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Google Chromecast - A Tiny, Affordable HDMI Media Streaming Dongle
By Ng Chong Seng - 22 Aug 2013

Cast from Chrome


Cast from Chrome

There are two ways Chromecast can ‘cast’ content to your TV. One is to cast from the desktop through the Chrome browser. If you set up Chromecast using the desktop setup app, you’ll be asked to download and install a Google Cast extension; else, you can install it manually from the Chrome Web Store. When this extension is installed, you will see a Cast icon in the Chrome toolbar (near the top right).


Casting a Chrome Browser Tab

Even in Chrome, there are a couple of ways to cast the content. First up, you can cast a tab. As the name implies, this lets you cast whatever that’s in a browser tab (less the toolbar), including audio, to your TV (think Micacast or AirPlay Mirroring, but for Chrome tabs). And it even attempts to follow the size of your browser window. Of course, you can only cast one tab at any one time; to cast another tab, just go to that tab, hit the Cast icon, and click ‘Cast this tab’. According to Google, most web content can be cast, with the exception of content that relies on plug-ins such as Silverlight or QuickTime. But surprisingly, Flash videos worked well during our tests, and we could even use their video player controls to blow them up full screen.

For the most part, tab casting worked really well, and that's despite it being a beta feature. There was usually a 2 to 3-second gap between us hitting the 'Cast this tab' button and the image appearing on the TV, but we already expected that. There was also the occasional artifacting, especially for moving images.

(To sidetrack a bit, Google has posted the minimum desktop system requirements, and it’s worth noting that casting a tab isn’t supported on Windows XP and Linux.)

The ability to cast a Chrome tab opens up a wealth of content you can now stream to the TV. If you're on a Cast-optimized site, the extension will remind you to use the controls in the player instead.

The Cast extension options allow you to adjust tab projection quality among other things. The highest quality is the 'Extreme' 720p high bitrate (about 5Mbps) mode. The Chromecast hardware is capable of VP8 and H.264 decoding.

An obligatory picture of tab casting in action. Still images worked brilliantly most of the time; motion images sometimes displayed artifacts.


Using Cast-optimized Sites

There’s in fact an even better way to cast from the desktop, and that’s to visit sites that are optimized for Chromecast, such as YouTube and Netflix. For example, on YouTube, the Cast extension will add a Cast button on the YouTube player. Hit it, and select the desired device (in this case, the Chromecast) to play the video on. Unlike casting a tab, this method shows only the video on the TV. The computer will now act as the remote control, and you can scrub through playback and adjust volume.

The same goes for Netflix on the desktop: you can use the Netflix video player controls for scrubbing and changing subtitles. But here’s a quick reminder: since Netflix isn’t available in Singapore, you’ll need a VPN service in addition to a Netflix account.

On Cast-optimized sites like YouTube, you will find a Cast button on the video player (bottom right hand corner).

For Cast-optimized content, playback is done directly on the Chromecast.

Video is played in full screen mode on the TV.

The same goes for Netflix. In short, when you see a Cast button on the video player's controls, use it.

Now, there are other advantages to using the controls on Cast-optimized sites. For one, they serve out up to a resolution of 1080p; and in some cases, 5.1-channel surround sound. When you cast a tab, you’re limited to 720p. Also, the content plays directly on Chromecast, as opposed to your computer doing all the hard work, which is the case when you’re casting a tab. In our experience, despite the higher resolution, Cast-optimized sites gave us less dropped frames than tab casting. The performance of the latter especially hinges on the raw power of your machine as well as network performance. For example, on our 2GHz Intel Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) MacBook Air hooked up to a wireless-N network, we still occasionally got performance warnings.

That said, while optimized playback from a Cast-supported site is the preferred mode, at this point in time, you only have YouTube and Netflix. (Strangely, desktop casting for Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music isn’t supported, but we think it’s only a matter of time.) So until Google convinces more services to be Cast-optimized, we reckon the majority of users would be casting tabs most of the time.

  • 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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