What Is Google Chromecast?

Google is shaking up the living room with a tiny stick with a tiny price. Competing with the likes of Roku and Apple TV, the $35 Chromecast plugs into your TV and grants easy access to multiple streaming services, from Netflix and YouTube to Hulu Plus and Google Play. You can even throw content from your Chrome browser to the big screen. Use this FAQ to get up to speed on the Chromecast and decide if it's right for you.

Q.: What is Chromecast?

A.: Chromecast is a device that you plug into your TV's HDMI port, powered by a USB cable (included). Using your smartphone or computer as a remote control, you can use Chromecast to access video content from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, the Google Play Store and other services. You can also use it to stream almost any kind of content from the Chrome browser on a computer.

On Sept. 29, Google announced a new Chromecast model. (Confusingly enough, the new device is also simply called Chromecast.) In addition to a revamped physical design, the new Chromecast comes in three different colors and has the capacity to load videos much quicker than its predecessor. We'll have more information about it when we get a unit for review.

Q.: What do I need for Chromecast?

A.: At bare minimum, you'll need a Chromecast stick, an HDTV with a spare HDMI port, a stable Wi-Fi connection and a computer or mobile device. The Chromecast stick includes a USB cable for power and a power adapter. If your TV has a USB port, you can plug the power cable right in. If not, you can use a wall adapter. You can control the device with smartphones or tablets running Android or iOS, as well as computers running the Windows or Mac operating systems.

MORE: Why Roku's Streaming Stick Is Better Than Chromecast

Q.: How does Chromecast work?

A.: Chromecast acts as a transmitter between your TV and your streaming video provider, like a cable box or an antenna. Netflix (or YouTube, or Hulu Plus, or Google Play) broadcasts content to your Chromecast, which then displays on your TV.

Q.: Why do I need Chromecast?

A.: Suppose you subscribe to video streaming services like Netflix or Hulu Plus, but you can only access those services on your PC, tablet or smartphone, all of which have small screens. If you would rather curl up on your living room couch and watch content on a big screen, Chromecast may be the gadget for you.

Q.: Why don't I need Chromecast?

A.: If you prefer to watch TV the old-fashioned way (via network television, cable or DVR), Chromecast won't do you much good. Similarly, if you don't subscribe any streaming video services, Chromecast may be of limited utility. If you own a Roku, Apple TV, PS4, Xbox One or Wii U, your device already gives you access to the same things you get via Chromecast, and more.

Q.: How do I set up Chromecast?

A.: Just plug it into your TV, have a smartphone or computer handy, and follow the instructions. As soon as Chromecast and your controller device connect to the same Wi-Fi, they should recognize each other and walk you through the rest of the process.

Q.: What can I watch on Chromecast?

A.: Chromecast has access to video and audio content from many services. Google keeps track of most of these on its official site; Reddit also has a growing list. Ever since Google released the software development kit for Chromecast, new apps have been springing up frequently, so keep an eye out for more apps as time goes on.

Q.: What if my favorite show isn't on one of those services?

A.: At this point, you have two options: Use Chromecast's streaming feature, or invest in a third-party service. Chromecast offers a feature called "tabcasting," which allows you to stream content from a computer running the Chrome browser. This lets you load up Web video on a PC or Mac, then watch it on a TV. You can also enlist the aid of a service like PlayOn, which offers a Chromecast app that adds more than 60 channels. However, PlayOn requires subscription fees on top of any subscription fees you might already pay to access the channels it offers (like HBO Go).

Q.: How much does Chromecast cost?

A.: By itself, the device costs $35, plus applicable shipping charges and sales tax. In order to get the most benefit from it, however, you'll need to subscribe to a streaming content service; price varies on these. If you add services like PlayOn and additional channels, you could end up paying more than $15 per month — better than a cable subscription, but more expensive than buying an HDTV antenna.

Q.: Are there any Chromecast alternatives?

A.: Yes, but it depends how much you're willing to spend. A basic Roku box will also allow you to stream content to your TV, including content from services like Amazon Instant Video and VUDU, which Chromecast lacks. Roku also recently released a smart stick, giving it the same form factor as a Chromecast, but with many more channels. Apple TV costs $100 and functions much like a Roku box, but can also stream content (like games) from your iPhone or iPad to your TV. An Ouya game console offers more channels than Chromecast as well as a huge library of Android games, but costs $100. You could also stream content through a PS4, Xbox One or Wii U, but these devices cost hundreds of dollars.

Q: What about the Chromecast Audio?

A: Similar to its video-focused cousin, the Chromecast Audio plugs into speakers to stream music over Wi-Fi. It, too, costs just $35. It works with Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music, and is controlled by Android devices, iOS devices or computers.

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  • Had mine since release and use it all the time. Using a smartphone and apps as a remote control is light-years ahead of the clunky interface on something like Roku or Google TV. Can't wait for more apps.
  • Plex will let you stream video from your computer to your Roku or Apple TV. It looks like Plex may be deployed on Chromecast as well, but is not at this time. Plex would make the Chromecast a lot more attractive.
  • Chromecast is one of the first electronic devices I have been genuinely excited about in a very long time. And having used mine for a little while now (I missed the initial wave of orders before they went out of stock) I must say I am extremely impressed. Had it up and running and streaming video within five minutes of opening the box, and it works like a charm from both my phone and laptop.