Netflix+Google Play combo takes knocks out 90% of use cases. New movies and shows on Google Play, old movies and shows on Netflix. If Google Play can figure out a TV subscription model deal (like they have with music), you’ll see Hulu start to squirm…you may even see Hulu and/or Amazon hurry to support the API just so Google isn’t tempted to go after that market, because you just know Google would love to get those ad dollars. Everything else, to me at least, would just be icing on the proverbial cake.

Make no mistake, things will only get better from here. Google is an advertising agency disguised as a tech company, and if it can’t make its way onto your television, it’s leaving huge money behind. We have not seen big innovations on their part because they hadn’t gained any traction yet. Chromecast sales suggest they may have hit pay-dirt, so I reckon things are going to keep getting better from here.

First Impressions

Much ado has been made about how sleek the dongle looks in advertising images versus what it will look like for most users. Apparently, it only looks like the advertising images when you have a TV that supports HDMI v1.4 and above, which I guess supplies power to the cable. Otherwise, you have to use a USB charger or connect it to a USB port in your TV. I wasn’t worried to begin with, and was vindicated when I used every single attachment and the mega-dongle was swallowed whole by my AV setup. If you have anything beyond a basic HDTV, you’ll probably never notice.

I was amazed by how easy it was to set up. Just open the activation link in the browser, download the software or app, and you’re off to the races. Get the Chrome extension, and you’ll be flinging content to your Chromecast in seconds. If you keep your apps up to date, the requisite cast icons are already there.

Something that caught me by surprise is that the Chromecast can actually switch on my TV. It’s a small thing that has been possible for a long time, but none of my other peripherals have successfully been able to turn on my TV…lemme tell ya, it’s surprisingly nice to have your AV system spring to life and show the content you want with the push of a single software button.

Also, you’re not streaming from your computer. Rather, you’re sending the cloud instructions to send your content to the dongle. The result is that everything looks super-crisp, especially YouTube content and the brand-new 1080p Netflix streaming.

Conclusions

The Chromecast, at $35, is a winner, even without the three months of Netflix. It’s simple to set up, fast, and incredibly smooth. Hopefully all the news about the device selling out will result in Google finally pouring some real effort into innovating television content, now that it appears to have a foothold in the market.

If you have any questions about the device, ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!