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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) 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.

Also, keep an eye out for sales as we approach Black Friday. Chromecast gadgets don't go on sale very often, and this year might not be an exception. But who knows; perhaps with Stadia on the way, Google might want to move more Chromecasts than usual. In any case, check the Tom's Guide Black Friday deals page periodically to see if anything crops up.

A third-generation Chromecast | Credit: Google

(Image credit: A third-generation Chromecast | Credit: 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.

Google ChromecastView Deal

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

A.: There are two varieties of Chromecast. The regular Chromecast costs $35 and broadcasts content at up to 1080p. The Chromecast Ultra costs $70 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.

Chromecast UltraView Deal

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, a Roku Express will also allow you to stream content to your TV, although the device's design is not as good as the Chromecast's overall. An Apple TV costs $150 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.

Q. How does Google Stadia work with Chromecast?

A.: When Google Stadia, the company's game-streaming service, launches in November, Chromecast will initially be the only way to play Stadia games on your TV. (Unless, of course, you simply cut out the middleman and attach a computer to your television set.)

For more Google-related tips, tricks, and how-tos, check out our complete guide to Google Assistant.