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Google Chromecast - A Tiny, Affordable HDMI Media Streaming Dongle

By Ng Chong Seng - 22 Aug 2013

Introduction & Setup


Google Chromecast: Plug It In, Set It Up, Watch

Launched last month, Google’s positioning of the Chromecast is that it’s the easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV. It may sound simple, but when you think about it, that’s a pretty bold claim. Right now, there are two main ways to get online content onto the TV or sound system. One is to do it through a media player that offers support for online content services out of the box (some of them even run on Android, which effectively guarantees future service expandability). The other way is to ditch the external box solution altogether, and go straight to a Smart TV that has the required services built in. However, beyond the techies and those who bother to go the extra steps to learn how to use them, the vast majority still rely on their trusty PC with its familiar mouse/keyboard combo for their (insert name of online entertainment service here) fix.

Simply put, the Google Chromecast is an HDMI streaming media dongle.


'Set Me Up'

In a nutshell, the Chromecast is something that you plug to your TV, which you then stream content to it by way of supported apps and services. But unlike the many media players out there, there’s neither a puck nor cable to deal with, since the Chromecast is a little stick that plugs directly into the TV’s HDMI port.

Towards the back of the Chromecast you’ll find an LED status indicator, a micro-USB port (a USB cable is bundled in the box), and a small little button for resetting for the device (you got to hold it down for at least 25 seconds). The USB cable isn’t for connecting the Chromecast to a laptop or smartphone; rather, it’s to connect the Chromecast to an available USB port on the TV to get power. While it’d be totally awesome if this power cable isn’t needed, the hard truth is that an HDMI port usually doesn’t provide enough juice to keep the Chromecast running. (The HDMI spec specifies at least 55mA on the 5V line, though some source devices’ ports may deliver more.) In fact, because power over the 5V line for a USB port also depends on the manufacturer’s implementation, Google’s recommendation is to connect the Chromecast’s USB cable to the supplied wall-wart-type USB power adapter (which outputs 850mA over 5.1V). And that was exactly what we did, since none of the USB ports on our 55-inch Samsung UA55F8000 LED TV played nice with the Chromecast; which is strange, since the TV has a USB port capable of 1A. Yes, the slight cable clutter now diminishes the appeal of the Chromecast a little bit, but hey, at least there's no extra box on the TV console.

(In case you’re wondering, would moving to the connector-agnostic MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) spec solve this power problem? In theory, yes, since the current MHL 2 spec can go all the way up to 900mA over the 5V line (and even more in the near future with MHL 3.0). But the Chromecast doesn’t support MHL. We can only guess that cost is one factor; another is the still-very-small number of TVs equipped with MHL-HDMI.)

In addition, the Chromecast supports HDMI-CEC. So if the dongle is powered, but the TV is turned off, casting a video will power on the TV, switch the input, and begin playback automatically. How cool is that?

Most of the accessories that come with the Chromecast are longer than the stick itself. They include a fairly long micro-USB-to-USB cable, a short HDMI extension cable (just in case the area around your TV's HDMI port doesn't have enough clearance), and a USB power adapter.

At one end of the Chromecast stick lie the micro-USB port and a physical button that can be used for resetting the device.

Once the Chromecast is plugged in, it’s time to get it onto your Wi-Fi network (oh, only 2.4GHz networks are supported). This is done via a setup app that’s available for Android, Windows, and Mac. You’ll know where to download this app, since the URL is plastered on the flap of the Chromecast’s packaging box, as well as on the TV screen after you plugged in the dongle.

Don't know what to do after plugging in and powering up the Chromecast? Don't worry, it'll remind you.

In essence, the Chromecast will initially create its own wireless network, and the app will find it and join it automatically. Through the app, you then select the wireless network Chromecast should join, and enter the credentials. You can also give a new name to Chromecast. Once everything is properly configured, your device will join back the network it was connected to previously, and the Chromecast will connect to the network you’ve selected.

Those paying attention will realize that we didn’t mention iOS support above. To be clear, Chromecast supports iPhones, iPads, and iPods running at least iOS 6 - just that at the moment, there isn’t an iPhone or iPad setup app yet. So setup has to be done through mobile Safari. The steps are roughly the same, with the exception that you’ve to connect the iOS device to the Chromecast network at the beginning, and then change back towards the end manually. Also, without an app, it can be inconvenient should you wish to change the network, rename Chromecast, or remote reboot/reset it down the road. (Update (August 28, 2013): Google has released the iOS app on the App Store.)

There's also another problem for Android users - more specifically, Android users outside of the U.S. Because Chromecast isn't available in other regions, you won't be able to download the Chromecast app from your country's Google Play Store. The easiest workaround is to find the APK file and install it manually on your device; and we've found plenty of caring U.S. Android users who have shared that file online.

Setup typically involves downloading and running an app, which finds the Chromecast and programs it with the info you enter (such as which Wi-Fi network to join and its password). The setup app is also useful down the road when you want to change the settings, or remote reboot/reset the device. Shown here is the Mac setup app.
For Android, the setup app is found on the Google Play Store. Because the app is region-locked, if you're residing outside of the U.S, you need to get your hands on the APK file. The Android setup app essentially does the same things as the desktop setup apps.
At the moment, there isn't an iPhone or iPad setup app yet. So you'll have to configure Chromecast through the mobile Safari browser. Again, the steps involved are similar to the Android and desktop setup apps; though without a native app, it's a hassle to change any settings later on. Of course, when that need arises, you can always do it on the desktop.

When you see this screen, you're ready to rock and roll. Just for your info, there are 11 beautiful wallpapers that the Chromecast will cycle through automatically.

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  • Design 8.5
  • Performance 8
  • Features 8
  • Value 9
The Good
Super-compact media streamer
Affordable price
Optimized content have impressive image quality
Able to cast almost anything that's in a Chrome browser tab
The Bad
Supports 2.4GHz networks only
Native mobile app support limited at the moment
Tab casting glitchy at times
Requires USB power (cable clutter not totally eliminated)
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