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What Is Google Chromecast?

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 18 comments

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.

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, PS3, Xbox 360 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 PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii U, but these devices cost hundreds of dollars.

Related Buying Guides:
Best Streaming Media Players
Best Miracast Devices
Best Wireless Screen-Mirroring Devices

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  • 0 Hide
    JD88 , October 3, 2013 7:05 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    donovands , October 3, 2013 7:06 AM
    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.
  • 0 Hide
    burnley14 , October 3, 2013 7:36 AM
    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.
  • Display all 18 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    bluehairspecial , October 3, 2013 8:10 AM
    Cool for people that don't already have Xbox, Roku, or Apple TV. Not sure how it matters to those that already have one of these though
  • 1 Hide
    gumbedamit , October 3, 2013 8:27 AM
    I don't get it. is it because it's a "google" device
    This device:
    has been available for over a year and it does everything this stick from google does and SOOOO much more. I'm still scratching my head as to what the big deal with this chromecast is?????
  • 0 Hide
    gumbedamit , October 3, 2013 8:40 AM
    I don't get it. is it because it's a "google" device
    This device:
    has been available for over a year and it does everything this stick from google does and SOOOO much more. I'm still scratching my head as to what the big deal with this chromecast is?????
  • 0 Hide
    shin0bi272 , October 3, 2013 9:12 AM
    The question I have is can I use my remote for my tv to control my pc if I want to choose another movie? Cause I dont have to get up to change movies (assuming I had netflix) with my ps3 remote, or my samsung share manager I can change movies to what ever Ive shared out to my tv over my home network from my pc with the tv remote. Share manager doesnt do streaming and if I add netflix Id really rather not use my ps3 because the fan sounds like its trying to take off even just watching a movie. So this device could work for me if I can use my tv remote to navigate the menus.
  • -1 Hide
    glenn_n , October 3, 2013 10:40 AM
    Two things sold me on this superb device: remote control and Google Music. The remote controls for Roku and WD Live are just awful. With Chromecast your remote control is your smartphone (Android or iPhone), tablet, or computer. No more agony of scrolling thru lists with up/down arrows. And Google Music seems better than Pandora (although more expensive), because I can upload my own music and I can play entire albums that I don't even own; in addition, GM has the "radio station" features of Pandora.

    One other thing I've used it for was to watch a show on Xfinity (if you're a Comcast subscriber). I started the video on my computer, full screen, clicked the Chomrecast button, and there it was on my TV. Audio quality excellent, video seemed a bit better than standard def.
  • 0 Hide
    kinggraves , October 3, 2013 3:14 PM
    Seems a lot of people like to suck on Google's teat. You want one thing you can't do with Chromecast? How about use any local media? Or just use any service that isn't palling around with Google? Chromecast is pretty much limited to a handful of the most popular services that nearly any device can play these days. Chromecast is the solution for 1st gen Nexus devices that Google would not put Miracast on because they want to force consumers into using their own services. Oh, but there isn't any alternative without spending a whopping hundred for a Roku because you couldn't wait for a sale? Except there are. Numerous Android Mini PCs are on the market that allow Miracast and will allow you to do everything Chromecast does and much, MUCH more and some cost under $50. Nice advert though.
  • 0 Hide
    Nicky Davies , October 17, 2013 9:36 PM
    Amazon has the best prices on the Google Chromecast! Check it out!
  • 0 Hide
    semperfi4evr , November 1, 2013 4:11 PM
    I can do everything this does by merely connecting my laptop to the TV with a HDMI cable. I play my Netflix and Hulu Plus and all my online games and content and YouTube at 1080p. I also have my cam mounted on the TV so I can video chat directly thru the HDTV so why add another component that in the end won't allow me to do all I do with just a HDMI cable...
  • 0 Hide
    Craig James , December 13, 2013 7:20 PM
    @gumbedamit thanks for the link but they're sold out.
  • 0 Hide
    Diana Williford , December 21, 2013 11:50 AM
    Have had my Roku for several years now and don't know what folks are talking about it being clunky. It is about 1 inch high and 3.5 inches in diameter. I get 1080.
    ALSO...Retired my Roku to my daughters TV and I bought a Smart TV which doesn't need a Roku or a Chromecast. I have immediate access to Netflix and Youtube, Hulu if I subscribed and also can switch back and forth between basic cable and internet content. Can also interface with mobile devices and upload via laptop and/or usb port. Smart TV is finally wireless all the way. YAY! Hate cords and plug ins!
  • 0 Hide
    susad2985 , December 28, 2013 12:09 PM
    My Samson TV does not allow WiFi to it. so the Chromecast and WiFi I got doesn't work on my Samson TV so can I connect it to a DVR? and then route it to my TV? It would help me out if I knew for sure.
  • 0 Hide
    susad2985 , December 29, 2013 11:36 AM
    Ok, so I went to Best buy they said that if I get a Roku 3 it will work. I should take back the Chromecast and get the Ruku3. So my Samson TV will allow it from the Ruku 3. Does that sound right?
  • 0 Hide
    janet1960 , December 29, 2013 2:53 PM
    I received my Samsung Google Chromebook last yr for christmas and then this year I received the Chromecast which unfortunately they do not tell you that this new little device is not compatible with samsung chromebook. You would think that if it is chrome then the chromecast would work.
  • 0 Hide
    arasmpc , January 12, 2014 7:52 AM
    Does this work with a Windows phone? (Not that I have one...yick, but asking for a friend)
  • 0 Hide
    isamuelson , June 13, 2014 9:48 AM
    Since I don't have GoogleTV, this would provide me a way to stream movies and other media I've purchased via Google Play, so that alone is worth the price of admission since my Roku doesn't have a way to stream media from Google Play.
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