The other way (and it’s the simpler way too) to cast content is to do it through apps on your smartphones or tablets. Currently, Cast-supported mobile apps include YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Play Music, with Pandora coming soon. Using them is just like how you’d with Cast-optimized sites: find the content, and then hit the Cast button. Similarly, your mobile device now becomes the remote control, where you scrub the playback, adjust volume, and the like. In our experience, video playback wasn't instantaneous; we usually had to wait about 10 seconds (sometimes longer) after hitting the Cast button.
For YouTube (the latest update for Android and iOS is stupendous by the way, bringing a new UI and in-app multi-tasking), Netflix, and Google Play Movies & TV apps, we like that we could use our mobile device to do other things while the video was playing (multi-tasking for the win!). As these services use adaptive bitrate streaming, videos may appear low-res at the beginning, but will quickly switch to the highest possible quality after a short while. Google Play Music also worked as expected, letting us cast songs from the app to the TV. Adding new videos to a queue in YouTube is also possible.
A couple more things stood out for us: remote swapping and resume playback. For example, when we initiated a cast from our Android smartphone, we could pick up an iPhone and use it as the remote control. Also, we were able to bring the video playback from the TV back to the phone. (In other words, you can continue to watch a video when you move from the living room to the bathroom.) But more often than not, it was a hit-and-miss affair getting both features to work the way we intended. For remote swapping, we got a higher rate of success when we picked up the second device, opened the app, went to the same video, and then hit the Cast button. This allowed the current playback time to be synced between the devices. For resume playback, there were several occasions when we resumed playback on the phone, the playback on the TV stopped (even though the other phone was still casting it). And this happened more on the iOS YouTube app than the Android version. And as you may have guessed by now, as long as a device is on the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast, it can cast to it. This can be great fun if you're trying to troll your friends or family members, but not so much if it's your video that's being suddenly interrupted.
All in all, if you’re an Android user that uses Google’s Play services a lot, or one that spends a lot of time watching Netflix, the Chromecast is a god-send. For iOS users though, the Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music apps aren’t available on the iOS App Store. Yes, it’s a bummer, but let’s face it: if you’ve gotten your favorite movies and music from the iTunes Store, and are a subscriber of iTunes Match, you should probably be eyeing the Apple TV set-top box instead of the Chromecast.
And in case you’re wondering, no, you can’t cast a tab from Chrome on Android or iOS (yet).
Like web-based services, Google has to convince app developers to add Google Cast support to their apps. Pandora support is coming soon, but we might have to wait quite a while for Spotify, Hulu, and Vimeo to come onboard.
The Chromecast is the first receiver device that uses Google’s Cast screen-sharing technology, and frankly, it’s a winner. According to Google, it’s supposed to run a scaled-down version of Chrome OS, but a team of hackers discovered that at its core, the Chromecast actually runs Android. Regardless, the dongle is small and easy to use, and goes far in fulfilling Google’s claim that it’s the easiest way to get online content on your TV.
Image quality-wise, its best showing came when we were on Cast-optimized sites, or casting from mobile apps. 1080p videos from Netflix especially looked absolutely stunning. The idea of content moving from cloud to Chromecast directly (instead of the desktops and mobile devices doing the heavy lifting) is really clever; hopefully, this can be expanded to more non-Google-owned services. For all things outside of YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play, there’s always tab casting. In fact, as long as the Chrome browser can play it (even local files you drag into Chrome), you can cast it to the TV. Developers (and hackers) are hard at work too. Just the past weekend, Koushik Dutta, a ClockworkMod developer, released AirCast for Android, which lets Chromecast users stream any video from the Android device’s gallery, Dropbox, or Google Drive to the dongle.
Rough edges in the tab casting feature and finicky USB power requirement aside, at the end of the day, the Chromecast is an easy recommendation for what it’s capable of and its potential, and even more so considering its US$35 price tag (if you managed to snag one during the Netflix promotion, lucky you). Furthermore, we can imagine that for many people, the ability to send a browser tab to a TV or projector is worth the price already. Sure, the Chromecast isn’t for everybody. iOS users will feel the most hard done by, no thanks to the lack of app support on Apple’s mobile platform. But if more app developers come onboard, this frustration could be in the short term.
The Google Chromecast retails for US$35 and is available from the U.S. Google Play Store or online merchants like Amazon. It supports Android (2.3 and above), iOS (6 and above), Windows (7 and above), Mac OS (10.7 and above), and Chrome OS (devices like Chromebook Pixel and Samsung Chromebook).