The Google Chromecast is one of the best gadgets to come out in recent years. The low-cost dongle turns any TV into a smart TV, so you can watch YouTube or Netflix on the big screen while controlling it from the smartphone in your hand.
But that’s not all that it does, there are plenty of other reasons to love Chromecast. You can cast any movie, music, or photo from your Mac’s hard drive to the big screen, use it to mirror your iPhone or iPad to your TV, and can play mobile games on your TV. It’s just a matter of knowing which apps and tools can do it.
What You Will Need
- Any Mac computer: I haven’t tested it with Hackintosh builds, but it should work the same.
- An active Wi-Fi connection: Make sure both the Chromecast and the Mac are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, and that neither is running a VPN.
- Chrome and Chromecast extension: While it’s not needed for everything, it will help to have the Chrome browser and its Chromecast extension.
How to Stream Movies from Mac to Chromecast
Let’s start with movies, since that’s what the Chromecast excels at. With Internet-based movies, you can make Chromecast into a media center for your TV. But things are a little different for locally stored files. You should check out two apps to do this.
The best and simplest app to stream videos to Chromecast is Airflow. The interface is so easy to use that you’ll master it in seconds. Just drag-and-drop or add your videos, choose the right Chromecast, and click play.
Airflow is completely free, supports playlists, and plays a wide range of movie files with ease. You get preview thumbnails in the playback bar, so you can see exactly which part of the movie you’re skipping to. It includes hardware-accelerated transcoding, outstanding subtitle support, and supports surround sound. You can also customize the audio, video, and subtitles to get everything just the way you like it.
Videostream (Free, In-App Purchases)
AirFlow is missing a companion mobile app, and it doesn’t remember your last playback point. If those are important for you, check out Videostream for Chromecast, a browser-based app for Chrome.
Videostream is a freemium app, which means some of its features are free, but you’ll have to pay for others. In the free version, you can’t make playlists or change the appearance of subtitles. And well, it runs in Chrome, which some consider a poor browser choice on OS X.
How to Stream Music from Mac to Chromecast
Your MacBook, like most laptops, kicks out a fairly low volume from its built-in speakers. We’ve talked about a few ways to fix Mac audio, but using external speakers (or headphones) is almost always the best idea.
If your TV’s connected speakers are better than what your Mac has, then it could makes sense to use that. As long as you have a Chromecast connected, you can stream your Mac’s audio to the TV. This means you can use Apple Music from iTunes on Mac, but hear it all through the TV’s speakers (or a fancy surround sound system).
Here’s what you need to do:
- Download and install Soundflower, which allows Mac apps to pass their audio to other apps.
- Download Soundcast (free).
- Double-click the Soundcast .ZIP file to extract the contents.
- Drag-and-drop Soundcast.app to your Applications folder.
- Double-click the Soundcast application to run it.
You will now see the Soundcast icon in your OS X menu bar. Click it to see the Cast to option in the drop-down menu. Choose the appropriate Chromecast and you’re good to go. Now, any audio from your Mac computer will be played through your TV’s speakers. So feel free to use any app — iTunes, Spotify, even YouTube in a browser.
Unfortunately, Soundcast does not support album art or lyrics, so you won’t get a cool display on your TV. Bummer!
How to Stream Photos from Mac to Chromecast
Despite OS X having the wonderful new iPhotos for Mac or plenty of other great photo apps, not one of them supports Chromecast. In fact, there is no Mac app that lets you stream photos to the TV using Chromecast. To do this, you’ll need to rely on a Chrome app called PictaCast (free). Yup, you’re trapped in Chrome and there’s nothing you can do.
Install and start PictaCast. Things are easy from there. You’ll see two distinct options: Add Folder and Add Music. Point PictaCast to the folder with your photos, and add a track from your local music library. Choose the appropriate Chromecast from the Chrome extension. Just like that, PictaCast will start playing the images from the folder on your TV.
PictaCast is surprisingly customizable. You can set your images to fit to the screen in full-screen mode, shuffle them for a random order, or choose from four different types of picture walls. You can also control the speed at which it flips to the next photo, and choose to display file name and time. And there’s the option of rotating the screen too!
Other users in your room can install PictaCast on their phone. They can then add their own photos to the slideshow, which is a great way to share photos in a gathering.
The free version of PictaCast is restricted to 30 minutes of usage per day, while the $3 paid version lifts this limit.
Download: Pictacast for Chromecast (Free)
One App to Rule Them All: Plex
All the above apps focus on being simple and easy-to-use. But if you have the time to set it up, then Plex can manage movies, music, and photos from a single app. It’s a little difficult to master if you’re a complete novice, but the end result is worth it.
Once you download and install it, you’ll have to set up Plex and add movie, music, and image libraries from your local drives. It’s a process that is best explained in our guide to making a Plex media server.
Plex supports myriad file formats, works across platforms, and is free for basic personal use. It also scrapes information from the Internet to add things like movie synopsis, album art, lyrics, subtitles, and more.
But again, Plex requires the Chrome web browser and the Chromecast extension, since it’s a browser-based app.
Chromecast vs. Apple TV
Not everyone who owns a Mac has an Apple TV. Plus, it costs over four times what you’ll pay for the Chromecast. So we want to hear from users who have both a Chromecast and an Apple TV.
Is the Chromecast a worthy “cheap option” to the Apple TV? Have any MakeUseOf readers out there bought both?