What Is Google Chromecast?


The Google Chromecast is a cheap, simple way to watch video content right to your TV. But what is Chromecast?

Simply put: Chromecast (£35/AU$50) is one of the best streaming devices. It plugs into your TV and grants easy access to multiple streaming services, from Netflix and YouTube to Hulu and Google Play. You can even throw content from your Chrome browser to the big screen. But Chromecast doesn't work the same way as competing devices like Apple TV or Roku.

Use this FAQ to get up to speed on the Chromecast and decide if it's right for you.

Credit: GoogleCredit: Google

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, 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 laptop or desktop computer.

Q.: What is the difference between the Chromecast and the Chromecast Ultra?

A.: There are two varieties of Chromecast, not counting the Chromecast Audio (see below). The regular Chromecast costs $35 (£35/AU$50) and broadcasts content at up to 1080p. The Chromecast Ultra costs $70 (£70/AU$90) and can broadcast content at up to 4K resolutions with HDR color technology. In terms of channel selection and overall functionality, the two devices are identical. It's worth noting, though, that the Chromecast Ultra has a built-in port for an Ethernet cable, but also requires an external power source, rather than a USB connection built into your TV.

You can also see how the Chromecast Ultra stands up to its competition in our Chromecast vs Fire TV vs Roku face-off.

Q.: What do I need for Chromecast?

A.: At bare minimum, you'll need a Chromecast dongle, an TV with a spare HDMI port, a good Wi-Fi router and a computer or phone. 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 OS X operating systems.

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, or Google Play) broadcasts content to your Chromecast, which then displays on your TV. To learn how to use it with a mobile device, consult the Tom's Guide how-to.

Q.: How much does Chromecast cost?

A.: A regular Chromecast (the 1080p model) costs $35 (£35/AU$50). A Chromecast Ultra (the 4K model) costs $70 (£70/AU$90). Neither device goes on sale all that often, but they're also on the cheaper end of the streaming spectrum.

Q.: Why do I need Chromecast?

A.: Suppose you subscribe to video streaming services like Netflix or Hulu, 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 smart TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, PS4 or Xbox One, your device already gives you access to most of the same content you'd get via Chromecast.

Q.: How do I set up Chromecast?

A.: Just plug it into your TV, have a smartphone or tablet 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. Tom's Guide has a comprehensive guide on how to use the Chromecast, if you get stuck.

Q.: What can I watch on Chromecast?

A.: Chromecast has access to video and audio content from many services. Google keeps track of many of these on its official site, although there is no comprehensive 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.

Q.: Can I control Chromecast with my voice?

A.: Yes. Previously, you needed to route your Chromecast commands through a Google Home device, but now, you can give vocal commands directly through Google Assistant. Google has complete Chromecast setup instructions, but the functionality is pretty self-explanatory. Simply connect your Chromecast and your phone to the same network, and you can cast music and videos to your TV with just a few words.

Q: Can I travel with a Chromecast?

A.: Due to its small size and easy setup, the Chromecast may seem like a boon for frequent travelers. However, the Chromecast does not support captive portals — networks that require browser-based logins. As such, the Chromecast is not terribly useful in most hotels and universities. Still, if you do take your Chromecast with you and find a Wi-Fi network without a captive portal, changing the login details is not too difficult.

Q.: Are there any Chromecast alternatives?

A.: Yes, but it depends how much you're willing to spend. A $30 (about £25, AU$40) Roku Express will also allow you to stream content to your TV, though you won't need a Roku for Prime Video anymore, as Google and Amazon reached an agreement to allow each others apps on their streaming devices, ending a year-plus-long dispute. An Apple TV costs $150 (£150/AU$249) and functions much like a Roku box, but can also stream content (like games) from your iPhone or iPad to your TV. You could also stream content through a PS4 or Xbox One, but these devices cost hundreds of dollars.

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