The All New Chomecast: What it does and what it’s worth
Google has released a nifty little device called the Google Chromecast. This device allows the user to make his regular old “dumb” HDTV a little smarter, helping it get closer to what Smart TVs are right now. The Chromecast dongle is apparently a direct competitor to the more experienced, and apparently more capable but more expensive Roku and Apple TV. Instead of going for $100 or more, all you have to get ready are $35. That’s a steal by anyone’s standard, especially if it can do what it promises – to bring the internet’s video content straight to the TV.
The promise is that with your $35, Chromecast will allow you to access the multimedia content online much like its competitors Roku and Apple TV. It will utilize “apps” which let you stream media from different sources.
Unfortunately, that promise is laid out with holes. Chromecast right now has very limited support. You don’t have access to as much online content as its more expensive competitors. Still, all hope is not lost. Content providers are one by one evaluating the value of the Chromecast and they are expressing their desires to further expand the Chromecast promise to other services. We may be stuck with YouTube and Netflix for now, but soon we will have Hulu and maybe Amazon video and more in the future.
The Fine Print
All this looks too good to be true, especially for a dongle of this size and price. Actually, it really is. While at first glance, the Chormecast may seem like a competitor to other set-top boxes in the industry due to the way it is advertised, the truth is it is nothing like that at all.
Unlike other set-top boxes, which allows the TV to connect to the internet to gather multimedia content to be streamed to the Television set, Chromecast can’t. That’s right. It can’t connect to the internet on its own. It needs two partners to work its “magic”.
The First Partner
The first partner is a smartphone or a tablet. Since the Chormecast isn’t at all capable of connecting to the internet and managing the interface or “data” from online sources, it needs something else to handle that for it. A smartphone or a tablet would have the right interface control and the “smarts” needed to access information online and stream it to the Chromecast. The Chromecast will simply transfer the streamed content directly to the TV set through the HDMI port.
Since you can’t install the apps you need on the Chromecast, the smartphone or tablet will handle the app installation and the cue to send the information to the Chromecast device. Without a compatible app on the smartphone or tablet, Chromecast cannot stream the content even if the content plays well on the smartphone or tablet itself. This makes streaming even more dependent on the provider and the developer.
Of course, smartphones and tablets are not all it can make use of as a partner. We won’t forget the most powerful computing device that is still at our disposal: the personal computer. Using our personal computer and Google Chrome, we can stream the content straight to the TV wirelessly though Chromecast. Of course, this still requires the site of the source being made to support the API of Chromecast. Right now, we are limited to YouTube and Netflix.
The Second Partner
The second partner is something you wouldn’t expect to be necessary granted the abilities of the first partner. You see, we can directly stream multimedia content to another device through Wi-Fi direct connections or DLNA. This is a growing technology that allows TVs equipped with DLNA to receive streams directly from the smartphone or tablet.
Given that Smartphones and Tablets have access to mobile data, they don’t necessarily need the Wi-Fi router to be able to stream content. Unfortunately, Chromecast receives the data in a rather roundabout way.
First, the data is accessed, processed, and navigated by the smartphone or tablet using an internet connection. You would think that naturally, the device would forward the information directly to the Chromecast device. No. What it does instead is to forward the streamed data back to the Wi-Fi router to be accessed by Chromecast in a shared network.
The Truth behind the Chromecast
By now you should have an idea about the truth behind the idea of the Chromecast. It is not the Roku or Apple TV competitor that many peg it to be. The truth is, this small dongle is pretty much an add-on to TV to allow it to receive data from a computing source remotely, rather than the regular connection by HDMI cable. The fact that this requires an internet connection strictly by Wi-Fi means that it is even worse than the Miracast technology, which Google is also an advocate of.
So is it a waste of money? Not necessarily. It is still a gem that is cheap enough for people to get into without breaking the bank. Most people already have a smartphone, a tablet, a computer and a Wi-Fi router at home already anyway, so they already have what the Chromecast needs to work. Still, with MHL to HDMI cables going from $7 – $15 each, you have a much cheaper alternative waiting for you if you don’t mind having to deal with wires.