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Chromecast Gets Faster, New Colors

Google’s $35 Chromecast has been one of the more unusual streaming devices on the market ever since its debut two years ago, but also one of the most popular. At a Google press event today (Sept. 29), the company revealed a new version of the streaming stick, which boasts an improved design, faster loading times and a much more comprehensive interface.

The new Chromecast looks quite a bit different from its predecessor. Rather than a rectangle with a circle at the end, the new device is a larger circle with a flexible HDMI cord at the top. (Presumably, it will still charge via a USB cord at the bottom.) This should make it a bit easier to plug into TVs with tight spacing around the HDMI ports. But, it also means the device will dangle from the port.

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Faster loading times appear to be the new Chromecast’s biggest improvement over the current model. Rishi Chandra, a vice president of product management at Google, explained that Chromecast-compatible apps will now start caching content as you browse, meaning that you can load a show almost instantaneously, rather than having to wait an initial 5 or 10 seconds for it to buffer. This functionality already works with Netflix, and other apps will soon follow suit, Chandra claimed.

Existing Chromecast owners already know how the device works: Simply use your phone, tablet or computer to broadcast content to the stick. However, the Chromecast’s lack of a real interface has also been one of the device’s biggest weaknesses. Google plans to address this with a revamped app on Android and iOS. Not only will it let multiple users connect to a Chromecast and control the content displayed there, but it will also let you know which of your existing apps can Cast, how you can get new compatible apps and let you search for your favorite content across all compatible apps.

Gaming, which was more of an afterthought on the original Chromecast model, may play a larger role in the new version. Chandra showed how games like Angry Birds Go, WGT Golf and Monopoly on both iOS and Android can stream to the new Chromecast, complete with multiplayer capabilities. (Each user’s phone acts as his or her controller.) Google has opened up its gaming SDK to both Android and iOS developers, but time will tell whether gaming becomes a sideshow or a main attraction on the platform.

Users who want to program their own screensavers will also be able to do so, using photos not only from Google Photos, but from Facebook and Flickr as well.

The new Chromecast is available starting today at $35: the same price as the old model. The devices will be available in retail stores in a traditional black, or directly from Google in black, red or yellow.