Smart TVs such as the Vizio E320i-A0 smart TV can be a great addition to any room in your house. But what if you just got a shiny new not-so-smart TV or don’t want to spend that much money on another one? Have no fear, because there is a much cheaper way to turn your dumb TV into a smarter TV.
We’re giving away a Google Chromecast, so read through our review, then join the competition to win!
Introducing the Chromecast
Google recently released the Chromecast, a small dongle that will teach your TV some new tricks for just $35. Smart TVs consist of apps that can provide you online entertainment without having to connect your computer to the TV. The Chromecast tries to flexibly replicate this functionality at a lower cost. As you’ll see, it’s not a perfect replacement but it’s a great middle ground.
The Chromecast comes in very simple packaging. Within, you’ll find the dongle, a USB to microUSB cord, and a USB power supply. The cord is needed because the dongle needs a power source to operate — the HDMI specification doesn’t supply sufficient power. While Google recommends that you use the power supply, it shouldn’t really matter. You can plug it into any nearby USB port and it’ll work just fine. The only gripe I have here is that (in my case) the cord seems to be rather short. An available power outlet would have to be pretty close by.
Setting Up the Chromecast
Once you’ve plugged it into your TV and connected the USB cord, the dongle will automatically turn on. Make sure your TV is set to the correct input source, and you should see a screen informing you to visit a certain website to set everything up. Following the instructions is pretty easy — after loading the wizard, you connect to the WiFi network that the Chromecast creates, tell it which home WiFi network it should connect to (via the wizard), and then switch back to your normal network. I’ve noticed that the Chromecast is rather picky about your WiFi networks, so make sure that it isn’t very restrictive and that it’s actually a full-featured network rather than a hotspot or something. This device is really meant for home use.
The Chromecast works by receiving “Cast” information from another device via a WiFi network. Cast information can come from various sources, including a Chrome browser tab, or Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play from your Nexus or iOS device. The list of supported media is definitely short, but the device is still rather new so I’m sure that the list will grow over time. Pandora and Hulu Plus support are already on the way. Again, the Chromecast tends to be picky about the WiFi network it connects to. While the Chromecast doesn’t use the Internet for Casting purposes, it does still require an Internet connection so that it can check for firmware updates.
Once you’ve successfully connected the Chromecast to your WiFi network, you can use the Chromecast app on Android or the Google Cast extension for Chrome to connect to your Chromecast. Once it has found the Chromecast on the network, you can Cast whatever is on your screen with a single tap/click to your television.
Living With the Chromecast
Performance depends on what you’re using to Cast with. If you’re using an Android or iOS device for YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play, then your performance will be fantastic with smooth frame rates and high-quality audio. However, if you’re Casting from your computer, you’ll see decreased performance in video and audio. This is because the Chromecast extension for Chrome has to take the equivalent of a screencast and send it to the Chromecast — doing this requires a lot of work for the computer. Even with my decent Ivy Bridge Core i7 laptop, videos were stuttering quite a bit. The laptop fan was also spinning in high gear.
This functionality may seem a lot like a simple HDMI connection from a laptop to your TV, but there are a few advantages and disadvantages that the Chromecast provides compared to a direct HDMI connection. First, it is a lot easier to cast from your Android device as you won’t have to buy a special microUSB-to-HDMI cable. Second, unlike a direct HDMI connection, you’re free to roam around your house so long as you’re still connected to the WiFi network. Additionally, since you can choose to only cast a specific tab in Chrome, you’re free to do anything else on your computer so long as you keep the tab you’re casting open (it can be minimized just fine). With a direct HDMI connection, you’ll have to keep your laptop right next to the TV, and you won’t be able to work on anything else on your computer without setting up a tricky dual-monitor setup. Plenty of full-screen applications also tend to exit full-screen mode whenever you click somewhere in your second screen — that defeats the purpose.
The main disadvantage to using Chromecast is that you can’t cast anything you want. While most content is now available online, you’re out of luck if you want to cast anything else, such as your desktop or a locally stored movie (or DVD, if you still use those). The Chromecast is certainly useful for online applications, but that usefulness disappears completely for any other needs. Additionally, if you’re casting from your computer, you can only show webpages or full-screen content if the video player is HTML5 — going full-screen with a Flash-based video player won’t work.
I think that the Chromecast does a good job of providing faux Smart TV functionality, but I don’t think it would replace an actual Smart TV. With Smart TVs, you have access to far more content via native apps — the only advantage a Chromecast would have here is if you like to cast regular webpages or if you use an online media service that doesn’t have an app on your Smart TV. If those advantages don’t strongly apply to you, then getting a Chromecast would be a waste of money.
Chromecast’s biggest competitor is by far Apple’s AirPlay technology that you can find in iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, most newer Macs, and plenty of third-party products. This early in Chromecast’s existence, I definitely have to say that AirPlay is better because it is a lot more prevalent, a lot more flexible, and the technology has matured longer. If you don’t own any Apple products at all, then I’d probably suggest getting a Chromecast if you’re interested in it, but if you’re already using Apple products and AirPlay, then stick with that — you’re not missing out on anything yet.
Should You Buy A Chromecast?
Despite the Chromecast’s young age, there are already a few other alternatives worth checking out. A service called CheapCast is meant to duplicate the capabilities of the Chromecast, but it still lacks some crucial features such as Netflix mirroring. It works by using a spare Android device as a faux-Chromecast “receiver” that is then connected to your TV via some sort of HDMI connection. Owners of a Raspberry Pi can also get PiCast, which seems to be a simple network-based mirroring solution. It’s far from complete, but it’s certainly a budding project. Both of these are free to use (minus the cost of the spare Android device or Raspberry Pi).
Chromecast is a fantastic idea and a tool that works, but it still needs a lot more support and development before it can become a true AirPlay contender. Maybe in a year’s time, it’ll have the capabilities and support to do everything AirPlay can.
How do I win the Chromecast?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, October25. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.